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Sasha Katz's artistic journey revolves around the exploration of female sensuality and body poetry. Her work challenges and redefines conventional beauty standards, celebrating diversity and the unconventional. In her 3D heroines, Katz is searching for the essence of digital tenderness and fragility, harnessing these elements as expressions of her profound admiration for women.

Her first AI release is titled TSKALTUBO RESORT. It is a captivating series of 12 AI-generated images, inspired by the artist's film photography capturing memories and dreams from her childhood visit to the Tskaltubo resort with her parents. These nostalgic fragments, presented as a sequence of photographs, beautifully encapsulate moments that shaped her perceptions of love, loneliness, and magic, resonating with echoes of the past.

In conversation with Anika Meier, Sasha Katz discusses her artistic journey from 3D to Web3, growing up on the Internet and the so-called Selfie Feminism, photography and AI.

Anika Meier: You have studied Illustration and have a background in 3D. What led you from illustration to 3D?

Sasha Katz: By the time I graduated as an illustrator, I had a rather chaotic student portfolio with oils, embroidery, linocuts, glitch experiments, and printed zines. It was a disjointed collection of visuals, and by the end of university, I still hadn't found direction. Before our final project, we were sent to show our portfolios to the editorial team at Esquire magazine; unsurprisingly, the photo editors were not at all interested in mine.

I continued searching for my voice after graduation and got into pixel art, which I drew in Photoshop with a pencil tool and then cross-stitched onto t-shirts and backpacks. I wore my creations and gave them to my friends. I also made pixel art GIFs and posted them on Tumblr. My first Tumblr cover pages featured pixel GIFs, and I started receiving requests for pixel GIF illustrations.

At some point, I felt that I wanted to give my work more dimension, so I opened tutorials on Cinema 4D and started making voxel GIFs. Ten years have passed since then, and I haven't closed Cinema 4D since. Tumblr opened its own agency – Tumblr Creatrs, and invited me to collaborate with brands in 3D within the Tumblr ecosystem. There, I met my favorite artists and became part of the Tumblr community. The transition from 2D to 3D illustration was smooth and organic.

Portrait of Sasha Katz.

AM: Did you grow up on the Internet?

SK: I grew up on the Internet. I remember ICQ and Odigo messengers, those crazy websites with their insane aesthetics that left a lasting impression on my retina. And of course, the weirdos. Then Instagram and Tumblr came into my life, and things got really interesting.

AM: I am asking because you are now focused on body poetry and exploring femininity. Especially Tumblr and Instagram had an impact on female artists growing up on the Internet. For the first time, women could present themselves the way they would like to be seen. How do you remember the early Tumblr and Instagram days?

SK: I started an Instagram account in 2011 and immediately entered a rather insular space of visuals from my fellow students, featuring student projects, food with Hipstamatic filters and exhausted selfies showing signs of sleep deprivation during preparation for assessments.

Then came the dramas with censorship of the female body and menstrual stains on clothes, which, to my surprise, offended some people. I started using Tumblr after graduating from art school when I had something to show, and it was a completely different experience. The ability to reblog made the system non-insular, and you could see and share absolutely anything. For me, it was like launching into space, into a visual noosphere.

On Tumblr, I saw accounts with erotic photo series made by women for women, with a female perspective that had always fascinated me. There were accounts dedicated to tan lines on breasts, imprints of bras on backs, mermaids, sea punk, and myriad other themes. There, I met artists who influenced and inspired me. Knowing their work, I expanded my Instagram horizons.

Sasha Katz, Sweet Delight, 3D, 2022.

AM: Have Instagram and Tumblr changed your artistic practice?

SK: Absolutely. After Tumblr's editors featured my work on the front page, a huge number of accounts saw it, and I became emotionally dependent on that exposure. I wanted it to keep happening, which significantly boosted my growth as an artist. Around the same time, the magazine I worked for shut down, giving me plenty of free time and some savings. As an artist, I needed an audience, and I found one that appreciated and was interested in my work. It was an incredible boost.

I used Instagram as a secondary platform when things were going well on Tumblr. After Instagram stopped being square, I switched to vertical formats because they take up more space in the feed. Since then, vertical has become my favorite format. Almost all my works are in a 4x5 ratio, and I no longer care how much space they take up in the feed, just as I no longer care about Instagram as a platform, which is becoming more and more ridiculous.

AM: Have feminist artists like Arvida Byström, Molly Soda, Nicole Ruggiero, and Petra Collins influenced you?

SK: I admire Arvida Byström, Molly Soda, Nicole Ruggiero, and Petra Collins and continue to do so for their bravery, provocative approach, exploration of new visual horizons, female perspective, resistance to limited patriarchal visual preferences, and fresh conceptual ideas. I vividly remember the excitement when Molly Soda reblogged my GIF on Tumblr, resulting in 250.000 reblogs. It was an overwhelming moment of joy for me.

After connecting with Nicole Ruggiero on Tumblr, we began communicating on Instagram. She founded Postvision, an account dedicated to 3D art. I was incredibly pleased when she featured my work, especially since I was just starting my career in 3D; her support meant a lot to me. Nicole's figurative works and narratives continue to inspire me greatly. Since I started teaching 3D, I consistently showcase her works to my students for inspiration. Petra Collins and Arvida Byström are incredible; as part of the female gaze renaissance, they have unquestionably influenced me both aesthetically and conceptually.

Sasha Katz, Les Baigneuses, 3D, 2023.

AM: Speaking of art and feminism, what you have just described wasn’t accepted as art at the beginning. These artists had to face a lot of criticism, the term selfie feminism was used which made it sound like it was all about taking selfies. Why do you think female artists often have to face criticism that what they do on social media isn’t art?

SK: Throughout a long period, the female body has been perceived as someone else's property, whether it be the state, family, or community. Not long ago, women did not choose how many children they wanted to have, whether they wanted to have any at all, if they wanted to have an abortion, if they wanted to use contraception, or if they wanted to get married, among other choices. This arrangement was convenient for everyone except the woman herself. Women and their bodies were seen as economic assets, and appropriate roles for women were predetermined and imposed. Those who didn't fit into these roles were passionately criticized and continue to be criticized.

When an artist placed her body in the public visual space and began using it as she wished, she reclaimed her body from societal ownership. These women asserted that their bodies belong to them and no one else, with complete control in their hands. It seems to me that this is exactly what is so difficult for part of the audience living in the past to accept.

And of course, it's hard not to mention that in a male-dominated art world, major art was considered the domain of men, while women were often relegated to less significant roles, frequently dismissing art forms associated with women or femininity. The definition of art is constantly evolving, but unfortunately, not everyone.

AM: Who are some of the feminist artists from the history of art that have an influence on your artistic practice?

SK: I would pick Tamara de Lempicka, Sylvia Plath, Hannah Wilke, and Barbara Kruger.

The earliest influence on me, I think, was Tamara de Lempicka. Her female characters are symbols of strength and sexual freedom for me. When I look at her works, I feel a sense of closeness, as if she painted specifically for women, for me. I feel like a participant in her works, not just an observer.

This sense of deep personal connection extends to my experience with Sylvia Plath's work as well. Besides her poetry, I was particularly impressed by her novel THE BELL JAR. I see many parallels between Plath's struggles and my own life as an artist living with a personality disorder. Her works make me feel seen and understood.

I first learned about Hannah Wilke when I was a student, and her work has had a profound impact on me ever since. Everything she did throughout her life made a huge impression on me, from her vaginal ceramic sculptures to her 'Brushstrokes' as part of the Intra-Venus series.

I recently went to an electronics store in Athens and found a racist image set as the desktop wallpaper on an iMac. I was just going to remove it, but then I thought—if we're using store computers as a space for statements now, I'll replace it with something powerful and immediately readable, that goes straight into the brain. The first artist who came to mind was Barbara Kruger, so I put her work on the desktop.

AM: Well done. Do you call yourself a feminist artist?

SK: I’m a feminist but I prefer to call myself an artist, without any qualifiers related to the media I use or the ideology I align with. I would rather viewers draw their conclusions through the lens of their individual perception, without being confined by specific expectations or interpretations.

Sasha Katz, Young Woman Listening to the Radio in the Hotel Room, 3D, 2022.

AM: After the pandemic and with the rise of NFTs a lot has changed for the generation of artists who were at home on Tumblr and Instagram. How did you make the transition to Web3?

SK: The transition went really smoothly. Mark Sabb from Feltzine invited me to be part of an online show on SuperRare, which they curated. They kindly onboarded me and introduced me to a new word. And so it goes.

AM: Has Web3 changed being a digital artist for the better or the worse?

SK: I think it's quite ambivalent. While it offers amazing opportunities for professional artists—allowing them to focus on their own projects, find time that’s hard to balance with a second job, organize exhibitions that were previously difficult to achieve, and discover new audiences—on the flip side, it gives unrealistic hopes to people in the early stages of their careers.

When someone just starting out skips years of work and takes shortcuts to sales, I think it's detrimental to their creative development and can lead to disappointments.

AM: AI might even make that easier for newcomers. Do you remember when you first heard about AI?

SK: I was first introduced to AI in 2020. I am a member of Digi-Gxl, a collective founded by Catty Taylor that includes womxn, intersex, trans folk, and non-binary people specializing in digital arts. Dazed was preparing an article about Digi-Gxl for DAZED 100, and we were brainstorming how to create a group portrait that included everyone. One of the members suggested gathering our 'passport' portraits on a white background to be processed in a GAN, creating a collective avatar. It worked really well.

Later in 2021, I started following the AI journeys of Anders Brasch-Willumsen (the AIKEBANA series) and Gina Choy (the XIE HUA series). Both artists had previously worked in different media, yet they managed to create new but very distinctive spaces in their art practice with AI.

Sasha Katz, Noir Highway, 3D and AI textures, 2024.

AM: What were your thoughts about AI back then?

SK: I love new technologies and hope to live long enough to see a time when we can replace body parts with something more interesting and become living cyborgs. AI gave me a similar sense of anticipation for a high-tech future. Back then, I thought that history was happening right before my eyes and that the questions posed in BLADE RUNNER were becoming more relevant than ever.

A powerful tool with zero entry barriers can be both wonderful and terrifying, depending on whose hands it falls into and how it is used.

AM: When did you start creating with AI?

SK: In 2021, I tried AI language models. They were really helpful in transforming my scattered and chaotic thoughts into readable text. This greatly aided my work, particularly in creating descriptions and improving communication. In 2022, I started using DALL-E and MidJourney to generate textures that I used in 3D. In 2024, I created my first raw AI series.

Sasha Katz, Her Hands Were Always Cold from the Tskaltubo Resort, AI generation, 2024.

AM: How do you feel as a visual artist creating images using text prompts?

SK: I felt a bit conflicted. On one hand, the speed at which images are created is fantastic, something I could only dream of if I were working in my traditional technique. On the other hand, there's a very elusive form of control. In 3D, the control is complete, with every fragment of the image modeled, textured, and lit exactly how I want it.

This can't be said about my experience with AI; I felt like I was trying to coax a slippery amphibian into wearing a suit—while I manage to get one sleeve on, the other is already off; as I button it up, the tail slips out from the other side, and so on endlessly. But at some point, a miracle happens, and the suit is on, and everyone is happy, at least for a while.

AM: For your first AI release, you also worked with film photographs of yours. Can you tell us more about the process behind the TSKALTUBO RESORT?

SK: I used MidJourney, where I wrote detailed descriptions of locations, interiors, and characters, and as a reference, I uploaded my black and white film photos of my friends and landscapes that I took about 10 years ago on a Contax T2 with Fomapan film.

Sasha Katz, Cave Echoes from Tskaltubo Resort, AI generation, 2024.

AM: You used AI to help you imagine and therefore recreate memories of yours. Are these moments you remember from the holidays with your parents when you were a kid?

SK: These are exactly my memories from that holiday. I have kept them all these years, waiting for the moment when I could use them in an art project, but each time I thought I didn't have 3-4 months to create it in 3D. Now that moment has come. To be honest, I was a little scared that it all turned out too real for me, like a time machine.

AM: As mentioned, it’s your first AI release. When do you use AI as an artist to create work and when, for example, do you work with 3D?

SK: I have been working with 3D as my main medium for years and recently used AI as a supporting tool for texturing my 3D models, including fabrics, backgrounds, and skin textures. Working solely with AI is a completely uncharted territory for me, and I don't yet know where it will lead or how to process this new experience.

Sasha Katz, Medea Sanatorium from Tskaltubo Resort, AI generation, 2024.

AM: What are your thoughts as an artist also working with photography about the future of artists working with AI?

SK: As an artist experimenting with photography and deeply passionate about it, I have always been fascinated by the idea of seeing or creating photographs from places I have never been, or from locations where using a camera is impossible, or from places that no longer exist, or where no living person can access. It's about documenting subjective reality. AI artists have no boundaries or limitations in constructing narratives without an actual camera. It's hard for me to imagine where this will lead, but I am eagerly looking forward to what will unfold in the next 2-3 years.

AM: Thank you for taking the time for this conversation.