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Technology is creating new worlds: but for whom ? 

A conversation with the Japanese artist Sputniko!

Hiromi Ozaki (aka Sputniko!) is a multi-media artist and the founder of Cradle, a women’s healthcare startup. She is currently an Associate Professor at the Tokyo University of Arts and advises the Japanese government in committees such as the Moonshot Research and Development Program. Her work explores themes of gender, identity and technology. 

What is the story behind your artistic name ? 

My real name is Hiromi Ozaki. Actually my artist name comes from a nickname, ‘Sputnik’. At high-school my friends used to call me after the artificial Earth satellite launched by the Soviet Union in 1957. 

The nickname had something to do with my interest in science and the fact I was tall and mixed-race. My mother is British and my father is Japanese. My Japanese classmates wanted to call me something that sounded more exotic and tech, instead of my classic Japanese name. I added ‘ko’ - a common ending for Japanese female names - and began my career as an artist under that pseudonym.

I also became an assistant professor at MIT and an advisor to the Japanese Government under Sputniko!. In fact, there are not many professors or government advisors using a pseudonym. With Web3 and NFT I think it will become more common to use pseudonyms in professional life. I guess I was 20 years ahead of this trend

How can technology transform creativity ? 

Technology affects what we create and how we interact. As an artist, I am curious about exploring the odd trends that appear when new technologies come out. Through my work I like to be critical and point out technology's limits and boundaries. 

Being in the minority in data science schools made me notice some topics that were not really first priorities. It seemed that many women’s issues were ignored, especially in healthcare. With the aim of raising awareness about women’s issues, I decided to become a communicator more than a scientist. 

Menstruation is one of the subjects on which my work focuses on. For instance, my last work, called Menstrualverse, refers to my previous work, which is a machine that allows people to experience menstruation. I decided to make a menstruation machine in Decentraland. Offering a virtual wearable allows avatars to perform menstruation. However, this was rejected on the grounds that the representation of menstrual blood did not pass the safety and age standards for users. 

We often hear that the future brought by the metaverse and Web3 will be an open world embracing diversity and inclusivity. But actually, even though menstruation is something normal for such a big part of the population, it is not allowed in one of the most popular metaverse platformes. It questions how gender is performed in these new virtual worlds. Under the banner of freedom, what other identities and phenomenons will become obsolete in these new virtual worlds?

Currently I am making a breastfeeding avatar, let’s see if it will be allowed. The borderlines in these new technological worlds have important consequences for the way we perceive society. Tech designers should be aware of ethical risks of technology. 

What do you think about NFT ? Is it an art revolution? 

Non fungible tokens (NFT) are definitely empowering for artists. It revolutionized art’s collection and display. NFTs offer not only the digital platform but also new ways for artists to possess ownership of their work.

Before NFT, if someone wanted to buy my work, it was limited in time and location. Now everyone can DM me on Twitter : it is a big change. 

There are also some issues with it. Some parts of NFT culture can be extremely commercial. Also some artists in the NFT sphere feel like they need to be very active on Twitter and Discord, 24/7. However, I don’t think curation based on popularity on Twitter and social media is a ground for sophisticated culture. I believe the NFT culture will benefit more if more curators and critics entered the space.

“Just because a youtuber has a lot of views on social media, does not mean his video is more valuable than another artist’s short film”. 

However, currently not everyone is benefitting from what the NFT world has to offer artists. This fits within the larger picture of crypto’s industry-wide gender-gap. One market report found that only 5% of total NFT sales are by female artists. I am looking forward to seeing how NFTs can be used to empower marginalized artists and represent their point of view in Web3.

To learn more about sputniko!

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