Maciej Kuciara grew up in Poland watching cyberpunk anime on VHS tapes. Lili Tae traded Japanese magazines and sweets with friends as a teenager in bustling 2000s Bangkok. While both artists came of age in different worlds, both found inspiration in Japanese animation. Their digital works are part of our themed online sale My Kawaii Valentine.
Kuciara, a renowned digital artist and director, has produced concept art for the Last of Us game series, Captain America: Civil War, the Avengers movie series, and Rupert Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell. For our sale, he has chosen Her Body is Metal, the second NFT from his long-form narrative series Showtime Universe about a highly cybernetic vision of the future.
Tae is a Bangkok-based illustrator who was selected as one of the Thai artists to exhibit at Unknown Asia in Osaka in 2017. She had her first solo exhibition in the same city the following year. Her works are a soothing mixture of mellow strokes and vibrant colors. Since entering the NFT space, Tae has seen growing demand for her work.
We sat down with both artists to discuss their work and how technology has influenced their creative process.
PHILLIPS: Maciej, can you explain the relationship between Her Body is Metal and your long-form narrative Showtime Universe?
MACIEJ KUCIARA: Her Body is Metal is an introduction to one of the main protagonists in Showtime Universe. The animation, alongside the written narrative, gives intimate insight into what it’s like to be living in this cyberpunk world and foreshadows how the story will reveal itself over time. It’s meant to create a standalone lens through which we can interpret technologies and AI’s impact on human nature, which is one of the main themes of Showtime Universe.
P: Can you elaborate on those themes? How do they respond to some of our anxieties surrounding technology?
MK: The best way to describe Showtime Universe is to imagine current-age problems of human nature and how they would manifest if they were hyper-accelerated by cybernetic technology and AI. It’s a vision of the world in which tech-driven amplified themes of human emotion, psychology, conflict, self-interest and complexity of decisions often lead to unforeseen results. What would love look like if dopamine were regulated by cybernetic bodies? How would information travel if it were entirely created by self-interested artificial intelligence? How would conflicts be resolved in a world where everyone’s body is a weapon?
P: What drew you to the cyperpunk anime style? Who are some of your influences?
MK: Growing up in the era of VHS tapes, the first real art I was exposed to was ‘90s cyberpunk anime — Ghost in the Shell, Akira, Cowboy Bebop and more — which inspired and drove my artistic career. Anime opened a door into sci-fi worlds that I fell in love with. It made me discover fantastic worlds that I never dreamt of. I knew then and there that I wanted to make art and build my own universes with the goal to one day match the quality and depth delivered by the artistic masters I admired. It has been my lifelong pursuit for artistic excellence.
Lili Tae, Love, Me, 2022
Lot 49, My Kawaii Valentine Online Sale, February 14-22
P: Lili, similarly, how did the environment in which you grew up influence your work?
Lili Tae: I grew up in a Thai-Chinese household, where there was Chinese-style furniture, decorations and books with Asian prints around the house. I doodled a lot as a child, and this is one of the environments that inspired my style as I grew up.
Another environment that I feel has influenced me a lot is fashion design. When I was young, I would wait for my aunt, who worked as a fashion brand manager, at her workplace after school. So I got to spend many hours looking at various fashion design collections back in the day.
P: There are a lot of sweets, especially Japanese candies and cookies, in your piece. Can you explain some of these references?
LT: For this piece, I was inspired by my surroundings during the 2000s. Japanese pop culture was very big in Thailand, and I was a teenager during that time, so I would say I grew up surrounded by everything Japanese. I remember watching anime every Saturday and Sunday morning, waiting for a Thai-translated Japanese magazine to come out and bringing cute, yummy Japanese candies to school. My conversations with friends were mostly related to Japanese culture.
I find Japanese pop culture very refreshing. I was born and raised in Bangkok, which is a big city, but visiting Tokyo is even more overwhelming. I love how versatile things are in Japan and after taking in those elements throughout the years, that inspired my art and style through today.
The candies in this piece are mostly inspired by what I remember having since childhood. Some of them are imaginary, and some might be familiar to people as some of the most popular Japanese sweets. I want people to be able to relate to this piece when they find a treat they know or have tried before. The shapes and forms are so unique that some might spot them right away, and I think that’s fun, almost like a photo hunt.
P: With what medium did you start, and how did you expand into the digital realm and NFTs?
LT: My work used to be detailed black ink on white paper. I personally like colors a lot, but I struggled with the process of painting. I only worked with ink because I thought it was what I did best, but it limited my creativity and I couldn’t fully translate what I had in mind, so I started making digital art. I experimented with colors and composition, and I have so much fun creating art when there are more possibilities.
I created a lot of personal projects, so at first, I treated the NFT format as a portfolio where I could display and expand my work onto platforms apart from social media. The growth of this community has given me many different opportunities and allowed me to create fun projects with many different people from all over the world.