Earlier in the year, visitors to Fact Liverpool were treated to unfold by Ryoichi Kurokawa, a multisensory audio-visual medley focusing on the mystical and scientific facets of the universe. Kurokawa also investigated synaesthesia, a condition that affects people’s senses, giving them an ability to perceive noise and visual stimuli through other senses, for example seeing sound as colour.

Although this theme was not immediately obvious to the audience who are simply observing and not researching the literature of this exhibition, I felt that the installations were so fully immersive as to attempt to trigger such a phenomenon. unfold, a large audio-video installation and principal piece dominated the cinematic space, with three imposing monitors that together shocked the audience’s senses with uncomfortable static noise and an endless display of colours.

The film plays with all aspects of design and scale, contrasting between small and silent and large and loud, kaleidoscopic and monochromatic. Lines, dots, movement and geometric 3D shapes appeared through pointillistic clouds of star dust, turning into deep ravines and mountainous space. This was in some cases very jarring to viewers who could not remain for the full duration of the screening, while others took full advantage of the intensity the film provided.


Slightly calmer and more intimate, constrained surface, pared the intensity back with two television sets more akin to what you may find at home, albeit poised perpendicular to each other. Think of it as unfold for beginners. Kurokawa, speaking to FACT described it thus: “constrained surface is created as a pure synaesthetic experience.” This visual masterpiece explored light and colour, with linear and radial gradients pouring in light segments from one screen into the other, mixing and blending in a way that reminds you of a tequila sunrise. The strong hues triggered sensations of taste (or maybe that was just in me), which is not so unusual since the colour red is known for provoking hunger and thirst.

Advertisers can use the power of strong shades to sell their food or beverage product subliminally, but with more sincerity, Kurokawa simply wants the viewer to experience a dynamic spectrum of the senses. unfold.mod moved the spotlight directly towards sound, replacing video footage with still prints, forcing the audience to engage in a more one-on-one journey into the soundscape of space using headphones.

Taking raw scientific data as the point of departure, Kurokawa uses scientific logic to show his interpretation of how the pure energy from outer space is transformed into measurable sounds and visuals. While I don’t imagine these strings of sound would make the top 40 in the music charts, there is something undeniably mathematical, rhythmic and deliberate about how this energy is played back to us. This, combined with previous works, gives the idea that Kurokawa could be a musician if he ever chose to leave visual arts.

Kirsten Hawkins: What is your personal experience of synaesthesia?

Ryoichi Kurokawa: I have never had any synesthetic experiences, though this neurological phenomenon is one of my main axes from early in my career. Awareness of synesthetic perceptions differs individually, however my work provides phenomena which could be shared, so in that way my work might be as close to sensus communis as to sound symbolism.

Kirsten Hawkins: What do you expect people to get from the unfold and constrained surface installations? With constrained surface, I may have felt an inclination to drink the colours, is this just me? 

Ryoichi Kurokawa: I’m always trying to provide audience/viewer pleasure and surprise, but I don’t expect anything specific. Each has his own experience, I suppose your feeling is just for you and it’s some very colourful feedback.

Kirsten Hawkins: How do you feel your practice has improved over the last decade?

Ryoichi Kurokawa: I don’t know how it has improved but I feel my practice itself doesn’t change a lot. I’m trying to keep my own pace as I prefer natural and organic development rather than sudden changes or drastic transformation.


Kirsten Hawkins: There seem to be parallels between unfold and rheo: 5 horizons, where you display a series of monitors standing portrait. With constrained surface, the monitors are perpendicular, and you have many other examples of breaking with the usual shape and angles of TV screens. Do you deliberately reject convention in this way, or is it a coincidence?

Ryoichi Kurokawa: For display and projection usage, I’m trying to liberate myself from conventional ways and find new possibilities within the boundaries of a frame, and the effects of the exterior of the frame. I don’t reject convention; I’m just setting out alternatives instead.

Kirsten Hawkins: Why did you choose to compare astronomy with synaesthesia?

Ryoichi Kurokawa: I didn’t intend to compare them. With unfold, astrophysics data was used and the piece is at the same time providing synaesthetic experience. Giving synaesthetic experiences is a fundamental to the idea for a lot of my art works, and constrained surface purely focuses on this neurological phenomenon by using only colour gradient as pure light to eliminate all components that carry a meaning, to generate a sharper experience of chromesthesia.

Kirsten Hawkins: The static sequences of the sounds you use derive from the stars in the galaxies. They are in time with the images on the screen. The rhythm complements the images, and although I wouldn’t personally buy an album of these tracks, would you say that you are a musician in addition to a visual artist?

Ryoichi Kurokawa: I don’t say I’m musician. My interest is to compose – how to design the time in space – and since most of my works are audio-visual pieces, sound is also a very important element.


Kirsten Hawkins: Looking at your previous work, ground.alt, where you have opted for a simpler single screen approach, have the images been informed by the music, or does the visual element inspire the sound track?

Ryoichi Kurokawa: It depends on the work, they have both elements, otherwise the sonic and visual components would be disconnected. For instance, at times it has images triggered by sound; sometimes it has independent sound completely unrelated with imageries. When I conceive an idea for an audio-visual piece, both sonic and visual abstraction happens simultaneously, not separately.

Kirsten Hawkins: One project I would love to have experienced first-hand would be Octfalls. The moving images of the waterfalls are very powerful, and the building that it took place in looked sensational. How important is the site to the work you do? Do you ever find that showing one work in two places can add or subtract from the experience of your work?

Ryoichi Kurokawa: Space is very momentous for my installation and it affects the piece a lot. Unusual space characters might provide a good result, but I don’t expect it to give any additional value. A piece exhibited in different space characters could easily give a more distinct impression. Some of my works don’t require much space related knowledge, but some should be displayed under certain well-designed conditions, in order to let the art piece work as effectively as intended.


Kirsten Hawkins: It seems to me you are very good at bringing an organic quality out of digital media. This is evident in rheo: 5 horizons, where the rolling waves of the sea and apparent electrical currents connect the various TV screens. You also jolt the audience through the juxtaposition of relaxation and shock combined with strobe lighting effects. Why do you mix these characteristics? Do you not want the audience to get too comfortable with your work?

Ryoichi Kurokawa: Although there are a lot of important components for sculpting time, dynamics also play a significant role on my piece, and this means statics is also as valuable as comparison and contrast. I don’t intend to create an environment where the viewers feel just comfortable.