Back To The Futurism: Capitalist Technoscience & Art As Grand Narrative


New work by international artist-composer Ryoji Ikeda is to premiere in the U.K. in a car park. The work Supersymmetry is his first large scale solo installation in London and explores music and visual art through mathematics and physics developed through a residency organsied at The Centre For Nuclear Research (CERN).

Ryoji Ikeda is bringing his Supersymmetry project to London’s Brewer Street Car Park in April for its UK premiere with The Vinyl Factory. Ikeda’s new project Supersymmetry presents “an artistic vision of the reality of Nature” though an immersive and sensory experience. This project is a series of new work conceived as an installation version of his performance work “superposition” (2012-) and as a platform to update the process and outcome of his residence during 2014-15 at CERN in Geneva, the largest center in the world for particle physics.

Considered by some to be Japan’s leading electronic composer and visual artist, (according to the artists own website) Ikeda has gained a reputation working convincingly across both visual and sonic media. orchestrating sound, visual materials, physical phenomena and mathematical notions into immersive live performances and installations. In addition to working as a solo artist, he has also collaborated with, among others, Carsten Nicolai (under the name “Cyclo.”) and the art collective Dumb Type. His work matrix won the Golden Nica Award in 2001.


Supersymmetry  is a complex, ambitious, large scale project with big production values. It is sleek and immersive installation of  disorientating mutating sound, text and visual data.

Jaw-droppingly striking, Ryoji Ikeda has created a thoroughly entertaining blockbuster and an almost entirely a sensory experience. Any lack in philosophical originality in Ryoji Ikeda’s project Supersymmetry is handsomely compensated by the plethora of visual and sonic treats courtesy of a crackerjack technical crew. A highly feasible eerie epic that is requisitely foreboding, Supersymmetry includes 40 DLP projectors, 40 computers, loud speakers. It was created in collaboration with Norimichi Hirakawa (programming, computer graphics), Tomonaga Tokuyama (programming, computer graphics, computer system design, technical management) and Yoshito Onish (programming, computer graphics). It also was created through multiple partners; co-developed with YCAM InterLab in cooperation with Gallery Koyanagi, Tokyo. co-produced by the Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media (YCAM), Japan, and Le lieu unique, scène nationale de Nantes, France. Ryoji Ikeda StudioEquipment was in cooperation with Mix Wave,Inc., Bell-Park Co.,Ltd.

Ryoji Ikeda’s bio states that his work exploits the’causality of sound with human perception’.It’s a claim that makes sense when experiencing his music (especially in an installation or performance setting, where the bulk of his work has been for the past few years); Ikeda’s minimalist, rigorous electronica seriously plays with the listener’s head. Ikeda’s music is concerned primarily with sound in a variety of “raw” states, such as sine tones and noise, often using frequencies at the edges of the range of human hearing. Rhythmically, Ikeda’s music is highly imaginative, exploiting beat patterns and, at times, using a variety of discrete tones and noise to create the semblance of a drum machine. His work also encroaches on the world of ambient music; many tracks on his albums are concerned with slowly evolving soundscapes, with little or no sense of pulse. Ikeda says

“a high frequency sound is used that the listener becomes aware of only upon its disappearance”.

This project is a series of new work conceived as an installation version of his performance work “superposition” (2012-). In “superposition,” Ryoji Ikeda’s 65-minute multimedia performance, two performers — unusual for Mr. Ikeda’s work — sit at ends of a long table. They appeared to be demonstrating the uses and limits of data processing. They tap out a script in a kind of Morse code, at nearly the same speed but, of course, not quite. (The script contained statements like “Logic is not a body of doctrine but a mirror image of the world.”) They jam the computations of old IBM key-punch cards by imposing a crossword-puzzle-like graph over them. They roll marbles on a flat surface: The marbles moved around randomly, and then a computer program captured their positions, fixing them as points in relation to a central axis.

The sound and visuals, for the most part, are representations of digital data: sine waves, visualizations of code in black and white, or sometimes primary colors. It was high-contrast, high-resolution, pointedly loud or carefully soft, rhythmic, with intermittent puffs of white noise. If you weren’t inclined to it, you might have thought it antiseptic, nearly inhuman.

But there is always, apparently, an element of human interaction in Ikeda’s work. “Superposition,” if I understood it right, is about the tension between what can be graphed, plotted and perfectly represented, and what can’t. He’s interested in cold data — “superposition” is a concept from quantum mechanics — but more interested in how we can use it as a language, how we can make it talk or sing. He’s a kind of translator, converting principles into words, numbers into code, code into sound and image. Translation is an imperfect job, never finished. And so when Mr. Ikeda’s artistic will assumes the right proportions to his sets of data, producing the right tension, his work can feel much greater than the feat of digital programming you see or hear.

The residency where the installation version is being developed, is in two parts. The initial two months were at CERN, where the winning artist had a specially dedicated science mentor from the world famous science lab to inspire him in his work. The Prix Ars Electronica Collide@CERN is the international competition for digital artists to win a residency at the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva. It is the first prize to be announced as part of the new Collide@CERN artists residency programme initiated by the laboratory. The aim of the Prix Ars Electronica Collide@CERN prize is to take digital creativity to new dimensions by colliding the minds of scientists with the imaginations of artists. Supersymmetry draws on Ikeda’s  CERN residency near Geneva. CERN is currently testing “supersymmetry”, a theoretical mathematical model that helps explain why particles have mass. According to the Ars Electronica website:

“We seek to accelerate innovation across culture in the 21st century – creating new dimensions in digital arts, inspired by the ideas, engineering and science generated at CERN, and produced by the winning artist in collaboration with the transdisciplinary expertise of the Futurelab team at Ars Electronica”.

The second part is a month with the team and mentor at Ars Electronica Linz with whom the winner developed and made a new work inspired by the CERN residency. From the first meeting between the artists, CERN and Futurelab mentors, they all participated in a dialogue which was issued as a public blog of their creative process until the final work was produced. In this way, the public was  able to join in the conversation.

This final work will be showcased both at the Globe of Science and Innovation at CERN, in Geneva and at the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz. It will also be presented in the Prix Ars Electronica’s “CyberArts” catalogue.  As the winning artist Ryoji Ikeda recieves 10,000 Euros in prize money and rent, subsistence and travel funded from a designated limited fund that is in addition to the prize money. The awarding of this prize was through Ars Electronica and the funding of the creative residency was made possible through anonymous donors. The artists insurances for the residencies were funded by UNIQA Assurances SA Switzerland.

This new prize marks a 3 year science/arts cultural partnership and creative collaboration between CERN and Ars Electronica – which began with CERN’s cooperation with Origin – the Ars Electronica Festival in 2011.  The instruments used at CERN are purpose-built particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before the beams are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions. The organiser were looking for digital artists who was be truly inspired by CERN, showing their wish to engage with the ideas and/or technology of particle physics and with CERN as a place of scientific collaboration, using them as springboards of the imagination which dare to go beyond the paradigm.


This mishmash of chin-stroking techno-scientific existentialism does not always make for the most coherent art, but it is at least an entertaining one and certainly no black mark on the Ars Electronica franchise. 

An intense exploration of the intersections between music and visual art through mathematics, quantum mechanics and logic, the work supersymmetry draws on Ikeda’s residency. In particle physics, supersymmetry is a proposed extension of space-time symmetry that relates two basic classes of elementary particles: boson and fermion, and predicts a partner particle in the Standard Model, to help explain why particles have mass. The Standard Model has worked beautifully to predict what experiments have shown so far about the basic building blocks of matter, but physicists recognize that it is incomplete. supersymmetry is an extension of the Standard Model that aims to fill some of the gaps. It predicts a partner particle in the Standard Model. These new particle would solve a major problem with the Standard Model – fixing the mass of the Higgs boson. If the theory is correct, supersymmetric particles should appear in collisions at the LHC of CERN, Geneva.

Founded in 1954, the CERN laboratory sits astride the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 21 member states. CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, physicists and engineers are probing the fundamental structure of the universe. They use the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments to study the basic constituents of matter – the fundamental particles. The particles are made to collide together at close to the speed of light. The process gives the physicists clues about how the particles interact, and provides insights into the fundamental laws of nature.  The world’s largest particle physics research institute, CERN is currently testing ‘supersymmetry’, a theoretical mathematical model that helps explain why particles have mass and the basis for Ikeda’s work.

Ars Electronica Linz GmbH is an enterprise of the City of Linz which premiered in 1979. Ars Electronica Linz GmbH was incorporated in 1995; since then, it has been responsible for organizing and producing the Ars Electronica Festival and the Prix Ars Electronica, as well as for operating the Ars Electronica Center and the Ars Electronica Futurelab. Funding is provided by the City of Linz, the Province of Upper Austria and the Republic of Austria. Ars Electronica Linz GmbH is administered jointly by Artistic Director Gerfried Stocker and Financial Director Diethard Schwarzmair.

The Futurelab staff includes experts in a wide array of disciplines  such as media art, architecture, design, interactive exhibitions, virtual reality and real-time graphics. Here, innovative people reconfigure available knowledge, build bridges to art, and come up with concepts designed to facilitate our interaction with the world of today and tomorrow. It is  based at  Ars Electronica Linz GmbH is an Austrian cultural, educational and scientific institute active in the field ofnew media art, founded in 1979. Ars Electronica is based at the Ars Electronica Center, which houses the Museum of the Future, in the city of Linz. Ars Electronica’s activities focus on the interlinkages between art, technology and society. It runs an annual festival, and manages a multidisciplinary media arts R&D facility known as the Futurelab. It also confers the Prix Ars Electronica awards.

There’s a lot of college dorm techno-science mumbo jumbo on top but Supersymmetry really boils down to this-Artfully designed special effects. There’s no other way to put it- Supersymmetry is a delightful and elegant sensual experience. Trent Nathaniel Grover has included an Appendix about Ars Electronica in his book “Dream of the Techno-Shaman” (2008). He describes the institute’s activities as “a unique platform for exploring, discussing, tracking, and analyzing the interrelation between art, technology, and society”.  Such work, he argues, affirms the place of the human being at the center of techno-cultural processes, as “beneficiaries, victims, and, above all, creators and appliers of new technology”. Noting that the rapid pace of technological innovation has profound implications for culture and society, he presents the role of Ars Electronica as working to integrate developments in technology with art and society to the benefit of all, and contrasts this perspective with the Modernist call for “art for art’s sake”. Grover concludes by hoping that Ars Electronica “will be able to maintain its ongoing quest for innovation and expansion so that we can all benefit from and further involve ourselves in the integration of art, technology, and society”.

However this assessment seems somewhat dated, missing out on the whole social and philosophical phenomena of Post-modernism and Post-Structuralism. Furthermore it is itself based on a modernist ideology. The idea of modernity concerns the interpretation of the present time in light of historical reinterpretation. It refers too to the confluence of the cultural, social, and political currents in modern society. The term signals a tension within modern society between its various dynamics and suggests a process by which society constantly renews itself. The word “ modern ” comes from the Latin word modus , meaning now, but the term “ modernity ” has a stronger meaning, suggesting the possibility of a new beginning based on human autonomy and the consciousness of the legitimacy of the present time ( Blumenberg 1983 ). In Agnes Heller’s words, modernity means: “Everything is open to query and to testing; everything is subject to rational scrutiny and refuted by argument” ( Heller 1999 : 41). The first use of the term modern goes back to the early Christian Church in the fifth century when it was used to distinguish the Christian era from the pagan age. Arising from this was an association of modernity with the renunciation of the recent past, which was rejected in favor of a new beginning and a reinterpretation of historical origins. However, the term did not gain widespread currency until the seventeenth-century French “Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns ” on whether modern culture is superior to classical culture.

Postmodernism was a movement that rejected the modernist, avant garde, passion for the new. A late 20th-century style and concept in the arts, architecture, and criticism, Post-modernism represented a departure from modernism and is characterized by the self-conscious critique of earlier styles and conventions, a mixing of different artistic styles and media, and a general distrust of theories.

“Poststructuralism” can be distinguished from “Structuralism” in terms of an important set of theoretical and historical differences that can be most easily understood by recognizing the difference between their theoretical objects of study: Poststructuralism takes as it theoretical object “Structuralism”, whereas Postmodernism takes as its theoretical object “Modernism”. Each movement is an attempt to supersede in various ways that which went before. The two movements can be distinguished by a peculiar set of theoretical concerns most clearly seen in their respective historical genealogies.

Structuralism is an aesthetic theory based on the following assumptions: all artistic artifacts (or “texts”) are exemplifications of an underlying “deep structure”; texts are organized like a language, with their own specific grammar; the grammar of a language is a series of signs and conventions which draw a predictable response from human beings. The objective of structuralist analysis is to reveal the deep structures of texts. The roots of structuralism lie mainly in structural linguistics, in particular the theories of the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913), whose Course in General Linguistics provides structuralism with its basic methodological model. Other major sources of structuralist aesthetic theory have been Russian Formalism (a school of literary theorists who flourished in postrevolutionary Russia) and structural anthropology (Claude Lévi-Strauss being a key figure in this area). Poststructuralism is a broad-based cultural movement embracing several disciplines, which has self-consciously rejected the techniques and premises of structuralism, particularly the notion that there is an underlying pattern to events. Nevertheless, it owes a great deal to the earlier theory, and has been variously described as “neo-structuralism” and “superstructuralism.”

Transmediale-2010-Ryoji_Ikeda-Data-Tron-1The Mother ship: Ryoji Ikedas Data.Tron was on show at transmediale 10

Poststructuralism ought to be seen as a specific philosophical response – strongely motivated by the work of Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger – against the social scientific pretensions of structuralism. postmodernism can be recognized by two key assumptions. First, the assumption that there is no common denominator — in “nature” or “truth” or “God” or “the future” — that guarantees either the One-ness of the world or the possibility of natural or objective thought. Second, the assumption that all human systems operate like language, being self-reflexive rather than referential systems — systems of differential function which are powerful but finite, and which construct and maintain meaning and value.

Postmodernism aims at exposing how, in modern, liberal democracies, the construction of political identity and the operationalization of basic values take place through the deployment of conceptual binaries such as we/them, responsible/irresponsible, rational/irrational, legitimate/illegitimate, normal/abnormal, and so on … postmodernists draw attention to the ways in which the boundary between … [these] terms is socially reproduced and policed.

Matters become more complex when ‘poststructuralist’ thinkers began to systematically engage the term. An influential definition of postmodernism and one of the most debated comes from the poststructuralist thinker, Jean-François Lyotard, who in his celebrated The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Lyotard 1984, orig. 1979) analyzed the status of knowledge in the most advanced societies in ways that many critics believed signaled an epochal break not only with the so-called ‘modern era’ but also with various traditionally ‘modern’ ways of viewing the world. He writes in a now famous formulation:

I will use the term modern to designate any science that legitimates itself with reference to a metadiscourse … making explicit appeal to some grand narrative, such as the dialectics of the Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth (Lyotard, 1984: xxii).

By contrast, he defines postmodern simply as “incredulity toward metanarratives” (p. xxiv). In The Postmodern Condition, Lyotard was concerned with the grand narratives that had grown out of the Enlightenment and had come to mark modernity. In The Postmodern Explained to Children,Lyotard (1992: 29) mentions specifically:

“the progressive emancipation of reason and freedom, the progressive or catastrophic emancipation of labour …, the enrichment of all through the progress of capitalist technoscience”

Grand narratives, then, are the stories that cultures tell themselves about their own practices and beliefs in order to legitimate them. They function as a unified single story that purports to legitimate or found a set of practices, a cultural self-image, discourse or institution (see Peters, 1995). For example, Supersymmetry  is a complex, ambitious, large scale project with big production values. It is sleek and immersive installation of  disorientating mutating sound, text and visual data. Ryoji Ikedas project orchestrates sound, visual materials, physical phenomena and mathematical notions into highly immersive and sonic and aesthetic live performances and installations as a promotion of the scientific discoveries that underpin the work. Ikeda is comming from a broadly historical, materialist position. In  data.anatomy, a 3-screen video projection, he completely immerses the viewer in an intricate yet vast audiovisual composition derived from the entire data set of a car (see image below). This can  be seen in relation to the writing of Situationist Guy Debord who discusses The Spectacle. According to Guy Debord, the spectacle is the inverted image of society in which relations between commodities have supplanted relations between people, in which “passive identification with the spectacle supplants genuine activity”.


 “The spectacle is not a collection of images,” Guy Debord writes, “rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.” Image: data.anatomy is a 3-screen video projection and completely immerses the viewer in an intricate yet vast audiovisual composition derived from the entire data set of a car.

However, earlier Philosophers such as Derrida, Lyotard, Baudrillard and Hartman all claimed to have found a way to transcend value judgement. Thinkers such as these have, by their rejection of conventional methods of constructing value judgements, succeeded in problematizing the whole area of aesthetics. Stuart Sim treats post-structuralism and postmodernism as forms of anti-aesthetics and contextualizes the movements within a longer running tradition of anti-foundationalism and radical scepticism in Western philosophy.

Futurism was a Modernist avant-garde movement founded in Milan in 1909 by the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti.  Marinetti launched the movement in his Futurist Manifesto, which he published for the first time on 5 February 1909 in La gazzetta dell’Emilia, an article then reproduced in the French daily newspaper Le Figaro on 20 February 1909. It placed emphasis on speed and techonolgy. The founding manifesto did not contain a positive artistic programme, which the Futurists attempted to create in their subsequent Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting. This committed them to a “universal dynamism”, which was to be directly represented in painting. Objects in reality were not separate from one another or from their surroundings: “The sixteen people around you in a rolling motor bus are in turn and at the same time one, ten four three; they are motionless and they change places. … The motor bus rushes into the houses which it passes, and in their turn the houses throw themselves upon the motor bus and are blended with. Futurist music rejected tradition and introduced experimental sounds inspired by machinery, and would influence several 20th century composers.

In 1912 and 1913, Boccioni turned to sculpture to translate into three dimensions his Futurist ideas. In Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913) he attempted to realise the relationship between the object and its environment, which was central to his theory of “dynamism”. The Futurists were fearcily patriotic. The sculpture represents a striding figure, cast in bronze now appears on the national side of Italian 20 eurocent coins.

Boccioni’s intentions in art were strongly influenced by the ideas of Bergson, including the idea of intuition, which Bergson defined as a simple, indivisible experience of sympathy through which one is moved into the inner being of an object to grasp what is unique and ineffable within it. The Futurists aimed through their art thus to enable the viewer to apprehend the inner being of what they depicted. Boccioni developed these ideas at length in his book, Pittura scultura Futuriste: Dinamismo plastico (Futurist Painting Sculpture: Plastic Dynamism) (1914).


Image: data.anatomy [civic] is a audiovisual installation created by  Ryoji Ikeda in collaboration with Mitsuru Kariya, the development leader of the new Honda Civic. The work is exhibited as a 3-screen video projection derived from the entire data set of the car.

Futurism influenced many other twentieth-century movements, including Art Deco, Vorticism, ConstructivismSurrealism, Dada, and much later Neo-Futurism.  Futurism as a coherent and organized artistic movement is now regarded as extinct, having died out in 1944 with the death of its leader Marinetti. Nonetheless the ideals of Futurism remain as significant components of modern Western culture; the emphasis on youth, speed, power and technology finding expression in much of modern commercial cinema and culture. Ridley Scott consciously evoked the designs of Sant’Elia in Blade Runner. Echoes of Marinetti’s thought, especially his “dreamt-of metallization of the human body”, are still strongly prevalent in Japanese culture, and surface in manga/animeand the works of artists such as Shinya Tsukamoto, director of the “Tetsuo” (lit. “Ironman”) films. Futurism has produced several reactions, including the literary genre of cyberpunk—in which technology was often treated with a critical eye—whilst artists who came to prominence during the first flush of the Internet, such as Stelarc and Mariko Mori, produce work which comments on Futurist ideals. The art and architecture movement Neo-Futurism is one in which technology is considered a driver to a better quality of life and sustainability values.

Technology is an amazing medium to work with. And the work being done by CERN is fascinating stuff. But rather than trying to reinvent or critique the role of science and technology, Ryoji Ikedas returns us to the philosophical limbo of Neo-Futurism. Ryoji Ikedas and organizations such as Ars Electronica, who are arguing from a broadly historical, materialist position, should nevertheless be made to declare their ideological commitments. The radical scepticism of Derrida, Lyotard, Baudrillard, and their followers,  point to a need for reassessment of the methods and objectives among critical theorists. Even within Modernist Aesthetics, the branch of philosophy dealing with such notions as the beautiful, the ugly, the sublime, the comic, etc., as applicable to the fine arts, establishes the meaning and validity of critical judgments concerning works of art, and the principles underlying or justifying such judgments. Ikeda shocks and awes with more than sufficient technical bravura. If only he was as smart as he clearly thinks he is. Art that is so nakedly in the service of corporate interests is not really art- it is advertising. And while the techno-science underlying the work is itself impressive, this installation won’t give your brain much of a workout;  But the spectacle will give your eyes and ears a nice buzz.

Ikeda was born in Gifu, Japan in 1966. The sound artist currently lives and works in Paris.

Ryoji Ikeda’s supersymmetry runs from 23 April – 31 May at Brewer Street Car Park

Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 12pm – 6pm (free entry)

Address: The Vinyl Factory Space at Brewer Street Car Park (Basement), London, W1F 0LA

Photos by Ryuichi Maruo, courtesy of Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media [YCAM]



About Art Selectronic

Art Selectronic is an artist-led initiative, that supports grass-roots contemporary art that remains unswayed by fashion, trends or the whims of government funding. The project involves ongoing research into the placing of contemporary art, it’s audiences and it’s relationship to the everyday. We place great emphasis on context. Our mission is to support new works of contemporary art and foster an audience from a wide range of backgrounds.
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