Tatsuo Miyajima: I-Model
Lisson Gallery, 27-9 Bell Street, London
27 September - 2 November 2013
Review by Phoebe Dickerson
Since the 1980s, Tatsuo Miyajima, one of Japan’s foremost artists, has been producing conceptual pieces that are at heart technological: the numbers 1’9, twitching or flashing on interconnected LED counters, are the lexicon that he employs to speak on subjects as vast as time, holocaust and eternity. ‘0’ never appears in his work, for that number represents finality, or death, and his art - in accord with the key Buddhist tenets that are vital to it - is about life’s continuum of change.
Miyajima refers to his works as ‘gadgets’. The term suggests something that plays its part as some small fitting or contrivance, suited to a particular human need. And yet, the works presented at Lisson Gallery, entitled ‘I-Model’, have an autonomy that - to some extent - stretches the limits of the term. Collaborating with an artificial life expert, Professor Takashi Ikegami of Tokyo University, Miyajima has employed a computer program that initiates number sequences in such a way that they are responsive to the habits of others in the system. As such, these particular clusters of numbers operate according to an intelligence of their own, unpredictable to their human creators. Miyajima has called them ‘Corps Sans Organes’, borrowing the term from the French playwright and poet Antonin Artaud, who uses it to refer to an idealised body of interdependence.
The pieces on show from the ‘Life (Corps Sans Organes)’ series cling to the walls like creepers, one curving to the corner of the main exhibition space. Tiny screens, displaying occasional bright numbers in red, green, blue and white light, hang scattered across webs of wires: I find myself wondering about their transportation, thinking about how easily - once unpicked from their stretched composure on the wall - they would become tangled, like the insides of a cassette tape divorced from their spools. They speak of the delicacy of interdependence: of how tenuous and vital are the connections on which we all depend. Strikingly, none of these works have what might be termed a ‘focal point’, nor are they easily distinguished, one from another. They follow no easy logic of compositional hierarchy, presenting themselves as - and in - groups that cannot be broken down or easily particularised.
In contrast to the almost organic appearance of these networks, another series on display, entitled ‘Rhizome’, presents gridded panels. Similarly founded on the premises of artificial life, the focus here is on the embedded nature of networks and roots: the wires take on a more sinewy, muscular quality, stringing the panels together like circuit boards, rectangular and regular as framed paintings, hung on the gallery’s white walls.
The gallery hums with the buzz of electricity. Whether this noise is engineered to be particularly prominent or whether it is symptomatic of the gadgets’ mechanisms, it lends the sense of social interconnectivity an aural quality as well as a visual presence. Nonetheless, it is pleasing to enter the final room of the gallery, a small space dominated by the most striking work on show: namely, Miyajima’s ‘Life Palace (Tea Room)’. It consists of a hexagonal cell, upholstered on its outside walls in red leather. The viewer or participant is invited - alone - to step inside it, crouching or on their knees. Sitting inside, one is surrounded by a dark space, illuminated only by Miyajima’s numbers which flicker intermittently. The experience is designed to be meditative and calming, suggestive of the Japanese tea-ceremony. While the walls are tickling with changing numbers, the mind is left to flicker at its own pace and - momentarily, and in the heart of a London gallery - in its own quiet space.