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ICC Collection

“Transgression” [1997]

TOWATA Masayuki + MATSUMOTO Yasuaki



White marble is arranged to form a square on the floor. Displays which hang from the ceiling show images of a pastoral sky. As you stand on the marble, the images will reflect in the floor and extinguish the boundary between the electronic space and your body. Try interrupting the five rays of light shot from the ceiling. The fragmented image of the sky and sound clips change infinitely in response to information detected by sensors.


Images of the sky loaded onto a hard disk are projected on plasma displays suspended above the visitors’ heads. These images combine with images reflected off the marble floor to construct a seamless space of the body and electronic space. The cut-up images and sounds react to information detected by sensor devices and interactively transform.

size: 5m (L)×5m (W)×4m (H)
floor: 16 Marble Panels
ceiling: Plasmatic Display Panels (24×42 inches)
computer: 1 SGI Indy, Indy Video, Cosmo Compress, External Hard Disk, Macintosh (1) and Max
sound: 4 Speakers, 1 Sampler and 1 Amplifier
sensory: 5 Sensors, 5 Units of Laser-Beam
apparatus: 1 MIDI Trigger Unit and 1 MIDI Interface



Related Information

Artists’ Statement

Transgression is an action which involves the limit,
that narrow zone of a line where it displays the flash of its passage,
but perhaps also its entire trajectory,
even its origin;
it is likely that transgression has its entire space in the line it crosses.

Michel Foucault, “A Preface to Transgression” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, ed. Donald F. Bouchard (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977): 33–34

The origins of language lie in the utterance, an enunciative act that violently disrupts the harmony of nature. But at the moment when the senses are overcome by language, our consciousness produces a counterfeit world, one that appears to have existed previously. With language comes the experience of the infinite fastenings of memory: “mother’s face,” “lover’s voice,” “the blue of the sky.” Yet, even here, with the form it has furnished for itself, language itself is continuously constituted by that which cannot intrinsically be represented. In this manner, language ceases its exposure of the infinite and puts in place, within an empty space, limits that it must violate. Now, because of language’s very depth we experience both finitude and existence. There is no mystery to be found therein. For it is there, in the movement along that narrow border, that the body of language and its origin are revealed as a trace. In locating and marking a certain moment within the reverent joy of solitude as a death of sorts, the secret language of prayer in its unceasing enunciation of touching on that which is absent, creates in this instant, a moment whereby that which is absent comes into being without delay. Within each and every word, language operates by returning thought back toward that limit of the issue of its own substantiality; it points at that finitude from afar, again and again. And this itself is mystery.

(TOWATA Masayuki + MATSUMOTO Yasuaki)

On the Artists’ Works

Both educated at Kyoto City University of Art, TOWATA Masayuki and MATSUMOTO Yasuaki began their collaboration with their 1991 project “Divina Commedia.”

Held at Kobe’s Xebec Hall from August 28 to September 2, 1991, “Divina Commedia: Death’s Praxis,” an installation simulating death, was true to its title in its large scale and use of a somewhat secretive process. Five test subjects were made to wear dustproof suits and lie horizontally while floating in a giant pool of blue gel. Showered with the stimuli of flashing lights and sound effects, the five gradually began to feel the extraordinary tranquility of having satisfied the desire to return to their mothers’ wombs; and having lost all bodily sensation, they said, thy lapsed into a state where only their brains remained active. The installation took as its theme The Divine Comedy, in which DANTE sublimates the absolutism of romantic love into lyrical poetry about “death and rebirth.” This installation used the transformation of bodily sensations via technology as a means to experience really “death and rebirth.”

While “Divina Commedia” can in some ways be called a group experience for the five who participated, “Trobar Clus” (1992–93), an installation exhibited at Art Tower Mito Contemporary Art Center, was designed for a truly solitary experience. The name “Trobar Clus” appears in a work by Hieronymus Bosch, in which he describes a transparent sphere; it refers to a perforating object. Gel was poured into a transparent tank large enough for one person to lie horizontally; the tank weighed as much as 700 kg and was elevated two meters in the air by thin iron beams. When the test subject, chosen from a group of volunteers, was positioned horizontally, the flashing of data began. Through a definitive interchange between the spectators and participants—the viewer and the viewed—the installation aimed for a bodily experience of “death and rebirth” within an open environment.

Another joint production by TOWATA and MATSUMOTO was their installation entitled “Gravity and Grace” created for “MultiMediale 4” (May 1995, ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany). Standing in front of the installation, visitors can see the faint appearance of a “spirit” overlapping with their own image in a dim mirror. The title of the piece, dedicated to the victims of the Hanshin (Kobe) Earthquake, was taken from Simone WEIL’s book of the same name. According to WEIL, the natural movement of the spirit are controlled by “a law similar to the law of material gravity,” the only exception from which is “grace.” This installation encourage d an awareness of the human body’s vulnerable existence and of the transcendental quality that controls the psyche.

While each of these projects relied on the references suggested in their titles to summon a theoretical background, they each began with the medium of the participants’ bodies. Accordingly, the notion of “gravity,” which exists as one vector, is clarified in a variety of ways and the participants are instilled with the premonition of another supernatural force that may suddenly be born therein. These are what WEIL calls “the two controlling forces of the universe,” and it is surely these two things that the works of TOWATA and MATSUMOTO lead us to experience.

(SHIRAI Masato)

List of Works