The digital hurricane data dance

Tony Reck on the Ryoji Ikeda experience

When standing alone in a vast expanse and staring at the horizon, what exactly is it that we see? In the world of Ryoji Ikeda we see nothing more than data. C4I opens with a swirling mass of data; permutations cascading across a screen accompanied by a sonic thunder that rattles the diaphragm. A data dance between human beings that strives for infinity. Ikeda might be a new media artist traversing a digital horizon but his work harks back to an old aesthetic debate. Is C4I just a set of systems comprising nothing more than data, or is it a window into another world?

This is the question posed by C4I as a computer generated night time map appears on the screen. The major cities of each country are indicated by light emitting diodes. Connecting each city across the world is a faint trace of telescoped white light—the world wide web in action as if viewed on a war room screen. White lines of data crisscross the night sky until the outline of each country’s land mass collapses into the universal simulacrum. The audience ponders an image of Earth digitally abstracted, one resembling a spider’s web. Silk strands are normally created by natural forces, but in Ikeda’s work, a natural form is always represented by data.

We see pages of a hard cover book, its words—detailing scientific speculation—digitally enhanced, and its pages turning hands-free. The book drops down a shaft, its landing accentuated by an electronic thud that hammers at the foundations of the representation/non-representation debate in an art film that has absorbed the Imax experience. What would the first ‘true’ abstract filmmaker, Viking Eggeling (Symphonie Diagonale, 1921-4), have made of Ikeda’s digital hurricane? Perhaps he’d have viewed the film’s division of one screen into 12 smaller ones, some containing landscapes, others containing an image from the mass media, as miraculous data vibrating into life. A techno-howl threatens to crack the ceiling of Melbourne’s Playhouse. And it was always on the cards that a technological advancement would resolve the representation/non-representation debate; digital technology would propel the debate onto a new horizon, where metaphor and abstraction coalesce in a digital dream, or nightmare, that is nothing more than data.

In C4I the natural world is portrayed as just another creature to be digitally enhanced. A camera cruises through undergrowth; tree branches poised in the night air, straight out of a scene from a slasher flick. The boughs tremble and quake, tangle and integrate, transmute and transmogrify. Infused with colour, movement and light, there materialises from within this natural world an Action Painting. Pollock’s ‘Nature’ is fully realised as the tenets of Abstract Expressionism are blown into another dimension. One that maniacally dismantles its own contention by then displaying to its audience the cool portent of a desert horizon at sunset. Two tiny figures, engulfed by nature’s symphony, scramble along a sand ridge, while a third figure appears from one side of the screen trying to catch the others. Human beings on a technological treadmill, forever lagging behind. Then, to compound this view of the human dilemma in the digital age, Ikeda uses the technology to dismantle the desert metaphor—filling the screen with a set of white lines, a design graph, revealing that natural landscapes—forests, mountains, valleys and streams—are perceptions as much as physical realities, consisting of nothing more than data.

And here lies the immense power of C4I. It is less a work of art and more a natural phenomenon. Impossible it may be, but at times C4I aspires not towards a representation of nature, but to be nature. Something alive; an audio visual organism comprising living data. And whether object on a screen, noise from a sound system, or a window into another world, whether figuration, configuration or something else again, some new horizon, please remember: when confronted by a sign on a gateway indicating the presence of a wild beast, you enter at your own risk.

Melbourne International Arts Festival: C4I, director, video, music Ryoji Ikeda, computer graphics and video editing Shohei Matsukawa, Daisuke Tsunoda, technical director Kamal Ackarie, Playhouse, Arts Centre, Oct 10-11

RealTime issue #70 Dec-Jan 2005 pg. 10

© Tony Reck; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2005