Stepping into the Almine Rech Gallery on Grosvenor Hill is like entering a laboratory. The walls are covered with black and white coding, enhanced with futuristic sounds; it is not your typical art gallery atmosphere. The language of Ryoji Ikeda, whose works are displayed throughout the space, appear strange and perhaps too complicated to just browse through. Intrigued and curious, I pass by black, white, and grey squares, trying as much as I can, to decipher the notes on the side of each art piece. The press release given at the entrance is relatively elaborate but still too complex for me to understand and it doesn’t help me to appreciate the art. It looks fascinating, but I found it too unapproachable. From what I observe, Japanese electronic composer and visual artist Ryoji Ikeda is preoccupied by the translation of light and sound into a coding system based on maths and physics.
My last resort is to have the exhibition untangled by the most knowledgeable person working in the gallery. She seems aware of the intricacies of the pieces and has witnessed more than one puzzled onlooker asking for answers.
Ikeda is interested in the binary representation of π, e and ø elements. The canvases encountered in the first rooms are filled with codes, assembled in patterns and represented indefinitely. The artist’s fascination for a number such as π, which is limitless in time and space, is insightful yet ungraspable. This seems not to be an art of aesthetic but rather an art of limitless vision and an admiration for the unknown. In an adjacent small room, other patterns are displayed: a countdown remnant of one from a vintage movie. The numbers 5,4,3,2,1 have been broken down and represented in the Ikeda way. I am not sure if these calculations are exact, or scientifically proven, I forgot to ask, but perhaps it is not vital to the exhibition.
The gallery assistant who breaks down the exhibition for me, tells me that the artist, in the brief he previously gave, insisted that he does not really care if people grasp the details of each art work, what is represented and what it meant for him while he was creating each piece. I find it surprising, and at the same reassuring. This type of art is not limpid like realism can be, for example. It is made of a myriad of small elements, which lose the viewer in the process, like on a score, where each sign underneath a note guides the musician to interpret it the way the composer intended. Without it, it’s just a series of notes which imply a thousand interpretations, all unique, all interesting, and all human. Isn’t it the purpose of any art work, to let the viewers interpret the painting, sculpture, music, or performance as they wish?
The rest of the exhibition is in another room filled with screens and sounds. I now know what they represent, but I am tempted to back up and imagine the interpretation that I could have given it, if I hadn’t had it explained to me by the gallery assistant. This review would had been completely different. Commitment to critical thinking is uneasy, on one hand I want to merge with the exhibition, penetrate the art’s intentions and write what came out from the experience; on the other hand, the sword of Damocles floats above my head, the fear of being attacked if I transgress rules and break with conventions. This time, Ikeda makes things easy, his will is to hear a million interpretations of his art. Here is one of them.
π, e, ø: Ryoji Ikeda at Almine Rech Gallery (6 April – 20 May 2017)