Letters from America
Friday 31 March 2017
From a conventional graphic art background he evolved into being a master of quite spectacular installation art. He combines contemporary technology (LED lights), a sparse Buddhist aesthetic, and a preoccupation with the concept of zero (both the origin of the numeral zero and also the philosophical and mystical significance of the numeral zero).
Don’t be alarmed!
It was a great exhibition.
Here is a photo I took of the water installation (and a passing school boy on the right):
It is a lovely Japanese motif of the floating garden. The lights in the water are Miyajima’s LED lights.
On each of the little spheres are the numbers from 1 to 9 in the typical digital format. The LED lights are programmed to count up through 1 to 9 then pause in darkness.
That pause and darkness at the end of a series counting 1 to 9 is, as you might expect, the void, the transcendent nothingness within and without.
The black pause is also what would be “zero” if there was a zero here. And the deliberate feature of Miyajima’s installations is that he does not have a zero, just the pause, the dark.
When you see the blinking digital lights counting through 1 to 9 at different speeds, operating on a large scale, it is impressive.
There was a very large room totally dark but for the blinking blue LED lights, blinking at different rates, pausing at different times (some staying in darkness for many minutes), all counting through 1 to 9. The installation was called Megadeath. The climax, after a long period of time, is the disappearance of every single LED light. I arrived in time for the gradual reawakening of lights in the room, which was quite an unusual experience. This Megadeath installation was made for a Venice Biennale festival. The Hiroshima allusion is inescapable.
In a video of an interview made for the show, Miyajima said of his understanding of the word “zero” that in the Sanskrit the word for zero signified not only nothingness but also fullness, in the sense of ripeness and imminent creation. The paradox of zero!
Here is a photo I took of another one of Miyajima’s smaller LED creations. This one is bollard shaped with the signature LED lights in red. You can make out the digits clearly.
And the same item from further away so you can see the distinctive bollard shape.
Which brings me to purpose of the post. I wanted to draw your collective attention to something I have noticed, something the Miyajima exhibition reminded me about.
It is this bollard shape. Miyajima uses it quite a bit. Anyway I have a few thoughts on the bollard shape and few examples and you are welcome to contribute to the understanding of this puzzle.
There are charming, amusing versions of this shape in popular culture:
There are some graceful, remarkable versions from the natural world:
A technically minded colleague offered these additional examples:
The Snapchat symbol:
And the ghosts in the classic video game Pac Man:
Is there a connecting theme here?
Well if something is very short and squat it is not so threatening.
If something has a bald top perhaps that’s a standing invitation to be petted.
These bollard shaped things seem to epitomise the cute, the playful and perhaps the comic.
So now I have the really formidable version of this shape to offer, which I cannot easily connect to the infantilising versions of the shape which I have outlined above.
This final form is the ancient symbol of Shiva, the phallic symbol of regenerative life:
If I have to have a god, can it be Shiva.
I mean it. He’s a disruptive creative force if ever there was one. And sex is his thing. He was a rebel and an outsider.
I could not do the dope he did though, I would have to draw the line 🙂
There is only one connection I have thought about that might draw together the Shiva phallus (the bollard extraordinaire) and the droll bollard we have in R2D2, the Minions, and the like. It’s the element of humour and clowning. While it’s not patently obvious all the time I think there may be some kind of connection. The joking clowning character is often a cipher used for sex and sexual innuendo. The example that springs to mind is Mozart’s Papageno who was probably the human equivalent of a bollard, if you know what I mean. So I am saying maybe the innocent comic characters we introduce into our films and games can also be part of some other set of meanings. What difference would that make? I don’t know.
Anyway I am sure the Jungian experts would know all about this, it’s yet for me to discover.
Having now mentioned Papageno though I have to include a link to my favourite Youtube version of Papageno’s duet which he sings with his newly discovered true love Papagena. Even if you have no interest in opera you will enjoy hearing a musical version of the sex act. Yes the music is a depiction of climax. It’s a delight. And this version is very nicely directed (including a peasant-ish form of strip tease). Lovely singers too including Hakan Hakagord whom I never saw in real life but who used to tour Australia.
Edit: Can you believe Youtube has taken the clip down, copyright claims…! So that’s a bit sad.
I have found another clip, a little rough – the Magic Flute somehow became the Manga flute :-), the voices are not accurate, and it’s all in English with subtitles ! All the same, the spirit of it is there.
Signing off, MG xx