Text Daniel Penny and photos courtesy of Hamburger Bahnof.
Composer and visual artist, Ryogi Ikeda, has produced two intriguing and somewhat disquieting complimentary installations located on opposite wings in the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum. Entitled, “db,” (an abbreviation for decibel) the piece consist of two rooms: one black and the other white.
Before each room is a large wall with a single column of words coupled together. Each pair follows the db format: “dark/bright,” etc. Outside of the black room, I saw a young couple taking pictures of each other under the column of text as if they were kindergartners measuring their heights against the wall. I was a little embarrassed for them, and hurried inside.
Entering the tomb-like black room, I was immediately attracted to a series of screens rippling with a grid of shifting numbers. Every few seconds, the projections would stop suddenly, creating a jarring effect in which my eyes seemed to anticipate the scrambling digits and became confused by their abrupt halt. High-pitched cracklings filled the space with an interesting, somewhat harsh sound, while a single spot light aimed at the end of the hall combines with the glow of the screens to illuminate the space. The streaming numbers are pretty mesmerizing, but the brittle clicks of the sound component of the piece make the black room difficult to camp out in.
After visiting the black room, I headed over to the white room, passing through the coat check, main entrance foyer, gift shop, and a series of turd-like Beuys sculptures. This division of the piece makes for a strange experience; one usually doesn’t have to traverse the length of a museum or gallery to see both parts of an installation. “db” pretty clearly addresses notions of symmetry and complementarity, but the division of the piece also made it more difficult to compare the rooms and notice their similarities and differences; by the time I reached the white room, my impressions of the black room were already fading.
As a little side note, before entering the white room, visitors must wear little booties over their feet in order to keep the floors of the space gleaming. One of my shoe covers slipped off as I ambled around the space, so I clunked around lamely until I noticed a security-guard's scowl and realized what had happened. The shoe covers combined with the echos of my footsteps in the bleached room made me feel more like an intruder than a visitor, as if my presence were interrupting the continuous hum of the sin wave issuing from the central black dish.
Walking the length of the corridor I found matte, black squares mounted along the length of the walls instead of flickering screens. Each square was so saturated with black ink that the numbers printed across it had blurred into a single black mass. While I thought this was an interesting alternative approach to the black room’s representation of an infinite number, I found the squares in themselves far less stimulating than the screens. After a few minutes of the blaring light, steady whine of the sin wave, and incessant photo-snapping of that same obnoxious couple from earlier, I decided it was time to leave.
I can only offer my sympathy to the security guards stationed in these two rooms--I don’t know if they draw straws or just make the newbies do it, but “db” seemed like the kind of piece that could drive a person insane given enough time. This isn’t to say I didn’t like or wouldn’t recommend Ikeda’s paired installation; it’s definitely a fully realized concept and makes good use of the space with only the most basic visual and sonic elements. “db” attempts to deal with a large scale idea, infinity, and succeeds admirably in making the viewer feel small and a little nauseous, a kind of sublimity that comes from an encounter with something so march larger than ourselves--just expect a case of tinnitus if you linger too long.
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