PuSh Blog

datamatics [ver.2.0] – Curatorial Statement

December 02, 2010

by Executive Director Norman Armour

First things first. The evening will be loud. I mean really loud! Earplugs will be available at the venue. But again, datamatics [v2.0] is loud. Okay, you have been warned.

Ryoji Ikeda is singular minded. He’s obsessed with mathematics. He’s obsessed with translating that obsession into digital animation and sound. The work is explosive, forceful, and in a way monumental.

For a time, Ryoji was a member of the legendary Kyoto-based performance group Dumb Type.

When I met with Ryoji for a quiet lunch at the West End’s Sylvia Hotel in the fall of 2009, he was in town to install an exhibition work of his in the Surrey Art Gallery as part of a group show. I asked him about the few years he spent as part of Dumb Type. What was their work like? What was their process like? What was the nature of his collaboration? And what was his role in the collective? To this last question, he replied that he was the one responsible for the “time/space continuum.” It was the subdued, matter of fact way, and yet somewhat secretive tone of voice with which he stated his ‘job description’ that led me to appreciate fully what he had let me in on.

As a solo artist, Ryoji Ikeda’s career is nothing short of prolific, multi-disciplinary, and multi-dimensional. Here is his official site and a link to one of his installation works, Test Pattern.

There’s something monastic about Ikeda’s work, and even himself as a person. Not only does mathematics—how to visually and sonically represent its theoretical and concrete properties—completely occupy his imagination, but there is something of the arcane, secretive, code in his manner of research and creative bent. He’s a member of a club few of us has access to, let alone even grasp the criteria for membership. My brother-in-law is a theoretical mathematician, and I have been party to the wry smile, the hesitation and held breath that a layman inevitably witnesses after asking, “What exactly is Integer Theory?”

I’m sure others have thought the very same thought I had. Ryoji Ikeda could’ve been a research scientist—exploring the far reaches of some futuristic seeming area of pure science. He’d be the kind of academic that MIT would court. And low and behold, MIT has done just that. They invited him to present one of his concerts in Cambridge.

Here in Vancouver, when I was a student at SFU in the 1980’s, electroacoustic music that mirrors Ryoji Ikeda’s aesthetic was all the rage. Dense, dense, granular synthesis type stuff—work that was composed of hundreds of thousands of mathematical decisions: elaborate logarithms virally multiplying to the Nth degree.

Why did the presence of this sort of work dim? Not sure. Perhaps, its deafening intents were eclipsed by punk. In point of fact, the work of Ryoji Ikeda is still the rage in many creative circles throughout the world. It may also be here, though I am not aware of it, nor are probably you. And this leads me to the reason, why when I had experienced an evening of concert pieces in an auditorium in Dublin a couple of years back, I thought that this was work I needed to be reminded of; work that our city needed to be reminded of. In the case of SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts and the PuSh Festival, it was work that deserved a showcase, a very public platform and celebration.

Back then in the aforementioned 1980s, digital animation was not what it is today. Remember the early video games. Think back to what film special effects were. Now think of what is being done and what is possible. Think of The Matrix.

Well, Ryoji is inside the matrix. He is not one of the good guys, nor one of the evil ones. He’s simply the guy behind the curtain; in fact, he’s behind every curtain. He’s an architect of the web.

Norman Armour, Executive Director
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