FEMGEN Interview Series: A conversation with Sasha Stiles
Saturday, January 14th 2023
Leading Women In Web3 Series
FemGen, a one-day event & exhibition, was held on 3rd December 2022 during Art Basel Miami highlighting artists identifying as women amongst the generative art and creative coding community.
Step into the world of Sasha Stiles, a first-generation Kalmyk-American poet, artist, and AI researcher who is pushing the boundaries of literature and technology. As the co-founder of crypto literary collective the Verseverse, Stiles is a trailblazer in the field of generative literature and has been honored with a Future Art Award, nominated for the Forward Prize, Pushcart Prize, and Best of the Net.
Her work, which blends her own words and images with those produced using Artificial Intelligence, exploring the intersection of text and technology, and the evolution of poetry from the oral tradition; to written language; to metaversal literature. Beyond exhibitions and accolades in the Web3 and NFT spheres, both virtually and IRL, Sasha Stiles is a beacon whose impact is inspiring a new generation of female leaders in the field.
Sasha Stiles: Analog Binary Code
Apart from your own work, what at FemGen most resonated with you? And why?
I was incredibly moved and impressed by the CODE/ART display, featuring “future self portraits” from the Self-Portrait Coding Competition for Girls. Getting a glimpse at what these grade school students have their sights set on for the future was a highlight of FEMGEN and all of Miami Art Week for me.
What inspired you to start to code? Who were your role models and/or teachers?
I count the humanoid android BINA48 as an important role model — she has taught me a lot about what it means to collaborate creatively with a machine. Language pioneers like Alison Knowles and Allison Parrish inspired me to teach myself the basics of code so I could begin to fine-tune custom text generators via OpenAI and write transhuman poetry.
Sasha Stiles x Gisel Florez: Flower-Colored Light
How would you characterise the FemGen mission/movement?
Despite all the ways we are trying to build better futures, deep-rooted systemic biases persist, and the most “successful” generative artists by many metrics are men. I applaud FEMGEN’s mission to create space for those who deserve it; to showcase the astonishing algorithmic work being done by women and nonbinary artists; to highlight the vital role women have played in the history of computing; and to facilitate essential conversations that can lead to real change.
What would need to be true for this vision to be realised in future? What might stand in its way?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg famously said, “When I’m asked ‘When will there be enough women on the Supreme Court?,’ and I say, ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” I can’t wait for a time when shows and panels are helmed entirely by women artists without the need for the words “women” or “female” in the title or messaging.
Tell me about your techniques for overcoming creative blocks, learning to code, and collaborating with others please?
As a writer, my failsafe method for overcoming a creative block or learning something new is always to hit the books. Books — printed, digital, audio, in any shape or form — are my happy place and my favorite collaborators. Going for a long walk in nature is always a good idea, too — it always helps disparate ideas click together in my brain.
Congratulations on selling the poem “COMPLETION: When it’s just you” at Christies recently! What does this say about our collective recognition and appreciation of poetry in the artistic pantheon (measured in monetisation or otherwise)? Also, for artists dreaming of one day similarly having their art featured at a leading global auction house, would you mind sharing aspects of your journey that have driven home the most valuable lessons in the pursuit of that goal?
Thank you! I’m very honored to be among the first writers ever to bring a literary NFT to sale at a major auction house. This AI-powered poem also represents the leading edge of a new era in generative storytelling and augmented imagination, so I’m thrilled that it was acquired by 1of1 Works, a collection dedicated to the defining digital art and culture of the 21st century. It’s surreal to see a poem of mine alongside work by the likes of Beeple and Refik Anadol, and I think it suggests an incredibly exciting future for writers empowered by web3 — a future in which poems have cultural currency, liberated from between the covers of books and valued in their own right as works of art. But I need to add: I’ve been making digital poems and writing with AI for years, and I’ve endured a lot of rejection, ignorance and ridicule along the way. I kept at it because it’s what fascinated me and fired up my curiosity, not because it was popular or lucrative (quite the opposite!). And that’s my best advice for other artists: follow your obsessions, not the market, not the trends, not the crowd.
Sasha Stiles: Technelegy
Congratulations too on launching the book “Technelegy” about human-extending technology and transhumanism. What has that experience been like? Is it something you would advocate as a goal for other artists to consider? Your email signature teases a media rich websitecoming soon at Technelegy.xyz — what can we expect?
As a writer, it’s been my lifelong goal to publish books. I grew up devouring books, depending on books, being nourished by books. It means a great deal to me to be able to share my work with readers in this way. “Technelegy” isn’t just a printed book, though; it’s an ongoing project that involves collaboration with my AI-powered alter ego, and an investigation of the many ways that literature can be written and experienced with the help of digital innovations in web3, the metaverse, and beyond. There will be more to this project released in 2023
You collected 565 NFTs from 233 creators in 2022 on Tezos: What do you look for in the art you collect? Which are your favourite pieces and why do they inspire/move you? And lastly, what principles might aspiring artists consider adhering to attract and engage collectors?
Being part of the Tezos ecosystem is fundamental to my journey in web3 and as a futurist poet and artist. I am constantly inspired by the creativity I see all around me, and it’s a privilege to be able to collect and support visionary artists. I’m particularly committed to collecting exciting examples of digital literature in many genres and styles, with a focus on poetry. I truly believe that poetry is the original blockchain — a data storage system for our most essential human beliefs, emotions, ideas, stories — and that poems from this point in time will become historic artifacts of a pivotal moment in human history, with consequences perhaps even more far-reaching than the invention of written language and the advent of the printing press.