Psychedelic art finds itself in high places these days. Ryoji Ikeda's mind-boggling, math-driven audio-visual installation the transfinite
draws a steady crowd, largely young, to the immensely ornate Park Avenue Armory
(through June 11). The renowned avant-garde composer presents an immersive psycho-sensory experience that reminds of James Turrell's acclaimed Bindu Shards
, which changed the life of at least one Guardian critic
in London last fall. Ikeda's piece may have little to do with the act of taking mind-altering substances to create art
, but replicates this sensation in the viewer. The Times
' Ken Johnson, author of the new book Are You Experienced: How Psychedelic Consciousness Transformed Modern Art
, suggests this preoccupation with the viewers' consciousness and their perception of reality remains a major trend in art.
In the hanger-sized Wade Thompson Drill Hall, Ikeda aims to put his viewer face to face with the sublime, or as he calls it, "the infinite that is quantitative and ordered," to induce a transcendental state. the transfinite
looks like a massive Battleship board game. On one side, the viewer is invited onto a platform like a game piece, to stand, sit, sprawl out and enter the installation. Massive stroboscopic projection reels are beamed down onto the floor and the wall as PAs scattered about emit pulsating beat sequences. The other side, less immersive and effectual, has a dizzying grid of data, zeros and ones counting off, shifting and flying across the vertical wall.
If you choose to submit and become fully absorbed, letting the light and sound feed right in, it can be conducive to an altered meditative state. Because of its size, the installation can occupy nearly your entire field of view, but the periphery is still left unaccounted for and often manages to pull you back into reality. One of the more successful effects is the way the piece can distort the perception of time. Much like a strobe light makes a performer appear to be moving in slow motion, the alternating beams of light running up and down the floor and vertical wall give the impression that the viewers on the platform are moving at altered speeds.
The outcome of this kind of hyper-stimulation is overload. Impressive as it is, with prolonged exposure it grows boring and potentially harmful. As a security attendant in the space remarked, "it was attractive at first, but lost its appeal very quickly." To stave off headaches, he listens to music and looks away as much as possible. So in its brief attempt to alter the consciousness, the transfinite
soon ends up clouding it and pushes the viewer away. Luckily (unless you work there) this particular trip you can just walk out of.
(Photo: James Ewing)