Breaking the Eastern stereotypes some Western cultures believe in steers the artistic direction and 3D visualization of Suki Violet. Her body of work digitises the spiritual wealth of mythological stories and legends, often underlined by sci-fi and unearthly beings. The visual artist spoke with us to share the cultural differences that influence her works and her investigation of gender inequality, cultural divergences, and the grotesque visual art movement.
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Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am Suki Violet Su (苏艺Yi Su), and I am a New York City-based visual artist, born and raised in Shenzhen (China). I direct music videos and conceptual films and do art direction, photography, and graphics.
What features of 3D Motion and Graphics made you pursue it? Did you dabble in them first before photography and art direction, or did everything come together at once?
They open up infinite possibilities of visuals by merging different fields of design such as lighting, sculpture, and painting, to name a few. I would say I pursued this creative path in the order of Graphics, Photography, Art Direction, and then 3D Motion.
Photography advanced my understanding of visualising objects within a certain frame. A picture is essentially converting something from 3D to 2D, and once I came to terms with that, I realised the freedom an extra dimension gives me in design. As an art director, this freedom was crucial to unlocking even the most whimsical and glamorous of ideas. It is exciting to continuously evolve and develop my own visual language.
Do you still remember your first project or work? Would you say that your artistic style has changed a lot since then?
My very first project was during my university exchange in the United Kingdom in 2016. I was fascinated by infrared photography and wanted to explore the ‘value of colour.’ Is it actually the light, or do we all visualise it slightly differently? The identity of colour is fluid because humans with four colour-receptor cones, instead of three, see colours differently. I believe as you walk down your pathway trying many different things, your artistic style is bound to consistently shift, but my core creativity has always been fixated on our relationship with colours.
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Being born in Shenzhen and now living in New York City, you have been exploring the sense of belonging in your newfound land. Would you consider New York as your home now? What cultural differences between the East and West still surprise you?
I draw inspiration from the abundance of daily cultural offerings here in New York. I feel as if the art scene here is always hustling and bustling with new creatives taking action towards their goals, one step at a time. The immersion in fashion, art, music, and entertainment keeps the city filled with interesting characters, and I love that. New York will always be home, but after half a decade here, especially during covid, I would like to transition into a nomadic lifestyle for a while.
The education style between the East and the West still surprises me. The mix of different cultures jumbled into one creates a necessity for Western culture's freedom as opposed to the structural nature of Eastern cultures. Both are beautiful in their own right, and I love the synergies they present.
The air of sci-fi surrealism is very visible in your body of works. What sci-fi content and media (texts, videos, images, etc.) do you usually turn to when you need to feel inspired?
I draw a lot of inspiration from nature. Some of the weirdest creatures and the most beautiful array of colours exist naturally if one looks close. Mother Nature has always been the most inspiring to me, also cutting-edge artists from all industries such as Anthony Howe (Kinetic Sculpture), James Turrell and Carlos Cruz-Diez (Light and Space), Yoann Bourgeois and Damien Jalet (Dance), Robert Wilson and Stefano Poda (Stage Design), to name a few.
Speaking about sci-fi, what do you think about the advances in technology? Do you think modern tech and humans can coexist peacefully?
As technology advances, artists are given more tools to create their reality. We just need to see the advancement of quality 3D art and products in recent years to see how far we have come. We really are in exciting times!
Sometimes, I feel like the technology we have right now is good enough, but we still crave for more modern technology to improve life quality and help people. Evil stems from humans, so we cannot blame technology, but we also cannot overlook the fact that Artificial Intelligence may become so smart and effective that it can take over our lives. For this, I believe we need to become cybernetic beings that will allow us to harness the power of technology within our own bodies.
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As you explore the tension between Eastern and Western visual narratives, what challenges have you experienced in your industry that strengthen your creative voice? How would you describe your personal, visual language?
I want to impact the stereotypical thinking Western corporations have about needing to reach their Eastern audience. For example, for their Lunar New Year limited-edition products, they seem to be so focused on the typical red dragon with gold flowers motif present in every product during that period. For me, even just a simple twist of colour or animal to break from this norm would be enough to help them stand out, but the industry cannot seem to move forward from the existing stereotypes.
Your project The Skinseq (Sequence of Skin) is inspired by animism, Asian myths, legends, and classical totems and you drew from the philosophical thoughts of Zhuang Zhou and Xun Kuang to illustrate the faces in the series. How essential are myths and legends to you? Is there a philosophy that you believe in the most?
Mythological stories and legends reflect the cosmology of contemporary ancestors and express national ideology in the form of stories. They do only describe the desire of local ancestors to understand nature but also show the awareness of society at that time. Myths are the spiritual wealth of our ancestors which continue to inspire human creativity to this day. From Broadway musicals to movies, games, and entertainment mediums, the stories sung by our ancestors have been passed down to this day.
I am an unbeliever that watches and learns about different religious stories and cultures. I believe that there is a force behind the rules of everything in the universe, which is vague and that sometimes seems to communicate within our souls.
I see that you also made a 3D robot concept for Doja Cat, giving the feline a female-like figure. How did the collaboration come about?
I previously worked with 1800 number and got in touch with the very talented duo director Child and producer David Wept. They came up with the idea of an alien robotic figure for Doja Cat’s music video Woman.
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Your Sky River project reminds me of Maleficent, but yours explores beauty and vulnerability. Do you find beauty in being vulnerable? In your opinion, why do people think vulnerability is a sign of weakness?
Beauty itself is vulnerable and strong, and like a recently finished spider web, it can entrap the most powerful insects, but a strong gust of wind can also make it obsolete. People may think of vulnerability as a weakness because they take it at face value. I believe Brené Brown said it best when she said “vulnerability is the core-of meaningful human experiences.” Accepting and overcoming our vulnerabilities only to face a new challenge builds our character and storyline.
You posted a series of images on Instagram with the caption “War. Religion. Love.” Do you view them as a singular entity or separate themes? Can these three coexist without any suffering? What themes are you currently investigating?
We can see them as related. War or suffering brings about religion or hope, which ultimately gives way to love, one of the most foundational emotions of our existence. Without suffering, how can we appreciate the good? I am currently investigating gender inequality, cultural divergences, and the grotesque visual art movement.
Could you tell us about your upcoming projects?
I am continuing my digital artwork through my NFT project Skinseq and also preparing another project that will focus on gender inequality. This new project will integrate dancers with digital particle tracking to merge the digital with the physical inside a metaverse-style atmosphere.
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