Paris-based Ryoji Ikeda is a leading Japanese electronic-music composer and visual artist who produces music albums, sound and video installations, and composes music for theater performances and other artists’ projects internationally. His interdisciplinary career includes collaboration with Berlin-based artist Carsten Nicolai, experimental performance group Dumb Type and Japanese architect Toyo Ito. He has explored the intricacies of sound’s fundamental nature through his music and in this exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (MOT), Ikeda switches gears and views numbers and mathematics through a similar micro lens. “Ryoji Ikeda: +/– [the infinite between 0 and 1]” is his first large-scale solo show in Japan, with two floors of the MOT transformed into black-and-white spaces full of numbers and electronic noise.
The ground floor, covered with black sound-absorbent carpet, was devoted to four works from Ikeda’s “Datamatics” series (2006– ), the artist’s recent body of work based on mathematical conundrums such as the concept of infinity. The transcendental (p) [n˚1-a] (2007–09) is a sculptural work consisting of a one-meter-square cube with a silver panel on its top surface. The panel has the mathematical value of pi, beginning with 3.1415 and continuing on, meticulously etched in tiny grids on the surface for a seemingly infinite number of places. The motif of a seemingly infinite array of tiny digits appears again in data.film [n˚1-a] (2007), a massive light-box showing a ten-meter-long strip of 35mm film printed with a vast amount of numbers arranged in a grid. In both works, the numbers are incredibly small and viewers have to get very close to the work in order to be able to recognize them. Seeing only the numbers within one’s field of vision instilled in audiences a sense of immersion within a micro-cosmos comprised solely of numeric digits.
Data.matrix [n˚1-10] (2006–09) consists of ten black-and-white video projections on a wall set to an original soundtrack of electric sounds. Each projection shows sequences Ikeda originally created for his audiovisual concert datamatrix [ver. 2.0] (2007) held in cities including Paris, Tokyo and Barcelona. One video shows a three-dimensional matrix grid with dots, giving viewers the impression of moving through intergalactic space in a video game, while another shows black blocks continuously scrolling horizontally like barcodes. The speed at which the images change makes it impossible to identify them.
In contrast, the lower floor of the museum was covered with white carpet, and visitors were asked to take off their shoes before entering and viewing a sound installation matrix [5ch version] (2009), consisting of five huge super-directional speakers. The sonic sine waves they emit change in pitch as you walk among them, changing your physical relation to the waves and the soundscape Ikeda devised.
Just as Ikeda reduces sound to its fundamental elements, he handles his visuals pixel by pixel to construct the images in his work. In the case of his show at the MOT, a single number functions as a single pixel and a vast amount of these pixels/numbers constitute a work. In this manner, Ikeda creates extreme environments that challenge one’s perception of hearing and viewing. Seeing “+/-,” an endless flow of data, imparts the dubious feeling of living in a fully digitized reality.