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What does the future of technology look like? The answer depends on how optimistic you are. Japanese design collective Ikeuchi wants to leave the question open. They believe it’s healthy to have a balance of optimism and pessimism in society. Their high-tech functional futuristic designs are created with a bricolage of old computers, speakers and tablets, recontextualising gadgets we take for granted. According to Ikeuchi, the future is as hopeful or as bleak as our outlook.
Interview tak­en from METAL Magazine issue 46. Adapted for the online version. Order your copy here.
These days we are often quick to respond cynically to technological advances. False memories and implanted microchips sound like the start of a dystopian blockbuster but they are inching closer to our reality. When Mark Zuckerberg announced his plans for the metaverse, many responded with a resounding, “Who asked for this?” Ikeuchi’s response is that technology is only frightening if we are afraid. “There is hope in the fact that we can believe that technology is something to hope for,” Ikeuchi says. Their work asks, what if we dared to dream of a better world through technology instead of shying away from it?

Ikeuchi studied Art Science at Tama University, Tokyo, where the designer began making dioramas from models and computer components in the department of information design. Since then, Ikeuchi has become a collective. A recent collaboration was with Balenciaga for their Spring 2022 campaign where models wore Ikeuchi’s headgear and exoskeletons created in partnership with robotics company Skeletonics. The evocative creations were showcased at Balenciaga’s Aoyama f lagship store in Tokyo, select locations throughout Japan and their Paris Montaigne flagship. The cyborg designs situated the luxury brand firmly in the future fantasy world of Hiroto Ikeuchi.

Inspired by science fiction and cyberpunk, Ikeuchi explores the tension between fact and fiction. Virtual reality, the metaverse and transhumanism used to exist in the world of fiction. Now, they’re breaking out from the literary and cinematic to function in our real lives. It’s up to us how we respond. It might seem like a contradiction, but humans and technology have more in common than it first appears, and not just in a creepy AI way. We created technology so humanity and tech will always be interlinked. “I think we can learn more about the nature of human beings themselves from the way they use technology,” says Ikeuchi. “We may also be able to understand humans by comparing them to technology.” Having hope in technology means taking a risk and daring to dream. Working with technology requires the same drive. With some larger pieces taking more than a month to finish, Ikeuchi is driven by obsession – an obsession balanced between functionality and design, and how to marry the two.

Functional fashion has hit its stride in the last decade. Smartwatches, temperature-changing smart fabrics, and garments with sensor controls are becoming part of our everyday wardrobes. Both fashion and human beings are merging with tech. Ikeuchi’s work explores transhumanism and how humans interact with technology. Transhumanists believe that humans can expand and improve their natural state through technology. Ikeuchi’s designs do just that, adding headsets and tablets as an extension of the human body. Ikeuchi believes we can learn more about humans through the study of tech. After all, humans created technology in the first place.

Placing industrial parts and technological hardware in new contexts, Ikeuchi marries fashion with functionality. Each piece stands out for its bold futuristic and experimental design. They function as wearable tech as well as art installations. But beneath the appearance, each creation is also fully functional. Virtual reality goggles and headphones immerse the wearer in their own tech-facilitated universe. From VR headsets to speakers and tablets, Ikeuchi’s pieces ask us what would happen if humankind merged fully with technology.

Ikeuchi’s work brings to mind retrofuturism, blending future-focused functionality with the nostalgia of classics from the cyberpunk genre. If you’ve seen films like Blade Runner, The Matrix or Ready Player One, elements of Ikeuchi may feel familiar. Cyberpunk has roots in Japanese anime classics like Akira and Ghost in the Shell with the origin of Japanese cyberpunk rooted in the 1980s with films like Burst City and Tetsuo: The Iron Man.

The cyberpunk genre often depicts computer technology as dominating futuristic urban societies. Think dystopian industrial cities, apocalyptic gear like masks and goggles and a fascination with the relationship between humans and technology. In these stories, characters often experience mutations and dehumanisation at the hands of technology. Its influence on Ikeuchi is apparent. Functional objects are modified to look like cyberpunk wear for traversing futuristic cities.

While pieces look like they have stepped out from a science fiction movie or videogame, they are partly in response to how tech is already being used by governments and corporations today. The wearable pieces obscure the face, masking identifiable features and evading surveillance. Surveillance culture is referenced through Ikeuchi’s work though the collective takes an ambivalent view of it, noting that increased surveillance can create greater safety at the expense of our right to privacy. This is a timely observation, particularly in Japan where increased surveillance was installed at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games, ostensibly to ensure that Covid guidelines were being respected. Some feared it would be used to test the efficacy of increased surveillance on a larger scale.

The insidious repercussions of surveillance culture are already being felt not too far away. In China, for example, artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies are being used to deploy large-scale surveillance systems and control the movements of persecuted minorities. Japan has hit back, however, placing export controls on facial recognition devices. Ikeuchi isn’t worried about the future of surveillance, saying “Whatever the future brings, I’m sure it will be better.”

It’s easy to feel anxious about the future right now. It’s easy to catastrophise and imagine that technology will lead us to a bleak dystopia. However, Ikeuchi reminds us that tech is constantly evolving. It’s possible to recontextualise gadgets in innovative and striking ways. The attraction of science fiction is often its capacity to create boundless possibilities. Looking at Ikeuchi’s work feels just as expansive.

In your work, you incorporate functional elements such as speakers and tablets, merging technology with the human body. Transhumanism is a concept often used in conjunction with your work. There is great potential in transhumanism but there are also some frightening aspects such as implanting memories and microchips. Do you feel more positively or negatively about transhumanism, how does this view impact your work?
I can’t subjectively decide what is good or bad about it. It’s fiction, but it’s possible that you could have a microchip implanted in your brain and live in happy fake memories.
In general, is your attitude towards technology more dystopian or optimistic? How do you express this outlook through your work?
As Georgie Orwell writes in 1984, dystopia and utopia are the product of doublethink, so it’s both and neither.
How do you think we can reach a place where, as a society, we are more optimistic about the future of technology rather than frightened by it? Is this something you aim to achieve through your work?
If everyone were to become an optimist, it would be a bit scary, like in Brave New World, so I think society would be better off if there were as many pessimists as there are optimists. My work itself has no claims, but I hope it can be a source of discussion.
The science fiction novels you mention, 1984 and Brave New World, both describe future dystopian societies in which individuals are closely monitored. Why do you reference these novels? What inspires you about them?
The reason I brought them up is because they have both aspects of dystopia and utopia at the same time. In this context, 1984 is about superposition in doublethink, and Brave New World is about the relationship between misery and art, and I am attracted to the fact that it does not lean toward either of the two propositions (such as hope and despair) that are often thought to be contradictory, nor does it rely on dialectics.
Does ‘doublethink’, believing simultaneously in contradicting polarised opinions, reflect on the impact of unregulated information we find on the internet?
Perhaps ‘doublethink’ does not include contradiction. Just as quantum entanglement is a fact and does not contradict the laws of physics, I think doublethink is established and true with it.

Technological advances are increasingly polarising, inspiring both hope and fear. What gives you hope about the future of technology?
There is hope in the fact that we can believe that technology is something to hope for.
Do you believe that we can create a better world through technology?
I don’t know under what criteria, but I think it will get better.
What do you think humans can learn from technology?
I think we can learn more about the nature of human beings themselves from the way they use technology. We may also be able to understand humans by comparing them to technology.
Last year, Mark Zuckerberg announced his plans for the creation of the metaverse. Do you think virtual reality could ever replace human experiences in the real world? Why or why not?
I think it would be difficult to live only in virtual space one day. I think it is possible for people who have adapted to such an environment. I think it’s necessary to get used to it.
Can you explain how you build your diorama masks and exoskeletons and what you use to make them?
All are bricolage.

Large pieces can take up to three months to make. How do you stay motivated when working on a time- consuming production?
I think it is mainly driven by obsession. I keep myself moving even when I am rusty or broken, so I maintain myself with faith, pouring in the oil of hope once in a while.
Sustainability is a big talking point in fashion, but most tech products released today lack durability and don’t last long before slowing down or breaking. Do you keep up to date with the latest technologies? How do you think tech can become more sustainable?
Promote evolution through rapid cycling.
In recent years, we’ve seen police and governments around the world cracking down on the right to protest, ostensibly to stop the spread of Covid which has been used as an excuse to prohibit disruptive protest in the long term. You’ve mentioned before how your pieces obscure the face protecting the wearer from facial recognition as a reaction to increasing surveillance. Do you see this as linked to the right to protest? Can you explain why this is important to you?
The idea is the same as the material and is the subject of bricolage. Some argue that increased surveillance is about safety, but at the same time, it threatens the right to privacy.
Are you worried about the future of surveillance culture?
Whatever the future brings, I’m sure it’s going to be better and there will be more things to be happy about, like Spotify getting smarter with their recommendations, so I think it’s just a matter of continuing to balance the two.
You create wearable tech, a subsection of fashion that is increasingly popular. What functions have you added to your pieces in the past? What functions would you like to add in the future?
I have made a computer to wear. I hope we can continue to create with the most advanced products of our time.

From smartwatches to temperature-changing smart fabrics and garments with sensor controls, new technology promises to make fashion more functional. Is functionality important to you? Why?
I think function is important because it is the essence.
In your opinion, what is the future of tech in fashion?
The gateway to public penetration of technology.
How does cyberpunk inspire your work?
Cyberpunk has a strong influence on shape. If I had lived in the same era when cyberpunk appeared, I would have seen other influences linked to reality.
You say that it’s important for society to have as many pessimists as optimists because too many optimists would be scary. Do you think having too many pessimists would be equally scary? Do you think people taking a pessimistic view towards technology could hold society back?
I think the degree of fear is the same regardless of which side becomes the majority. I believe that people who are pessimistic about technology will have hope for something other than technology, and I believe that they will lead society in that area.
What kind of discussions do you hope your work will prompt?
There is no desire for the viewer to think this way. If anything, it is a theme that the viewers themselves are thinking about at the time they see it.
What does Hiroto Ikeuchi’s dream world look like?
My dream is a greenhouse with butterflies dancing and f lowers blooming.

Sophie Wilson
Poyen Chen
Nama (West Management), Jeff Number (Eight Management)
Styling & Creative Direction
Yii Ooi
CGI Artists
Xian, KF
Photographer Assistant
Yuri Horie
Makeup Assistant

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