Lattice B 1990 is a large wall-based installation by the Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima consisting of forty LED (light-emitting diode) units arranged in a rectangular configuration that is three and a half metres high and over eight metres wide. Mounted onto a black-painted wall within a darkened space that is accessed via light-lock corridors, the forty units are placed in four rows of ten. The lowermost row is positioned approximately 50 cm from the gallery floor, with a gap of nearly a metre between each subsequent row and between each LED unit when read horizontally. Within the rows the units are hung at forty-five degree angles in an alternating formation. Each of the LED units displays a digital counter that is individually programmed to move upwards from one to ninety-nine in a unique rhythm. When a unit reaches ninety-nine it begins again at one, but it also sends an electronic signal to another unit to start counting from one. Thirty-five of the units display red numbers, with five units interspersed throughout the formation displaying green numbers. The overall effect is a flickering, constantly changing display of digits that progress at different speeds.
This installation was made in Tokyo, where Miyajima was born in 1957. It is one of three works each with forty LED units that he created in 1990 – the other two being Lattice A and Lattice C – which can be shown together across three walls of the gallery (see Neue Nationalgalerie 2006, pp.266–7). The title of the Lattice works refers to the pattern of intricate connections involved in their electronic programming as well as their physical arrangement on the wall.
The three Lattice works are part of a much larger and ongoing series entitled 133651, also begun in 1990, which involves two-digit LED units that count from one to ninety-nine and are arranged in lines, circles and geometric formations. The title of the wider series refers to the number of possibilities involved in the sending and receiving of signals between these counters. Each uniquely programmed LED counter has its own distinct number within this mathematical system and those that are divisible by seven display green digits, whereas all the others display red digits.
The 133651 series can be seen as an exploration of the means by which time is measured and understood, with the variety of speeds involved in the counting suggesting different ways of experiencing time. The work also seems to reflect the artist’s long-standing interest in Buddhist philosophy and especially its emphasis on cycles and repetition. Notably, zero never appears in Miyajima’s counters, as the artist sees it as an ending without the possibility of rebirth (see Auping 1996, p.20).
In an interview with the curator Michael Auping in 1995, Miyajima explained that the scale of the 133651 project makes it difficult to comprehend: ‘Even myself, the creator, cannot see its entire picture as it would be an enormous experiment … an experiment to express the whole universe in relationship to the laws of causality and connections’ (quoted in Auping 1996, p.23). As Auping argued in 1996, ‘In essence, the immense 133651 is a model universe, a huge field that exists in the artist’s imagination and as a numerical possibility, but that is practically impossible to conceive as an artwork’ (Auping 1996, p.24).
Miyajima initially trained as a painter during his studies at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (1980–6), during which time he delivered performances influenced by the Gutai group of artists who worked in Japan in the 1950s and 1960s. He began experimenting with electronic devices in 1984 and his first installation, It of the Future 1986, consists of a room filled with monitors, lights, computers and transistors that are triggered by the viewer’s movements. Miyajima made his first digital LED counter in 1987. Sea of Time 1988 contains three hundred connected LED units scattered across the gallery floor, while Running Time 1994 features LED units mounted on miniature battery-powered cars, the counters of which reset each time the vehicles crash into one another. In 1995 Miyajima returned to performance work with Clear Zero, staged in Greenwich in London, for which he assembled forty-five people from different countries to count aloud in their native languages. His large-scale sculptural works in the 2000s brought together electronic technologies with water and materials such as coal, steel and plastic, while Time Train to Holocaust 2008 involves model trains loaded with LED units.
Tatsuo Miyajima, exhibition catalogue, Museum Het Kruithuis, ’s-Hertogenbosch 1991, reproduced p.25.
Michael Auping, ‘Theatre of Time’, in Tatsuo Miyajima: Big Time, exhibition catalogue, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas 1996, pp.13–31.
Berlin–Tokyo/Tokyo–Berlin: The Art of Two Cities, exhibition catalogue, Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin 2006, p.257, reproduced pp.266–7.
Supported by Christie’s.