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Congratulations to this year's laureate of the Konrad Mägi Award! "René Kari's work is not limited to paintings, as he has also made an art project of his body," Andri Ksenofontov writes (2/2021)


Ryoji Ikeda's (Dream of) Supersymmetry

Andi Hektor (1/2016)

Andi Hektor asks who Ryoji Ikeda is and how would he like to open the physical nature of the world to us and – by simmering an artist and a scientist in the same pot – do we get a tasty soup or a radioactive cocktail.


11. XII 2015–28. II 2016
Kumu Art Museum's Great Hall
Exhibition coordinator: Kati Ilves.

Ryoji Ikeda is a Japanese born artist based in Paris. He is mostly known as a sound artist who has been active in video and media art in recent years. His "supersymmetry", which was recently exhibited at Kumu, is an expansion of Ikeda's earlier audio-visual performance "superposition". He elaborated the piece conclusively in 2014–2015 during an art residence at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). It also earned the Collide@CERN 2014 Prix Ars Electronica award.

Quoting the exhibition's headnote, the physical nature of the world (in Ikeda's vision) is based on "the theory of supersymmetry, originating in particle physics; it attempts to explain via elementary particles – bosons and fermions – why particles have mass. The research into supersymmetrical particles is being conducted near Geneva at CERN, the world's largest particle physics laboratory. The collisions of composite particles initiated in the Large Hadron Collider will hopefully shed light on these new particles." As a physicist I must state that Ikeda's vision of "supersymmetry" is most probably shaped by influential theoretical physicists of an older generation with messy heads (I refer to the hair). The same who gather in a secret hall on Sundays at the far end of the seemingly endless catacombs of CERN to mutter words like "supersymmetry", "supergravity", "R-parity" etc. in concert.1

At the same time, physicists of the younger generation are already revolting: the long awaited signs of the supersymmetrical salvation are nowhere to be seen. Not even from the LHC or the Hadron Collider in CERN. At this point it is appropriate to bear in mind that supersymmetry is merely one hypothetical theory among many other hypothetical theories to describe the world of physics. Therefore, let us not seek the physical nature of the world from Ikeda's exhibition. One could find as much of it there as one could find linguistics and semiotics in one of Valdur Mikita's essays.2 Let us seek instead, a dream, a dream of an ideal, supersymmetrical world.

Visually and audibly it is a powerful piece, and its power consists of two components: the physically disturbing visual and the uplifting audio part. The audio in Ikeda's latest audio-visual works, including "supersymmetry", is pure and much more enthralling than the visual part for me. The sound scheme is minimalist and at the same time follows a fascinatingly alternating rhythm. It could be that it is the conflict between the minimalist sound and "macromalistic" visual that creates discord and interferes. The visual does not enable itself to be viewed but buries and sucks one inside itself – caution, epileptics! A person hungry for art is sucked in from one end of the tube, dazzled, pinched and shaken thoroughly, and then thrown out of the other end of the tube, brimming with visuals, just to walk home with a buzzing brain and nausea.

On the other hand, maybe Ikeda is our new Messiah, who proclaims the new art? His work would fit perfectly into an environment of haste (airport, shopping centre, etc), where people saturated from the flamboyant world of smart devices are suddenly dashed into a near black and white flicker accompanied by Ikeda's base sound. Try it – take your smart phone in one hand and a three-kilogram plastic bag filled with goods in the other, focus on the screen of your phone and walk through Ikeda's installation. Well, how did it feel? Now try the same thing in another of Kumu's exhibition halls.




Ryoji Ikeda
audio-visual installation, dimensions variable
Photo by Ryuichi Maruo




I highly recommend acquainting yourself with some of Ikeda's earlier work, through his homepage, for instance: "supersymmetry" is definitely continuing the ideas evolved in works such as "superposition" (2012) and "datamatics" (2006−2008). It could be that the problem with "supersymmetry" is it being too developed, too concrete, too powerful. "Datamatics" in particular forms an entirety both in vision and sound, communicating its subconscious message to us in a much more restrained manner, while pressing it much deeper between the gyri. As a physicist the reference to physics explicitly phrased in "supersymmetry" and the obvious semblance (intentional?) to control rooms of large physics experiments unsettles me. I can easily imagine physicists in white lab coats sitting behind flickering screens, the number sequences running on the screen reflected on the thick lenses of their glasses behind which a pair of frenzied eyes goggle.

But now a bit about CERN's Arts@CERN art residency. The art residency programme that has run for almost five years now, provides three-month art residency positions to work with CERN. In addition, the Collide@CERN 2014 Prix Ars Electronica prize is handed out in collaboration with Geneva city and canton, private donors and the "Ars Electronica" festival in Linz. It is a rather new phenomenon that an international science institution such as CERN is organizing art residencies. Nonetheless, in the context of Switzerland, it is actually not that uncommon. The role of private donors in art as well as in science is surely above the Western European average in Switzerland, and the fact that Switzerland was one of the asylums for refugee artists and scientists in Europe possibly also plays an important part. There are many institutions and enterprises that have launched their own art residency, especially among science institutions as a recent trend.3 One of the aims of CERN's residency is also to promote inter-, trans- and multidisciplinarity between art and science fields.

How can we facilitate collaboration between a scientist and an artist and why? Of course both sides need to believe that a benefit will arise. This "benefit" cannot be understood too directly though. Scientists involved in joint operations often emphasize that collaborating with artists has changed their method of seeking new ideas. A scientific education involves many technical courses and the development of a scientist's creativity is often left unnoticed. As a scientist, it seems to me that the emphasis on creativity is much greater in art education. Looking at the collaboration of art and science from the art perspective one could even find "schools" that are hard to imagine without the scientific. A classic example would be the breakthrough in recent decades, in bio art. No doubt, the topic is exciting and conjointly explored in Estonia.


Andi Hektor is a physicist and a researcher at CERN.


1 Also see: Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code. London: Bantam Press, 2003.

2 Valdur Mikita, Lingvistiline mets: Tsibihärblase paradigma. Teadvuse kiirendi. Tallinn: Grenader, 2013.

3 See e.g.:

4 Piibe Piirma, Hybrid Practices. Art and Science in Artistic Research: Tallinn: Estonian Academy of Arts, 2015.

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