The exhibition “supersymmetry” marks your third occasion – and the first in six years – to present a new work at YCAM following the “C4I” concert in 2004 and the “datamatics” exhibition in 2008. First of all, please tell us about the developments that led to the creation of this new piece, while at once looking back on your past endeavors.

“C4I” incorporated all kinds of ideas that had crossed my mind during the previous ten years working as a member of Dumb Type. It was in a way a “scrapbook” kind of work that contained all the elements that I would go on to develop from there. In retrospect, there were some rather superfluous parts in artistic terms, such as landscapes I had filmed with my own camera, but that sort of “superfluousness” I chipped off in the subsequent “datamatics” series, and continued until only the binary “0 and 1” style – the black and white art – was left in the “test pattern” series.

Ryoji Ikeda “C4I”(2004)
Ryoji Ikeda “datamatics [ver.2.0]”(2008)
datamatics [ver.2.0] (2008)
Ryoji Ikeda “test pattern  [nº1]”(2008)
test pattern [nº1] (2008)

“0 and 1”, that’s the same as “Yes and No” isn’t it? This “Yes and No” is the most fundamental part of human logical thinking, and we all engage in intellectual activities and social life by successively applying it to various events. The basic idea of science is that all sorts of things are discretely composed of vast amounts of such “Yes and No” elements.
One central theme that I have always been keeping in mind when creating works is “continuation and discretization.” Even things that seem to be continuous are certainly all composed in a discrete fashion. Continuation is just an illusion produced by the scales of things as we perceive them. And isn’t the original state of nature – just like the mathematical world of real and infinite numbers – a truly hard act to follow, so inscrutably odd that it crushes the resolution of “Yes and No” as our minimum unit of judgment? Such kind of awareness has always been at the foundation of my work. Therefore, when I reduced “test pattern” to the smallest unit of “0 and 1”, I felt that there was no point in trying to get any further than that.
That was until I came across the quantum computer. As opposed to the “bit” as the smallest data unit that computers we are using in daily life work with, the unit the quantum computer operates with is called “qubit” (quantum bit). The qubit represents not “0 or 1”, but a superposition state of “0 and 1 at the same time.” It is said that this makes cryptanalysis and other complex calculations that cannot be done with conventional computers possible. After encountering the quantum computer’s fundamental idea of “0 and 1 at the same time,” I commenced work on the “superposition” performance piece that ”supersymmetry” is based on, as an attempt to continue my quest and eventually do get further. The title “superposition” refers to that state of superimposition of “0 and 1” in quantum mechanics, suggesting a state of things that even the best scientists cannot describe, and that no-one is able to perceive.

Ryoji Ikeda “superposition” First staged at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2012, this performance piece complexly interweaves layers of imagery, sound and performance. One male and one female performer appear in a setting of three-layered imagery and massive sound, where they perform various operations that are eventually reflected in the visuals and sounds.
Ryoji Ikeda “superposition”
First staged at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2012, this performance piece complexly interweaves layers of imagery, sound and performance. One male and one female performer appear in a setting of three-layered imagery and massive sound, where they perform various operations that are eventually reflected in the visuals and sounds.

As exemplified in the “datamatics” and “test pattern” series, your varied output ranging from CDs to concert pieces and installations seems to consist of works that evolve in a derivative, “saga” kind of way. “supersymmetry” you said was derived from “superposition”. How does such derivation work?

A new series of works always starts naturally when the current one is about to end. Many people seem to be thinking that I’m always drawing up and composing complete series before starting a new project, but that’s not at all how I proceed. Like other artists, there usually is some kind of trigger that inspires me to start a new project, with various aspects being determined later on in the course of the project.
For example, “datamatics” started back in 2006, and there are 15 types of installations based on it. Chances are that there will still be new works produced as part of this series. The same applies to “test pattern”, which I first showed at YCAM in 2008, and subsequently made into six installations and a live version. All these I hadn’t planned before starting the respective series. I think they are results that came out when trying out things that interested me within the conditions of art museums and festivals that gave me such opportunities.
I commenced work on “superposition” in 2010, and first showed the piece in 2012. There must be several hundred ideas that came up in the process but ended up unused, including many that I thought would be great to realize in a possible future installation version of “superposition”. “supersymmetry” is what developed out of this.

“superposition” takes place in the spatial setting of a theater stage, features human performers, and follows a linear timeline, so in a way one may see it as a work that largely adopts a classical format. What was your impression of the piece when you actually staged it?

A theatre is indeed a classical sort of place, but the same goes also for art museums, and in terms of focusing one’s attention on how to use the respective environment and make the best of it, there’s no difference between the two. With Dumb Type we tried all kinds of things one can do on a theatrical stage, but for ten years after leaving Dumb Type, I deliberately kept avoiding theaters, so staging a piece at a theater stage again after such a long time was a tough but exciting task. For example, I never believed much in such thing as the “aura of a performer on stage,” but now that I worked with human performers, I felt that it might actually be true to some extent, which made it quite an interesting experience.

What was your reason for choosing to have human performers in “superposition” in the first place?

My initial idea was to set up a stage as a kind of extension of “datamatics”, but I realized that it was going to look as if I’m repeating myself, so I thought “let’s have some people in the piece.” It really wasn’t much more than that.
At that point, I had no idea what the piece would look like with human performers, but what I knew is that there would be no dancing or acting. That’s simply because I can’t direct dance or acting. All I can direct are musical aspects, and I’m still making adjustments today trying to find out how far I can get within these limitations.

“supersymmetry” is based on “superposition”. How are these two related in concrete terms?

Concretely speaking, the position of “supersymmetry” is that of an installation version of “superposition”. Just like “data.tron” was derived from “datamatics”, I adapted elements of “superposition” for the installation format, and added some ideas that, as explained above, had come up during the production process, and that seemed fitting for an installation version.
At the same time, the work also functions as a platform for reflecting results of my residency at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, which will continue until next year.
Last year, the discovery of Higgs particles was in the news. It is said that ordinary physical matter we are able to observe makes up only four to five percent of the mass and energy of the universe, with dark matter and dark energy making up about 27% and 68% respectively. Supersymmetry is being considered as a possible solution of the mystery of this dark matter. During the period I’m staying at CERN, there are experiments being carried out with the aim to prove the existence of as-yet undiscovered “supersymmetry particles” that form pairs with the particles that make up the so-called “Standard Model” catalogue of physical substances. Data and technologies of these experiments are not directly incorporated in the work, but I’m going to discuss a variety of things with the physicists at CERN, and the results of these discussions will certainly be reflected.

You describe the “supercodex [live set]” that takes place as a related event on April 19th as a live performance version of the “supercodex” CD that was released last year. How is your newest work related to that?

The software used in the live performance was in fact developed in the process of making “superposition”. As the work involves a lot of technical possibilities, this second performance at YCAM will be quite different from the first one that took place in Tokyo. As I rearranged the contents of the CD for use in the live performance, the performance is of course a highly intense experience that is in no way comparable with listening to the CD in your living room.

Interviewer: Kazunao Abe (YCAM, curator of Ikeda’s current exhibition)