Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tatsuo Miyajima, the artist of our endlessly changing world

Last week in Sendai, Japan, I was enormously pleased to be able to have a public dialogue with the wonderful Japanese artist, Tatsuo Miyajima.

Most artists, or at least most of the ones I know, deny having a philosophical outlook that they try to translate into their works. Some had thought of the work of Cézanne and others as being a “painted epistemology”. But Cézanne himself denied this and Daniel-Henri Kahnwiler, the art critic and art dealer, insisted that none of the many painters he had known (which included Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, André Derain and Maurice Vlaminck among others) had a philosophical culture.

Not so with Tatsuo Miyajima. He is deeply rooted in a rich Japanese, and indeed Oriental, philosophy that can be summarized in a single line: “Nothing is permanent except change”. And he expresses this in what are visually mesmerizing displays of ever-changing variously coloured digital numbers. The numbers exclude zero, which in his culture is a metaphor for death. But in that Buddhist culture there is no real death, there is only change.

In a sense, therefore, Miyajima is using a new, electronic, medium to deliver a message rooted in ancient Oriental philosophy. And it works very well, partly because it is visually so attractive, partly because the medium is new and partly because it engages the viewer so forcefully in trying to understand the message. Indeed, Miyajima says of art that it is like a mirror, in which the viewer enquires into, and understands something about, himself. That something is the ineluctable progression of time, the inevitability of change and, by comparison, the banality of the moment.

But, of course, the moment is not banal, for it is part of the change and it is the most deeply registered and experienced in the chain.

I hope that one day soon, London will have the pleasure of seeing a larger number of his works, and I hope that the catalogue for that exhibition will include these lines from TS Eliot’s Four Quartets (Burnt Norton):

Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end
And all is always now.

which seem to me to be a very good general description of Miyajima’s approach.

His work has inspired me to think of many experiments, some of which I hope I will be able to do. At any rate, discussing his work with him in relation to the brain and its activity was a real delight.

1 comment:

PsyArch said...

Miyajima's work does provide a wonderful realisation of perception's abstractions: a landscape of bytes of information objectified in discrete hues and whole numbers as if a directly exploded axonometric of the neurons that are processing them.

The annotation, key, or meaning subjectively attributed is, as Miyajima suggests, the inverted reflection.

His large work in the Arsenale at the 2009 Venice Biennale brought a Zen stillness to The Matrix.