Passage: A Day in Eternity
10:00am-6:00pm, July 25 - September 13, 2015/ admission free
"The Last Observer"
Animation installation, approximately 12minutes.
photo: YAMAMOTO Tadasu
Existing Absence: Signs of Presence
“Directly we enter the Lascaux Cave, we are gripped by a strong feeling we never have when standing in a museum, before the glassed cases displaying the oldest petrified remains of men or neat rows of their stone instruments. In underground Lascaux we are assailed by that same feeling of presence—of clear and burning presence—which works of art from no matter what period have always excited in us.”
Georges BATAILLE, Prehistoric Painting: Lascaux or the birth of art. (1)
According to NAGAOKA Daisuke, The Last Observer is a work “that offers a viewpoint from which you would imagine what the last human being would see if he lived 100,000 years from now.” (1) In other words, it is a kind of medium for us to imagine the incredibly distant future, which is hard to imagine. What is depicted in this piece, however, is not a fantasy describing a scientific and physical future world. It is a fable for humans to imagine something that can be shared or something that we are all watching in the same manner―the distant future beyond our flesh and blood sense of time. This distant future may be possible to be replaced by distant past.
An anemometer is rotating and a plastic shopping bag is flying around against a white background. A single line is drawn and there unfolds a scene of station precincts. The plastic bag goes past the deserted station and the town looks too neat, suggesting that this world is deserted. On the roof of a building is a man looking at this world through a telescope. He rides on a ropeway to go to a cottage at the top of the mountain and sits at the table in the cottage. The city with many buildings where he comes from is seen from the window. When the man reaches out his hand for the window and throws away a sheet of letter written with illegible letters onto the floor, one of the buildings disappears. Letters thrown away on the floor are piled up like a mountain, and they swell up and become humanoid with a female face. As the man stands up and goes out of the cottage, that paper person follows him. When the man goes down the mountain with the paper person by ropeway, he finds nothing of the town at the place where he lands. Firm ground spreads with nothing to see. The paper person watching the ground with the man suddenly falls down and becomes a mere pile of paper again. The man cries out but nothing is heard.
In the same space where this video is shown, there is a drafting board, and on it are original drawings of the “blank sheets of paper” which show traces of erased pencil lines. What is projected on it is an image looking like a black whirlpool, which turns round and round endlessly without fixing a form. It seems to suggest, as it is overlapped with Nagaoka’s text (2) and the video contents presented in the same space, that there is endlessness of asking an unanswerable question like a stuck computer screen or limitation of our imagination.
On the screen hollowed round on the wall in another room, commonplace sights are projected one after another. The characteristics of the respective scene gradually turn into female faces, such as a hole on the wall for an eye or the outline of a fireplug for a profile. These women sometimes blink, stand up, or move their mouths speaking something unknown. They seem like images the man is looking at through the telescope. Observing how the scenes change into female faces, although each specific feature does not seem to be alike, we are strongly impressed by the loneliness and deep-seated delusion of this man.
The Last Observer looking for a sign of a human being, and a woman made by a mountain of letters, could be the last Adam and Eve. This Eve is not Eve made out of Adam’s body but “life” coming from the man’s memory or imagination. Probably that’s why she is not a perfect objective being for the man. On the other hand, her birth has been triggered by traces of the existence left by humans other than this man. What the man, who was looking for traces of absence and gathering them, pasted on the window are a cityscape as a keepsake of someone other than himself along with illegible letters. The traces of the presence of others have produced Eve, and she is unable to keep her form where there is no trace. This seems to imply our inner reactions to our historical, archaeological explorations or our contact with the past culture and civilization. As viewed that way, the way how the man discovers Eve in everything seems to indicate, not his strong loneliness, but tenacity of the human race wishing for certainty of super-temporal human existence, temporarily revealed by intellectual curiosity and pursuit of it.
To produce his video pieces, Nagaoka draws in pencil on white paper and erases the drawings repeatedly and fast-forwards the filmed parts. In his works in which the traces of production are intentionally left, memories and temporality are inherent as subjects, and the production itself is already related to existence and traces of absence. In this work, however, the state of production actually recorded overlaps with “the last observer.” In them both, everything is made out of nothing and at the same time,
everything ends in nothing. Under the above-mentioned drafting board are eraser dust piled up as physical traces of the last thing that has remained, showing that all images are only fictional, even its existence is ambiguous. Yet, the graphite powder in the eraser dust now reveals a narrative world before us.
What does the last observer see? What does he keep looking for? To use the above-mentioned Bataille’s words, it is probably “sign” of existence that disappeared in this boundless time and “feeling of presence.” (3) On the other hand, Nagaoka ends his text concerning this work with the following words, “We are ahead of his eyes. We are the ones who are ahead of his eyes.” There, imagining this observer, the artist did not only borrow his viewpoint of looking at the past but is aware of his own traces to be discovered by the last observer in the distant future, and consciously throws back that observer’s gaze. What can we leave to the last observer? What reminds him of civilization, and what would make the last observer (a fundamental presence) think of Eve? In a distant future, we perceive not only individuals’ proof of their lives but also find values that humans or artists desire to create, which will be passed on even at a very remote place where everything else has faded away or been forgotten.
(1) Georges BATAILLE, “Lascaux and what the work of art means,” Prehistoric Painting: Lascaux or the birth of art, trans. Austryn Wainhouse (London: Macmillan, 1980), p.12.
(1) According to his comment in the artist talk held on July 25, 2015.
(2) “I want to draw the final human. I must envision a far-off future, 100,000 years away. (snip) How would those early men have envisioned such a temporally distant future? The more I try taking this idea beyond a mere daydream, the more I am struck by how challenging it may actually be. It is there that I posit a hypothesis. Perhaps we are the ones who will become the last of mankind, one day 100,000 years from now.
When the time comes, what will that last person see? In an outrageous loneliness, ready to resign to their fate, they may continue waiting or continue searching for someone. Perhaps they will look out upon some landscape, stretching as far as the eye can see, and accept it as the final chapter of human history. In the midst of their surroundings, perhaps they will catch a glimpse of us and gaze upon the past actions of man.
We are the ones currently living out those actions, consequently standing in the last observer’s line of sight.” (written by NAGAOKA Daisuke, translated by Alex QUEEN)
(3) Bataille, “The birth of art,” p.11.