2012 – Ryoji Ikeda – Superposition

about the hyperessay

This hyperessay will discuss the concept of interactivity through analysing Ryoji Ikeda’s performance art “superposition”, specifically how it is a form of behavioural and cybernetic art, and where entropy and multiple levels of experience comes into play.

artist + artwork

Ryoji Ikeda is a contemporary visual-sound artist who creates immersive installations out of fast-flashing raw data reacting to ear-piercing sound frequencies. 8

Retrieved from: https://www.thewire.co.uk/news/28546/ryoji-ikeda-wins-cern-residency-award

In 2012, he staged “superposition“, a 65-minute performance that combines synergetic interactions between two performers and multiple digital screens of different sizes. 8

In physics terms, superposition is the sum of responses caused by two or more stimuli in all linear systems. 5 So it is with this performance that all the components on stage – audio, visual, physical phenomena, numerical concepts, human behaviour and randomness – will be in a state of superposition as they are being “constantly orchestrated and de-orchestrated simultaneously in a single performance piece“. 8


The performers communicated with each other in Morse code and performed various random actions that triggered visual responses on the screen. 6 For instance, they rolled marbles across a flat surface, allowing them to  randomly tele-drift across the large split screen behind them. In the next sequence, a computer program plotted their positions in relation to a central axis, creating art out of the resulting lines and shapes. The screens displayed all these interactions in real-time6

Screenshot from https://vimeo.com/49873167
Screenshot from https://vimeo.com/49873167
Screenshot from https://vimeo.com/49873167

This aspect of the machine reacting to the performers’ actions forms a two-way communication or feedback loop between human and machine, which makes Superposition a form of behavioural art, as defined by Roy Ascott in “Behaviourist Art and the Cybernetic Vision”. 7

Superposition, Ryoji Ikeda, Carriageworks, 2015 Retrieved from http://artasiapacific.com/Magazine/WebExclusives/Superposition

On a physical level, the use of extreme sound frequencies and fast-flashing images on screen can be quite physically challenging to take in. There is a possibility of getting a seizure or going deaf from the performance. According to Ikeda, his works are “as much a test for the electronic devices as it is for the audience’s senses.” 3

On an emotional level, the formidable size and scale of the screen put us in an awe-inspiring perspective of how small we are in the order of the universe. The rhythm, pace and sequence of visuals displayed, accompanied by the irregular beats of digital sound further immerses the audience into the performance.

On a conceptual level, the ambiguity of text and abstract imagery mapped out throughout the sequences give the audience space for open interpretation of the work.


In an interview, Ikeda explains the approach he takes in executing his work – embracing entropy to arrive at the final outcome. But it is not just entropy, but controlled entropy, so that there is still some intent, form and structure to his performance, so that there will be order in chaos2  It intrigues me that Ryoji Ikeda sees his art making process as no different from how he used to DJ in clubs around Tokyo. 3

Abstract from the interview:

“And after John Cage and after that generation, you know, and the generation of computer and programming, my direction is super-precise, it is the direction on control. I try to control randomness. This is a big counterpoint, the encounter of randomness and control. The contrast is more interesting. If you really control a millisecond, there are other possibilities, even if they are microscopic. You can’t perceive the change directly, but if you pay very close attention, the entire composition changes. So, I try to add randomness, and I like to see the counterpoint, the counterbalance.” 2

Retrieved from https://cap.ucla.edu/archive/events/superposition

On stage, the visual composition of where the screens and performers are placed is symmetrical. The timing of each sequence of the performance is calibrated by Ryoji Ikeda. Even though the performers’ actions are randomly carried out, the subject of what they do is the same. For example, in one sequence, the two performers will be waving tuning forks together, then in the next, they will be typing on their computers together, though not exactly at the same pace.


In Norbert Wiener’s “Cybernetics in History, he defines cybernetics as the relationship between human and machine, which Ryoji Ikeda consistently explores in his work. 4

He is always using cold data as language and how he can make it talk or sing, like in John Cage’s Variations V where the performers’ dance movements trigger a response to the music produced by the machine. 6

Art critic Ben Ratliff says this of him: “He’s a kind of translator, converting principles into words, numbers into code, code into sound and image.” which brings us back to the concept of a feedback loop, a two-way communication between human and machine. 6


In conclusion, as much as “superposition” is an interactive artwork, it is only interactive to the performers but not the audience. Still, it is interesting how Ryoji Ikeda interprets cold data and makes immersive art out of it.

  1. Art Asia Pacific
  2. Artist Interview: Ryoji Ikeda, creator of superposition
  3. Infinite Quest: Ryoji Ikeda Wants to Disappear
  4. Norbert Wiener, “Cybernetics in History,” 1954, Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality
  5. Prawoto, Y. (2014). Solid mechanics for materials engineers principles and applications of mesomechanics.
  6. Putting Cold Data in the Service of Language and Music
  7. Roy Ascott, “Behavioral Art and the Cybernetic Vision,” 1966, Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality
  8. Ryoji Ikeda – superposition

Leave a Reply