Tatsuo Miyajima

Galleria Vivita 2

At the most recent Venice Biennale, Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima scattered 100 digital watches, each set to a different time, over the floor of a dark room. The numbers darted about crazily, from one point to another, simulating a strange nocturnal landscape (the runway of an airport? a bird’s-eye view of a city by night?), and at the same time tormenting the perceptual security of the observer. The piece produced an enormous clash between perceptual deformation and a simplicity, even poverty of means. Finally, the work’s title, Il mare del tempo (The sea of time), seemed to contain a concise declaration of poetics, achieving a lyrical and symbolic note.

Here Miyajima presented his work in broader, more articulate fashion, modifying and developing the image of his earlier installation. His “digital gadgets” (as he calls them) no longer tended toward the theatrical, didn’t redesign the space, didn’t go for great effects. In the darkened gallery, the works were affixed to the walls in separate configurations, mimicking the position and function of paintings. The general layout was inspired more by mathematical systems than by choreographic games, and the language was more philosophical than symbolic. Titles were often repeated from work to work, according to numerical sequence: Counter Love A-B-C; Counter Communication 1-2-3-4; Line of Time 1-2; Flex Time; Counter Hexagon 1-2-3; and so forth.

“I built the ‘digital gadgets’ on the basis of three concepts: first, that they will continue forever; second, that they will continue to change; third, that they will be connected to everything,” writes Miyajima. Indeed, the “pieces” communicated among themselves. Endowed with automatic controls, they could change rhythm freely and had the capacity to receive signals and to transmit them through integrated circuits. But this degree of technological precision had an alienating effect. The obsessive repetition of the numbers from 1 to 99 produced a visual and mental hallucination, making it impossible to decipher any compositional criterion. The technology of his exhibition seemed as mysterious as nature. Like Japanese gardens, Miyajima’s mathematical landscapes achieved a rarefied harmony of reason, vision, and intuition. This attitude of Japanese culture toward the thinking and experiencing of the artistic event is described perfectly in a passage from Italo Calvino’s Collezione di sabbia (Collection of sand, 1984): “The construction of nature can be controlled by the mind because the mind in its turn can receive rhythm and proportion from nature: this is how one might define the intention that brought about these gardens. Everything here must seem spontaneous, and for this reason everything is calculated.” It is like this in the works of Miyajima: everything is so calculated that it seems completely spontaneous. For this reason, perhaps, among the 17 works that the artist exhibited here, one stood out as being the most complete. This was Counter Circle, 1988; here microcomputers were arranged in the form of a large circle. Once again, the logical and conceptual layout exploded in the space, demonstrating the potential of Miyajima’s language. It showed a potential that the piece in Venice promised, and this show only partially realized. Despite the unquestionable fascination of the works presented here, an impression remained of a language held in check, one that will be able to find its full expression only in a larger environmental installation.

Alessandra Mammì

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.