by Vatsala SethiDec 31, 2022
The Japanese installation artist and sculptor, Tatsuo Miyajima, with his latest exhibition Art in You brings to the fore the three new bodies of work – Painting of Change, Keep Changing (Mondrian) and Unstable Time – for the first time in the UK at Lisson Gallery. Since the late 1980s Miyajima’s technological works – created with electric circuits, video, and computers - have digital light-emitting diode (LED) counters, or as he prefers to call them, the ‘gadgets’. The cycles of numbers from one to nine, rushing in the continual and repetitious pattern—not sequential—represent the journey from life to death. The contemporary artist known to explore Buddhist teachings through technological art installations with these new works includes large single-digit works activated by the roll of a dice, executed for the first time; new LED gadgets mounted on fabric; and LED installations on panels, whereby the cycle of life is suggested through an evolving display of digits, states the press release.
The integers gain a new meaning in the hands of Miyajima that could be easily dubbed as the lingua franca. Each numerical, the symbolism of the human life cycle, indicates body and soul. The presence of the time with an analogue appearance denoted with numbers cannot go unnoticed. In an interview with STIR, Miyajima shares what prompted his interest in the cycle of time, “Since I was a little boy I was sickly and did not think I would live long. That I should not have much time.”
The series of Painting of Change is installed in the first room of the art exhibition where oil on canvas or gold leaf on wooden board are used to depict a large-scale single-digit – swiftly shifting between nine and one. The visible number is determined by a polyhedron dice exhibited alongside the work. It remains activated through the course of the immersive exhibition. The interplay between the indicated number and dice is a metaphor for the Buddhist belief rooted in the idea of constant flux. If everything is interconnected it also suggests the inevitability of rebirth. “The introduction of the dice also engages with the paradox between the certainty of the object, undermined by its fate controlled by the indeterminate roll of the dice.”
The series is also inspired by Music of Changes, a piano composition by John Cage. Known as ‘indeterminate music’, the composition is engaged with the application of the decisions made using the I Ching - a Chinese classic text used as a divination system. The Uncertainty Principle, propounded by the German physicist Werner Heisenberg, also influences the work Painting of Change. The principle hints at the crucial limit to what a human mind could “measure and control” - an idea espoused by Miyajima.
Hitherto, Miyajima displays the digital language on unmovable sturdy materials for instance: a wooden panel, a boarded canvas or indeed a high-rise skyscraper. However, the series Upstairs is Unstable Time of the new LED gadgets is mounted on nylon fabric for the first time. The diodes move from nine to one proportionately. Yet, since these are installed on light and translucent fabric prone to sway, the large scale installation art once more underscores the state of flux. It “serves as a reminder not just of the passing of time but the interconnectivity between all matter in existence.”
The last room of the exhibition space displays the works Keep Changing (Mondrian), the LED installations on panels, arranged in a chequered pattern. On each work, the LED diodes count down from nine to one on each of these works. Keeping in tune with Miyajima's prototype, the number zero is swapped by the momentary dark void. The abyss underscores the space between life and death – before beginning the cycle of reincarnation. The sequence continues again at nine, in these Keep Changing (Mondrian) works, but accompanied by a new colour and distinct character. Each of these colours – green, blue, red, yellow and white – is identified with earth, water, fire, wind and sky or the basic five elements. With multiple LEDs on the panel, running at variable pace, the viewers acutely experience the “dynamic stream of colour change at intervals that is seemingly random yet metaphorically profound.”
This series is an attribution to his old work Piet Mondrian, which he described as ‘pure painting’ – in particular, Victory Boogie Woogie. Miyajima mentions, “A pure painting is a painting that does not exist to explain something, but already exists and lives as a part of nature in itself.” The dynamic play of the installation, a stark contrast from the static paintings, is a representation of the “state of polysemy”. The possibility of colour surfaces interacting with one another for Miyajima is a representation of evolution in paintings.
Like Miyajima who “encountered a sense of wonder that was originally within himself through his work”, he hopes the viewers also discover a new self while watching his installations.
The exhibition Art in You runs at Lisson Street, London, until April 9, 2022.