Venue : Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT) and https://mot.rhizomatiks.com/areaG
Organization : Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo operated by Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture
Since its formation in 2006, Rhizomatiks has been a Tokyo-based collective of creators who pursue new possibilities in technology and artistic expression. The name of the group is taken from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s concept of the rhizome.＊1 Just like an underground root (rhizome) that unfurls in a reticulated fashion, their practice disperses itself in multiple directions to encompass “media art,” research and development such as the visual design of data, architecture, design, as well as business ventures such as advertising and entertainment. Their practice is distinct from other designers, and has made a significant impact on society through their hyperbolic aesthetic and innovative deployments and optimizations of cutting-edge technology. In contrast to artists working with media technology who often create their own concepts and collaborate with specialists in hardware and engineering, Rhizomatiks is a full-stack team that performs all these tasks in an integrated way, from ideation and hardware/software development to operations. Its members include artists, programmers and engineers, designers, and architectural researchers. Through research and development undertaken for corporations and the development of production systems for large-scale ceremonies, they have been able to utilize information and large budgets from the advertising and entertainment businesses for their own R&D, steadily evolving an expressive language (system) of their own.
In the Anthropocene, an era in which humans control most of the Earth’s environment, the terms “nature” and “environment” demand to be reexamined. The “Capitalocene” is the factor that gave rise to the Anthropocene and became the default along with it. According to Deleuze, the natural, the social, and the spiritual constitute three ecologies, while the fourth is the “ecology of information.” The attempt to verify, visualize and bestow meaning onto this fourth ecology against the backdrop of this Capitalocene is at the core of Rhizomatiks’ practice. The environment that surrounds us is becoming highly informatized, giving rise to a variety of new problems, including the shift towards authoritarianism (providing simple answers to complex questions) with a built-in bias against lies and disinformation (revealing the fragility of our news ecosystem), and our insatiable energy consumption (for every Google search, one second of screen time contributes to global warming and resource depletion). It has become increasingly difficult for us to access and make sense of the mega-data that are these hyperobjects.
In the totality of its activities, Rhizomatiks has infiltrated the internal structure of capitalism and transformed into a form of “intra-activity” (Karen Barad), which entails an engagement with the technology and systems that have supported capitalism and developed alongside it. Normally, artists choose means and technologies in order to give form to their concepts (objective → means). In Rhizomatiks’ practice, there is a complex bi-directional process that does not only involve objective → means, but also a certain means → objective mechanism where ideas and concepts are derived from the technology (means). This is not the simple ars+techne fusion relationship of the past. Technologies produce systems, and since many of the problems we face today are linked to technology, it is important to be literate about systems, their functions, the interrelationships between systems, and why they work the way they do. It is these entire systems that Rhizomatiks seek to translate, transform, augment, expose, and deconstruct, which makes it difficult to place them within the realm of conventional “media art.” Rhizomatiks’ aesthetics belong to the “new aesthetics” (James Bridle), and the misguided criticism of their attempts to talk about their practice in terms of aesthetics is partly due to the technical illiteracy of those in the art world.
While this “new aesthetic” based on technological systems is still a nascent one, a key point of reference can perhaps be found in the essay “The New Aesthetic and its Politics” by James Bridle, an artist himself. According to Bridle, the new aesthetic reproduces the structure and nature of the network itself in the form of a critique.
“All of these are snippets, they are only momentary representations of ongoing processes—as indeed the New Aesthetic is intended to be. Each image is a link, hardcoded or imaginative, to other aspects of a far greater system, just as every web page and every essay, and every line of text written or quoted therein, is a link to other words, thoughts, and ideas.”
Akihiro Kubota, an artist and media researcher, draws a connection between the “new aesthetic” and human agency. He asserts that “the new aesthetic is the aesthetics of what is invisible, so to speak (but certainly there). No matter how invisible technology has become, insofar as it has been created by human beings, it will always harbor a hidden human presence and a sense of its aesthetic. I believe that one of the essential survival techniques for living in the 21st century is to be able to contemplate this aesthetic by mobilizing the knowledge and experience of both science and technology and the humanities, and to bring their hidden meanings to light.”
This exhibition, titled “Rhizomatiks, Multiplex,” is the first major solo exhibition of the collective’s work at a museum, and includes a comprehensive archive of their cross-disciplinary creative activities to date, as well as new projects synchronized with the present moment in a critical manner. At a time when the world is being forced to go online by COVID-19 and new possibilities for communication are being examined, Rhizomatiks are currently working on numerous projects and technological proposals, and this exhibition seeks to showcase a “new aesthetic” based on links to larger systems.
By incorporating an actual installation into virtual space, we made a renewed proposition regarding the boundary between the virtual and the physical and disconnection and engagement, showcasing it as another form of content design in a hybrid online-offline format. This attempt represents the pursuit of a new kind of humanity and ethics in a digital, networked society. For example, we examined how personal data circulates within networks, and set up a creative platform to question the pros and cons of crypto art built with the blockchains and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that will make up the next generation of social infrastructure.
Media art was originally based on the idea of open source and interaction, and the notions of transferability and interfaces are as important as the artist’s copyright and originality. The internet and AI are disrupting the individualism and anthropocentrism of human endeavor in a major way, while art and creative cultural activities are also currently facing significant shifts. It is in this context that a new genre that might perhaps best be termed “technology system art” is emerging.
The media artist who sneaks into the system is a hacker, and the hacker is libertarian by nature, without being beholden to any authority or organization. In a certain sense, data visualization, which gives hacked data a visual form, is symbolic of the role of contemporary art in showing us both hope and despair. What makes it different from the dialectical method (a way of thinking based on the Hegelian method of deduction) as a critical method of contemporary art and a postmodernism of resistance is the complexity to be found in the creative process. Programming combines the mathematical deduction method, where the desired outcome is given concrete form and theoretical formulas and patterns are created, and the inductive method, in which various hypotheses are tested on problems without a solution. Programming, in particular, is generated by this mixture.
In addition, OOO (object-oriented ontology), which holds that data is an object, comes into play with a certain existential dynamic. As such, we have to commit ourselves to the expansion and transformation of our own information and sensibilities by actually deploying these objects (artworks) and synchronizing them with our bodily sensations. This is where we will require narratives and metaphors, elements that can operate on and trigger our emotions and ethics. It is Rhizomatiks that has pulled off an exemplary implementation of these elements in a way that is both elegant and meticulous. By accurately hacking and processing these technological systems and digital information while incorporating organic emotions into the mix, thereby amplifying and visualizing them to a level of empathetic reality, Rhizomatiks seek to lead their audiences towards a new realm of emotion and experiential engagement that allows them to touch the data with their bodies.
"Rhizomatiks: a multiplex that destroys the system from within" Yuko Hasegawa