Ryoji Ikeda’s Cosmic Journey

Installation View, Ryoji Ikeda Solo Exhibition at Taipei Fine Arts Museum
Ryoji Ikeda, A [continuum], 2018. © Ryoji Ikeda and Taipei Fine Arts Museum
Ryoji Ikeda, point of no return, 2018. © Ryoji Ikeda and Taipei Fine Arts Museum
Ryoji Ikeda, Code-verse, 2018 © Ryoji Ikeda and Taipei Fine Arts Museum
Ryoji Ikeda, The planck universe [macro], 2018. © Ryoji Ikeda and Taipei Fine Arts Museum.
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Transcendent sounds and flashing bright lights transform the exhibition hall into an accelerating spacecraft. The pure sine waves, random white noise, numbers and pixels seem to contain limitless meaning, yet no definite message can be grasped. Ryoji Ikeda’s immersive work not only employs audio and visual elements representing the digital age, but is also built up with advanced findings from various scientific branches, evoking the quest of the cosmic mystery.

TEXT: Isabelle Kuo
IMAGES: Courtesy the artist and Taipei Fine Arts Museum

Installation View, Ryoji Ikeda Solo Exhibition at Taipei Fine Arts Museum

 

Having exhibited around the world with many of his major shows taking place in Europe since the 1990’s, Ryoji Ikeda is now having the most comprehensive solo exhibition in Asia for over a decade. Held at the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM), the exhibition—co-curated by Jo Hsiao from the museum and guest curator Eva Lin— spans Ikeda’s career from 2009 until present day. The exhibition stages not only his most renowned audiovisual installations, but also large-scale sound sculptures, light boxes, two-dimensional works, and for the first time ever, his manuscripts.

As the overture of the exhibition, A [continuum] (2018) is comprised of five huge super-directional Meyer SB-1 speakers occupying the museum lobby. Each of the speakers emits a sine wave of the pitch “A”, which has for many centuries served as the standard tuning pitch for orchestras. However, the pitch “A” has varied within a few dozen heltz around 440Hz over the course of history, and Ikeda has assigned each of the five speakers with a different historical “A” pitch. The slightly different sine waves of the “A” pitch not only resonate to each other, but also superimpose to create “interference” waves, together forming an otherworldly harmony that flows according to the audience’s position. Data-based and scientific-oriented—as most of Ikeda’s works are—A [continuum] also reflects human’s cultural imprints along the history of music.

 

Ryoji Ikeda, A [continuum], 2018. © Ryoji Ikeda and Taipei Fine Arts Museum

The exhibition begins with the artist’s manuscripts, comprising of sketches, algorithms, signs and notes in Japanese and other languages, revealing traces of the artist’s creative process. Following is the double-faced installation, Point of No Return (2018), with a projector casting a flashlight encircling a huge black hole on one side of a wall and a HMI lamp projecting a bright white circle on the other side. Since Taipei was one of the six cities from which the astronomical team Event Horizon Telescope announced the first image of a black hole via livestream this April, it is just inspiring to have this piece in the city’s museum. In this work, the vast information reduced to different wavelengths of light are all perceived as strong white flashes by the color constancy of the human brain, and only through optical instruments such as a camera that the hidden colors can be captured, implying the unseen secrets of the universe.

 

Ryoji Ikeda, point of no return, 2018. © Ryoji Ikeda and Taipei Fine Arts Museum

 

Music with no melody but only sounds, images composed of numbers, grids and lines in black and white, Ikeda’s work displays a rational coldness signifying the advanced informatic era of our present, and presumably the future. Showing such sleekness, each print of the series “Test Pattern” is composed of black and white horizontal lines in two adjacent rolls, which echo to human body’s stereo hearing system. The prints may look like Geometric Abstraction or Minimalism, but the content is about sound in its physical form of waves, embedding with rhythm and harmony.

With rather fundamental elements, Ikeda creates dynamic soundscapes and moving images, revealing an unexpected beauty and the sublime of hard-core scientific knowledge, which is usually perceived as objective and therefore irrelevant to aesthetics. Ikeda, as Eva Lin describes, “combines visual devices with invisible sounds, using minimalist monochromatic light to convey the precise aesthetics of data and blur the line between rigorous scientific theory and the aesthetic forms of art.”

According to Jo Hsiao, the artist has defined this exhibition as “a cosmic journey,” and the vast universe is certainly the subject Ikeda has kept exploring tirelessly. In the audiovisual installation, Code-Verse (2018), astronomical data was reduced to code language and composed into a single symphonic and polyphonic piece of work. Information is no longer recognizable but distilled down to exquisitely constructed mathematical relations and movements, flowing at high speed. The viewing experience is a sensory overload, yet there is always a formality within the chaos, just like the kaleidoscopic universe.

 

Ryoji Ikeda, Code-verse, 2018 © Ryoji Ikeda and Taipei Fine Arts Museum

 

Ikeda states that, “I am a composer, and composing is invisible.” However, the composed work is certainly appreciable. Nine LED displays equipped with speakers arranged in a 3×3 array make up data.scan [nº1-9] (2011), which aims at exploring the potential to perceive the invisible multi-substance of data that permeates our world. Each of the displays runs data images and sounds extracted from hypercubes, morse codes, DAN sequences, or molecular structures of protein, and programmed to perform coordinately like a music band.

However, “There is no message. I just do my job,” as Ikeda says. “If I have set something like a message, I don’t need to do it. I can just say it or write a book. So, I don’t really say anything. I don’t want to take the freedom from the audience.” He further explains, “I don’t like the word ‘understand’ for art. Art is not to understand. Art is to feel. Art is to make expression. For example, when you go to a concert, do you ask about the meaning of the melody of Mozart? You just enjoy and engage with it. You can pursue your own meaning afterward. It is exactly the same for my work.”

the planck universe [macro] (2015) is an ambitious audiovisual installation inspired by the artist’s residency at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva). Taking the concept of Plank scale (a measurement system defined by physical constants and therefore a Plank unit is often the largest or smallest value of a physical quantity according to our current understanding), the work attempts to depict the nature from the human scale to the cosmological scale beyond the observable universe. With red pixels and colour images of the sun’s corona interweave with rotating spaces created by countless fast-moving data elements, it brings about such vitality and freshness that promote boundless imagination.

 

Ryoji Ikeda, The planck universe [macro], 2018. © Ryoji Ikeda and Taipei Fine Arts Museum.

Despite Ikeda’s insistence not to over explain on any meaningful content that could have been hidden in his works, we can see how he is devoted to the exploration of our physical cosmos and the many intellectual fields he has dabbled in. Going through the exhibition, there were moments I felt like I was having a glimpse of the mystery of the universe. It is fascinating to recall how the world is supported by the most minute entities such as quarks, the vibration of particles and DNA encoded messages. Still, we do not get to understand all the mathematics and physics upon which the universe is built by going to the exhibition. It is not the artist’s duty to explain scientific knowledge to the audience after all.

In one of the TFAM’s semi open-air spaces, Ikeda presented a very well attended live set on the opening night. With commercial airplanes flying intermittently over the dark sky, half-sheltered by the upper exhibition hall of the museum, the artist, sporting a black cap, staged an energetic yet lofty show with vibrant music. Sound waves of the music were visualized to vivid black and white moving images projected behind him. As electrify music and blinding images flowed, the late summer night was turned into a thrilling journey toward a realm of abstraction and unknown.

 

 

Ryoji Ikeda Solo Exhibition
10 August – 17 November, 2019
Taipei Fine Arts Museum

 

 

About the Artist

Ryoji Ikeda is one of Japan’s leading electronic composer and visual artists. Born in 1966 in Gifu, Japan, he is currently living and working in Paris. Ikeda has gained a reputation as one of the few international artists working convincingly across both visual and sonic media. He elaborately orchestrates sound, visuals, materials, physical phenomena and mathematical notions into immersive live performances and installations.

He performs and exhibits worldwide at spaces such as Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Singapore Art Museum, Ars Electronica Center Linz, Elektra Festival Montreal, Grec and Sonar Festivals Barcelona, Aichi Triennale Nagoya, Palazzo Grassi Venice, Park Avenue Armory New York, The Whitechapel Gallery London, The Barbican Centre and Somerset House London, Museo de Arte Bogota, Hamburger Bahnhof Berlin, DHC/Art Montreal, Festival d’Automne à Paris, Sharjah Biennale, Carriageworks Sydney, Auckland Triennale, MONA Museum Hobart – Tasmania, Ruhrtriennale, Telefonica Foundation Madrid and Kyoto Experiment Festival, ACT Centre Gwangju (Korea), Singapore Art Science Museum, Kunstverein Hannover, RuhrTriennale, Festival d’Automne and Pompidou Center , Barbican, The Vinyl Factory, and ZKM centre for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, among others.

 

 


 

Isabelle Kuo is trained in Biochemistry but later went astray into the fascinating field of Art History, Isabelle was a senior editor of Art Investment and is now working as a freelance writer.

 

 

 
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