ARTICLE BY Gabe Filippa

Does AI Dream of Sneaker Grails? An Interview with Artist STR4NGETHING


While we were promised self-lacing Nike Mags and hovercrafts in the late 80s (the Adapt doesn’t quite cut it), the advent of new technologies are nevertheless opening whole new possibilities for the sneaker industry.

Artist STR4NGETHING went viral earlier this month with his AI-generated artwork that manifested streetwear in the Renaissance period. Inspired by the ’Mandela Effect of Fashion’, the unidentified STR4NGETHING hooked up with us from an undisclosed location to chat about the future of AI and sneakers.

Now, how does one update their postal address on Skynet?

sneaker freaker x STR4NGETHING

Can you break down the design process for us? How does the tech/software actually work?
Some call promoting a craft, others like to call themselves wordsmiths, whereas I just prefer the traditional words ‘Artist/Designer’ – which is very controversial in the traditional art world (as they believe it is all the AI’s doing).

But so was being labelled an artist as a photographer when cameras were developed (just a click of a button), or the rise of abstractionism. In fact, man still hold the same view today that abstract art should not be called art or photography.

The point I'm trying to get to from your question is that breaking down my design process is not as easy as giving you the ISO and f-stop to take a photograph at a certain time of day to get the best output.

We can take a long time building specific prompts for the AI that we hold close to us, think of it as a McDonald’s recipe or KFC’s special herbs and spices. There needs to be human input (i.e., a human's imagination to create these prompts and to add finishing touches/edits afterwards  – think Duchamp's Fountain – or to just use as a base image if you are a digital artist.

I don’t want to get to much into the complexities of the coding of AI and bore people, because it can be quite easy to get started using Stable diffusion (playgroundai.com), Midjourney or Dall-e, and I want people to embrace it and just try it. You will soon be up until the AM in no time trying to get the AI to understand exactly what you have imagined. Plus, there are plenty of sites that people upload their prompts to help others learn like Krea.ai.

Tell us about the 'Mandela Effect'. How does it inform your work?
Just to put it into context for your readers who are unfamiliar with the Mandela Effect, it's a popular mainstream conspiracy theory that did the rounds on Tiktok and YouTube a few years back. People believe that time has fluctuated and things we knew to be true are in fact a lie, or have changed and we have only just noticed.

Take Disney's Snow White classic line for example, ‘Mirror mirror on the wall’. To some, that is exactly what was said. But go grab a VHS of it and the line is, ‘Magic mirror on the wall’. Some also swear this is exactly how they remember it.

I chose Nike as a brand to start with (so far, I’ve released artworks that incorporate Nike, Louis Vuitton and Stussy, Trapstar, Tommy Hilfiger and Chanel) because they have been part of the culture for so long, and a champion of artistic styles that I wanted to celebrate them.

I also wanted people to question their own reality: ‘Are you just starting to notice just how long Nike has been a part of culture now through my (what some would call) Renaissance masterpieces?’

sneaker freaker x STR4NGETHING

Why did you decide on Renaissance-era styling?
I have seen trends come and go. Because of the pandemic, trends really leaned towards nostalgia. People wanted to feel comfort after living through such a crazy and sad point in human history. So we’re seeing a lot of designers channel 1980s and 1990s aesthetics, like baggy garms in fashion.

But I knew that times were also advancing in technology – a new Renaissance period in human civilisation. I could see the Renaissance revival being the next big trend. We’ve already seen this through music videos like Bandokay’s ‘Memories’ and album covers like Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

So, why not marry what is already known to those who admire the arts of the long Renaissance period to include imagery and tech we see today?

Why do you think people really resonated with the artwork?
I think it's just dope and resonates with the culture today. Plus, when people learn it’s AI, it makes it that extra bit special, as this is the first time an AI artist has hit the mainstream and gone viral. I think a lot of people are taken back by it, but still can’t deny how dope it looks.

sneaker freaker x STR4NGETHING

Thoughts on AI recently winning the art competition in Colorado?
This is a great moment for identifying AI as art. Again referring back to Duchamp's Fountain, the artist's ready-made porcelain urinal sculpture signed ‘R.Mutt’ was submitted for an exhibition of ‘The Society of Independent Artists’ in 1917. For years it was considered not real art, but now sits in the MOMA.

,sneaker freaker x STR4NGETHING

Have Nike ever contacted you regarding copyright?
Nope. I am not purporting to be Nike or affiliated with Nike. This is all art and expression, and art falls under fair use as artists. Think ‘Campbell's Soup Can’ by Andy Warhol. I believe that those at Nike appreciate the compliment and nod to them.

I am not the first and won't be the last artist to use their logo. If brands ever made it a problem then it would be bad on all artists who use different mediums. Photographers would need to seek permission to use images if they ever caught someone in a top displaying a brand; collage artists would need to seek permission from every cutting they use.

I won’t ever be selling art as merchandise (with logos) or creating lines with the logo unless Nike ever did want to do WR0ng Er4 collaboration in their Web3 adventures or even Web2. I feel we share the same symbiosis of what Web3 (Web3 is the digital way of living. Think Metaverse, crypto etc) is trying to achieve.

Nike is Nike and I am a STR4NGETHING.

What is the future of AI and sneakers/streetwear?
AI is going to play a massive part. There are already designers in the industry working with it or trying to understand it to help them (an amazing designer for Reebok even reached out via IG to say how he admires my silhouettes and colourways).

We all take ideas from each other. But now, by giving AI a loose creative freedom, we can take inspiration from ideas that are unimaginable.

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