Tatsuo Miyajima's prolific career began in the 1970s where in observing international revolutionary arts movements and styles, Miyajima was drawn to Western avant-garde performance and installation artists whose exploration of physical space influenced Miyajima's early career as a performance artist. But in becoming increasingly concerned with permanence and time and wanting to steer towards a clear Eastern and Buddhist expression free of European influences, he halted his performances in the 1980s and morphed his works into site specific installations and sculptures which propelled him into international fame and prominence. As such, he began creating sculptures with TV monitors and machinery and electronic circuits to convey his interest in time and performance and finally, in 1987 discovered a compact electronic device named the light emitting diode (LED) that enabled him to convey his artistic concerns in an exciting minimalist approach. His new works were immediately embraced by the international art community; while studying abroad in New York (1990); Berlin (1990- 1991) and finally Paris under a grant from the prestigious Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain (1994), he held over 20 solo exhibitions in cities such as New York, Florence, Tokyo, London and Zurich between 1983 and 1994 alone. In using these LED and its movements, Miyajima adeptly re-creates performances into an everlasting piece. Consistent throughout his multimedia pieces, Miyajima demonstrates a maintained universal artistic vocabulary through implementing mathematical numbers and modern mechanisms into masterpieces greater than the sum of its parts. This season, we are delighted to present T. L. Sakura (Lot 1037) of 2005, a similarly introspective and serene work to his notable mirror and LED Changing Time with Changing Self series, yet T. L. Sakura's unique movement and composition marks it as a remarkably exceptional piece in Miyajima's oeuvre.
Miyajima's attempts to find the most universal way to communicate the most abstract and mystifying subjects of life, death, time, history and its ramifications. He found his best suited medium were simply minimalist numbers for they are more universal than any alphabet or language. Numbers are concrete and the fundamental building blocks of calculations and measuring time, but also intangible and representative of uncertainty. There is an uncanny resemblance to Sol Lewitt's deconstruction of forms into their basic geometric shape, stripping emotions and seeking unique visual interpretation of his work by the viewer. Rational in their basic colour, shapes and lines Lewitt's works (Fig. 1) are equally abstract and embody the same principles as Miyajima's use of numbers as a medium to allow viewers to contemplate questions they have for the universe. These small yet powerfully lit numbers count back and forth between 9 and 1 at independent speeds, carrying with them a momentum like rhythmic heartbeats of an individual. The number 0 which signifies death is never used; instead the numbers go blank for several seconds before count from 9 to 1 again, leaving a small 'void' for the preparation for the number to reincarnate, as Buddhists believe, and re-begin their renewed existence.
In that short instance viewers of this captivating scene are enabled to reflect upon themselves and any negative, historical events, and consequently enlist confidence on how to move forward in a spiritual, peaceful fashion, negating hostility and aggression associated with those events. For example, for Revive Time Kaki Tree Project (1996) Miyajima took seeds from a persimmon tree which survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945 and planted them around the world in a seeming representation of hope, while Mega Death (1999), an overwhelming wall of 2400 LED numbers each counted down, signifying the lost souls in wars and conflict of the 20th century. His main concepts "Keep Changing Connect with Everything Continue Forever Art in You", encompass these ideals and urge a continual, peaceful movement towards the future. Miyajima strongly believes that through art appreciation and recognition of beauty peace inevitable follows and strives to draw these qualities out from each and every one of his viewers.
" One of the powers of art is in imaginationKK Indeed, the Japanese word for imagination is written with characters representing 'image', 'the other', and 'heart'. It's the power to sympathize with and feel compassion for othersK Art is within your life and always has been Imagination sleeps within us all And that is connected directly to peace. "
(Tatsuo Miyajima, as quoted in "Art in You", Esquire Magazine Japan Co. Ltd, 2008, p. 181)
T. L. Sakura is an exquisite and unique piece that embodies such ideas that is at once painterly as it is sculptural as one would hang this piece on the wall. In the large mirror Miyajima has carved numerous numerical configurations of single digits which serve as the basis for the changing numbers. Behind each shape lies a blue LED programmed to count from 9 to 1 and instigate the life cycle. When lit, this extraordinary technical and artistic feat awakens and stimulates the visual senses in the viewer. The numbers embedded into the surface of the large reflective mirror in T.L. Sakura implores us to search for our innate sense of beauty in our reflection, watching time progress and at the same time, perceive change in ourselves. As though watching the numbers glide over a pool of cool water, the numbers shimmer under the surface without overwhelming the reflection of the viewer. It allows us not only to perceive the details of our own face but our surroundings and the reflection of the pale blue light upon other surfaces, extending the spiritual quest in all that it reaches. From afar, it is a silvery sheet covered with luminescent lights, alluring and romantic; it draws the viewer closer, with the promise of self reflection and spiritual awakening.
While other mirrored works in his series Changing Time with Changing Self found in collections such as the Kirishima Open Air Museum, Japan, also utilize this reflective surface, the position of the numbers is static and evenly distributed and rather geometric. In T.L. Sakura, the numbers quickly ticking away in luminescent pale blue are not placed in neat grids but are at arbitrary slanted angles.
As implied in the title, each number resembles a plethora of falling petals of cherry blossoms in the spring and at once, each represent the full life cycle of the tree. Considered a symbol of the transience of life in Japan, these small pink blossoms are short lived but bloom with an unrivaled intensity and beauty, encouraging living one's life to the fullest. In T. L. Sakura, Miyajima purposefully uses the colour blue as "colour has the suggestion of form and image: red is a square, yellow is a triangle, blue is a circle. So blue is like no form. Blue is like chaos" (Tatsuo Miyajima as quoted in Tatsuo Miyajima Big Time, 1996, p. 29). If blue is indeed circular, then perhaps it is the most important colour in Miyajima's vocabulary as its very shape signifies the heavens and a greater universal force and the 'circle' of life- the cycle of birth to death with possible reincarnation. In awe we watch this time sensitive sculpture perform as though we have arrived the instant the flowers bloom and must celebrate its vitality. Within these small flowers which bloom only once a year, Miyajima movingly illustrates how in hopefully anticipating the future, exquisite beauty can form.