Review: Ryoji Ikeda, test pattern [No 5], Carriageworks

This year’s Vivid festival again brought Sydney alive with art. We had Kraftwerk and the parti-coloured Opera House; we had Wagner-a-la-multimedia and Johnny Cupcakes.

But one of the most striking and jaw-dropping works presented under the Vivid umbrella was ‘test pattern [No 5]’, a stunning installation by acclaimed Japanese audio-visual artist Ryoji Ikeda at Redfern’s Carriageworks.

An ex-DJ and now art multi-man, Ikeda is internationally renowned for creating spectacular sound and visual environments. The Carriageworks installation is an immersive audio-visual installation inspired by computer programming data that converts information into barcode and binary patterns.

Five visual projectors illuminate a floor screen measuring 30 metres long and 10 metres wide. People are allowed to walk across its surface, play with its ever-changing black and white strobing patterns or just meditate in this new, ultra-aescetic, entirely non-natural world.

Its vast size and suggestion of infinity is reminiscent of the work of Yayoi Kusama, another contemporary Japanese visionary who makes strange new worlds for us to inhabit (and which end up inhabiting us). But whereas Kusama’s work is childlike, colourful and sweet-natured, ‘test pattern [No 5]’ is the opposite – severe, restricted in colour and sound, square edged and machine-made.

Which is not to say that it is not beautiful – its very severity and mathematical precision has an icy attractiveness that is almost luminously spiritual. There is no vanity here.

But all this talk would be lost on the children who seem to love it and leap into its striped light pool – the adults hang back until their eyes and their preconceptions adjust. Watching the kids run, slide, trying to catch the quicksilver stripes as they ripple by I realise that we, the viewers, are an integral part of ‘test pattern [No 5]’. Our interaction – soft-edged, human-scale, human-shaped – contrasts excitingly with the machine geometry of the work and its computer-perfect rhythms. It makes us beautiful and, in turn, we soften its geometry back to nature.

‘test pattern [No 5]’ Installation is showing at Carriageworks, Redfern until 1 July, 10am – 6pm daily, and entry is free.


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