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Insights of an Eco Artist

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In conversation: Ryota Matsumoto

Insights of an Eco Artist Team

Ryota Matsumoto is a world-renowned artist, designer, and architect who is widely regarded as one of the forefathers of the postdigital art movement.

1 March 2023

Ryota Matsumoto is an artist, educator and architect based in New York and Tokyo.
Born in Tokyo, he was raised in Hong Kong and Japan. He received a Master of Architecture degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 2007 after his studies at the Architectural Association in London and Mackintosh School of Architecture, the Glasgow School of Art in early 90’s.

Over the years, he has studied with Manuel DeLanda, Vincent Joseph Scully Jr., Cecil Balmond, and Giancarlo De Carlo, among others.

Matsumoto has previously collaborated with a cofounder of the Metabolist Movement, Kisho Kurokawa, and with Arata Isozaki, Peter Christopherson, and MIT Media Lab.

Matsumoto is the recipient of Visual Art Open International Artist Award, Florence Biennale Mixed Media 2nd Place Award, Premio Ora Prize Italy 5th Edition, Premio Ora Prize Spain 1st Edition, Donkey Art Prize III Edition Finalist, Best of Show IGOA Toronto, Art Kudos Best of Show Award, FILE (Electronic Language International Festival)  Media Art Finalist, Lynx International Prize Be Art Builder Award, Lumen Prize Finalist, and Western Bureau Art Prize Honorable Mention.

He was awarded the Gold Artist Prize from ArtAscent Journal, the 1st Place Prize from Exhibeo Art Magazine, and the Award of Excellence from the Creative Quarterly Journal of Art and Design in 2015 and 2016. His work is part of the permanent collection of University of Texas at Tyler.

Matsumoto's multidisciplinary projects have been exhibited recently at Meadows Gallery University of Texas at Tyler, S. Tucker Cooke Gallery University of North Carolina Asheville, Sebastopol Center for the Arts, National Museum of Korea, CICA Museum, Van Der Plas Gallery, ArtHelix Gallery, Caelum Gallery, Limner Gallery, the Cello Factory, University of the District of Columbia, Lux Art Gallery, Studio Montclair, Manifest Gallery, Tenerife Espacio de las Artes, Art Basel Miami, ISEA International, FILE Sao Paulo, Nook Gallery, and Arts and Heritage Centre Altrincham. 
He had solo exhibitions at BYTE gallery Transylvania University (2015), Los Angeles Center of Digital Art (2016), and Alviani ArtSpace, Pescara (2017).

Artist Statement

The machinic assemblage of socio-economical regimes confined within the asignifying semiotics of algorithmic governance has become a metaphor for the striated forms of urban living implemented by big data–driven digital sovereignty.

The cross-categorical interactions of post-industrial constructs have emerged within a socio-cultural milieu characterized by decentralized, stratified, and destabilized cartography.

In our collective consciousness, the pathogenetic substrate of the urban apparatus is where the individual is embedded psychologically, experiencing debilitating alienation and psychosomatic dislocation. It correlates with the recursive trajectories of a neuro-economical state machine.

The regime of necrocapitalism disintegrates the striated modalities of social collectivity in favor of network-based agency. It depersonalizes urban dwellers in favor of the residual aggregate of neural subsumption and the digital economy of virtual immanence.

Matsumoto’s work manifests the ecology of cross-categorical connectivity, intertwined kinship, and multi-faceted hybridization, which can be attributed to a multitude of spatiotemporal phenomena influenced by the techno-mediated agency of control society, with its mechanics of algorithmic capture.

Matsumoto’s artworks are created as visual commentaries on speculative changes in our notions of societies, cultures, and ecosystems due to the transient nature of constantly shifting decoded flow.

The cognitive process of cultural production focuses on daily practice as the embodied experience of social memory. This is observed and reflected in the artworks as visual schemas that recreate states of intensity along the spectrum of the collective affect between the human body, nonhuman agents, the deterritorialized socius of urban artifacts, and all the infinitesimal steps in between.

Consequently, the transduction process of these intensities as a time-image is transcribed in the artworks as a multiplicity of heterogeneous differences between the necessary actual and the possibilist virtual within a spatiotemporal continuum.

The artworks explore hybrid techniques, combining both traditional and digital media. The adaptive agent approach allows the work to transcend the boundaries between two- and multi-dimensional domains.

The varying scale, the juxtaposition of hybrid image-objects, mutually relatable geometrical references, intertwined projections, and visual metamorphoses are employed as layered drawing methodologies to question and decode the ubiquitous nature of urban meta-morphology in the virtual continuum, the inevitable corollaries of techno-economic disruption, and their disjunctive representation in the non-Euclidean manifolds of striated spatiality.

Matsumoto’s process-oriented compositional techniques imbue the artworks with what we see as the very essence of our socio-cultural environments, beyond the conventional protocols of architectural and artistic formalities. They conjure up the synthetic possibilities within which the spatial and temporal variations of existing spatial semiotics emerge as potential narratives of alchemical procedures. Herein may lie the extensively cross-referenced abstraction ushered in by hybrid media.

The artworks offer multiple perspectives for rendering the axiomatic of the state apparatus in the narrative context. We could attest to the hybrid entities as one’s critical reflection on the range of affective intensities that are immanent in socio-cultural entities. The speculative metaphysics of the hybrid objects in disjunctive syntheses can be defined as a complex interaction between sensory faculties and meaning-making experiences in cognitive processes. It leads to the understanding that the axiomatic of decoded flow essentially integrates cognitive sensation with the confluence of diagrammatic transversality in the semiotic context: both aspects are crucial for experiencing hybrid objects. The hybrid media investigate how visual representation is translated into meaning and how the flux of visual narratives simultaneously evokes sensory affect.

The Reverberant Ambience of Interpretative Codes for an Ancient Artifact by Ryota Matsumoto. Image courtesy of Ryota Matsumoto.

As an artist, designer, and architect, you are internationally recognized as one of the progenitors of the postdigital art movement. When did you start developing this line of work? How do you connect all the avenues of your practice?


The term postdigital does not designate specific kinds of art practice. It manifests in the lines of flight, flows, and streams of any given assemblage or as the constant flux of the movement of matter in the context of the meaning-making process. The notion of the postdigital defies the binary or dichotomous conceptualizations that are often prevalent in the realm of modern art discourse. Moreover, the postdigital does not have the master narrative that was prescribed to the overarching totality in the particular mode of production as was evident in the univocal art movement of the last century.

Suffice it to say, the processes of meaning making in this particular line of thought operate on an asignifying register and constantly evolve as the decoded flow.

I would point out that another aspect of the postdigital underlines how the process of social production demands the association of diverse elements that never exist as heterogeneous categories and are often disconnected from the wider fabric of ecocultural relations. As far as my contribution goes, I have written about how postdigital media after the information age permeated capitalist society as the interlocking syntagmatic series of signifiers that comprised the autonomous subsystems of the consumer culture for Japanese publications around the mid-90s. Furthermore, one of my early works was used as the cover art for David Berry’s book, which is now regarded as the manifesto for postdigital culture. My approach toward the image-object, which is interpreted as the adaptive agent of morphogenetic processes for transcending the boundaries between two and three dimensions, might have a connection with the other artists who are often known for their associations with the postdigital.


Your works are "visual commentaries on speculative changes in notions of societies, cultures, and ecosystems." What motivated you to start creating these visual analyses?


My artworks revolve around the metastable process of hybrid objects as pure intensities that are prescribed to the socio-dynamic assemblage as the multiplicity of strata, meshwork, and virtuality in the Anthropocene epoch. The whole ecosystem is transforming as climate-mediated changes alter the genetic diversity, adaptive capacity, and evolutionary trajectory of interbreeding species.

These ecological alterations are directly attributable to human interventions that have endangered the ecological equilibrium. In this regard, current environmental phenomena are characterized by a set of intersubjective relationships among multiple agents as hybrid objects in terms of spatial and temporal structures.

This creative approach is a reinterpretation of the multiple reality theories addressed by Gallagher in his psychoanalytical practice. 

The hybrid object is interpreted as an assemblage of multiple agencies that transcend the space–time dimensions of reality and the channels between nodes traversing Euclidian space. It represents the object-image as the reciprocity of perspectives with regard to intersubjective relationships traversing the human body, nonhuman agents, and urban artifacts. In my work, the individuation process of the hybrid object is employed as the visual abstraction in the perceptions of communities, civilizations, and ecosystems.


The Celestial Map of Dream Sequences by Ryota Matsumoto. Image courtesy of Ryota Matsumoto.

What are your insights into the role of contemporary art in breeding societal change? How do you feel artists contribute to a more prosperous society?


I believe art may partake in the actualization of the spatial configuration pertaining to the immanent axiomatic of capitalism. Moreover, art does not necessarily correspond to a textual understanding of the socio-critical assemblage after the ontological turn of the last ten years. This is a particularly appropriate notion given that we are living in the realm of post-dualistic and onto-epistemological existence.

Regarding my work, I deal with broader phenomenological inquiries pertaining to current socio-economic agendas. For instance, I explore micro-political issues of digital hegemony in search of diverse metaphysical groundings and dissect the conjectural stream of sociological context employed by the regime of signs.

Both art and design are meant to be catalysts for allowing people to be conscious of what is transpiring around our socio-cultural milieu and to surmise how our future could be reconfigured in the continuous decoded flow of intensities that opens up to us. Unfortunately, current mainstream art has shifted its emphasis from the social production of speculative abstraction pertaining to our metaphysical perception to the exponential overproduction of disruptive political binaries.


In your practice, you combine both traditional and digital media. When did you start linking these two avenues of discourse? And what are the normal steps you take when creating new work?


I was trained as a printmaker and acrylic painter before embarking on my education as an architect, so traditional media shaped my familiar approach to visual art, while all the digital media came years later as the modus operandi.

It was arduous to get well-defined images from a digital scanner twenty years ago, and I eventually resorted to merging the work with digital media that would filter aliasing artifacts from digitized drawings. That led to the further exploration of hybrid media as a springboard for developing and manipulating the work algorithmically.


Recursive Topography of Uncertainity by Ryota Matsumoto. Image courtesy of Ryota Matsumoto.

One of your submitted paintings is called Recursive Topography of Uncertainty. How did you reach the final visual composition?


The work initially started out as several fragmentary variants that were derived from the elements of my previous works. They were then merged into the artwork through the application of the recursive algorithm, thereby conceiving the title, which refers to this process. The concept pertains to the actualization of the temporal dimensions of objects that are eventually reconfigured as the assemblage. In this respect, my work correlates with the whole perception of the molecular lines that are immanent in the meaning-making processes of both living and non-living alike, which leads to the formation of an ecosystem.

There is also a common thread with regard to visual abstraction in my work: the multiplicity of hybrid objects, which unfold within their own spatiotemporal coordinates and are transcribed onto an image plane.


What can you tell us about your visiting fellowship at the Glasgow School of Art, where you engaged in research on the process of integrated urban regeneration?

I was involved in a research project to regenerate the suburban area of Glasgow, factoring in sustainability, resilience, and the historical context of Victorian architecture. It was possible to keep the historic buildings intact and to regenerate the city as a well-coordinated adaptive system by updating the ecological infrastructure and its underlying subsystems. 

That was the first time I learned about the notion of urban redevelopment, and it led to my initial career as an urban planner.


Electric Flesh and Anatomical Interventions by Ryota Matsumoto. Image courtesy of Ryota Matsumoto.

You have already worked and exhibited extensively across the world. What is your aim as an artist today?


We live in a great time where we can collaborate with artists online by exchanging files. This new paradigm of the network intermediates as a creative mediation brings together like-minded people in the art community, even if we live miles apart from one another. I hope to have more opportunities to be involved with multidisciplinary projects involving medial and cross-cultural adaptation.


Let’s talk about your research work. As a research associate at the New Centre of Research & Practice, what is the current concept, theory, or question you have been delving into?


I am taking part in the organization mainly as a consultant. Hopefully, I will become more involved, and I would like to work with their instructors in the near future.


Swirling Effects and Their Wayside Phenomena by Ryota Matsumoto. Image courtesy of Ryota Matsumoto.

What about future projects. What are you working on now? Do you have any upcoming shows or publications? 


Aside from my contributions to some collaborative works, I don’t have any ongoing projects. There is currently a workshop on multidisciplinary design at the school where I teach. However, I am also enjoying the unpredictability of not knowing what I will do next in my life.


Lastly, what message would you like to leave for our readers?


Be creative and always think outside the box.

Find out more about the artist, here.

Cover Image:

Still from Cities of Inextricable Velocities by Ryota Matsumoto. Image courtesy of Ryota Matsumoto.

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