“kyu, hachi, nana, roku, go…”
(“9, 8, 7, 6, 5…”)
Counting down from 9 to 1, and back up again. In the performance work Counter Voice in the Water of Fukushima (2014), artist Tatsuo Miyajima is dressed as a Japanese ‘everyman’ in a grey suit and tie, visibly behind him the contaminated sea and the nuclear power plant severely damaged by the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011. After each numerical progression, Miyajima submerges his face in a bowl of radiated water, suggestive of the fluids of life. For Miyajima, these numbers – continual and repetitious – are a metaphor for human existence: space and time, life and death.
Presented as part of the Sydney International Art Series, ‘Tatsuo Miyajima: Connect with Everything’ is the contemporary Japanese artist’s first major solo exhibition in Australia, exclusive to Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). Curated by Rachel Kent, the extensive survey includes key works from the beginning of Miyajima’s career to the present, from early LEDs prototypes through to large-scale environments, as well as video performance, paintings and works on paper.
A highlight of the exhibition is Mega Death (1999), a room-scale masterpiece of flickering blue LEDs, counting at random in what Kent describes as a “living organism in ‘conversation’ with one another”; each representative of human life or energy. A silent, twinkling memorial – one of many in this exhibition, to lives lost during WWII particularly in Hiroshima and Auschwitz – the lights are programmed to switch off simultaneously, plunging viewers into complete yet momentary darkness, before lighting up and continuing its count. “A powerful statement about humanity’s capacity to heal and begin again”, says Kent, adding, “Miyajima embraces the materials and substance of life in order to explore the nature of being.” The artist draws inspiration from Buddhist philosophy with its concept of rebirth, or renewal; consciously omitting zero from his countdowns, a quality symbolic of nothing, of finality and death.
Polished, reflective surfaces including stainless mirror works such as Changing Time with Changing Self (2002), Warp with Warp Self (2010) and Moon in the Ground (2014), encourage the viewer to self-reflect and reveal what is within. Miyajima concludes of these works, “Through this relationship or encounter with living work and living human, a person comes to the realisation of being more fully, and is made to think about the process of being alive.” Other works made of liquid glass, such as Counter Window (2004), line the windows with their numbers constantly changing, allowing the individual viewer to expand their view on the cyclical nature of life to a more contemporary collective setting right outside in the gallery’s own backyard, Circular Quay.
Arrow of Time (Unfinished Life) (2016) refers to the concept of time’s irreversibility. Entering a private room off the main exhibiting space, it feels as if you’re in the world’s largest darkroom or some underground 70s discotheque with ambient crimson lighting. Beanbags spread across the floor invite viewers to sit or lie down and stare up at the showering sky of flashing numbered LEDs, until they suddenly stop. Their temporal rhythm, symbolic of our mortality.
Museum of Contemporary Art
Until 5 March, 2017
100 Time Lotus (detail), 2008/2016, installation view, ‘Tatsuo Miyajima: Connect with Everything’, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, 2016, LED, IC, electric wire, glass, water, Nymphaea lotus, Qiao Collection.
Mega Death, 1999/2016, installation view, ‘Tatsuo Miyajima: Connect with Everything’, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, 2016, LED, IC, electric wire, infrared sensor, Domus Collection.
Arrow of Time (Unfinished Life), 2016, installation view, ‘Tatsuo Miyajima: Connect with Everything’, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, 2016, LED, IC, electric wire, iron.
© the artist.
Photograph: Alex Davies. Courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Art Australia