tatsuo miyajima (*1957, japan) has focused on time since the 1980s. his diverse work started with performances, solidified as he began to make sculptural installations, and then changed again with his public projects, such as pile up life, and his wall installations, such as warp time with warp self, no. 2. despite the variations, miyajima’s work is immediately recognizable. the leds comprising an installation – sometimes as many as 1000 different lights – show various, predetermined speeds. counting, he claims, gives one the feeling of “‘the passage of time,’ a ‘rhythm by counting speed.’” each countdown or enumeration of numbers represents the life of an individual. the variations simulate the differences between individual lives: some people’s lives last 100 years; others “die” young.
miyajima uses numbers to express movement and change because, according to him, numbers are universally understandable. most are made with leds of numbers that count ‘up’ from 1 to 9 or ‘down’ from 9 to 1; zero is not shown. at the point zero is expected to appear, there is a moment of darkness. in this way, as miyajima explains, this numerical absence enlists the participation of the viewer. at the point zero is expected to appear, there is a moment of darkness. in this way, as miyajima explains, this numerical absence enlists the participation of the viewer:
“one other thing […] is to emphasize the deleting of the zero. for example, 9, 8, 7… the numbers go down in order. zero will arrive naturally by prediction. at the moment the zero should come, it gets dark (no number). so, you can come up with the thought why there are no zeros. there, you can think about zero. so, the numbers go down in order and go up in order, that is very important and, in fact, that is my expression to let the audience consciously experience ’ku’.”
in miyajima’s conception of time, the visible numbers 1 to 9 represent life, while zero functions as its counterpart. zero is the moment of death; since death is not visible, a moment of darkness represents it. but nothingness is only one of zero’s meanings in miyajima’s work. in stark contrast, zero’s other meaning is ‘vast quantity,’ by which the artist indicates future possibility and potential. the moment of darkness is thus equally the possibility of a new beginning, a new life. additionally, the vastness of zero denotes an unimaginable infinitude, possible but inconceivable. reflecting that zero means both the nothing and the plus, miyajima returns to its original meaning. in a talk at tate modern in london in april 2010, he explained death as a state of sleep, a preparation for the next birth. ‘the life’ includes both life and death. in his work this is portrayed as the visible and the non-visible.
miyajima rejects an exclusive conceptualization of his idea that ‘time is life;’ he insists it be taken realistically. as he indicated in an interview for personal structures, “my work […] does not indicate ‘time’, ‘space’ and ‘the life’; my works try to live with ‘time’, ‘space’ and ‘the life’.” rather than theorize about time, miyajima offers viewers the occasion to interrogate their own lives. he does, however, have his personal interpretation of time. in 1987 the artist articulated three central concepts: 1. keep changing; 2. continue forever; 3. connect with everything. together, the three concepts comprise ‘the life’.
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tatsuo miyajima (b. 1957, tokyo, japan) lives and works in ibaraki, japan.
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