Visiting Ryoji Ikeda’s “the transfinite”

Posted by Tobias Carroll

First impressions of Ryoji Ikeda’s the transfinite: this is the most surreal picnic ground in history.

Some context: I walked into the Park Avenue Armory’s Drill Hall and, as a sign directed, removed my shoes. From there, I stepped onto the surface of the installation’s first half: a surprisingly soft plastic on which images moved, accompanied by a blissful soundtrack that recalled the music of Christian Fennesz and Oval. Halfway into the Hall, a wall rose; on that wall, the images continued on their way. Sometimes they were solid; at other times, they began to fragment, becoming forms that suggested the degradation of digital images. (Or, depending on your taste in music, resembling early-90s industrial music album covers.)

At first, I found it awe-inspiring: this mammoth and all-encompassing rush of imagery, the areas of light and dark interrupted by the bodies sitting or laying atop the grounds of the artwork. But after a while, the patterns began to seem repetitive: the scale of the work, rather than its complexity, seemed to be its defining feature.

At that point, I made my way around to the other side of the room. Here, the work did in fact become significantly more complex: on the floor, a series of smaller, table-sized, screens displayed data-rich work — work that was mirrored on the larger screen before us. Some of the screens evoked starfields; others, databases. From what I can tell from the labels, another presented the genome of Aquifex aeolicus.

It wasn’t clear if there was meant to be some sort of relationship between the widely divergent information presented. In some cases, the data was presented without any sort of identifying information: data, essentially, presented as an abstraction of itself.  In other cases — such as the genome — the context of the information was available for anyone looking closely enough. Ikeda’s artist statement speaks of exploring “the intersection that lies between such polarizations” — so perhaps the juxtaposition of these disparate elements was the goal, rather than specific components of that goal. In the end, I left the transfinite both impressed and unsteady. It’s a monolithic work that keeps its secrets close at hand, even as its individual pieces abound with revelation.