Tatsuo Miyajima

Running Time / Clear Zero

The Queen's House, Greenwich Park, London
02 January 1995 - 03 May 1995

Seen from the balcony above the Great Hall, it looked as if the contents of a digital clock had been shaken into a night sky and the numbers left to find their own way home.Rosanna de Lisle, The Independent on Sunday, 15 June 1995

Since the 17th century when Charles II built the first Royal Observatory there, Greenwich has enjoyed a reputation throughout the world as a centre of time. The Meridian Line slices through the Observatory, runs past the Queen's House and over the River Thames. It divides the Eastern and Western hemispheres and marks the point where the modern measure of time was born.

Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima realised his installation Running Time as a response to the time and place of Greenwich and the rational architecture of the Queen's House, the first classical building in England built in Greenwich to the design of Inigo Jones.

Miyajima transformed the Great Hall of the Queen's House into a moving tableau of time. Electronic counters glided over the floor of the darkened interior. Like a vast picture of the cosmos at night – or a microcosm of atoms in constant movement – Miyajima created a choreography of chance within the perfect cube of the Queen's House, a silent and sublime picture of time.

A performance piece Clear Zero, was also conceived for the Queen's House and realised as a closing event for the exhibition. The electronic counters were gradually exchanged for human beings walking in random patterns and counting in over 40 different languages. As more people entered the room, the sound intensified into a chaos of counting and then subsided as the performers vacated the space.

Image: Traces of electronic counters viewed from above as they traverse the darkened floor of the Great Hall in the Queen's House, Greenwich. Part of Tatsuo Miyajima's Running Time (1995). Photograph: Cindy Palmano

Making Running Time / Clear Zero

James Lingwood on finding the perfect location for Running Time
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Making Running Time / Clear Zero

By James Lingwood

Tatsuo Miyajima’s Running Time was one of those projects where the basic ideas were in place for quite a long time because the main concerns of his work are so clear. There was a lot of looking and researching different spaces. We were very interested in the idea of an observatory of one kind or another. We looked at lots of observatories, the most beautiful of which was at Greenwich.

The people at the National Maritime Museum were very responsive and Miyajima could not have been more excited about the idea of working in a place so close to the actual 0° (longitude) Meridian, symbolising a Western concept of time.

There’s something supremely rational about the architecture of the Queen’s House, it is often thought of as the first Classical building in England. For the installation Miyajima used the Great Hall which was darkened and had these figures, just slowly gliding across the floor. 

The performance Clear Zero involved 40 or 50 individuals counting backwards in different languages or dialects. The red numbers were switched off one by one and removed from the space, from the Great Hall, with an audience looking down from the viewing balcony. Then the light went on and slowly but surely, one after another individuals speaking a huge range of different languages entered the space and counted at their own speed and moved in their own direction. So there was somehow a human equivalent to the red counters. It obviously started quietly, first one voice coming in, then another and another …

Image: Audience members look down on Clear Zero (1995) by Tatsuo Miyajima in the Great Hall of the Queen’s House, Greenwich. Photograph: Stephen White


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Time is represented as a kind of hypnotic chaos, a lovely conceit in a building where absolute and permanent mathematical ratios and proportions rule. – Jonathan Glancey, The Independent, 15 February 1995

Selected Press

On the floor, constrained within a shallow wooden threshold, Miyajima has placed 45 small electric cars each about nine inches by six and with a red counter on its roof. As the visitor looks down, the cars crawl slowly and silently across the floor, counting out the digits from 1 to 9 as they go. [...] The effect, in a room blacked out by thick curtains, is curiously mesmeric. Sometimes the cars stop altogether, apparently drawing breath. Sometimes several form a small and brilliant constellation in one corner of the room, then part again and resume their endless wanderings. – Nigel Hawkes, The Times, 1 February 1995


No newspaper reproduction can convey the hypnotic beauty of what he does with flickering lights in darkened rooms [...] To see it, the visitor climbs a winding staircase to an overhanging gallery. In the pitch dark he looks down on the unforgettable spectacle of a restlessly moving mass of red numbers made out of LEDs [...] And because the surrounding darkness gives the viewer no sense of scale, the whole marvellous phenomenon seems to be happening in space, like atoms colliding under a microscope, or the traffic of downtown Tokyo seen from the air at night. – Richard Dorment, The Daily Telegraph, 8 February 1995


As one settled into this harmony, where order, even in its randomness, seemed reliable and permanent and, as one’s eyes slowly adjusted to the dark, paintings, in deep classical frames, statues and the detail of architectural decoration could be discerned in the gloom. With that, the bright digital vehicles were starkly exposed as being chronologically alien but this only served to magnify Miyajima’s observations on time and movement within it. – Godfrey Worsdale, Art Monthly, 1995

About Tatsuo Miyajima

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Tatsuo Miyajima

Tatsuo Miyajima was born and educated in Tokyo 1957 and then travelled to New York, Berlin and Paris under grants form the Asian Cultural Coucil, Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst and Fondation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain. As well as participating regularly in international group exhibitions Miyajima has had solo shows at National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Kunsthalle Zurich, DAAD Galerie, Berlin, Hayward Gallery, London and extensively throughout Japan.

Miyajima originally trained as a painter, and practiced performance art in the 70s; since his technological innovations with LEDs in the late-80s, Miyajima has become most known for his large scale light sculptures often in darkened rooms. He has also created set designs for a ballet by Wayne McGregor at the Royal Opera House, London and his work Mega Death was listed in The Guardian's 1000 Artworks To See Before You Die.

Image: Performance of Tatsuo Miyajima's Clear Zero (1995) in the Great Hall of the Queen's House, Greenwich. Photograph: Stephen White


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Who made this possible?


Running Time / Clear Zero was presented by Artangel with the support of Arts Council England and Becks.

Artangel is generously supported by Arts Council England, and by the private patronage of The Artangel International CircleSpecial AngelsGuardian Angels and The Company of Angels.