The Radar

Artist: Ryoji Ikeda
Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Year of completion: 2012
Researcher: Gregory Door

The Radar was a temporary, site-specific light projection and sound installation. Artist Ryoji Ikeda projected a large grid over a gigantic swath of sand on Diablo Beach in Rio de Janeiro. Ikeda, known for his spare soundscapes, paired the projection with a soundtrack that mimics old-fashioned sonar beeps. The various striped and dotted lights that swept across the projection area likewise seemed an echo of a sonar device.

Ikeda’s piece was part of Rio’s biennale, Outras Ideias para o Rio (OiR), which took place in fall 2012. The Japanese-born French artist was one of several invited to create site-specific temporary works on Rio’s iconic landscape.

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To a greater degree than most visual art, The Radar defies translation into words. Viewing a video of the piece provides some sense of the experience. The complex interplay of the light and sound in the piece, added to the sounds of the wind and surf, create a fully enveloping sensory experience.

The patterns of points of light were determined using NASA data and indicate the positions of thousands of stars as they appear in the sky from the earth at the site. The artist said this precision, in projecting the stars onto the sand, was his attempt “to make people feel a little bit of the sublime.”

Part of the power of the piece comes from the contrast between the naturally derived rhythms of the light projection and soundscape, and the natural sound/waves of the ocean and its rhythmic pulse on the beach. “Its success came from this well-woven integration with nature, says Marcelo Dantas, producer of OiR. “The waves and the radio waves; the light and the stars above; the people in the sand. The Radar produced a poetic immersion into the soul of Rio with bits, bytes, sand, and water.”

An unanticipated aspect of the piece is that it became highly interactive. Families and friends awaited the start of the projection each night, applauding when it began. During the weeks that the piece was active, people learned how to interact with the light, running back and forth across the sand to play in and out of the illumination. Others stood by watching both lights and “performers.”

This interaction became “the most beautiful part of the project” for Ikeda. “It was the spontaneous engagement by local people who were not specifically art-lovers,” the artist says. “They were just there on the beach to spend their own time all afternoon.”

Over the duration of the piece, Ikeda came to see these participants as true collaborators. “They started to recognize the work and to invent ways to engage/play with it. Eventually I strongly felt that the work didn’t make any sense without the people. Let’s say, I made half of it and the people completed the rest of it.”

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency