Indepth Arts News: |
"2000 and Counting"
1999-12-17 until 2000-03-26
National Gallery of 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
1,000,000 Pennies is made possible through the generous collaboration of the
Royal Canadian Mint.