New York

Tatsuo Miyajima

SINCE HIS EARLIEST LED INSTALLATIONS, in 1987, Tatsuo Miyajima has been reshaping the timeless and pristine white cube into a black abyss governed by the pulse of our biological clocks. While the Japanese artist is best known for orchestrating digital LED counters into richly varied arrangements—strewn across the floor, installed in geometric patterns on walls, even placed on little robotic cars—the works in his recent installation “Totality of Life” span a wider range of media and incorporate a certain humanist dimension that his earlier installations lacked.

In the large video projection Counter Voice in Wine, 2000, images of three adults, one to a wall, confronted the viewer. Each “actor” independently counts down from nine to one in French, English, or Spanish. On reaching one, they are to plunge their faces into a large bowl of red wine, hold their breath for a few seconds, and then rise back up gasping for air, only to begin the process all over again. While the actors' task is rote, the performance progresses at each individual's own pace; an abstract procedure thus becomes a variegated continuum of subjective experience. The bloodred-stained faces and chests, the frenetically blinking eyes, and each person's attempt to maintain composure all humanize the mechanical counting. A potent signifier, the wine suggests both the human (as a beverage and a metaphor for blood) and the humanist (as the centerpiece of ceremonies and celebrations since antiquity).

In Counter Spiral (Red) and Counter Spiral (Green), both 1998, two structures reminiscent of single helical strands of DNA were suspended in space, their forms carved in the darkness by a sequence of LED counters along their edges. In place of the AGCT combinations that punctuate the nucleic acid chain, numbers from one to ninety-nine flashed at varying rhythms and apparently independently, each LED module counting at its own rate. The overall complexity hinted at the esoteric workings of genetic information locked in a strand of DNA. While a pattern governing the numerical sequences might exist, we are denied access to the code.

In the exhibition's most imposing work, the video-projection installation Floating Time, 2000, four low, brightly lit platforms evoking shallow pools of color were visible in the darkness of the front gallery. Drifting and ricocheting across the surfaces was an array of numbers that varied in size and color, counting backward and forward and bouncing from edge to edge. The viewer could participate in the digital dance: Standing within these squares of light and saturated color, you could watch numbers flow over your body while more passed by on the floor. The movement and varying scale created a vertiginous feeling; the effect was intensified by seeing viewers on other platforms also bathed in numbers. This immersion into the spatio-temporal environment brought about an awareness of the subjective nature of time, recalling Henri Bergson's statement from Duration and Simultaneity: “There is no doubt but that for us time is at first identical with the continuity of our inner life.”

By drawing the viewer toward a deeper awareness of duration, Miyajima makes a bold attempt to resolve the dichotomies of Western thought, which holds separate body and mind, time and space, and eternal and ephemeral. While there may be a potential for the infinite, our lived reality is circumscribed by the duration marked by our corporeal existence. Anything else is mere conjecture.

Kirby Gookin