Emily Xie: Plastic Code

Emily Xie: Plastic Code

Chinese-American artist Emily Xie’s coded creations replicate old world fabrics in new world media. Combining AI and generative methods, she asks what it means to be material in a digital world.

Haja Marie Kanu

2 min read

Synthetic Dialogue

As new ways of making unfold, Notes on Creation reflects on the processes used by today’s most exciting Generative artists.

Plastic has a bad reputation. Environmental considerations aside, to be plastic is also to be changeable. If you look around the room that you are in, you will probably encounter a multitude of fabrics, surfaces, and objects made from this material that defines the present day. In Emily Xie’s digital artworks, code takes on this plasticity – the ability to mimic other fibres, like polyester can mimic wool. These explorations are a starting point:

I was interested in the idea of materiality and real-life textures, and I wanted to examine what that would mean in a digital context.

Emily Xie

Interwoven, 2023

Crescent Blue, 2023

Xie pulls references from a huge range of source material thanks to her art historical background. She is particularly drawn to traditional East Asian textile and art practices like ukiyo-e woodblock printing. Using a generative algorithm, these fabrics are reimagined as layers of texture made entirely out of code.

Ming Dynasty embroidery, early 17th Century

Otsuki Plain in Kai Province, 1852

Xie likens her coded parameters to a “digital loom.” Many consider the jacquard loom one of the earliest examples of a generative system (Woven Codes by Matt Deslauriers demonstrates this). Xie’s process demonstrates the throughlines between past and present and how generative methods have been upcycled across generations. She harnesses the technological capability of generative algorithms to construct a new kind of materiality.

Memories of Qilin, 2022

Guardian Lion

Guardian Lion builds on techniques and learnings from Memories of Qilina project that Xie began in 2021.

Conceptually, the series explores the notion of folklore. It is meant to evoke shapes, forms, and imagery that are subject to interpretation, much like the stories we tell.

Emily Xie

Artworks from the series reminded Xie’s mother of one mythological creature in particular. The qilin is a legendary being that has a dragon’s head, a deer-like body adorned with fish scales, along with a lion’s mane. According to some folklore, qilin can also shape-shift. The works in the series feature lifelike forms collaged out of different patterns and textures. As a long-form generative project created on the Art Blocks platform, the same code morphs and presents itself in a huge range of outputs. Malleable, shapeshifting, imitative, plastic.

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