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Indepth Arts News:

"2000 and Counting"
1999-12-17 until 2000-03-26
National Gallery of Canada
Ottawa, , CA Canada

What counts for us at the end of the twentieth centuryNULL Who's counting as we reach the end of the second millennium? Is Y2K our modern, secular version of a millenial apocalypse? Time weighs heavily on us now, measured by statistics and actuarial tables about life spans; longevity and populations increase, we are told, while resources will diminish, unless crafty new technologies save us. We have no choice, apparently, but to put our faith in the experts experts who surround us with numbers. Scientists count the generations of homo sapiens we are number 7,500 and new telescopes reveal the number of galaxies to be exponentially larger than we ever dreamed. Corporate number-crunchers calculate profits and losses and provide the rationale for downsizing. Quantification expressing reality through numbers is one of the basic ways we understand our world.

Time is money, we're told. This century invented the assembly line, where endless, repetitive motions add up to a car, or a washing machine. Labour, broken down into units, is translated into profit. 1,000,000 Pennies, by the Halifax artist Gerald Ferguson, represents an indeterminate investment of time, but is unequivocal about value. The sculpture can be displayed, or, as the artist suggests, deposited in a bank account, where it will accumulate interest. His 1,000,000 Grapes paintings, on the other hand, are the result of his willingness to put time into his art. Working with a stencil of forty grapes, he paints over it with black paint, 250 times for each canvas. One hundred canvases, ten thousand grapes per canvas, add up to a million, but we'll have to leave the counting up to the artist. The image has disappeared, leaving only the black residue of his surplus labour.

In Tatsuo Miyajima's Thousand Road, image is replaced by numbers, a fact important to this Japanese artist because numbers transcend cultural boundaries. Thousand Road is fundamentally a counting system, made up of one thousand LED counters wired together into units of ten. Each unit counts from 1 to 99, then transmits a signal to another unit, and so forth, endlessly. The system embodies three principles from Buddhist philosophy that are equally important to modern physics: keep changing, connect with everything, and continue forever. Thousand Road can be seen as a fragment of a model universe, always in flux.

The unimaginably big or far away, or long ago is something that today we can measure, yet not readily conceive without diminishing ourselves. These works by Gerald Ferguson and Tatsuo Miyajima offer occasions to contemplate vastness in human terms.

1,000,000 Pennies is made possible through the generous collaboration of the Royal Canadian Mint.


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