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Hiroki Okamoto's algorithmic simulacrum of a world that was

The Japanese artist Hiroki Okamoto discusses his digital art practice that eliminates humans from its method and mutates man-made forms such as buildings.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Mar 14, 2023

The Japanese digital artist Hiroki Okamoto has a vivid, intricate, and sometimes disconcerting body of work. He creates digital environments that feel simultaneously organic and totally unnatural. Much of his work comes together as pixels, dancing with each other to create spiralling forms that twist and turn upon themselves—evolving and dissipating—becoming bodies reminiscent of nature's many energies. Yet, they do not feel natural. Quite the opposite, in fact—they feel like a simulacrum of nature. Their removal from nature evokes visions of an alien’s gaze into a world that was—an approximation of what no longer exists. This is by no means a critique of Okamoto’s calibre as an artist, he is creating his pieces consciously—studiously, even. The installation artist is, however, making a sustained effort to distance his work from the natural. His is a digital art practice that alienates.

A strange dwelling, distorted by code, date unknown, algorithmic art (still) | Hiroki Okamoto | v0id| STIRworld
A strange dwelling, distorted by code, date unknown, algorithmic art (still) Image: Hiroki Okamoto; Courtesy of v0id

Another portion of the Japanese artist's oeuvre mutates man-made forms such as buildings, and in the process, once again renders them unnatural and otherworldly. Take A strange dwelling, for example—where the artist has created a rendering of a building’s façade, and infused it with a tropophobia quality. It can be difficult to look at, and yet one wonders if generating an innate sense of revulsion was his intention at all. Instead, it feels as though the artist is emulating the impression that an extraterrestrial being may have of a building, without ever actually encountering one. And indeed, the dwelling is all strange angles and non-Euclidean forms, increasingly unliveable, as it transforms and dissipates within the original video that it is a part of.

Okamoto’s coding work is highly charged, algorithmic art video Video: Hiroki Okamoto; Courtesy of v0id

In a conversation with STIR, Okamoto introduces himself by saying, “I come from Japan and am an algorithmic architect. I have a master's degree in architecture and media art.” Reaffirming our perspective on the alienation within his art, he explains that he has been working on mathematical algorithms and algorithmic design, meant to overcome an artist’s individuality and arbitrariness, for some time.

 Okamoto is committed to distancing his practice from the natural realm, while simultaneously focusing on natural and man-made forces and energies. The artist expands on his practice, sharing, “After I independently started a design studio, I began experimenting with expanding spatial experiences by distorting the media that architects utilise, and build their practices through. One of the creative, algorithmic activities that I enjoy is ‘beat graffiti.’ This is an arts practice that treats the mediums of sound and visuals with an equal focus. Once digital information is converted, various media can be given equal importance in the whole, and built up simultaneously together. My work reconstructs media in the digital space, so that it can be experienced in a new way. I feel that digital media has a wide range of possibilities, and should not necessarily be limited to its sonic and visual aspects alone...Wouldn't it be nice if architecture moved?”

More visions of lost nature, algorithmic art, video Video: Hiroki Okamoto; Courtesy of v0id

Okamoto further explains his deep preoccupation with the reconstruction of a diverse body of data, this can be 3D scanned data, AI generated images and many more data forms that he breaks down, mutates, regrows and recontextualises. The first direction consists of algorithms found in nature or in mathematical formulas, which, historically, have been created from an observation of nature. He says, “Algorithms hidden in nature are fascinating. The texture that appears from such formulae is also attractive to me. This is a simple style of working, really. For example, I convert distance information from a line into colour, but through this process, I can simulate the effect of light. I strongly feel that the relationship between mathematics and our daily lives is sensitive and beautiful.”

A cloud of code, date unknown, Algorithmic art (still)| Hiroki Okamoto | v0id |STIRworld
A cloud of code, date unknown, algorithmic art (still) Image: Hiroki Okamoto; Courtesy of v0id

When asked about the message behind his practice, Okamoto gives a rather curious response. He says, “It presents the possibility of an expression that integrates all media.” His work, in a way, is a unifying practice that allows for the possibility of all data-forms to meet and intermingle in order to birth new bodies—ideas, even. Okamoto’s art is most certainly a product of the present digital paradigm—it recontextualises that which is tangible, and makes it an ephemera of sorts.

It is an art form at the cutting edge of technology, which births an accord between humankind and our machine counterparts—with the computer and its algorithmic intelligence being an equal partner to the artist, both working together in tandem to craft a visual language that hitherto would not have been possible. But perhaps Okamoto goes even further than that—to reiterate a point made at the outset of this article, the artist’s work presents approximate visions of a world that was, and perhaps never again shall be. Okamoto scries through now-ancient natural and man-made forms, rebuilding them as best he can, based upon surviving scraps of data, fated to forever echo through the cosmos.

Hiroki Okamoto’s portrait, algorithmic art (still) | Hiroki Okamoto | v0id| STIRworld
Hiroki Okamoto’s portrait, algorithmic art (still) Image: Hiroki Okamoto; Courtesy of v0id

Okamoto’s design studio, referenced earlier, is known as v0id, their website details that it is “a design group consisting of members with various backgrounds such as architecture, photography, graphics, and programming. He (Okamoto) is engaged in cross-disciplinary activities such as video production, installation exhibitions, interior design, and fashion design.” The artist offers more insight into his larger projects, telling us, “I participated in a 360-degree video exhibition in Dubai last December.” Apart from this, his website reveals a variety of other big undertakings—one of these is the AR work for a large-scale installation, titled Metamorphosis Garden by sculptor Kohei Nawa, who collaborated with Junichiro Horikawa. Another is v0id’s participation in the exhibition Resonant Media, where they were joined by NHK and Ars Electronica Futurelab, which is a highly prominent global media art research institute based in Linz, Austria. There are several more collaborations between v0id and other big names, and it seems Okamoto’s practice is gaining ground rapidly. It is exciting to imagine the possibilities that increased funding will bring to art such as his, and one wonders where it will go next. As for the artist, when asked about what he wants from the future, he concludes, “I would like to expand the possibilities of input and output in increasingly diverse bodies of media.”

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