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On Time in Film / DVD

by Takahiko iimura
DVD, 1972-2007, 32 mins., 2007
B&W and col., sound. $US60.00 (personal); $US300.00 (institutions)
ISBN: 4-901181-36-5.

Performance / Myself (or Video Identity)

by Takahiko iimura
DVD, 1972-1995, 29 mins., 2008
B&W, sound. $US70.00 (personal); $US300 (institutions)
ISBN: 978-4-901181-38-9.

Air's Rock

by Takahiko iimura
DVD, 1985-2008, 29 mins., 2008
Col., sound. $US60.00 (personal); $US250.00 (institutions)
ISBN: 978-4-901181-39-6.

Distributor:  Takahiko iimura Media Arts Laboratory, http://www.takaiimura.com/.

Reviewed by Mike Leggett
Faculty of Creative Arts
University of Wollongong

Takahiro iimura is a senior figure among contemporary Japanese and international artists and has been working with film, sound and video since the 1960s. He was one of several Japanese who, coming from a 20th Century tradition of avant-garde intervention, contributed to the Fluxus group in the 1960s. The delicate nature of the analogue mediums of film and video requires that art works are now presented in digital format; over the last decade iimura has gradually been archiving his significant output to DVD and other mediums more durable than acetate and vinyl.

Previous reviews in Leonardo have been of work originating on videotape: Observer/Observed reviewed in Leonardo 35.1; and the documentary projects, John Cage Performs James Joyce (1985) and Fluxus Replayed (1991) reviewed in LDR February 2007. One of the DVDs in this review originate from 16mm film that brought to the fore the ontological project he has consistently pursued, described by Malcolm Legrice in his 1977 book, Abstract Film and Beyond as being a “…detailed examination of our perceptual and conceptual mechanisms…. ” iimura's work with film-making was recognised at the 1963 Brussels International Experimental Film Festival; by the end of the 1960s he had begun to produce work with video and for the next decade moved easily between both mediums until the 1980s and 1990s when only one film but 32 videos were completed; two of these appear on the DVD Air's Rock.

Moments at the Rock was made in 1985 during a visit to Uluru, the monolith in Central Australia*. The video reveals the natural rock feature emerging from the darkness, whilst a pulsing sound measures time and changes in the image, a camera and a small screen becoming visible in the foreground. As the day becomes lighter and the camera operator moves in and out of the view, we become accustomed to the edifice and a series of incidents, either human, the ambience of the location or induced by the apparatus and system delivering the experience. The liner notes inform us that the system is based around a cheap domestic camera; picture break up, colour distortions, a jagged rendition of the pristine scene before it render an abstraction of time and space, and possibly mirror the mythologies that surround Uluru and the spiritual significance it has for indigenous people. But given the name and nationality of the artist, the significance of space and time, ma, in Japanese culture also becomes a resonance within the system of meaning. (Another of iimura's works, Ma Space / Time in the Garden of Ryoan-ji, explores links between film time and the famous five hundred year old garden in Japan). The longer piece on this DVD, A Rock In The Light (1985-2008), takes the footage gathered by the camera seen in the earlier video and using images of Uluru electronically superimposed inside the same image, but shot at a different time and combined with a series of slow dissolves, which again subsumes the famous image, placing it instead into the reflexive space of the viewer. With a soundtrack made by Haruyuki Suzuki, electronic sounds penetrate the space and follow the changes made in the visual element, as both accompaniment and commentary.

Sound and visual time signatures are encountered in the much earlier works On Time in Film, but these use no potent image like Uluru as counterpoint; the screened experience is just light and darkness. These works had a considerable influence when I first saw them during a festival in London during 1973, a version of them now on the DVD. A medium sized darkened room with film projector at one end and screen at the other and long loops of opaque 16mm film with clear frames cut into them. The title of 24 Frames Per Second (1975) describes not only the rate at which 16mm film passes through the projector but also the schema for the progression of the film, understood during viewing as fractionally extending the durations between light and darkness before reverting to the durations between darkness and light.

This is a perceptually engaging process, experienced again in Timed 1, 2, 3 (1972) when by counting durations, changes can be predicted by the viewer, becoming a kind of participatory game between filmmaker and viewer. Developing the theme in a later work, One Frame Duration (1977) the element of surprise is added; by not following a perceptible system, the change from light to dark, or dark to light, or from black and white to colour curiously comes as a shock, sometimes synchronising with a percussive sound. The extended periods of lightness have the added drama of dirt and hairs registering the 24th of a second basis of the filmic phenomena, as these random elements flick uncontrolled through the telecine gate, as the image is converted to bits of data.

These films, in being transferred to the digital domain, reminds us that whilst the conceptual genesis may be medium specific – the physical manipulation and preparation of the filmic material being sculptural in action, and its rendering through a projector being unique in visual and audio detail on every screening occasion – the conceptual comprehension of the experience, given reasonably similar projection circumstances, can remain in close proximity to the originals across the years that have intervened.

In the Performance / Myself DVD, the digital version shows us what audiences encountered when the seven pieces were first delivered with analogue video, with little sacrifice made to medium specificity; but the rigour is no less than with the films. When artists first starting working with video in the mid to late 1960s, the most popular object to point the camera at was, of course, the artist, him- or herself. These pieces, though we see iimura in them, are not personalised expressions about the psycho or physical state of the artist in private performance; they concentrate rather on the system of representation conveying the sounds and images and the spaces between artist, system and audience.

In the earliest work, Self Identity (1972), only one minute long, the basis of the investigation is setup, with his off screen voice alternately confirming his name that he has just stated to the camera. He returns to this some years later in Double Identity (1979) as he again confirms or denies his presence in the earlier piece, on the monitor by which he sits. In Double Portrait (1973) he processes, in sound and vision, similar confirmation and denials of identity, (in conjunction with his partner Akiko), whilst being seen from different quadrants through which the performers turn. I Love You (1973) employs similar systemic strategies, likewise using captioned subtitles to confirm or counter the heard assertions.

In these early days, video post-shooting editing was unsatisfactory compared to the cleanness of film editing and accounts for many tapes being unedited in the making of completed art pieces or editing done on-the-fly using some form of video switching or mixing box through which two or more close-circuit cameras (CCTV) could be recorded to tape. iimura's tapes essentially problematise the time intervals between what it is we see and hear; in other words it is not immediately evident whether a cut has been made after shooting or during shooting. The implication is significant in the exposition on time / space, viewed / viewing and place / location being presented. I Am A Viewer, You Are A Viewer (1981) returns to systematically exploring the state of viewing the works on video – but also by implication the act of viewing film – as an audience 'performing' the reflexive act, ending, “...you view yourself”. The following year the performance develops and becomes a series of presentations in the public realm between 1982 and 1995. This is a Camera which Shoots This is enacted in a gallery space using a similar CCTV configuration seen in the earlier works. We see the artist but not until the end, as essentially it is the closed-circuit system being explored as a series of vignettes. In As I See You You See Me develops the theme in the same space with an audience present and visible; now the procedures draws iimura into sharing the space within electronic space as well as physical space whilst edits, mixes and superimpositions become part of the  performance between cameras, monitor screens, artist (and off-screen assistant?).

These are complex works to describe in a short review, particularly as they rely so centrally on duration and the nuance of systems of visual and aural representation. Their migration to the domestic format DVD introduces an element of viewer control, not available in previous renditions of the work; the fast forward and reverse options provide the audience with a measure of interactivity with the work, thus providing further opportunity for reflection on the elements present. The sets of DVDs provide a vivid insight within the oeuvre of one of Japan's most influential artists and practice-based philosophers. The editions will of course when the time comes, need to be migrated by collecting institutions to next generation technologies. The hope is that this is undertaken with as much care and commitment as exhibited in the DVD collections prepared by the artist himself, Takahiro iimura.

* Formerly known as Ayer's Rock, the title of the DVD, Air's Rock, is a misspelling of the colonial name but a possible reference to the location, a place of wide open spaces.

Last Updated 3 June, 2012

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