rhizomatiks_multiplex at Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT)
I have been following Rhizomatiks since their starting, because I am interested in R&D and the most recent interactions between technology, art, and design. The company - born in 2006 as a collective of creative people - focuses on creating commercial and artistic projects using arts and technology. The name comes from the philosophical concept developed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, meaning the diversity and cross-disciplinarity that characterize the group’s approach. The group includes experts of different fields such as architects, designers, visual and media artists, musicians, engineers, and programmers. They have collaborated in the years with renowned artists such as Björk, Squarepusher, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Mansai Nomura, and various others, receiving international acclaim due to their innovative approach and research.
The founder Daito Manabe (1976), made himself noticed in 2008 with the performance called Electric Stimulus To Face, featuring facial expressions generated by sound through myoelectric sensors. This hybridization of the human being with mechanics and technology became, from that moment, the signature of the company. Rhizomatiks website is a vast source of inspiration for the creativity of every field, filled with projects and researches offering a glimpse of what our future will look like. Sci-fi enthusiasts will find many similarities with Black Mirror – the British dystopian science fiction that investigates the consequences of new technologies on our society.
Opened on March 20th, the new exhibition rhizomatiks_multiplex is hosted at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT) and celebrates the 15th anniversary of the group. I was lucky to visit it a few days before the temporary closure due by the third lockdown imposed by the Japanese government to control the spread of COVID-19. The exhibition, which is the Rhizomatiks’ first large-scale solo exhibition at a museum, proves the openness of public museums in Japan to display and promote the works of young talents rather than only celebrating the most famous ones.
Besides, this project has been developed innovatively considering the recent pandemic, thus creating a refined digital version of the exhibition that reproduces the venue with some of its contents. The title itself comes from this innovative approach, where a hybrid exhibition is combined with an online platform: thus, the name “multiplex.” The digital display replicates the venue at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo in a 3D model so that online viewers can walk through the actual museum and find additional information, helping to understand the contents more clearly. Furthermore, the position of the actual visitors inside the museum is traced and visualized online, thus creating a bridge between real and virtual. “Our bodies oscillate between the virtual and the real, and what is now needed is a vital inquiry into the real points of contact that will permit us to access these troves of invisible big data. In response to these rapidly changing circumstances, Rhizomatiks attempt to update our bodily sensations, perceptual awareness, and critical-analytical abilities from various angles”, states the exhibition’s curator Yuko Hasegawa.
The exhibition route starts with a section dedicated to the history of Rhizomatiks over the past fifteen years and the concept of “data visualization.” The latter includes an attractive area called “NFTs and CryptoArt-Experiment,” with the installation “CryptoArt-Experiment,” a marketplace to trade and collect unique digital artworks encrypted as NFT (non-fungible token).
“Physical performances, and the creation of a hitherto unknown body” is the second section, where visitors become parts of a physical performance created in collaboration with ELEVENPLAY and Perfume. The installation consists of the motion capture data of dancers, combined with video projections and moving robotic cubes. Like in a Black Mirror’s episode, real and virtual realms blend to create a “hitherto unknown body” and a poetic interaction between human and machine. This is a taste of a “new humanity” waiting ahead. Our physical existence will generate data, and that information will be elaborated on by computers and translated into unimaginable outputs.
After experiencing this exciting preview of the next future, I reluctantly left the room. I found the following sections dedicated to R&D and Behind the scenes, filled with several experiments realized by Rhizomatiks in their fifteen years of activity. Here emerged clearly the trial & error process behind each project, typical of the scientifically driven approach that characterizes the team and assimilates it more to an academic laboratory than a commercial company.
The route ended with the most impressive work, an installation called “Particles 2021”, which has won various awards in Japan and abroad. The hypnotic movement of balls with a built-in LED, sliding along an organic spiral structure, is paired with a laser that precisely tracks the balls’ position. The action is emphasized through lights and sounds activated when the balls touch control points on the rail, creating an immersive show where the physical hardware and virtual layers coexist symbiotically. This project was proposed for the first time in 2011 and updated in line with this exhibition.
Concluding with the words of curator Hasegawa, “As COVID-19 forces the world to go online, thereby questioning the new possibilities that surround human communication, Rhizomatiks, who have put into practice many ongoing projects and technological proposals, will showcase the new role of artists in this changing world in the spring of 2021”.