Ken Lum: Pi

Born as a son of Chinese immigrants in Vancouver (Canada), Ken Lum has mainly worked with photography and writing since the 1980ies. 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. 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.

Year 2006
Address U-Bahn-Karlsplatz, Westpassage, 1010 Vienna
ClientWissenschaftszentrum Wien
Technical directorMichael Rieper
Idea und artistic conceptKen Lum
CuratorsEdelbert Köb, Roland Schöny
ProductionClemens Haslinger
Scientific conceptSORA Institute for Social Research and Analysis – Tina Brunauer, Christoph Hofinger, Christina Kien Realisierung Anzeigen- und Informationstechnik
ProgrammingXEO Technologies – Klau Weinhandl, Christoph Kauch, Paul Dengg; Wolfgang Reinisch, Norbert Math, Othmar Gsenger
Type Architecture, Exhibition
MVD Christine Schmauszer, Michael Rieper