Review: unfold by Ryoichi Kurokawa at FACT

unfold by Ryoichi Kurokawa, at FACT, 2016. Photo by Brian Slater
unfold by Ryoichi Kurokawa, at FACT, 2016. Photo by Brian Slater

Ryoichi Kurokawa: unfold
FACT. Saturday 12 March – Wednesday 15 June 2016 (Extended)

Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith. Photographs by Brian Slater for FACT

“Jesus.” Was my first reaction. To anyone religious that might have been a sign, but in this case it was very much a simple and dumbfounded exclamation of awe.

Ryoichi Kurokawa’s film, unfold, at FACT is one of the most immersive, experiential pieces of theatre I have ever had the good fortune to see. The barrage of warnings on the way in regarding seizures sets you up with what you think is expectation, but is, in fact, a wild understatement. The film you are confronted with swallows you whole almost instantly, and brings you into a space that feels experimental, but in a way that only an expert can experiment.

Not like I ‘experiment’ with paper. Like CERN experiment with everything.

I, unfortunately, missed the opening of this wonderful film, but I’m so glad I did. I got to experience complete one-on-one submersion in digital space, and after the initial shock, and a few jumpy moments here and there, it was one of the most serene, and least serene experiences of my life. Oddly, following the crowd funding campaign that has led up to the work being housed in FACT, I had a lot of reservations as to how this would work, but the finished thing has come to fruition with such confidence and clarity that I have to bury those reservations far out of sight.

Kurokawa has spent the last ten years creating these spectacular works, encompassing sound and film in audio-visual installations that force experiences on the viewer. It’s a thing that often puts people on the back foot, being forced to have an experience, or being thrust into something they weren’t quite expecting, but the lack of expectation, mixed with the preconceptions of audio-visual work make this piece unchangeable. Any small changes would destroy it completely, from a dulling of the bass, to a tweak in the animation.

It’s not his subject that makes it work, and it’s not the science behind the project, it’s the animation, and sound design, and the curation of the two. Without his expertise in both fields, it wouldn’t create that reaction of “Jesus.” It would be a clever exploration into the possible futures of the galaxy, but it wouldn’t blow you off your feet in quite the same way.

Don’t go expecting to understand the galaxy any better than you did before, but go so that you can understand that immersive, experiential art, such as this, is everything people keep telling you it is. It’s scary, and uncomfortable at times. But in an exciting way that shakes you up and makes you feel a thousand times better when you leave. And if you do take it as a religious sign, remember it’s just lights and sound and speculation. The thing to worship here is the creation of experience.