Ryoji Ikeda, 4'33“, 2010, framed 16-mm film (blank with AATON timecode), 35 1/4 x 36 5/8”. From the series “time and space,” 2010–.

Ryoji Ikeda, 4'33“, 2010, framed 16-mm film (blank with AATON timecode), 35 1/4 x 36 5/8”. From the series “time and space,” 2010–.

Ryoji Ikeda

Ryoji Ikeda, 4'33“, 2010, framed 16-mm film (blank with AATON timecode), 35 1/4 x 36 5/8”. From the series “time and space,” 2010–.

Ryoji Ikeda is generally described as a sound artist, and the tag is not inaccurate. But because he explores the fundamental properties of sound in depth, his practice has gradually overflowed its boundaries, so that today he sometimes seems to escape it almost entirely. This show included two audiovisual pieces—data.tron, 2007, and data.scan, 2009—belonging to the ongoing “datamatics” series, initiated in 2006 and based on the use of masses of data as source material for abstract representations: black-and-white digital imagery made of grids, streaming code, and buzzing numbers, aiming at a physical, hypnotic experience where the awareness of the data—its full meaning—is buried beneath the avalanche of its unending apparitions. In this sense, these two pieces are indeed related to the “musical” facet of Ikeda’s activity; they constitute an eminently contemporary incarnation of a modernist search for a melody of forms.

The other pieces on view could be understood as possessing the same precision, the same seduction of black and white, and they demand no less contemplation. But they are also endowed with what might be called a conceptual false bottom that clearly distances them from an aesthetic of pure abstraction. These pieces were taken from two series: “time and space,” 2010–, and “V≠L,” 2008–. In both cases, the notion of time (materialized or infinite) is crucial, and all the more so in that Ikeda refers, more or less explicitly, to two artists who have focused on the notion of duration in their work: John Cage and Roman Opalka. The opposition of time and duration in fact emerged as one of the central axes of this exhibition.

Thus in 4'33, 2010, from the “time and space” series, lengths of 16-mm film are horizontally arranged across the entire surface of a square except for about four inches at the bottom right. This interruption indicates that what is important resides not only in the film itself, in its materiality and in its mesmerizing succession, in the perfectly proportioned relationship with the plain matte black aluminum frame, but also in its length, which, as the title suggests, corresponds to the duration of Cage’s famous piece. The film, which at first seems blank, bears a timecode that is almost imperceptible and is meant for synchronizing image and sound. The space of the work, which is seemingly blank and “silent,” is actually filled with information, but the information is situated beyond human perception, and the experience of duration yields to a representation of conventional time.

The transcendental (e) [n˚2-c], 2009, from the “V≠L” series, also presents a square surface, which is this time entirely covered in tiny black numbers producing a sort of hypnotic visual buzzing. The succession of digits results from a computer program generating a transcendental number, thus one that never repeats or terminates, and of which the work in question can therefore only issue a fragment. One immediately thinks of Opalka when standing before this interminable string of numbers against a neutral background. But Opalka means to present an incarnation of duration, whereas Ikeda offers a visual presentation of infinite, impossible time, such as would be needed in order to fully grasp such a number. This is precisely why Ikeda’s work speaks to us: Its ultra-minimal beauty is fortified by the observation—at once sublime and terrifying—that we can never catch up with the technological universe we’ve created.

Olivier Mignon

Translated from French by Molly Stevens.