KATSU: the artist creates works with drone technology
Japanese American artist KATSU exhibiting for the first time in the UK on the occasion of the recent opening OMNI Gallery. From dissident beginnings as a graffiti artist on the streets of New York in the early 2000s to developing a career as a world-renowned artist, KATSU’s artistic output has always channeled a spirit that is always intriguing, mischievous and counter-cultural. In addition to his solo work, KATSU has also collaborated with Virgil Abloh’s Off White.
For this exhibition MECHA, The artist’s premiere in Europe, KATSU addresses what reframes our very existence: the rapid evolution of technology, the primacy of digital media and the assent of machines. Issues are emerging in relation to the insecurity of digital privacy, as well as a general sense of anxiety caused by the potential for misuse of technologies. Through the use of the very machines some have come to fear, including drones, KATSU brings to the fore the current debates and concerns around our ever-modernizing world.
Q: How did the idea of creating works of art using drones come about?
A: Creating images has always led me to the notion of automation and mass production. Warhol’s works, crappy bubble jet printers, stencils, and video games all involved fabrication as the spirit of rendering. Drones naturally became a rational assistant for me in the painting process when I broke down the separations between my work as a creative technologist and a graffiti artist. The drone as a concept came across as a sentient being and I decided I needed this collaboration. The drone could do so much more than my limited body. The drone also has incredible limitations.
Q: What about the specific technology you applied and developed to make these paintings?
A: Paintings for me are very loosely defined. I’ve used a wide range of drones, hover drones (as I define them), machine learning, and virtual reality. My enamel based canvases use drone technology and that means fully autonomous, semi autonomous rendering and the use of a transmitter. The drone is still governed by rich spatial tracking and sensing technology, so all kinds of uses carry a strong aesthetic presence of the drone. Because MECHA is a show focused almost entirely on enamel work, I’ll only touch briefly on the other tech.
The dataset is the soul of an artist’s application of AI to any work of art. My Criminals series was generated by overtraining neural networks using rare and vintage datasets that I was able to extract from law enforcement websites. The results are macabre and almost cubist portraits. I have also painted using 3D scanners archiving the desolate and drug-ridden environments of San Francisco. Handheld scanners can act as a brush capturing in strokes and revealing verticis.
Q: Tell us about the development process of the equipment and these methods?
A: Drone technology is as essential as the work it creates. There has been a long evolution from hacked consumer camera drones to custom pcbs, and fully custom paint devices that run on computer vision and multi-layered sensory awareness. Paintings should always retain the camouflage of the human touch.
Drone paintings were never intended to achieve photographic resolution, but rather to conceal and ask the question “what is man-made and what is made by technology ?” The KATSURU project is an ongoing effort to eventually release open-source, consumer-grade paint drones for the world to use. KATSURU is a collaborative process between artist and robotics engineers. Also, I don’t care about locking technology in a cage.
Q: How do you see the relationship between yourself as the author of works and the technology you use to make them?
A: The image creation process is a long series of compromises as an actual artist in command. This control over details, gestures and composition is transmitted and I am often driven by the technology and not under control.
There is a large amount of dictation done by the drone. I have to let go and it can be a very combative experience mentally. There’s a term in the video game known as “fiero”, it’s the closest I can get to when the drone and I are really in sync to do the painting. Whether the drone is fully autonomous or semi. Why is it important what I painted?
Q: How do you think technology and digital possibilities are shaping the future of art?
A: The future of art is not driven by processors and binary. For my work in particular, I imagine this digital organism the size of a small house that feeds on the medium and expels truly digital works.
Blockchain, machine learning, robotics, these will certainly be ripped out and probed. The question to ask is really, “where will we live life?” once we understand this, the future of art may be severely bipartisan – one physical and one in the “metaverse” (fart sound).
Until October 16, 2022
OMNI Gallery 56–57 Eastcastle Street
London W1W 8EG
Art Plugged is a contemporary platform, inspired by our relationship with the wider art communities and our passion for showcasing great work.