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Time in Blue No. 28
inscribed on both panels 'Time in Blue No. 28' (verso)
blue LED, IC, electric wire, transformer, two wooden panels
150 x 400 x 8 cm. (59 x 157 1/2 x 3 1/8 in.)
Executed in 1996
Acquired directly from the artist by Anthony d'Offay
Private Collection, London, UK
London, UK, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, Tatsuo Miyajima, Time in Blue, 8 November-20 December 1997.
Stuttgart, Germany, Staadtsgalerie Stuttgart, The Magic of Numbers in 20th Century Art, 1 February-19 May 1997.
Halmstad, Sweden, Mjellby Konstmuseum, Waiting,
August-September 2000.

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Lot Essay

Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima fuses technology with a Buddhist's appreciation for time, existence and the mutability of experience. In the earliest years of his career, Miyajima was drawn to avant-garde performance, which eventually evolved into his interest in installation and the exploration of not only physical space but of time. In the 1980s, he moved away from performance and focused more on site specific installations and sculptures, working primarily with television monitors and LED systems (light emitting diode) which enabled him to convey his concerns with a minimalist, suggestive approach. The LED system allows Miyajima to adeptly transfer meditative, ephemeral experience of minimalist performance into profound and mesmerizing sculptural forms.

Miyajima uses advanced technology and mathematics to convey universal concerns over life, death, and the passage of time. His works then have some philosophical affinities for those of On Kawara (1933-2014) or Lee U-fan (B. 1936), who both sought to explore issues of perception and relationships among materials, often enacting meditative practices and the passage of time in their works. On Kawara, for example, ritualistically and methodically painted one painting a day of a particular date, in the language of whatever place he was then in, and destroying the work if they were not finished by the end of day. Lee U-fan's From Point (Lot 66) and From Line paintings explored what the artist referred to as "the art of emptiness". Similarly, Miyajima seeks to draw viewers into the pure subjective and temporal experience of his works and the relationships between the presented elements, but does so in a uniquely high-tech format.

In the monumental work featured here in the evening sale, Time in Blue No. 28 from 1996 (Lot 26), Miyajima presents a sheer, reflective black mirror surface, illuminated in a steady dance of numbers, cycling perpetually through 1 and 9. The shapes of the LED numbers themselves are specifically evocative of those used in early digital wristwatches and are still commonly found in alarm clocks. They are specifically associated with a kind of late 20th Century, pre-millennial representation of time, and the simple lines articulating the succession of each number is marked by the subtle shift of the outline of the form as it locks into a new shape.

Numbers are concrete, fundamental building blocks of calculations, measurements, and indicative of time. However, they are also intangible, arbitrary, and abstract, and the cycling of numbers is representative of uncertainty and of time's obsolescence. The number zero looms over the piece by its absence, and the viewer is drawn into the mesmerizing loop, marked by the light dramatic tension of which that never appears. Miyajima himself is a Buddhist, and "zero", or nothingness, or in the Buddhist idiom, "no thing", is not something that can be represented but something which must be perceived. Miyajima's works then manage to embody the profound dualities of existence. He enacts both the uniqueness of a particular moment in time and its effervescence; moments, events, experiences are all constantly happening, will continue to happen into the future, and will continue to disappear.
One of Miyajima's earliest digital works was titled Deathclock (1989); recent works exhibited at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art were exhibited under the heading Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust; his stunning work exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1999 was ponderously named Mega Death (Fig. 1), a massive installation of LED numbers cycling through and going dark at different rates, intending to conjure the lives lost in a century of wars, revolutions, and genocide. All of this might suggest unhealthy morbid preoccupations, but to be in the presence of Miyajima's works is more likely to invoke feelings of transcendence and the sublime. For Miyajima, by bringing us into a consideration of death, he also brings us into a consideration of life. The watery dark surface of the works suggests both an abyss and the grandness of the night sky, and we are drawn into something vast and much larger than ourselves. Equally, the different rhythms of each cycle also draw us into the particular, reminding us that time will pass and will be measured differently for each individual. In this simple representation, Miyajima presents a contemplation of the cosmic cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth. In this sense, his works are also akin to those of Robert Smithson (Fig. 2) or James Turrell, though his chosen media allows for these experiences to take place on a more domestic scale. But for all his apparent darkness, the artist radically intervenes on the mundane with imagery and an experience that brings us back to the magical and divine qualities of existence.

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