“I’m a Japanese sound artist living in Paris who uses binary code and online data to generate colossal, audiovisual interactive artworks and tone music.” It’d be a killer opening line for dinner parties, one doubtful the elusive Ryoji Ikeda would ever drop between pre-entrée Merlots.

Exhibiting two internationally-celebrated works as part of Vivid Sydney and ISEA2013 at Carriageworks this winter, audiovisual installation artist Ikeda appears to live somewhat of an enviable cosmopolitan life. Living in Paris, exhibiting with the big guns everywhere from Tokyo’s Museum of Contemporary Art to London’s Barbican Centre. But apart from where he works and plays, there’s not a whole lot we know about Ryoji himself. “He doesn’t talk about it,” says Director of Carriageworks Lisa Havilah. “He doesn’t give any quotes or do any interviews or really talk about it. So we only have what you can get from other people talking about his works.”

Elusive and intriguingly mysterious himself, Ikeda injects this ambiguity into his works, promoting a popular modernist tendency to leave the work as is, explanation abandoned for immediate viewer perception. “It’s not to be understood in the usual way,” says Havilah. “Sometimes when you’re looking at an artwork you have to understand a particular part of art history, you have to know the background to have access to it. This is just left out there.”

Carriageworks will play host to the Australian premiere of Ikeda’s large-scale installation, test pattern [No. 5], which converts the bits and bytes of data (from photos, text, film and sound) into binary patterns and barcodes. When all the 0s and 1s are mixed well, the data is fed through five projectors onto a colossal floor screen sitting at 28 metres long and 8 metres wide. Ikeda’s mixing generates a seriously impressive flickering black and white interactive stage, supported by his signature soundscaping.

First installed in France, test pattern [No. 5] is a huge undertaking for Carriageworks. More of his work was recently celebrated in a major exhibition at The Park Avenue Armory in New York City, gaining big ol’ snaps from The New York Times for being a “sublime spectacle”. Havilah is eager for Sydney audiences to become acquainted with Ikeda’s work. “As an experience it’s quite immersive,” she says. “Because the scale of the work is so big, it changes the perception of the scale of yourself. It makes you step outside yourself for a moment because you’re completely in another world, you’re completely in the work.”

Ikeda’s work tends to send audiences into sensory overload, particularly his own performances. In addition to test pattern [No. 5] at Carriageworks, the artist will be performing in a one-night-only, free concert on June 7 entitled datamatics [ver.2.0], first performed in San Jose in 2006. “datamatics is another work of his which is projected on a vertical screen and he live mixes the data feed,” explains Havilah. “He’s taking live data from different sources on the internet and is live mixing them, which impacts on the sound of the projection you see.”

Ikeda’s work features as part of both Vivid Sydney and the long-running ISEA2013 program, an international symposium on electronic arts and ideas running June 7-16 in Sydney. Ikeda joins a formidable international lineup, most notably featuring Wikileaks founder and arguable electronic artist Julian Assange, who will address conference delegates and a smattering of the public at the University of Sydney via live video link from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

Another elusive personality alongside Assange, Ikeda’s true character is yet to be revealed, a genuinely ambitious artist hidden behind a swag of 1s and 0s. He remains to be deciphered, but his works are free for the decoding this winter.


Rjoyi Ikeda’stest pattern [No.5] and datamatics [ver.2.0] show at Carriageworks onJune 8 – July 1 and June 7.

Tell Us What You Think