Author Design x Connie Bakshi: Orientalis Exoticum I
Meet Connie Bakshi, a pioneering transmedia artist and experiential designer who seamlessly blends technology, art, and science to create thought-provoking and boundary-pushing works that explore the human experience in the era of emerging AI. With a background in both Environmental Design and Biomedical Engineering, Connie approaches her art and design from an idiosyncratic perspective, seeking to tackle complex challenges as much “through a microscope with one eye” as with “a telescope with the other”.
As an AI artist, Connie has been invited to join the Artificial Intelligent Mind Collective (AIMC) and has worked with some of the most prominent names in technology, business, and innovation including: Rivian Automotive, and the New Museum. Her work has been recognized with a number of awards, such asthe Red Dot Best of the Best award for industrial design, the Takifuji Arts Award, and exhibiting at the Salone Satellite in Milan. Moreover, she is an alumnus of the NEW INC museum (NYC) creative incubator.
Connie’s work explores the relationship between technology and ancient craft, human memory and digital archive, plus how cultural information and representation between different states of reality shifts. Beyond her artistic achievements, Connie is a mother, classical pianist, and a descendant of ancestral shamans of Taiwan. Her background, perspective, and contributions have made her a prominent female leader in Web3 pushing the boundaries of what’s possible; inspiring others to do the same.
Connie Bakshi: caress no. 19
Apart from your own work, what art or talks or people or phenomena at FemGen most resonated with you? Why?
FemGen had this palpable energy — you felt it in the artwork and in the people that populated the space. I was especially struck with the concentration of pioneering thought, radical creativity, and artistic mastery that permeated the event. I know and admire so many of the artists who participated, but it was the first time I’d seen this particular assemblage in the same space at the same time, and the experience was both inspiring and thought-provoking. The women behind algorithmic art have always had so much to offer, historically and presently, and I remember walking away from FemGen continuing to question why the art and these voices continue to be marginalized in the collective headspace when they have such undeniable value. It still has me thinking about what it would take to bring women to the foreground of the space, and I know others who experienced the day felt the same burning question. The conversation has only begun, but it’s a good start.
You’ve spent time creating product and business models that economically empower women in displaced communities in Bogota, Colombia: what insights from this experience might inform and inspire the ideals behind the FemGen movement?
I remember reviewing the UN statistics at the time and what really stuck with me was the fact that when women work, they reinvest 90 percent of their income back into their families and communities, in comparison to 35 percent for men. I often think about the resounding ripple effect this could have if our global socioeconomics were to be re-centered on women.
But working with the women in these displaced communities opened my eyes to just how many levers need to shift within our social and economic systems in order to build this kind of re-centralization — it calls for a systematic restructuring. At the time, my team’s work required a combined effort across a large network of investors, partners, and collaborators across multiple sectors in order to create space, fair equity and income, and financial agency for these communities of women. While this work was a specific targeted endeavor within the social innovation realm, I see its analogue in the web3 creative economy where there is a critical need for strategic alliances, investment, collaboration, and commitment across the strata of web3 to make real change and permanent space for women.
How does your background in Environmental Design and Biomedical Engineering influence your transmedia art and experiential design work?
As a biomedical engineer working in neuroscience, my research focused on decoding the invisible mechanisms behind the development of language in the brain. Having grown up with the broken English of an immigrant Taiwanese household, I think I’ve always sought to reconstruct language to find a way to express the subjective experiences that come with living in the otherhood between words and worlds. Much of my practice is currently devoted to working with artificial intelligence, in which text is the main interface by which I communicate with the machine. In working with AI, I found a new vernacular to start talking about the unspoken, undefinable, and invisible aspects of language, as well as the social constructs to which language is inextricably bound. The throughline between my past and present resides in process. It’s usually through the decodification and re-codification of the mechanisms of language that I distill meaning and expression from the machine.
Concurrently, my background as an environmental designer brings a sensorial and experiential perspective to working with the digitally native media inherent to an AI process and that characterize the web3 space. How do we evoke a visceral perception of dimension, time, and physical interaction in a world mediated by a flat screen? What does a pixel smell and taste like? These are the kinds of questions I consider as I layer my processes into a digital moment of encounter.
Merging ancient craft with modern technologies is ostensibly a central theme to your practice: the LED lighting series based on the ancient craft of Japanese urushi you crafted for example; as well as the inspiration derived from your own heritage as a descendant of ancestral shamans of Taiwan. Why is this important to you? And how might others carry this mantle to tell their own stories laced with ritual and lore?
I think the reconciliation between ancient and modern is an outcome of my work, and the transformation of ritual and lore over time is the vehicle. And here, I feel I should offer up some definition. In objective terms, a ritual is a series of actions performed in a prescribed sequence. Lore is a body of tradition and knowledge, often transmitted in narrative form. One often accompanies the other. Ritual and lore are core to our sense of identity. They reflect the values and social codifications that we’ve deemed acceptable and worth repeating. And repetition is a powerful thing. Sasha Stiles, another FemGen artist I so admire, explores its strength in the reinforcement of pattern and the accrual of meaning — particularly in her REPETAE series. In the same way, the repetition of ritual and lore through time can ingrain and amplify the values they represent. But then this repetition can also render values static over time, reducing active intention to involuntary Pavlovian response. Yet these values, frozen in time and out of context, continue to silently reinforce cognitive and epistemological biases that form our identities and relationships with one another. Our societal lens goes through a process of recursion across generations, and I believe our rituals and lore need to shift accordingly to speak truth to the values of the present and the hopes for the future. For artists integrating these modalities into their practices, I would encourage questions around origin, intent, context, and consequence. I find that asking the right questions is usually a good place to start.
Connie Bakshi: Metaphorphosis
In reference to Rite Of Passage in particular, what role could AI play in enabling us to navigate the relationship between human memory and digital archive, cultural information, and representation across time?
In the Rite of Passage collaboration with The Museum of Permuted Art (MoPAr), we were really fascinated by the idea of death. Specifically in how rituals surrounding ancient Chinese imperial burial practices weren’t about life coming to an end but were more about a transformation between different planes of reality and how these planes could co-exist in the same space at the same time. I see AI as a conduit for this kind of co-existence. AI is a digital repository of our documented collective knowledge, ways of thinking, and memory of experience across time. In that sense, I think AI exists as something like an ansible that allows us to instantaneously communicate with versions of our collective self that have appeared across time. In a way, it creates a temporal experience in which we co-exist with multiple planes of self and time at once. The tools that have come out of AI enable us to both visualize and envision this multiplicity, and gives us a powerful means by which to confront and reconcile who we were, who we are, and who we want to become as a universal collective.
Can you tell us more about your experience working with the Artificial Intelligent Mind Collective (AIMC), Rivian Automotive as a Brand Strategist, and NEW INC, New Museum’s incubator for art, technology, and design? How might someone hoping to enable as wide an array of interests go about getting started?
I’m grateful that you frame my own multiplicity in a positive light. My tendency in life has been to chase my curiosity at any given time, regardless of where I might land (and usually much to my parents’ dismay). My curiosity has typically lived within the intersection of art, tech, and invisible narratives. I think my experiences just reflect the different modes of expression at this intersection.
However, I do recall times when I would bemoan the fact that my path was not a linear one, where I felt like ‘a jack of all trades, master of none.’ But I was talking with the wonderful Nathaniel Stern the other day, who pointed out the oft-forgotten entirety of the Shakespearean quote: ‘A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.’ This was in the context of a conversation around the notion of hybridity that has come to characterize many of the artists of web3, and often within the generative art space. At FemGen, I was thrilled to discover the multi-faceted backgrounds and experiences behind so many of the artists. I felt they each carried a unique perspective, wide and deep insight, flexibility in thought, and a type of nimble creativity. I’m inclined to believe these are symptoms that emerge from an active pursuit of multi-disciplinary interests. So to answer your question in short, I would urge those with a willing sense of adventure to embrace and chase hybridity.
Connie Bakshi: Anatomy Of Fire
You have a breadth of experience across academic, business, artistic, and technological disciplines: in what ways does web3 offer a value add to these pursuits?
I particularly love that web3 is still in a state of becoming. There is so much room for experimentation across media, technology, and ways of thinking. I think one of the most valuable aspects of the space is that it draws and connects constituents from so many sectors and global perspectives. Geographic agnosticism, diversity, and access are increasingly present and when there is a fresh landscape like web3, it poses this wonderful opportunity to actively dissolve the barriers and create cohesive collaboration between traditionally siloed voices and disciplines. When this happens, we have a much better chance at building an inclusive system that breaks from legacy practices and supports a more plural collective.
Connie Bakshi: linktree
Papa — linktr.ee/papajams
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