Melvile Library Gallery, Stony Brook University, September 10 – 18, 2006

The gallery is completely dark. At first, the experience is purely auditory: an ambient chord progression, a fetal heart beat, and faint, scattered voices speaking intermittently in various languages. As eyes slowly adjust, we begin to discern the composition of the space. There are sixteen framed images, photographs mounted on transparency film, suspended from the ceiling and arranged in a ‘seventeen-gon’ construction, with one door-like opening allowing entry to the installation’s center. Above each image, a small white light pulses along with the sound elements, below hangs a slightly burnt canvas onto which the images are projected as the bulbs light up from above. We realize that the various sounds emanate from small speakers mounted underneath the burned canvases, bouncing off the floor and creating a rich aural environment that fills the gallery space. After several minutes spent exploring the exterior of the installation and adjusting to the almost complete darkness, we find the entryway and move into the circular, womb-like space.

Once in the ‘womb’ the viewer realizes that the fetal heartbeat sound moves regularly around the space, repeating every 1’56”. Upon careful listening, we find that the voices we hear utter five incantatory phrases in multiple languages: ‘I hope’; ‘I love’; ‘I share’; ‘I nurture’; and ‘I protect’. As the tiny light-bulbs briefly illuminate each image we see that they depict various seeds and seed pods. The effect is simultaneously hypnotizing and frustrating. We are hypnotized by the sounds, pulsing lights and a desire to examine the images, yet find ourselves frustrated by the fact that we can only see the images for very brief periods of time and are only fully able to discern their content after multiple attempts, if at all.

The arrangement and content of the installation prompt several distinct, but related, readings. For one, we could view the work as suggesting the experience of being in the womb. The dark, the gentle music and the faint voices reinforce this idea. In addition, we must look down to see the seed images, just as a mother (or father) must look down to see the child growing in the womb. Another viewer might read the installation as depicting the cycle of birth and death. The burning and scorching of many of the elements, combined with the images of seeds and fetal heartbeat sounds contribute to this reading. We might also find the piece to represent the drive to procreate, to ‘spread our seed’, to propagate. The lights pulse, projecting the transparent seed photographs onto the canvas below, just as lovers may project their hopes and desires onto one another. From another view, we might see the work as a commentary on the hierarchy of sense, but with a slight twist: instead of granting primacy to the visual, ‘propagate’ allows the aural sense to move to the forefront. The soundtrack controls the lighting, which in turn controls our access to the image and the image-projection. This could also be read as an indictment of power and access-control, where the sound represents some behind-the-scene authority granting power to a visible authority (the light) that then grants access to the image.

However viewers choose to interpret ‘propagate’, if they choose to interpret it at all, they are sure to be both hypnotized and frustrated by this complex work, and I look forward to seeing more of Takafumi Ide’s work in the months and years to come.


For more about Takafumi Ide, and to view images of his current works, please visit his website.

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