‘Art is wanted by man therefore it is’ Catalogue of Contemporary Art Center, Art Tower Mito, 2008 , (Essay by Tsukasa Mori)

20 Apr 2008

Art is wanted by man therefore it is

Tsukasa Mori

Artist Tatsuo Miyajima, as a professor of the Kyoto University of Art and Design’s International Research Center for the Arts, planned, hosed and ran the Artists Summit Kyoto in the autumn of 2005. Miyajima as the chairperson provided the following statement on the press release, introducing the summit as ‘two days for presenting solutions to crisis of mankind’:

Creativity Changes the World

Our world is one of recurring terrorist massacres, discord without end, streets filled with hungry children and a planet crying out from ecological destruction. At the same time, people’s hearts are grim and life is held in such contempt that even the minds of children are being affected.

Faceing such fatal crises, mankind has struggled to find political, military, economic and scientific solutions. But the problems remain unsolved and the world is overcome with feelings of despair and futility, with cynicism and hedonism. Is there hope – is there a future – for mankind?…

Art has the power to inspire people – to join them together in common feelings. It is the power of creativity that binds people together, transcending race and national borders…

Captive as we are today to such desperate feelings of futility, what we need are astounding ideas, a great sense of humor, a poetic vision and responsive hearts. This summit aims to stir, to inspire and to give hope to the people of the future.

This statement reveals the passionate thought that Miyajima has had in mind for years. He coined the term “Art in You” to summarize the idea. I as curator requested that he introduce the concept “Art in You” as an exhibition, for I personally wanted to grasp the essence of the notion that he has cultivated for a decade since the unveiling of his monumental piece Mega Death (1999).

This was not the first time that I felt difficulty immediately understanding Miyajima’s intention. When he began the Kaki (persimmon) Tree Project (1995), I first felt some ambiguity about it and questioned him about the idea. So was it when I exhibited Counter Voice in 1995 – it was to further my own understanding of the work. Similarly, the exhibition ‘Tatsuo Miyajima | Art in You’ came out of my curatorial interest in clarifying Miyajima’s concept: “Art in You.”

Miyajima claims that art functions in, and because of, a reaction that “you”make as viewer. I understand that. But, such and idea seems to be based on a belief in human’s inborn goodness. It appear too idealistic for me to accept outright. My work as curator kicked off in the autumn of 2006 with a view to examining this very concept. However, I unexpectedly found Miyajima moving ahead from “Art in You” after the first Artists Summit Kyoto in the autumn of 2005, toward the next concept “Peace in Art.” As a result, the exhibition turned out to be an incubator that hatched a work of art, HOTO, reflecting these two concepts.

The concept “Art in You” occurred to Miyajima around 1996-97. He has become confident in the idea no later than 2000. It is well know that this notion originates in the Revive Time: Kaki Tree Project (1995—). Premised upon collaboration with “the other,” this project raised awareness within Miyajima of the presence of the other in his work, and brought to him the idea and the method of actively involving the other in determining the time of the LED counts used in his work. The world exhibited along with the Kaki Tree Project at the 48th Venice Biennial 1999 was his LED signature piece: Mega Death.

Miyajima’s LED works are truly beautiful. They astonish and even bewitch their viewers. In the impressive installation of darkness, he elaborately interweaves thought-out these and narratives. Combined these elements together, his work brings about visual and psychological stimulation. But, Miyajima does not use beauty for the sake of intoxicating viewers. In fact, satisfied with the work, we do not necessarily recognize the message inherent therein. Hence, Miyajima grows impatient with those of us who do not grasp, or act for, the issue that he illuminates in his work out of anger, despair and hope–he desperately questions the irrational brutality undertaken in today’s world. Despite his success as artist, Miyajima is not satisfied. On the 20th anniversary of his international debut 1998, he convinced himself of his role as an artist to speak out and convey his thought. Turning 50 in 2007, he stated that he ran out of time, and declared his intention to live full speed ahead. Exposing what might be described as a passionate love toward mankind, this book is a kind of performance on paper. Indeed, he is originally a performance artist.

Miyajima excels in looking at human history from a macroscopic perspective. Mega Death, with a dramatic blackout of all the 2,400 blue LED components, critiques the 20th century as the era of mass slaughter. Its parent work made in memory of Hiroshima, Death of Time (1990-92) also describes human history – a flowing time axis – with a line of red LEDs, representing a repetition of life and death through a blink of the lights. The human-sized patch of darkness (the part the LED’s do not light) suggests “the death of time.” But, HOTO (2007–8) showed a change in his approach from depiction of the 20th century to highly abstract exploration on spirituality. He has nursed the idea of HOTO for as least a decade. It was his attempt to symbolize the dignity of life, and also to embody the concepts “Art in You” and “Peace in Art.” Suggestive of a jewel box, the luminous work – composed of mirrors and 3,800 seven-colored LEDs – has a gradual effect in affecting viewers, contrary to a immediate and direct effect embedded in Mega Death. HOTO is perhaps Miyajima’s first attempt to seriously deal with the notion of “ku (syneya).” The work stands still shinning. Confident in the concept “Art in You,” he refrains himself from agitating viewers, and instead awaits in the hope of viewers’ autonomous observation as their own independent action.

Miyajima’ work is always beautiful. He regards beauty as trigger to evoke inspiration in viewers. With HOTO, he furthered the rhetoric. But, it does not amount to his belief in art as an object. He rather explores the notion that art is inherent in you – “Art in You” – persisting that the most essential is the presence of “you” who feels art as “a person involved.”

In contrast with Mega Death and HOTO that show the artist’s vast perspective on mankind, Death Clock and Counter Skin – new works for the exhibition – indicate his focus on an individual. These two interactive pieces were experienced by participants of the Art in You workshop caravan, and raised awareness of “the other” and “the self.”

Death Clock is computer-based work with a special program installed. Participants themselves enter their own names and date of birth i the program. They are also to assume date of their own death and register it. What Miyajima seeks through this work is an inexplicable sense of reality provoked from a voluntary action of entering the data. Seeing the running countdown displayed on a monitor, one cannot help but reflecting on the plain fact that we all die and feeling how miraculous it is that we now live.

On the other hand, participants pair up to Counter Skin and paint a number directly on each other’s body. It is a workshop that evokes communication from a collaborative process of touching and talking. Counter Skin is photographic documentation that Miyajima made of the workshop. It is an enduring residue and memory of the actions. A sense of reality captured in the photographs is difficult to grasp unless one is “involved” as a participant. In that respect, this work can be unfriendly for uninformed viewers. In fact what Miyajima seeks though Counter Skin is to bring about longing within viewers for the sense of reality that cannot be felt unless you are “involved.”

In truth, all works are the same medium for Miyajima –be dazzling HOTO attracting us like a light trap, Counter Skin, or the passport made with great men’s works for the workshop caravan. Although HOTO has a very different style and appearance from Miyajima’s early performance, they both derived from the same passion that Miyajima has. Looking at HOTO, I imagine that it is actually Miyajima who stands there like a tower, remembering the performance where he crouched like a rock on the street. There is straightforward and strong enthusiasm that these two works share in common.

With “real” as a keyword, Miyajima earnestly seeks viewers, “you,” to be “involved” and make autonomous action. He himself took an action in the Art in You workshop caravan, revisiting three places that had exerted great influence on his work, and Okinawa, the 4th place that he envisages as hop for the future. This action per se is a performance art.

When Miyajima visited Teuri Island, Hokkaido in the early 1980’s – it was before him encountering LEDs – he was working on a series of performances on the theme of NA.AR. (nature and artificiality). He shouted to the sky at an intersection in Shibuya, lay down on the street in the rain to leave a dry spot of human figure, and crouched like a rock on the street. A visit to the Masuda Stone Ship in Nara prompted Miyajima to change his artistic approach: from ephemeral performance to enduring visual arts. His memory and experiences of the Hiroshima atomic bomb museum propelled him to create Mega Death. And finally it is with HOTO that he imbues his hope on the future and life. This flow demonstrates the development of Miyajima: the artist who had no other way but shouting on the street, discovered the numbers 9 to 1 as his own artistic language, and eventually reached the level where he speaks of peace.

HOTO marked Miyajima’s conceptual development from “Art in You” to “Peace in Art.” Art is a symbol of peace for him. HOTO,  described by the artist ‘not only as his most recent but also as his most important and monumental piece,’ sparkles on its own in order to convey Miyajima’s message: “Peace in You – peace is inherent in you.”

As I wished in the first place, the exhibition served as an opportunity for me to know Miyajima’s “Art in You” concept in depth. Ultimately I reached an interpretation that “you” is in fact “the self who is involved,” and that “Art in You” is somewhat a “reflection of the self.” The term “Art in You” demonstrates Miyajima’s belief not only in art but also in man. Otherwise the notion would not have been evolved into “Peace in Art.” Art is wanted by man therefore it is – this is the thought that Miyajima Enders on over and over again.

(Translated by Office Miyazaki, You Takehisa)