The compact disc used to be a symbol of the multimedia era. Now, it has become almost obsolete. Most consumers today listen to music on streaming services as compared to the physical format.
Yuichiro Katsumoto's CD Prayer (2018) pays homage to this once-loved medium, reviving the CD as the halo of the Buddha statue that simultaneously plays hi-fi music. The form of the Buddha was created by remixing 3D data shared by Yahoo! Japan under the Creative Commons license. The data is also shared at Thingiverse.com, allowing anyone to 3D print their own CD Prayer.
Before he showcased his work at Supernormal's Technology in Art exhibition back in April, we caught up with the gadget maker who references the zen-like qualities of Korean American artist, Nam Jun Paik, as well as Shin Buddhism for this particular work.
Firstly, what got you into art?
When I was in the elementary school, I enjoyed making Bandai's plastic model, Tamiya's mini 4WD, and DIY electric circuits. Though, I did not particularly like art classes in school – we were mainly taught the skill of art, but these lessons did not expand my artistic mind.
In high school, I tried my hand at making a film with my friends. It turned out pretty to be pretty bad quality wise, but this form of expression was very enjoyable for me. Because of that, I enrolled in a video production course in university where I came across a strange work created by other students. The work, titled atMOS, was a chimera involving ideas such as purikura (photo sticker booth in Japan) and Dance Dance Revolution.
I knew I had the sense and skill to create something similar but did not realise the ways in which I could innovate in the media world — in terms of its system and expression. Soon after, I entered graduate school and studied interaction design. It was in 2006 that I began making gadgets. Actually, I see myself more as a gadget maker than an artist.
Apart from seeing it as a tribute to past devices of the multimedia world, what prompted you to create CD Prayer?
Most people associate gadgets to digital cameras, smartphones or gaming hardware. I see gadgets as household goods with microcontrollers. Because of that, I think my work can be sold at places such as Tokyu Hands or Don Don Donki.
Household goods are categorised differently around the world depending on the setting.
For example, Daiso may sell affordable products while MoMA might exhibit unique household items (also known as art pieces) in their galleries. This led me to examining what ‘good’ household products entailed.
In response to that, I wanted to create something that could allow people to have fun with. Thus, CD Prayer was invented.
Can you bring us through the process of creating it?
I usually start prototyping after identifying the function of a product. In creating CD Prayer, I started by finding a shop that sold portable CD players. However, the only option I managed to find in Singapore was far from affordable. I ended up buying a Philips CD Player online and hacked it.
After that, I found a 3D Buddha sculpture under Creative Commons License, distributed by Yahoo! Japan — which I remixed to fit the player. I wanted to create a contrast to the shine of a CD, which explains the rough texture of the Buddha.
What are some of the challenges you face on a regular basis when it comes to prototyping?
Procurement of electric parts was the biggest problem around 2011 when I first arrived in Singapore. Now, we can buy parts cheaply through AliExpress. We can also cut acrylic at places such as FabCafe Singapore at ArtScience Museum. 3D printing has also become more affordable.
Above all, the biggest problem for me is time. Ideally, I would like to concentrate on one prototype for at least one to two weeks – the quality of work will significantly improve. However, due to other projects and commitments, I have can’t afford to dedicate all my energy on one thing a week.
Hence, I work on it bit by bit every day. It’s important that keep myself conscious of the creation process.
How important is the element of play in art to you, and why?
The Japanese tea ceremony is a form of play that eventually became an art form. During the tea ceremony, the host and guests involve humour and poetry in their conversations. They also see household goods as art works.
I think that ‘play’ in itself is what makes our life an art form and drives our artistic tendencies.
How do you see technology further informing the works of gadget creators like yourself in the next five to ten years?
With the invention of drones and robots, motor wares are reducing in cost while increasing performance. Liftware is an example of how technology can be further incorporated in daily goods to change people’s lives. That said, technology has also contributed to the neglect of certain traditional craft as well.
Moving forward, I'm working on realising kinetic typography using robots as a study. Apart from that, I will continue to remix our beloved media forms with using the Buddha as a representative icon.