Japanese artist seeks the beauty in the data code

Photo by Joey Kennedy
Kurt Shaw
| Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

If a computer could take a tantrum, and shout and scream at you like an incorrigible child, it would look something like “data.tron.”

This massive installation made up of a seemingly endless stream of bits of code leaves even the most casual a visitor to Wood Street Galleries, Downtown, awash in a sea of data.

It's the creation of Ryoji Ikeda, a Japanese sound and visual artist who lives and works in Paris. Many consider Ikeda to be Japan's leading electronic composer and visual artist.

Fascinated by data, light and sound, Ikeda combined music and mathematical code into an 11-minute video installation that is projected by four projectors onto a huge 60-foot-long screen.

And even though the video is looped, “you would never know it because it's so complex you'll think you're seeing something different each time,” says Murray Horne, curator at Wood Street. “You'd have to spend a couple of hours here to really figure it out.”

Horne first learned of Ikeda's work in 1997 when Wood Street displayed the work of the late Teiji Furuhashi, a founding member of Dumb Type, a performance dance troupe from Kyoto, for which Ikeda created musical scores. “His work with Dumb Type was brilliant,” Horne says.

That brilliance can be experienced yet again when contemplating the sound aspect of the piece, which emanates from only two speakers and is perfectly timed to coincide with the video, Horne says. “It gives you a place in space relative to the data.” he says in regard to the sound.

“It's like sound in space,” Horne says. “When you're sitting there listening to the sound, there's a position in the sound that is relative to what's happening on the screen, and the screen stuff is moving at such a fantastic rate of speed that the sound becomes our aural position in space for what we are experiencing in the installation.”

The piece actually begins with data Ikeda recorded from broken computers, then moves into DNA sequencing and, ultimately, a variety of mathematical algorithms.

The piece is part of Ikeda's larger “datamatics” art project that “explores the potential to perceive the invisible multisubstance of data that permeates our world,” according to the artist's website.

Projecting dynamic, computer-generated imagery in pared-down black and white with striking color accents, Ikeda's intense, yet minimal, graphic renderings of data progress through multiple dimensions.

Horne says the overall effect “is like the sequencing for all data.” “The summation of numbers are greater than what we are, and we constructed those numbers,” he says.

Though this installation is the first iteration of the piece to be shown in the United States, Ikeda originally created the piece in 2009, when it was commissioned for the Deep Space Gallery at Ars Electronica Center in Linz, Austria. It has been screened there regularly since January 2009.

That same year, Ikeda presented his largest solo exhibition to date at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, which included a three-channel version of data.tron; as well as pieces like “+/-,” with three adaptations of a prime number and a natural number; and “matrix,” a pure sound installation formed by a grid of speakers which visitors walked through.

Being that data.tron is all in black and white, Horne likens it to Japanese landscape painting, which historically was done in black sumi-e ink on rice paper or silk scrolls.

“The numbers are like a metaphor for brushstrokes,” he says. “It's also very contemplative.”

In that regard, Horne says, “there have even been people doing yoga in front of it.”

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media.

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