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Tatsuo Miyajima: Three Time Train / Counter Voice on the Wall Lokremise at Kunstmuseum St.Gallen
Counter Skin in Hiroshima 3, C-Print. Courtesy Galerie Buchmann, Berlin/Lugano.

ST. GALLEN.- Time and space are recurring themes in the work of the Japanese artist, Tatsuo Miyajima. The basis for the art of Tatsuo Miyajima (born 1957 in Tokyo, lives in Ibaraki) are illuminated LED displays in color. In various tempos, these displays count relentlessly from 1 to 9, only to start again from the beginning. The electronic look of the LED digits is, however, less the expression of a positivist technological understanding and more a symbol of ongoing life: an existential number. Only the zero is left out, since, to the artist, it is synonymous with standstill and death.

Though for almost twenty years not honored in any large exhibition in Switzerland, Tatsuo Miyajima is considered the major contemporary artist of his native country. Since his first appearance in 1988 at the special exhibit Aperto ’88 within the framework of the 43rd Biennale in Venice, invitations to other biennials have flowed in: among others, to Taipei, Shanghai, Melbourne and Venice, while worldwide solo exhibitions in major museums have shown his work, such as 1991 at the DAAD gallery in Berlin and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa; 1996 at the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Paris and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; 1997 at the Hayward Gallery, London and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; 2000 at the Galleries of Stadt Stuttgart; 2002 at Artsonje Center, Seoul; 2004 at Museo d’Arte Contemporanea in Rome; 2008 within the framework of the Ruhr Festival at Kunsthalle Recklinghausen, or 2010 Miyanomori Art Museum in Hokkaido. Since his first exhibition in 1993 at Kunsthalle Zurich, his work has never been shown at a large venue in Switzerland.

In all those years, Tatsuo Miyajima, despite his radical restriction to LED technology, has developed a richly differentiated, unmistakable artistic vocabulary, in which he not only creates wondrous light objects but enlivens the largest of exhibition rooms with virtuosity—now including a show specifically developed for the Lokremise St.Gallen, an impressive light and sound installation: Three Time Train and Counter Voice on the Wall.

Three Time Train is the title of an environment with a monumental model train in the 800m large exhibition room of the Lokremise. Tatsuo Miyajima conceived a threetrack model railway system (LGB narrow-gauge) boasting a circuit with a diameter of over fourteen meters on which three trains—each made up of two steam locomotives and thirteen wagons—drive independently from each other and intersect on separate tracks. On each wagon, a single LED light is mounted that, during its ride, cyclically and consecutively lights up the numbers from 9 to 1, thus visualizing the permanent passing of time while the trains orbit their tracks.

This culture center was originally a switchyard for trains.
Did you know that railroads transported “time” back in history?
This is because it became necessary to establish standard time with the development of the railroad network.
Considering this history, I decided to do a train installation here that transports time.
Three rail tracks alternate in a circle to represent going back and forth between the present, past, and future. The counters loaded on the train are all scattered in their count of time.
These symbolize the unique times of various regions.
It is my hope that the overall work will inspire people to ponder upon the meaning of
--Tatsuo Miyajima, 2011

At the same time, the room has been installed with a subtle sound installation that uses the large windowpanes as sounding boxes. For Counter Voice on the Wall, he included St.Gallen’s populace in a workshop, whereby he had them consecutively number aloud the ciphers from one to nine, so as then to play back the different voices in the exhibition. In this way the course of time of Three Time Train is augmented by an auditory level that makes the eternal progression of time not only visible, but audible.

People of diverse backgrounds are doing a countdown, each in their own way to express the unique time of each. People with differing languages, ideologies, and idioms – their counting voices are heard from all directions as you approach the wall. By bringing them all together in one space, I wish to symbolize a world where people accept the differences of others. --Tatsuo Miyajima, 2011

Three Time Train and Counter Voice on the Wall: The endless repetition of numbers serves the artist as the manifestation of an infinite cycle of life. The zero is intentionally left out as a symbol of the absolute, but also of nihility and standstill. Just as every person has an individual lifetime, so do the illuminated counting devices have their own temporal rhythm. Counting becomes a metaphor for an occupation with the basic question of human existence, with space and time, life and death.

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