Generative artist Emily Xie has created a series of 100 NFTs based on a 100-year-old quilt in LACMA’s collection
Pale, male and biggest in sales. It’s a strapline that applies to the kings of today’s generative art scene: Tyler Hobbs, Dmitri Cherniak, Larva Labs, Jack Butcher. Unfortunately, the leading creators of perhaps the original and most lucrative of the NFT genres largely mirror the homogeneity of their analogue forebears – shout out to Bridget Riley.
New York-based generative artist Emily Xie is acutely aware of this imbalance. In fact, it’s one she’s expanding into the world of software engineering where she was employed until just over a year ago, when the success of her teasing, textured generative NFTs allowed her to code and mint full-time.
In Xie’s latest series, “Interwoven,” the Harvard-educated artist doubles down on disrupting what has so far been a man’s game. She has made 100 generative quilt-inspired NFTs, which expired on June 7th.
“Interwoven” is the latest installment of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Cactoid Labs’ joint blockchain initiative, Remembrance of Things Future, which calls for digital advertisements to rip off works in the collection. Xie was immediately drawn to LACMA’s vintage textiles, but honed in on a late 19th-century quilt tucked away in the archives: Martha Lou Jones’s “Bullseye,” a kaleidoscope of tawny swirls that, from a distance, looks like it’s fringed with rope and rust. leather.
“On a visual level, it embodies generative art as it captures a strong tension between the human and the computational,” Xie told Artnet News. “Quilting and generative art involve algorithmic processes, and I wanted to explore these parallels.”
Jones’ quilt was not programmed by computer, but its precise regime of squares and circles certainly seems thought-provoking. Lean in (or zoom) a little closer and the imperfections and variations become apparent, an effect that captured Xie’s imagination and fed into her design process.
It is actually a sweet historical interplay between textiles and computers. Textile design stands as a precursor to early computers through the invention of the jacquard loom, which used punched cards to produce weaving patterns and would inspire the English polymath Ada Lovelace to write an algorithm for a mechanical computer system called the Analytical Engine. The loom inspires the computer – and vice versa.
“Quilting and computing have a deeply gendered history. Women have contributed significantly, but still face a troubling sense of invisibility or erasure,” said Xie. “I hoped to provoke some thought about this by weaving both fields together.”
Xie’s quilts don’t appear as generative NFTs—at least not as we’ve come to know them in the obtuse pixelation of CryptoPunks, the harsh Sol LeWitt-isms of autoglyphs, or the undulating rectangular fields of Hobbs’ Fidenzas. Sure, there’s a pattern (read: algorithm) at work: a warm background color layered with a large, irregular shape and a constellation of pearl-like circles.
But they stand out as one-of-a-kind as a person’s beloved rug, each studded with a figurative animal (a lean elephant, a galloping horse, a duck with a tie), and small markings, stains of coffee and mud that have yet to be removed. They don’t quite smell like an old carpet, but almost.
Here, Xie’s ability to give generative art life, to break its often rigid formulation, predates “Interwoven,” but may have something to do with the research that preceded the coding. Xie studied video tutorials on common patterns, went to local textile shops and read a lot about its history and development.
“We were excited to see Emily gravitate toward quilts in the museum’s collection,” Lady Cactoid of Cactoid Labs told Artnet News. “I am struck by the textures, organic shapes and sense of movement she is able to bring through via her algorithms.”
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