Ken Lum: Pi

permanent media installation

Location: Westpassage Karlsplatz / Friedrichstraße, 1010 Vienna

Realization period: January 2005 to November 2006
Opening: 1 Dezember, 2006

Ken Lum: Pi
media installation in the Westpassage, Vienna 1
Photos: Joerg Auzinger

Born as a son of Chinese immigrants in Vancouver (Canada), Ken Lum has mainly worked with photography and writing since the 1980ies. In a series of billboards he explores the creative possibilities of advertising. The fact that the artistic potential of photography has attracted the public’s interest to a greater extent in the past fifteen years has contributed to the growing international recognition of Ken Lum. In the meantime, he ranks among the best known Canadian artists and is usually mentioned in the same breath as Jeff Wall.

In order to communicate on the level of our everyday experience in dealing with the different forms of advertising in the urban space, Ken Lum follows their aesthetics in his works, yet, at the same time, he draws on the publicly effective aspects of Dada, Surrealism and Constructivism.

The use of mirrors combined with writings in the Westpassage Karlsplatz in Vienna represents a further development of Ken Lum’s oeuvre, which has, right from the beginning, circled around issues of identity, language and culture. Here, in his media installation “Pi”, Ken Lum deals with the subject of statistics referring to the world with numerical information.

14 mirrored panels are fixed to the side walls of the passageway, each furnished with a piece of etched writing. LED displays are mounted under each of these headlines. Based on statistical data previously surveyed according to socio-scientific standards as well as mathematical forecast models and their corresponding algorithms, the numbers visualized there are constantly changing. Ken Lum refers to an example, on which his idea is based on: “In New York, there is a large countup clock indicating the total public debt of the USA, the numbers jumping up every second.”

Passers-by see themselves mirrored in the various panels in the subterranean passageway below the Karlsplatz in Vienna. While reading the up-to-date number on the digital counting device, they are – as readers – being linked to the number in a performative sense.

In his work “Pi” for the Westpassage Karlsplatz Ken Lum calls his combination of text and statistical figures a “factoid”.

“Factoids” can either be countable hard facts or trivial information translated into numbers. For the most part we deal with concisely surveyed and complex datasets where the difference between local and global references is brought into play. The factoid “Number of Schnitzels Eaten in Vienna since January 1“ not only brings into play the ironic side of statistics but also embodies a link to the billboard series for the “Schnitzel Company“, a fictional fast-food chain – a project sponsored by the Chamber of Labour Vienna, with which Ken Lum was present in Vienna’s urban space already in 2004.

Above the entrance area adjacent to the main passageway there is a large-scale LED display which is mounted behind semi-mirrored glass. Prominently positioned, a fourteen-digit counter visualizes permanently new combinations of digits thus referring to the central theme of the entire installation.

Located in the central area of the pedestrian passageway and as a symbol for the world, there is the representation of the number Pi. This infinite decimal number is translated into the wide screen format with 478 decimal places, whereby the last currently calculated decimal places are visualized on an LED display with the help of a computer program.

Moreover, an exhibition scenario featuring lexical and statistical handbooks dealing with issues such as population development or migration has been created in a free-standing and transparent showcase located right at the turnoff toward the Vienna Secession. In a similar way as in the so-called “factoids” the mathematical problem of attribution is addressed here, which in its political dimension corresponds to the global phenomenon of migration as presence, affiliation and exclusion in Ken Lum’s work.

The minimalism shaped by his approach to the mass media and the concept art, which he has experienced in advertising, enable Ken Lum to formulate complex sociopolitical interactions effectively in public space.



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