New York

Tatsuo Miyajima

In its descent from science to popular culture, chaos theory has not fared particularly well. Coopted by a rave generation who like their ecstasy served on a bed of fractals, chaos has, for the vast majority, been virtually reduced to this graphic leitmotif. Greeted at first with wide-eyed wonder, fractal images now grab our attention with the force of someone else’s baby pictures. While the fractal-generating crowd aggresively promote their fuzzy paisleys as if they themselves had discovered DNA, the nontechno literati make do by rehearsing half-baked theories usually focused on the incredible “weather-generating” butterfly known to be flapping its way through China. And as material for serious and provocative art, chaos has not, at least since its prefashionable Fluxus incarnation, stood much of a chance.

Fortunately, Tatsuo Miyajima’s chaotically inspired numeration-in-motion unearths the very sort of poetics that the rave school of chaos theory has so successfully despoiled. In Running Time No. 2, 1994, 30 or so battery-operated cars topped by digital counters circle around each other through a darkened sea of floor space in an elegant choreography of chance. The movement of each car (developed with the assistance of the electronics giant NEC) is determined by sensors and programmed to be random. Divided between red and green, ascending and descending number counts, their courses and collisions paint a map of unstable possibility. Within this oceanic continuum, zero—symbol of origins and existential doubt—never appears. Based on what Miyajima calls the three concepts (“keep changing,” “connect with everything,” “continue forever”), the numbers, flickering at different speeds, follow their own trajectories through a hypothetical space. Here, the promise of computation becomes a Cagean silence: simultaneously abstracted and materialized, the suggestion of possibility floats on liquid chance.

The effect is mesmeric. Stare at this installation long enough and the coordinates of space and time start to dissolve. Scale shifts from the micro to the macro, from the subatomic to the stellar. Modeling a kind of perceptual indeterminacy Running Time No. 2 can also be read as a poeticization of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle—the cornerstone of particle physics. Signaling the end of the possibility of seeing the objective world as unaffected by the interventions of observation and measurement, the ghost of Heisenberg is invoked by the incessant movement and restless change of Miyajima’s show, “U-Car.” Here time and space become fictions of great elasticity. The geometry of passage is made fluid, and what is observed is no longer the route but the detour—a detour taken by the object itself from the meaningful ends the observing subject wishes to impose.

Undoubtedly the most successful of Miyajima’s mathematical landscapes, the two similar installations that comprised “U-Car” also marked a significant development in his oeuvre. Sea of Time (shown in the Venice Biennale’s “Aperto” in 1988) consisted of 100 digital watches strewn across a darkened floor, each set to a different time. Representing a shift in emphasis from working with “movement within stasis” to working with “movement within movement,” “U-Car” broadened the scope of Miyajima’s work to include the transformations in physical as well as digital space. Where the stationary pieces offered little more than the spectacle of number crunching—a spectacle not too dissimilar from the one afforded by the National Debt Billboard in Times Square—Miyajima’s latest work reestablished links between space and time remodeled in the wake of chaos and indeterminacy. Whether projecting red and green corpuscles into the digital bloodstream or particles in a cyclotron, “U-Car” represented chance in a landscape built not on theoretical exigencies but on the solid ground of genuine speculation.

Neville Wakefield

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