Ryoichi Kurokawa, Unfold (FACT, Liverpool 2016)

The power of data with its immense diversity, unconceivable scale and sheer visual potency escapes definition, despite being encoded in definable systems. As we become an increasingly data-driven society, where nearly everything we do is prescribed onto a sleek graph and scrutinised by analysts, the possibilities of the data science are endless. Undeniably, data is an extremely powerful tool. But it can also be beautiful, especially when dry and impenetrable information patterns morph into organic forms in a frenzy spectacle that leaves no space for analysis and no time for linguistic command. This is what Ryoichi Kurokawa, a Japanese musician and visual artist does to his viewers. And in his artistic processes he uses a simple fact, that humans are a visual species that needs a powerful stimulus to remain in awe for longer than a split of a second.

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Kurokawa’s domain lies in a ‘synaesthetic’ approach, resulting in a multisensorial experience, where sounds, pictures and tactile simulations blend and disable us from differentiating one from another. Fully enclosed within a constructed space, we immerse ourselves in an artificial world residing in constrained surfaces and computer generated images that become a digital embodiment of the infinite universe. ‘Unfold’ is Kurokawa’s first UK exhibition and it focuses on marrying art with science. For this project, Kurokawa gained access to astrophysical data that speaks of a ten-billion-year evolution of stars and galaxies. Recorded by telescopes (predominantly the Herschel space telescope), these mind-blowing processes became a landscape for further artistic explorations and result in images and spectacles that literally unfold in front of our eyes. At their core is a skill that shines through complicated descriptions and high tech tools engaged in the show: a skill of observation. Something that should not be overlooked when considering Kurokawa’s method.


There are only three pieces exhibited at FACT, ‘Unfold’ (Audiovisual installation), ‘Constrained Surface’ (HD display) and ‘Unfold.mod’ (a selection of metadata and scientific photography explored by the former two exhibits). There is no need for more, as they take our physical awareness to its limit and leave us with just about enough space to breathe. ‘Unfold’ does as it promises: unfolding a reconstruction of what seems to be the birth of the stars. Plunged in the darkness lit up only by three neighbouring screen panels, we observe shapeless forms and lines animated in a frenzy narration that stretches from pure silence, to rupture movements. And then, Kurokawa adds the sounds; fizzy, electronic, out of this world. The speakers installed beneath the floor make the noises tangible. From top to toe, the throbs reverberate in bodies and interrupt the audience’s minds. The synaesthesia becomes omnipresent and as a result, we physically experience the data. Similarly, in ‘Constrained Surfaces’ colourful networks of lines and signals travel across the screens in almost poetic way. Their uncontrolled proportions ebb and flow, in an attempt to push the screen out of their way. They come and go; emerging; unfolding. Remnants of the Big Bang. Nomads of the universe.


Attending Kurokawa’s thirty-minute concert ‘Syn_’, a performance like no other, combining all the props used for his installations, gives an insight into artist’s musical oeuvre, but on a louder and bolder scale. Barely visible in the darkness and from behind a laptop ‘turntable’, Kurokawa performed his electronic compositions; a fusion of sounds punctuated by silence and visualised on two big screens. Again, abstract forms ran across the panels, accompanied by sharp sounds that pierced the air in the room, resulting in a surprisingly meditative atmosphere. One sensed that, beyond complicated science, equations and programming processes, Kurokawa’s main concern is nature – its precision, intricacy and amorphous abilities. By creating shapes that originate organically and evoking an atmosphere, in which the mind is almost entirely devoid of thoughts, the artist harks back to the Japanese ideas of ‘ma’ (emptiness saturated with meanings) and ‘impermanence’ (embracing the change of all things earthly). Kurokawa portrays nature that is being looked at yet again, reconsidered and elevated to another level. A perfect grasp of the ungraspable.

Text originally commissioned by This is Tomorrow available here

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