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Ryoji Ikeda, "C4I" and "Datamatics [ver.1.0]"

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Ikeda's duo of multimedia presentations attempt to capture both the overlooked beauty of data in its purest form and how it affects us in the modern world. The idea of sitting down to look at a load of graphs and numbers sounded dangerously close to work or a lecture but the reality is far from that. The visuals are crisp, clear representations of scientific, computer and literary information and are twinned with Ikeda's sublime soundtrack. The components fuse to create a powerful commentary and reflection on the role and nature of information in the 21st century.

 

5 October 2007, Dublin 

All those walking into the 17th century hall that makes up part of the Irish Museum of Modern Art's grounds were given a pair of earplugs on their way in. This was unexpected as I have always thought of him as a quiet artist but obviously I have not being playing his CDs loud enough! Taking my seat at the back of the hall I could keep an eye both on the screen and Ikeda himself, sitting unassumingly by the entrance with an array of laptops and mixing equipment in front of him. The lights dim and the projector whirs into life.

C4I was presented first, its name derived from a military term to do with using information and infrastructure (Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence). Low rumblings from the speaker system rattled the room, the sight of dozens of people realising that the earplugs were necessary was almost in sync with the visuals on screen. Footage of stock exchange pages from different days of the same newspaper race by as gigantic clicks stream out over the audience, the sheer noise and numerical overload underline just how unpredictable these stock trends are. Reinforcing the military theme of the piece, a list of statistics showing how sad the world really is was displayed. A sizeable chunk of these were to do with war but it was impossible to take them in as each fact was only properly visible for a very brief moment. By doing this (with all the data in both films), Ikeda shows just how much we know as a society but also how unknowable most of this information is to everyone. Topographical data finishes off the piece, a nice metaphor for how in the information age our world is as much made up of facts and figures as it is by rocks and water.

The second film, Datamatics [ver.1.0], focussed more on the natural world than on C4I's mixture of knowledge. With the imagery and sound all being constructed from raw data, I was expecting this to be more abstract than it was. The music was heavily beat orientated, syncing up with the animation of what looked like a list of computer directories being scrolled through at great speed. This gave way to a 3D model of the universe with stars being mapped onto it, one by one. Clusters and constellations appear, so many that parts of the screen become dense with markers. Lines sweep through the model through the three planes, different sounds being elicited depending on what they come in contact with. Datamatics finishes with this 3D model being bent into a curve as it is transposed into higher dimensions. The end result is mesmerising and bewildering, much like the theories the work is based on.

As a scientist, I spend a large part of my waking hours pouring over graphs and tables, trying to tease out the story that these numbers contain. To be forced to step back from the data and to look at it from a more aesthetic angle is a refreshing change. While none of the data was from my particular area of expertise, it is interesting to see how a non-scientist looks at these graphs and models and what they extrapolate from them. Many artists attempt this but do not achieve much of worth. Ikeda on the other hand manages to successfully marry the aesthetic with the technical. Eavesdropping on the other audience members (most of which seemed to be from an artistic background), I can confirm that it is not just the scientist who can see beauty in a handful of numbers and lines on a graph.

 


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