Hideki Nakazawa: Art-Related Patent Inventions in the Framework of Identity, with Language as a Dividing Form and Subject Matter as a Connecting Form

Clancco  ||   17 October 2008

"Intellectual Property: A Chronology Compendium of Intersections between Contemporary Art and Utility Patents," by Robert Thill, was first published in Leonardo: Journal of the International Society for the Arts, Science and Technology 37, no. 2 (2004), pp. 117-124. An expanded, adapted version of it is published here in serial form with the abstract, introduction, and summary extracted. Starting on March 10, 2008, a different project in the compendium will appear biweekly. Please note that each entry is a unique electronic publication and will not be stored in an online archive after the two-week publication period. Below is the sixteenth entry of this series (published here on October 14, 2008).

hideki.JPGHideki Nakazawa, Human figure viewed in slice mode (a 3D object with an inside structure), 1996. Software "Digital Nendo" (Digital Clay): Software designed and directed by Hideki Nakazawa, 1996. © 1996 Ask Co., Ltd.

Hideki Nakazawa: Art-Related Patent Inventions in the Framework of Identity, with Language as a Dividing Form and Subject Matter as a Connecting Form

After Hideki Nakazawa's work gained attention through illustrations that explored the intrinsic visual qualities of computer graphics of the early 1990s and utilized their technical limitations and underpinnings to create a mostly figurative, jagged-edged, pixilated aesthetic [1], he transformed his creative practice and entered the arena of fine arts in the mid 1990s. Nakazawa's artistic shape-shifting involved new insights into creative work processes that ultimately emphasized developing methods, rather than privileging products [2]; it also coincided with Nakazawa's formulation of his initial art-related patent inventions. Linking his impulse to invent to both Renaissance and modernist traditions [3,4], Nakazawa has written, "From the first, from 1996, I believed that inventing itself is the fine art" [5]. Some of Nakazawa's patent inventions form the basis of 3D bitmap software---an extension of 2D bitmap software, which is a pixel-based or raster image system. Before his invention, 3D software had been limited to vector graphics, which are organized with set mathematical formulas that do not allow image distortion when scale is changed. His patent "Voxel data processing using attributes thereof" [6,7] encapsulated his invention. A primary characteristic of 3D bitmap software is its accumulative mapping forms' ability to create interlocking structures that move beyond the discrete, three-dimensional surface shapes available through vector graphics; it melds form and color and is able to construct and reveal an internal structure in three-dimensional forms that can be displayed and observed in a variety of views. Nakazawa named the software that was developed from his patent invention "Digital Nendo" (Digital Clay) to emphasize the visual technology as "material" [8]. Nakazawa views the work as in keeping with a modernist tradition that he links to originality, identity, and language [9]. Interestingly, his precise choice of terms, metaphors, and subjects to describe the patent invention at times evokes the logic, ambition, and violence of certain strains of historic avant-garde art.

There was only one word, just "3D," in the world of digital graphics before my invention. Then, I identified the said "3D" as "Vector 3D," and I added a new term, "Bitmap 3D," in the world of digital graphics. What I did through the invention was to cut the world using the power or function of language. And only in order to settle my invention, I applied for patents. One of my understandings is that post-modernism tends to break down barriers, separating genres, such as fine art and graphic illustration, high culture and subculture, which I think is the opposite of cutting the world [10,11].

This divisionist / futurist interpretation of Nakazawa's emphasis on pixilation, dynamism, and "cutting," is supported by his use of an amusingly grim schematic image of a digitally animated human body in cross section or "slice mode" to embody his patent invention [12], which he disarmingly connects to his formal training as a doctor [13]. Affirming inventing as the core of his fine art, Nakazawa writes, "I saw patents as a way to encompass this practice, as a way to exist in this real world logically and legitimately (not in somebody's mad brain), as a way to document my invention more as a real and actual invention than as academic science" [14,15]. Distinguishing his work from the historic precedents of dada and conceptual art, Nakazawa asserts that his art-related patents are different from the practice of placing non-art objects into an art context (the now-historic, debunked idea of the "ready-made"), writing that "most patents are non-art objects, but my patents are art-connected objects like invented art materials or drawings by Da Vinci" [16,17].

--Robert Thill is an independent writer

References and Notes:

1. According to Nakazawa, Backa CG (Silly CG) is a variation of the Heta-Uma (Bad-Good) style. He has written, "Heta-Uma was a big school and a movement of subcultural illustration scene in early 1980s Japan, before the era of personal computers. Silly CG (Baka CG) in early 1990s Japan was a famous and popular movement in spite of only a few artists. I was a representative of the movement and I was an advocate. However, the person who created the term Silly CG is not me, but Mr. Gabin Ito. Moreover, Gabin Ito's original meaning for Silly CG was a bit different from my style of computer graphics. Anyway, when I held my first computer graphics show in January 1990, art magazine editors called my work Silly CG. Then, I accepted the word and even came to advocate it. There was no connection between Heta-Uma and Silly CG in Gabin Ito's original idea. I newly claimed Silly CG as a revival of Heta-Uma and a revival of Techno-Pop. (In Japan, the word 'techno' is used not only in techno-pop music but also in the sense of loving technology.)" E-mail by Nakazawa to the author, 6 October 2008. Examples of Nakazawa's Silly CG can be viewed with text in Japanese at Aloalo International / Hideki Nakazawa, http://aloalo.co.jp/nakazawa/ippin/archives/cat_50223213.html.

2. Nakazawa has written, "I think that developing a method is more important than the final product in many cases, but not always, case by case. As for my patent project, the method is the all: there's no need for the final product. The existence of an unsatisfactory final product is even harmful." E-mail by Nakazawa to the author, 2 October 2008. Nakazawa expanded on his work's relationship to method: "I also once styled myself a Methodicist. Methodicism was an ism, not a theorem, because I knew 'pure' Method Art could not exist. I do not think that Method Art is nonsense by reason of the impossibility of 'pure' Method Art. I think Method Art is meaningful in spite of the impossibility of 'pure' Method Art. This is the reason why Methodicism was not a theorem, just an ism, being neither right nor wrong. My Art Patent project is similar. No pure idea can be abstracted. In spite of that, I made an effort to purify the idea. As I already wrote to you, final products are insufficient to manifest the idea. Moreover, not only final products but also patents are insufficient---and not only final products and patents but also language is insufficient. Patents have messy meanings like exclusive privilege. Language depends on messy histories and convention. But I do not give up making an effort to purify the idea. This aspect might be seen as if my project is an ism or something. Yes, I cannot explain more about my project without using the words 'fine art.' My will toward abstracting the idea is the reason why I call it 'fine art.'" E-mail by Nakazawa to the author, 6 October 2008. To learn more about methodicism, see the manifesto at Aloalo International / Hideki Nakazawa, http://aloalo.co.jp/nakazawa/method/index.html. Also, see Hideki Nakazawa, "Methodicist Q & A," Method no. 15 (July 3, 2002), a bimonthly e-mail bulletin, Aloalo International / Hideki Nakazawa, http://www.aloalo.co.jp/nakazawa/method/method015_e.html.

3. Nakazawa specifies the Renaissance connection: "In the art of Da Vinci, the method, like drawings of ideas and inventions of paint material, is more important for Da Vinci himself than the final artwork, I think. If not, we cannot explain why he did not finish so many artworks." Returning to the concept of "method," Nakazawa continues, "I believe that the completion of method is the end of art in the case of Da Vinci. I believe that any actual artwork in this world may be unsatisfactory in the case of Da Vinci. In the computer graphics, my standing point is that the computer data is the perfect artwork, while the prints of the computer data or the displayed images of the computer data are not perfect, because each output differs with different printers, different monitors. I think this thinking is similar to Plato's idealism, in which the actual world is denied as an unsatisfactory shadow. As for my patents, to document my idea as language of patent is more perfect than actual final products." E-mail by Nakazawa to the author, 2 October 2008.

4. Nakazawa has written, "Modernists embrace originality, postmodernists do not. Originality links into the patent system. Originality also links into identity. Identity cuts up this world into pieces, like language. I think that modernism strengthens language, while postmodernism weakens language. My standing point is that I am a modernist because I use language." E-mail by Nakazawa to the author, 2 October 2008.

5. E-mail by Nakazawa to the author, 30 September 2008.

6. For information on the definition and use of voxel processing, see the University of Iowa, Image Analysis Facility, http://www.uiowa.edu/~image/iaf/concepts/voxels/voxel_processing.html.

7. Hideki Nakazawa, U.S. patent no. 6,144,384, "Voxel data processing using attributes thereof," filed 12 February 1997, granted 7 November 2000, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=6,144,384.PN.&OS=PN/6,144,384&RS=PN/6,144,384. Two related Japan patents follow. The first is Hideki Nakazawa, JPN patent no. 2,968,209, "Device for processing a 3-D image and the method," filed 17 July 1996. To view the patent application, visit Patent and Utility Model Gazette DB of the Industrial Property Digital Library (IPDL), which offers access to the IP Gazettes of the Japan Patent Office (JPO), http://www4.ipdl.inpit.go.jp/Tokujitu/tjsogodben.ipdl?N0000=115 (add kind code "A" and number "H09-288743," then click "Search"; click "detail" button at top left for more information). The second is Hideki Nakazawa, JPN patent no. 2,968,210, "Device for processing a 3-D image," filed 17 July 1996. To view the patent application, visit Patent and Utility Model Gazette DB of the IPDL, which offers access to the IP Gazettes of the JPO, http://www4.ipdl.inpit.go.jp/Tokujitu/tjsogodben.ipdl?N0000=115 (add kind code "A" and number "H09-288744," then click "Search"; click "detail" button at top left for more information).

8. In 1996, Nakazawa wrote that "the reason I named it 'Digital Nendo' (in Japanese, 'nendo' means 'clay') is that I wanted to emphasize its being a material. The world's first bitmap 3D software, 'Digital Nendo,' can freely define the 32(cubed)=32768 3D-section unit, the fact of which means that we now have a gravity-free and topology-free 3D world for the first time in the world. That is really an epochal and significant event which could never possibly happen with conventional object-figure-mode 3D tools. And, in addition, it is very significant as well in the art history, that is, in the long-lasted opposition, 'Venetian school vs. Florentine school.'" Hideki Nakazawa, "Significance of 'Digital Nendo' in Visual Art History," Aloalo International / Hideki Nakazawa, http://aloalo.co.jp/nakazawa/old/nendo/zimi.html. The three patents listed in note 7 form the basis for "Digital Nendo."

9. See note 5. Nakazawa elaborates on identity and language as a dividing form: "Identity separates oneself from others, which will manifest as different names in language. Suppose you were a botanist. Identity, like the number of petals, will separate these plants from those plants, which will make you call them by different names. The botanist has to cut up the world of plants into pieces by naming, which is what I meant by language being a dividing form. Suppose you were a creator. Identity in the world of creating something new is called originality. Originality includes both identity and creation. From this thread, I linked originality with identity." E-mail by Nakazawa to the author, 4 October 2008.

10. E-mail by Nakazawa to the author, 4 October 2008.

11. A prolific writer and diligent student of art history, Nakazawa continues a modernist tradition of creating distinct names for his various creative periods, styles, forms, products, and philosophies (and has even produced a manifesto), supporting his strong belief in the power of language to describe, define, document, and promote.

12. To view the animation, see the "Digital Nendo" page of Aloalo International / Hideki Nakazawa, http://aloalo.co.jp/nakazawa/old/nendo/img/a_mov.gif.

13. Referencing the "slice mode" of viewing, Nakazawa explains, "I am a doctor, and when I was a medical student, I was trained to solidly grasp the human body's inside structure through CT-scan pictures put side by side." Nakazawa [8].

14. E-mail by Nakazawa to the author, 2 October 2008.

15. Nakazawa has sold his patents to develop products. About this undertaking, he has written: "My act of selling my patents to somebody else is not so important. Although it is not so important, there is a bit of meaning. There are many many many inventions in this world; most of them are merely mad. To be patented would prove that the invention is not mad. There are many many patents in this world; most of them are merely trivial. To be sold would prove that the patent is not trivial. And also, I do not deny that I wanted to recover the money. These two things, not to be mad nor trivial and recovering the money, are less important than inventing it and documenting it. Selling is not necessary to my patents nor to my art. However, it is better for my patents to be sold than not to be sold, because the value of my patents (not trivial) will be clearer to others. It is better for my art that the value of my patents comes to be clear to others." E-mail by Nakazawa to the author, 4 October 2008.

16. E-mail by Nakazawa to the author, 6 October 2008.

17. Nakazawa discusses his art-related patent project in the online audio guide of "Aporia," EFA Gallery, New York, NY, April 1 through May 25, 2006, at EFA Gallery, http://aporia-heuristic.com. In the audio file he describes the most influential factors that have informed his practice as an artist as "large quantities of the will to be being an artist."

Previous Articles in the Series

"Luis Camnitzer: The Vanity of the Inventor and the Vanity of the Artist," September 22, 2008

"Olga and Alexander Florensky's Russian Patent: A "Science-Technical Museum" Displays an Invented Truth," September 8, 2008

"Christoph Keller: Resisting the Anti-utilitarianism of Art," August 25, 2008

"Lisa Schmitz's World Artistic Property Organization: A Patent-Office Equivalent for Art," August 11, 2008

"Walter Martin: Contemporary Witness to Historic Patent Drawings, " July 28, 2008

"Michael Asher: Circumstance and Perception of Originality," July 14, 2008

"Hubert Duprat: Stakeholders in Art, Science, Industry, Theory, and History Converge on a Fragile Casing Created by Individual Insect Larvae for the Purpose of Self-Protection," June 27, 2008

"Buckminster Fuller: Visual Reflections on Patent Inventions," June 13, 2008

"Nancy Burson: Exploring the Passage of Time through Morphing Portraits," June 2, 2008

"The European Patent Office: Contemporary Art as a Transcending Force in an Institutional Patent Context," May 19, 2008

"William W. Adkins: An Untrained Innovator Is Reclassified as a Visionary Artist," May 5, 2008

"Alice Hutchins: Moveable Elements in a Personal Magnetic Field," April 21, 2008

"Konrad Lueg: Centralizing the Spectator in an Ephemeral Art Invention," April 7, 2008

"Jean Tinguely: Kinetic Sculpture as an Expressive Drawing and Painting Device," March 24, 2008

"Yves Klein: Artistic Expression, Technological Progress, and Spiritual Evolution," March 10, 2008