ICC Annual 2023: Shapes of Things – Exploring the Confluence of Art, Data, and Virtual Worlds

ICC Annual 2023: Shapes of Things – Exploring the Confluence of Art, Data, and Virtual Worlds

The ICC Annual 2023 “Shapes of Things” exhibition, organized by the NTT InterCommunication Center (ICC) in Tokyo, is an exciting project that seamlessly merges art, technology, and societal reflection regarding the rapid expansion of virtual worlds. Under the curatorial guidance of Hatanaka Minoru, Yubisui Yasuko, and Kashimada Tomoya, this ICC annual showcases the innovative works of contemporary artists such as evala, Kanno Ayumi, Komitsu, Tsuda Michiko, Tokisato Mitsuru, and Natura Machina. In the admission-free area, there is also an interactive array of technology by the Research Complex NTT R&D @ ICC. According to the event website, the works exhibited primarily explore “how the forms of things and events are changing as virtual worlds’ extensions of reality continue to permeate the world we live in, and how this shift might surface in our memories and behavior.” The “shapes” around us, our building blocks of reality, are constantly put into question by evolutionary changes in technology. Lasting until January 14, 2024, the exhibition promises to be a captivating journey into the realm of cutting-edge installations and immersive experiences.

The series of works by the Research Complex NTT is titled “Social Wellbeing with Haptics” and is one of the first things visitors will see when they visit the gallery. One of the pieces is called “Vibro-scape” – an interactive installation where participants can stand on a haptic platform and experience a range of sounds and views from various remote environments. There is also the “Public Booth for Vibrotactile Communication” – where you can engage in tactile play with others in the same room using haptic feedback. By playing with the toys and objects provided to you and bouncing them onto a screen, the vibrations from these movements are communicated to others in separate booths. The concept of social wellbeing here is made synonymous with connection and tactile transmission between humans and their environment, enhanced by virtual technology. What does it mean to feel or to touch in today’s digital age? Can emotional and physical distance be conquered through data?

After the admissions-free area, there is a large dark room displaying video and installation artworks by Kanno Ayumi, Tokisato Mitsuru, and Tsuda Michiko. Kanno’s “The Untrodden Tour” is based on folklore stories she has heard about Nishiaizu, a town in Fukushima prefecture. It is a 22-minute, looped video installation using two screens that use 3DCG models to create a virtual tour guide that is both nostalgic and unfamiliar, using locations that are both historical and fictional. Notably, the artist herself has never visited this town, hence the title “The Untrodden Tour”. It is an exploration of virtual attachment and the possibility of forming an emotional relationship to places we have never been to. Similarly giving form to the fantastical and hypothetical through 3DCG is Tokisato Mitsuru’s “Handmade Movement Season 1: Most Matters are Obscured by Cloth.” This is a short film featuring hand puppets that have been molded by Tokisato, using a VR headset and a hand motion capture device. The puppets, as extensions of the artist’s own body, interact with each other quizzically and probe each other with philosophical questions such as, “What would you say is the difference between humans and robots?” My favorite part of this film was how it pushed us to consider the boundaries of what counts as “handmade” artwork in the digital age, and when or if our creations ever cease to become part of ourselves.

On a slightly different note, Tsuda Michiko’s “Tokyo Gestures” (or “Tokyo Shigusa”) blurs the lines between physical, digital, and traditional space through a projector installation using two six-tatami Japanese-style rooms. Based on the demure movements of women seen in Yasujiro Ozu’s films, such as “Tokyo Story”, a video of a woman in a blue dress occasionally flickers between the sliding doors and paper screen of the cramped space. According to the artwork label, Tsuda’s work aims to apply a gendered lens to how “our gestures and behavior reflect the accumulation of the history of technology. […] In this work, by focusing on the behavior of women who have been the main doers of household chores at the time, the viewer is forced to imagine a context from the past to the present, and then to the future.” In contrast to the more universal questions concerning humanity in its broadest sense, posed by its neighbor artworks, I appreciated how Tsuda’s work focuses on locating the “Shapes of Things” within the everyday, and specific historical and cultural spaces.

Another highlight of the exhibition is evala’s “Our Muse”, a pitch-black anechoic chamber featuring sound pieces from evala’s stereophonic series “Foxes with Big Ears”. Before entering the chamber alone, participants must pick one of several of these musical pieces created through 3D sound programming to listen to. Personally I chose the “Glass Harmonica” piece, and spent six minutes being binaurally purified by soft industrial vibrations. However, whichever piece you choose, I’m sure it’ll be an unforgettable and transformative meditative experience through which you can escape the noise of the everyday. Such audio technology is anticipated to play a large role in the future of VR and AR technology and the immersive potential of virtual spatial composition. If this is your field of interest, evala is definitely an artist you should keep an eye on!

Overall, as viewers traverse the gallery, they can encounter numerous installations that challenge perceptions, ignite introspection, and prompt contemplation of the role of technology in our lives. By merging visuals, soundscapes, and interactive elements, “The Shapes of Things” invites us to engage with our surroundings on a truly visceral level – experimenting with the boundaries between organic, synthetic, and virtual environments. If you would like to check out some of the other aforementioned works in more detail, check out on our YouTube Channel Future is Now playlist:

(Unfortunately, recording is not allowed inside of evala’s installation space, so it is highly recommended you go and experience it in person!).