Home Magazine The multisensorial compositions of Ryoji Ikeda

Science and art are two very broad terms that at first glance seem to be part of completely different worlds. However, Japanese contemporary artist and electronic composer Ryoji Ikeda is able to erase the divisive lines between mathematics, science, physics, art and music. This artist works with sound and visual designs using mathematical equations through which he presents information and datasets in complex, aesthetically mesmerizing installations. His artworks are often large scale installations or performances that surround the visitors with ultrasonic frequencies and visuals of graphics and representations of numerical data.

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Ryoji Ikeda started in the 90s when he began composing electronic pieces which instead of resembling musical notes seemed random structured digital noises.  The Japanese artist understood music as a mathematical purpose, thinking that without a proper mathematical structure music was simply noise. One of his first pieces "V≠L" is a representation of such thinking and he came up with it through a discussion of the topic with Benedict Gross, a Harvard University mathematician. In this dialogue, both tried to define a mathematical equation for “infinite”. Even though these concepts might seem intellectual and complicated, through the few interviews the artist has given, Ikeda states that his work has never had a clear message and that he is not interested in audiences to understand and rationalize when they see and listen when exposed to his artworks. In other words, the artist is not trying to tell a story or send a message out there, only sensations and feelings, there is nothing for him to explicitly say. His creations are intended to provoke sensations through musical and visual immersion.

Regardless of the fact that the artist does not want to attribute a specific message and meaning to the things he produces it is undeniable that his works create stimuli which give birth to thought and ideas and allows to understand the Internet as a system in which information flows infinitely. Ikeda through several of his artworks also allows visualizing how information is created, how it moves and how it is recycled within this system. Ikeda fills his iconic reproductions with waves of infinite information of representations of the world. Audiences are blended into this mathematical universe in which hyper-speeded information travels all around. Everything is digital and everything is structurally mathematically displayed, a very relevant depiction of today’s databased reality.

His piece "Test Pattern" (2008) is a live set which was programmed through algorithms, turning different real-time data information such as videos, text, numbers, pictures, etc. into barcodes and binary coded images (ones and zeros). This installation would project these images into the walls and floors of dark rooms allowing people to curiously navigate through them. 


“Test Pattern 100m" Ryoji Ikeda, Audio-Visual Installation, Kraftzentrale, LaPaDu, #ruhrtriennale, Landscahftspark Duisburg Nord, Germany. Photo by Jay Peck


“Superposition” Ryoji Ikeda, © Photo by Fidelis Fuchs. 


Similarly, "Superposition", is another live set that combines science with real-time content displayed into a series of large-format screens. The live set is played by two different performers who are constantly intervening the mix. This piece explores quantic information as the classical information language: BIT (a minimal information measure composed of two units, 1s and 0s). Quantic information, on the other hand, is created by QUIBITs, same binary numbers superposed between them. This complex concept opens new doors to new algorithms that try to explain the behaviour of nature through subatomic scales. With this quantic system, the theory is that particles can be in many different places at the same time, hence the name "Superposition": a state of superpositions. The piece is not a story about quantic information, but it speaks about the relation between science, nature and art. The visual constructions presented in this artwork are majorly composed of NASA data and are shown at such a high speed that audiences have no chance to decipher the information and images that they just saw. Just like a photon cannot be captured in a specific moment, nature has an infinite number of possibilities at the same time.



Spectra III, at the Venice Biennale, Central Pavilion, Ryoji Ikeda, September 2019. Courtesy Venice Biennale


Last Venice Biennale the artist presented two different pieces: "Dataverse" and "Spectra III". "Dataverse" like previous works presented huge datasets coming from CERN, NASA and the Human Genome Project were displayed in constructed images accompanied by digitally produced sounds. As part of the piece, digital dissections of digital human brain layers and human body x-rays were translated into numerical data. "Spectra III", on the other hand, was an installation composed of a corridor with an extremely intense white light which briefly blinded spectators as they went through, making the art piece symbolically disappear, and like all his artworks, unifies the installation with the senses of the audience. Ryoji Ikeda is masterful in submerging audiences into his pieces. People are blended into the numerical and scientific universe of his works, turning them into data drops in a sea of information. Working from code as a method of de and reconstruction of data Ikeda manages audiences to perceive information not so much as a way of communication but as reality itself, a dimension in which we already take part in.

Cover image: “Test Pattern 100m" Ryoji Ikeda, Audio-Visual Installation, Kraftzentrale, LaPaDu, #ruhrtriennale, Landscahftspark Duisburg Nord, Germany. Photo by Jay Peck.

Written by Eduardo Alva Lòpez

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