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Data becomes alchemy in Japanese maestro Ryoji Ikeda's jaw-dropping new Berlin installation

Posted by Rob Alderson,

The obvious challenge in reviewing installation art is the inevitable “you had to be there” issue, relying as it does so much on real-time manipulation (in a non pejorative way). This is especially true of Ryoji Ikeda’s new data.anatomy (civic) piece which opened yesterday in Berlin, combining as it does a massively theatrical setting with a complex piece of video art.

Ikeda is renowned for working with sound and light but he’s equally adept at using data and this latest piece came about after he met Honda designer Mitsuru Kariya last year. A series of discussions led to a collaboration and the car giants took the extraordinary step of handing over the complete CAD data of their new Civic – the culmination of four years’ research by thousands of designers – to the artist (which he says was “like being given a secret file from the FBI.”)

In his paris studio Ikeda and his five technicians analysed the vast quantity of data and he set to work creating an installation for the stark former turbine hall of the MUMA Kraftwerk.

The sense of theatre begins as soon as you enter the cold, dark industrial space and climb the steel staircase to where the installation is on show. The video is displayed on a long screen at one end of a pitch-black and adds little in the way of colour, the whole 12 minutes playing out in white on a black background (with the sporadic flash of red).

Apparently every single bit of data from the car is represented on screen in some way, whether in slow motion close ups of what could be design blueprints and much more abstract shapes constantly changing, mutating and flickering. To watch it is to immerse yourself in the intensity of engineering, but in a compelling, hypnotic experience rather than via dry academia.

This is data as alchemy, the minutiae of one of our most mundane everyday products displayed but not explained. Even knowing the conceit it’s impossible to follow quite what’s going on but that’s what you’d expect from as talented an artist as Ikeda, he may have been let in on a secret but that doesn’t mean you should be initiated too, just let his interpretation wash over you and revel in the mystery.

The installation runs until May 1.

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Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.