Critics’ Picks

View of “LIFE (complex system),” 2017.

View of “LIFE (complex system),” 2017.


Tatsuo Miyajima

SCAI The Bathhouse
6-1-23 Yanaka, Taito-ku Kashiwayu-Ato
March 3–April 22, 2017

A permanent becoming—as opposed to an ultimate being—is a central theme in Tatsuo Miyajima’s latest exhibition, as high-flying as the topic may be. Throughout, Miyajima’s work elegantly conjures the river of time as the only constant. “LIFE (complex system)” presents three pieces sharing the same title in the main gallery: Life (complex system) no. 1, no. 7, and no. 10, all 2017. Together, they offer digital LED counters on circuit boards that are held in sterile steel casings and ordered into grids. Connected via a microcomputer and vein-like cables, these units react to one another; they are a self-moderating network of lighting signals, like an Ikegami Model (developed by the artist and professor Takashi Ikegami, a researcher of artificial life at Tokyo University). A program is constantly generating number sequences, which seem to evolve unpredictably on their own, each one almost like a living being.

The exhibition could not have been installed in a better place than SCAI the Bathhouse. It is unlikely that philosophical problems were ever solved in this building, which served as a public bathhouse for more than two hundred years. Yet, surely, many thousands of life stories were written here. Two installations by Miyajima at the entrance make clear the extent to which they’re connected to the space, and the space to Tokyo. In Time Waterfall, number sequences pour down over an LED panel, recalling advertisements on giant displays in the commercial centers of the city, and numbers similarly flash in Time Bagworm No. 1, a tangle of cables that hang from the ceiling. These wires, however, evoke the improvised power lines in the city’s Yanaka quarter.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.