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TATSUO MIYAJIMA'S RADIANT WAY
The road to enlightenment is lit by LED
by David Garneau
"Thousand Road" by Tatsuo Miyajima at the Illingworth Kerr Gallery (ACAD campus) until March 27
Tokyo artist Tatsuo Miyajima's installation, "Thousand Road," dematerializes the Illingworth Kerr Gallery, stranding the viewer in a silent, hovering orbit around LED displays that enumerate infinity.
You have to walk through Serge Murphy's playful installation to get to the "Thousand Road." In fact, you are led there by a security guard who seems far too pleased with his task. The fellow who escorted me through the first set of black curtains - and stood with me for an uncomfortable 30 seconds in the dark while our eyes adjusted - couldn't wait for me to see "the display." When we passed through the second set of curtains I could see why.
That familiar cavernous room is gone. In its place is a velvet blackness punctuated by a glowing road of flickering numbers stretching into space. The effect is sublime.
My memory and common sense said that the floor was present and even, but a primordial aspect caused me to hesitate in stepping out into that uncertain space. The light "road" is a beacon orienting your movements but at no point can you be sure of the room. Even the high ceiling is draped in black cloth, a strategy that at once absorbs light and alters the familiar dimensions of the room. Seeming vastness, a feeling of awe, strong light and dark contrast, are all aspects of the sublime. And yet there is something ridiculous about LED counters as art.
Floating in the middle of the darkness are two parallel rows or columns of red and green light-emitting diode (LED) counters. Each column has 50 lines of LED display units; each line has 10 sets of two-digit counters; each set counts repeatedly from nothing to 99 at various speeds. All tolled, there are 1000 pairs of counters counting variously from about one per second to 100 times slower than that.
"Thousand Road" invites association. Perhaps this is the mind of the true God - strings of warm computer code suspended in a cold universe: an electronic house of worship and a non-metaphysical God for a materialist age. Miyajima explains that his installation is based on three humanist concepts from Buddhist philosophy: Keep Changing, Connect to Everything, Continue Forever. And when you find yourself in this space it is as if time both stands still and proceeds at a hundred different speeds: the Buddha meets Einstein.
But, in the end, this realm is non-human. If you spend enough (or too much) time in this lonely room a creeping anxiety or paranoia may grip you. The unending methodical counting reminds me of the repetitive behavior of the mentally disturbed, the Buddhist idea of Samsara (cycle of being and becoming) or the inner workings of Big Brother (what the hell is being counted?). I find the machine's distance and difference from people unnerving. We are superfluous here. "Thousand Road" haunts my imagination with post-human images long after leaving the room. But I might have it all wrong, perhaps this is Nirvana.
From absurd art materials, Tatsuo Miyajima fashions a sublime contemplative space for the wired age. "Thousand Road" is the new radiant way.
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