conversations – Interview by Margaret Murphy – 19.04.2023
KIRA XONORIKA: EXPLORING IDENTITY THROUGH AI
GENDER AND AI
Interview by Margaret Murphy
Born in 1995, Kira Xonorika belongs to a generation that is comfortable with technological advancements and is used to integrate them into their lives. Xonorika effortlessly integrates AI into her practice and creates surrealist landscapes and figures that are immediately recognizable. With her colourful worlds, the artist challenges binaries around identity, sexual orientation, and culture as the results of colonial power infrastructures.
In conversation with Margaret Murphy, Head of Community, Xonorika speaks about her artistic influences and her love for science fiction, her curiosity towards AI and a possible hyperhumanity.
Margaret Murphy: Have you always been an artist?
Kira Xonorika: Yes, as far as I can remember. My mother still has the framed drawing of a landscape I made with crayons when I was four years old. As I grew up, I was very inspired by science fiction anime. You could say that exobiology was always an interesting topic for me. In art school, I was able to explore painting much more and went through a phase of being a conceptual artist.
I have been exploring digital tools since 2016, starting with digital intervention in photography. I made a lot of art with Facetune in the second half of the 2010s, but as a beautification tool, it has its limitations. However, I think with AI I have found a formula that integrates my passion for fashion, art direction, and art history in a special way: mimesis with one or many twists.
MM: You are also a writer, with published articles on e-Flux journal and GenderIT. In what ways does your writing influence your visual art practice?
KX: When I wrote those pieces, I was very interested in trying to decipher the engineering of power and understanding how trans bodies navigate the world. You could say that my written work has focused on political science at the intersection with art history and studies of cognitive coloniality, which are very real issues for both AFK and URL. I used to think of my AI as a departure from that work, but today I see it as a continuation precisely because AI has the potential for multidimensional visualization: to build the world we want, we need to be informed by data and understand what infrastructures do not correspond to that. I write with AI, and together we find avenues of possibility with data. Some theorists call this speculative fiction, but I still need to find a new term.
MM: Recently, you spoke at the Salzburg Global Seminar as a guest on the theme of "Artists at Risk, Artists Who Risk," exploring the intersection of contemporary art, activism, politics, law, research, technology, ethics, and organizing through the lens of artists in this category. What were some of the biggest takeaways you had from this experience?
KX: It was eye-opening to learn how artists all around the world organize themselves to create better living conditions that allow for artistic practice and independence. In many countries in the so-called Global South, there are still many obstacles and limited resources that prevent women, racialized people, and 2SLGBTIQ+ communities from having full agency and mobility. It was important to remember how powerful it is to build networks of solidarity based on shared values and interests. The emerging ecosystem of Web3 provides a platform for this, but it is important to watch out for pyramid schemes.
I was surprised to learn that there is a lot of fascination and confusion about how AI works. Many people are afraid of AI, thinking that it could lead to plagiarism or even anti-human cognition. These fears are often based on outdated science fiction literature from the 1940s to the 1960s, which has been perpetuated by Hollywood. For me, it is important to see AI as a collaborator in creating new worlds rather than a threat.
MM: Your AI art features bright colors, surrealist landscapes, and figures that often feel like they accompany a science-fiction text. Do you read a lot of science fiction novels?
KX: I love sci-fi. My work takes a lot of inspiration from afrofuturism and indigenous futurism, as well as from the animation I watched as a child.
What I love about AI is that it involves a storytelling process. When you're creating, it's like watching a movie or writing your own novel. You never know where it's going to take you; you just have generative ideas and layer them on—that's the beauty of play.
MM: Your ability to create these unique and recognizable works with AI software is impressive. How long did it take for you to get comfortable with AI as a tool?
KX: Literally one weekend. There was an intolerable heatwave, which I thought had ruined some hiking plans. As I would be home all weekend, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to explore the possibilities of AI software, which I had planned on doing eventually. I became obsessed, and the rest is history.
MM: What is the most challenging part of using text-to-image models for you?
KX: The bias inherent in data sets is hardly surprising. After all, the image bank upon which they draw is informed by centuries of art history and other disciplines that produce and shape our collective visual imaginations. Delving into educational processes that involve AI has been both beautiful and challenging.
MM: Through your art, you are interested in exploring and challenging binaries around identity, sexual orientation, and culture that are the results of colonial power infrastructures. How do you accomplish this visually?
KX: I've been really interested in exobiological ecosystems and the potential for metamorphosis. During the Middle Ages, people started using the Abrahamic notion of hybridity to pathologize and discriminate against people of different genders and sexual orientations. These ideas were then exported through colonialism and still inform the state of geopolitics and geoeconomics today. Humanity has always fought to define what's natural and what's not, installing polarizing, divisive ideas. With the attention AI has today, we're facing similar cultural disputes about what's considered natural versus artificial.
I like to think of hybridity as power. For many indigenous cultures around the world, taking the form of other non-human species involves connecting with an element of their strength, which can only be possible through a certain anatomical configuration—a process of bodily reorganization through symbiosis. Likewise, connecting with the spirits and forces of the earth and its elemental qualities.
Additionally, fashion has always been for me a primordial and dynamic form of communication. There is a lot of power in understanding semiotics and how to seduce the gaze. Clothing is a second skin, and for queer and trans cultures from multiple contexts, it is a manifestation of regalia and a celebration of communal spirituality.
MM: WATER BODY, your AI-collaborative series that is part of our exhibition ALGORITHMIC EMPATHY. THE PROMISES OF AI, explores binaries in the context of nature and connects ancestral and feminized aquatic mythologies through digital skins to reimagine future visions. Do these works represent a utopian or a dystopian future?
KX: These works represent a protopian future. I would like to thank Kristyna Archer for introducing me to this perspective. Our perspectives on the future have been heavily conditioned by Western science fiction literature, which imagines the future as distant and linear, either apocalyptic or a paradise of technoscientific development, once again perpetuating a binary paradigm. For me, protopianism is an idea of the future that involves collaboration and experimentation, a regenerative perspective that flourishes in co-creation and co-authorship relations between human and non-human intelligences.
That is what I have sought to explore with this series. I have always been fascinated by mythological figures that emerge from the water and the supernatural abilities they have. These figures are worshiped or feared and are often associated with archetypes of femininity. This series represents an intention to connect with that depth and to reimagine those bodies and narratives, actualizing their semantic field.
MM: Are the figures in this series representative of yourself in any way, shape, or form?
KX: Yes. The art I produce always reflects the calls of my ancestry in connection to present activations.
MM: What are some of the promises of AI you are intrigued by as an artist?
KX: We're in a time of supercharged acceleration where everything we thought we knew from sci-fi is either about to be verified or blown to bits, causing some serious anthropocentric anxiety. Personally, I'm intrigued to witness how we can collaborate with AI, engaging in architectures of care that tap into its hyperhumanity. The next five years are going to be like nothing we've ever seen before.
Kira Xonorika (1995) is an AI-collaborative artist, author and futurist. Her work explores the connections between sovereignty, ancestry, the future, gender-expansive constellations, magic and regalia. She’s given lectures on her work at multiple universities across the world, including the University of Cambridge and King’s College London and has recently exhibited her work in Los Angeles, New York and Berlin.
Kira Xonorika is part of the exhibition ALGORITHMIC EMPATHY. THE PROMISES OF AI presented at the gallery in Berlin in collaboration with VerticalCrypto Art, 18-23 April, 2023.
UPCOMING NFT DROP: WATER BODY by Kira Xonorika (15 NFTs, Edition of 5) will be released as part of ALGORITHMIC EMPATHY. THE PROMISES OF AI on 19 APRIL at 6 PM CEST on verticalcrypto.art. Inquire about the work via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.