Japanese artist Yuma Yanagisawa and the new arts discourse

Exploring emergent digital art motifs through the work of Yuma Yanagisawa, an artist who creates immersive installations and experimental films with real-time computer graphics.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Jun 19, 2021

It is perhaps something of a cliché; that famous creative archetype that is often evoked in conversations centring around the academy and its subversion: the artist of great merit that comes out of seemingly nowhere, and through curiosity and commitment alone for the large part, is able to develop a strikingly original and captivating practice. To be certain, labelling this paradigm a “cliché” must not be seen as an attempt at maligning its value, as it has indeed remained a source of great progress throughout creative history. Rather, it is meant to signal the academy’s slipping control over the borders of what is considered good art; so, debilitated in the age of the internet and digital technology that fascinating practitioners such as Yuma Yanagisawa may be found within every nook and cranny of the internet; slowly working their way inwards and soon to establish a new, dominant visual language.

01 min watch An experiment in audio reactive video | Yuma Yanagisawa | STIRworld
An experiment in audio reactive video Video: Yuma Yanagisawa

Yanagisawa hails from the small city of Tokushima, Japan, and through his youth, has travelled to a limited extent domestically. Looking back at his childhood, he tells STIR, “It’s fair to say that I didn’t fully engage with art in general in those days. As a kid, my parents would take me to cultural events and art exhibitions, but clearly, I never imagined that I would get paid as an artist in my life”. He views moving to Tokyo to pursue his undergraduate degree as a turning point in his life, for two specific reasons: firstly, he took courses that gave him the skillset necessary to create digital art on the side, and secondly, because, through the globalised Tokyo culture, he was exposed to the world and the creativity it has to offer. Discussing his movement towards a proper creative practice, Yanagisawa says, “After completion of my bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences, I moved to Nottingham in England to do my masters in Human Computer Interaction. At that time, I was quite interested in interactive art, yet given my educational background, among other things, it seemed the most plausible option that I had. Looking back on things now, I guess studying interaction design made me realise that my interest lay in an artistic/creative use of emerging technology”. After returning to Japan, Yanagisawa landed a job in the creative industries and mentions that his commercial projects helped him better his skills, “While I didn’t go through a formal art education, some of the commercial projects that I got involved in were great training, in my humble opinion”. And he adds, “In short, I am a self-taught artist”.

01 min watch One of two iterations of a wave reacting to audio | Yuma Yanagisawa | STIRworld
One of two iterations of a wave reacting to audio Video: Yuma Yanagisawa

Discussing technique, Yanagisawa says that his work began with a minor fascination for algorithmic composition through programs such as Max/MSP and Processing, but over time, has evolved to accommodate more code-heavy systems within its purview, as well as GAN art. He says, “Code plays a vital role in my art. I don’t have traditional art skills. For example, I am bad at drawing. Therefore, the main visual motif of my artwork is often code-based. Alternatively, I am interested in repurposing sampled data such as point clouds or photographs. Generally speaking, when I tackle a new technique or tool, I tend to create something with it even if I don’t fully understand it”. These days, Yanagisawa is acclimatising himself to Unreal Engine, which is very popular for game environment development, and offers the artist a bevy of tools to experiment with. He mentions that he is highly inspired by other digital artists, and often begins with an idea that incorporates universal appeal into his work. However, as Yanagisawa mentions, this does little to reflect the chaotic nature of his process, which is often anything but typical. He says, “I guess some artists, particularly in new media, prefer to spend more time understanding the underlying theory of it beforehand. I myself am fond of seeing the results as quickly as possible”. This had led to him picking a developmental model that allows him to produce work quickly, and publish frequently. In the future, the emerging artist wants to extend his understanding of digital tools to artificial intelligence, and see how that changes the look of his work.

01 min watch Yanagisawa’s second wave | Yuma Yanagisawa | STIRworld
Yanagisawa’s second wave Video: Yuma Yanagisawa

Returning to matters academic, we live in an age of nearly limitless access to information and skillsets, and practitioners such as Yanagisawa are a product of this new creative paradigm. Established canons of meritorious artistry have never before seen such a massive influx of hobbyists-turned-professionals, and, to be charitable, may be seen as having come under a sort of inadvertent attack. Or, perhaps it is fairer still to say that the academy has become something of a collateral victim in the new art’s inward battle for limitless improvement. In a world where artistry such as Yanagisawa’s is merely a few clicks away, the academy must embrace it or be overtaken. The artist seems to welcome this tryst, and expresses his desires for the future as such: “I am sure this sounds absurdly reckless, but it would be amazing if I could show my art at MoMA and Tate Modern”. Humility, curiosity and a giddying sense of hope seem to typify so many emergent digital practitioners such as he, and Yanagisawa says, “I feel honoured when fellow creatives find my art inspiring. That being said, if I step back a bit and look around the whole digital art world, or even the generative art space, I am basically no one. I hope to share my art with more people in the coming years. A conscious step in this direction for Yanagisawa has been setting up a Patreon page, in order to share his process with viewers so as to encourage them to take up artistic practice of their own.

01 min watch Untitled | Yuma Yanagisawa | STIRworld
Untitled Video: Yuma Yanagisawa

Looking towards the future, regardless of the challenges of our times, things seem quite bright in the creative sphere at least. As artists like Yanagisawa continue to practice their craft, they inspire others to do the same. Through bouncing off each other’s discoveries, creative cultures flourish and one practitioner’s victories reverberate and become victories for the whole. To this end, it is imperative that we support emergent creatives such as Yuma Yanagisawa, so that they may further support each other, and together perhaps usher in a new era for artistic identity.

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