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Mapping the ephemeral with multimedia artist Ryoichi Kurokawa

Japanese multimedia master Ryoichi Kurokawa discusses his approach to natural phenomenon and its creative interpretation within his practice.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Oct 27, 2021

Within the wider ambit of digital artistry, it is often artists who seamlessly combine various mediums that stand out the most. Few exemplify this practice like Ryoichi Kurokawa, who, quoting his artist statement “…creates work that takes on multiple forms such as installation works, recordings and concert pieces. He composes time sculptures with field recordings and digitally generated structures, and also commits himself to architecturally reconstructing audio-visual phenomenon.” In conversation with STIR, however, he recontextualises this, “I am an artist from Japan who works with sound and light.” This explanation is greatly helpful, as when one looks at Kurokawa’s work after the fact, it becomes clear that sound and light sit at its core, while his various interpretations of and engagements with this form the larger context of his practice.

From the artist’s Ittrans series | Ryoichi Kurokawa, Nicolas Wierinck and others | STIRworld
From the artist’s Ittrans series Image: Ryoichi Kurokawa, Nicolas Wierinck and others

Kurokawa’s works often use the themes of destruction and reconstruction, and considering the current global paradigm, it is no surprise that he is rapidly gaining popularity and viewership as a practitioner. Additionally, he mentions that he is also preoccupied with creating multi-sensorial, synesthetic experiences. With regards to the further development of his practice, he remains ever stoic, telling STIR, “The rate at which the world changes has been accelerating. And we have no idea how things will turn out. Accepting the situation, I keep creating art as ever.”

One of the artist’s Atom [mute] prints | Ryoichi Kurokawa, Nicolas Wierinck and others | STIRworld
One of the artist’s Atom [mute] prints Image: Ryoichi Kurokawa, Nicolas Wierinck and others

The artist’s vision translates fascinatingly to every medium he contends with. Take, for example Atom [mute], a series of seven digital prints which were developed from an installation titled ‘ad/ab Atom (2017)’. The installation functioned through 7-channel display and 4-channel sound systems. Discussing this piece, Kurokawa tells STIR, “By approaching the reconstruction of scientific data at the nano-level, this work sets out to travel into atomic-scale space, where viewers may experience a distorted and highly magnified world.” The artist’s prints were created in collaboration with the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory’s Department of Quantum Materials, Science and Technology, wherein Kurokawa observed images sourced through scan probes and electron microscopy, before then filtering and distorting these into artistic renderings. He continues, explaining, “This work is aimed at making the phenomenal perceptible by humans.” Here, playing with scale has allowed Kurokawa to transport viewers to an alien world of natural ephemera. Within the artist’s larger oeuvre, one may even consider Ittrans series of diptychs, wherein he adopts two opposing algorithms –simulating orderly and disorderly patterns of behaviour – and applies them to creating three-dimensional models of plants and flowers. Kurokawa explains, “The title of the series refers to the complex physical-mathematical process by which laminar (or regular) flow transitions into turbulent flow; a phenomenon that has been widely studied for its profound impact on a multitude of industry sectors, including aerospace, chemistry and electronics.” He continues, saying “The two panels in each diptych represent the pre- and post-transition stages: the linear and vertical movements on the left-hand image indicate laminar flow, while the more random patterns on the right-hand image denote turbulent flow.”

Untitled | Ryoichi Kurokawa, Nicolas Wierinck and others | STIRworld
Untitled Image: Ryoichi Kurokawa, Nicolas Wierinck and others

Kurokawa mentions enjoying Charles Eames in his childhood, and that the world of design was his gateway to thinking visually. This is an interesting connection to make, and one that contextualises his incredibly intricate process as serving much more than a sense of scientific curiosity. It is, in fact, the product of a painstaking and rigorously honed design process. However, one wonders whether there is a degree of humanism lost in the journey from conception to execution. Indeed, Kurokawa does not mention such themes as being central to his work, and yet, it can create a sense of alienation when engaging with his artistry. Perhaps the best way to do so is to embrace the sheer force-of-nature power within the audio-visual pieces he crafts. Some commenters have taken this lens into Kurokawa’s work quite literally, viewing it as an interpretation of nature itself. The Ittrans series discussed above is a particularly strong example of this. Discussing another project, Kurokawa tells STIR, “‘s.asmbli / subassemblies’ is a project which pursues the relationship between nature and the human realm through a perspective of an architectural scale. This is translated to different presentation formats such as a concert piece, multiscreen installations, prints, VR and a screening version. The main data source for this project comes from 3D data collected by laser scanning human-made architecture, ruins and nature. These are then distorted and reconstructed into each module as subassemblies in order to create a renewed timeline with layers of order and disorder playing with each other. The work is meant to expose the force of both, nature and art.” He continues, explaining that his ruins, overgrown buildings and architectural forms presented in disrepair are superimposed and rebuilt dynamically, and that the unusual forms and environments that this gives rise to are them rendered in multi-layered depth in order to extend the perception of floating not only between nature and the human realm, but also between abstract and concrete phenomena through its transition, destruction and renaturation. The motion and movement within this piece are meant to enhance and explore these peculiarities to their fullest.

Untitled | Ryoichi Kurokawa, Nicolas Wierinck and others| STIRworld
Untitled Image: Ryoichi Kurokawa, Nicolas Wierinck and others

The artist’s work has been very highly praised, having been shown at TATE Modern, Centre Pompidou, Venice Biennale, Palais de Tokyo, ARS Electronic, and Mutek among others. Additionally, he is cited as a major influence for many digital and multimedia practitioners all over the world.  From generative artists to creatives who work within the ambit of XR (Extended Reality), many have mentioned being moved deeply by his art, and Ryoichi Kurokawa has already left a lasting impression on the creative world. Discussing the future of his practice, he tells STIR, “I don’t limit the possibility of it going anywhere, either virtually or in the real.” Art such as Kurokawa’s pushes the limits of technology in a deep, almost spiritual pursuit of the ephemeral, and yet, as is the case with him, often retains a strong grounding within the environment and natural phenomenon. There is no telling how the artist’s practice may evolve with the advancement of technology, but it will undoubtedly remain a captivating site of meditation on ephemera.

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