In Conversation with Emi Kusano on Melancholic Magical Maiden cover photo


In Conversation with Emi Kusano on Melancholic Magical Maiden

by Jordan Kantor

Emi Kusano is a multidisciplinary artist based in Tokyo, Japan. She employs AI to merge past and future aesthetics, challenging our perceptions of art and technology. She holds a degree in Environment and Information Studies from Keio University, Tokyo, Japan and is a part-time Lecturer at Tokyo University of the Arts.
Jordan Kantor: Hi there, Emi. It's great to speak with you. Before we get into talking about your debut Art Blocks project Melancholic Magical Maiden, I am hoping you can share a bit about your personal journey and creative history. How did you first get into making art?
Emi Kusano: I was raised by artist parents and always believed I'd become an artist as well. However, seeing their struggles, I gave up on going to art school and instead chose to attend a university to study business and design. Still, I always found joy in creating things: I was a street photographer in high school and formed a band called “Satellite Young” in college, dressing as an '80s idol and singing about modern tech.
Satellite-young_album cover.png
Satellite Young (サテライトヤング, Sateraito Yangu) debut studio album released on April 5, 2017.
JK: Wow. I am sure there are folks who will want to look up your career as a pop star! How did you then channel that creative drive into the digital realm, and how did you discover the blockchain as a medium for art?
EK: I became aware of the blockchain in 2021, and it was a revelation that expanded my artistic horizons. The pandemic was pivotal, and, one of the silver linings was to unveil the potential of digital art for me. It came about kind of by happenstance when my eight-year-old son Zombie Zoo Keeper created an artwork that went viral after well known people (like Steve Aoki) bought it. This introduced me to a new network of artists, builders, and collectors worldwide. In 2022, I co-founded a web3 anime studio called “Shinsei Galverse,” that was focused on making iconic anime. Over the last year or so, I’ve deeply delved into post-photography using generative AI.
synthetic reflection 3.jpg
Emi Kusano, Synthetic Reflection #3, 2023.
Around the same time, I developed an interest in coding art and began Melancholic Magical Maiden with the creative coder Sayo towards the end of 2022, taking over a year to release. I’ve learned a lot from working in this space, and thanks to collector support have been able to engage full time in creative endeavors. I am really drawn to the interdisciplinary, cross-sector nature of this space, which can draw in participants from entertainment, art, fashion, and more to innovate using the blockchain. This synergistic element of the blockchain resonates with me deeply.
Emi Kusano, Melancholic Magical Maiden #0, 2024. Live view.
JK: The radical interdisciplinarity of your approach to working on the blockchain is apparent, and super exciting. Can you talk a bit about how your creative process has evolved, and how Melancholic Magical Maiden fits in?
EK: Technically, generative AI has reshaped my creative process. I’ve produced numerous AI-based works, and in collaboration with Sayo, we’ve efficiently learned to use this tool to realize our vision in post-photographic works, music, videos and installations. From an artistic standpoint, a through line in all of this is my interest in addressing Japanese culture and identity and I seek to portray the depth and complexity of our culture, which I think can often be overshadowed by its pop culture image. Melancholic Magical Maiden marks my creative coding debut, and the process was profoundly intricate. Figuring out how to embed meaning and my narrative into code was fascinating. The project has taken over a year, undergone 28 revisions (!), and incorporated a lot of valuable feedback from many more veteran artists in this space. Honestly, there’s still endless scope for improvement. In terms of subject matter, Melancholic Magical Maiden deconstructs elements of 1990s Japanese animation, exploring themes of femininity and societal pressures within these narratives. Specifically, it tackles how the “magical girl” genre, in which young heroines battle using magical powers, has continually evolved. It is complicated though, for while it has provided empowerment, it has also occasionally perpetuated gender stereotypes.
Emi Kusano, Melancholic Magical Maiden #1, 2024. Live view.
JK: It is really interesting how your examination of these themes has moved across your work in music, AI, and now generative art. In terms of this project, what should collectors look for in the series as it is revealed? And Is there anything specific you’d like to share that would help viewers approach and appreciate your work?
EK: I hope they enjoy each piece’s nostalgic aesthetics in their simplicity. The color palette is reminiscent of the 1990s, and I’d be delighted if they appreciate the animation’s movements. Really, I just encourage an open mind and curiosity. I hope viewers might research some of the references and relate them to themselves. Also, I am intending to invest proceeds back into further expansion of the project and plan to make installations and physical works.
JK: Are there any recent accomplishments you’d like to share?
EK: 2023 was the turning point of my art career. I participated in a Christie’s x Gucci auction in collaboration with Claire Silver and toured with Bright Moments. I’m honored to exhibit my project “Neural Fad: AI dreams Nostalgia” at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Contemporary Art until early March 2024. This spring, I’m excited to have a solo exhibition at Expanded Art in Berlin.
JK: I am sure folks will want to keep up to date with all these things and more. What is the best way for people to follow your work?
EK: Sure. People can follow me on Twitter: @emikusano, Instagram: @emiksn, and subscribe on Deca for notifications on new releases.
JK: Thank you so much for bringing Melancholic Magical Maiden to Art Blocks, Emi. We are looking forward to seeing the project unfold on February 28, 2024.
Top image: Tomofumi Usa, Portrait of Emi Kusano.

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