The Film and video work of Taka Iimura

Bruno Di Marino


For Iimura, as for many other avant-garde filmmakers, the art work is not limited to the film text and screen frame, it involves instead the whole process of image projection: only unravelling the cinema machinery film is no longer a representation of a pre-existent reality and becomes the exhibition of a reflected image. The reflection of imagery and the reflection on imagery become one in Iimura's film installations. The idea of "reflection" not only involves the nature of imagery, but also the attitude of the artist first and then of the viewer in front of imagery itself.

Reflection is sometimes generated by the sharp distinction between filmstrip and projector, i.e. the work taken out of time on one hand and the machine that places it into the stream of time on the other hand. The light beam of a 16mm projector, that is the zero degree of cinema represented by the mere projected frame, comes to have a life of its own - exactly as the filmstrips become an autonomous installation when they are taped horizontally on the wall (the same procedure used by Kubelka in Arnulf Rainer).

Iimura's installations, almost like his films, can be distinguished in two types: the quite structuralist installations (realized using the film medium) and those involving the person, the human figure (realized mostly through the electronic medium). Independently of the specific media used, both his film and video installations - especially those Iimura has realized during the '70s and '80s - are almost invariably focused on the complex experience of seeing. The video/film-machines are devices to see better, see beyond, see everything(not haphazardly does Iimura refer largely to Vertov's theroy of the Kino-eye in his theoretical writing A Semiology of Video). According to "futuristic" patterns, the viewer is placed at the centre of action, he is invited to see and see himself through the light beam of the projector or the electronic eye of the camera. When two viewers are involved in the action, they mutually look at each other and exchange their respective vision of their self and their partner. Film and video in their environmental quality can extend the idea of reflection of and on imagery that had already been mentioned regarding film.

In Dubbing Session, the photographed image of a face is projected on the wall beside the shadow produced by the body of a viewer, who is exposed to a light beam projected by a second projector. Video installations like Video Talking: Back to Back or As I See You You See Me make the viewers communicate not directly but through monitors placed in front of them that can transmit either the image of the onlooker or that of his/her interlocutor.

Through his continual and symmetrical confrontation of reflected images (either projected or broadcast), this linguistic exchange, these looks crossing through TV cameras and monitors, what is performed is a deep reflection on the ontology of cinematic and electronic imagery first, secondly a re-consideration of the space of vision, and last a true doubling of the onlooker - observer and observed at the same time. The videotaped trilogy made of Observer/Observed(1975), Camera, Monitor, Frame(1976) and Observer/Observed/Observer(1976) construct a discourse leading to a true semiotics of video.

In the past few years Iimura's aesthetics has not changed substantially. His films, like his tapes and video installations, are still focused on the couples body/landscape, representation/abstraction, and on a logic of space/time. The best examples are two recent works; the film MA:Space/Time in the Garden of Ryoan-ji (1989) and AIUEONN Six Features (1993), an installation that can also be seen as a videotape. The former continues the investigation on the idea of MA, the conceptual unity of space and time pursued in the Japanese arts, that is also to be found in Iimura's previous works. It was shot in the Zen garden of the temple of Ryoan-ji Kyoto but is not a mere documentary, as was justly pointed out by McDonald. AIUEONN Six Features is completely different, and can perhaps be associated with the surreal and amused imagery of A Dance Party [in the Kingdom of Lilliput]. The five [and NN] vowels of both the English and the Japanese alphabets are traced on variously colored backgrounds. The face of a man follows, pronouncing the previous phonemes with alternating expressions of rage, anguish or amazement, and then is distorted through the morphing [actualy done by System G]. As in A Dance Party, here we find the relationship connecting written sign (alphabet letters and vowels), following event (daily activity, electronic grimace) and sound. This sequence is repeated for several times upsetting the connection between the sign and its pronunciation. The video-installation differs from the tape in that the sequence of graphemes and phonemes is broken down and played back on five [six] monitors with a certain delay, so that each screen is always showing a different vowel. These qualities of proportionality and alternation make the installation similar to the "mathematical" films. There is playful irony, recalling A Dance Party, that attenuates and lightens the conceptual weight of Iimura's art, always poised between abstract and concrete, Zen spirituality and technology, utmost spareness and complex mechanicalness of seeing.

(Takahiko Iimura, "From <Time> to <See you>", Instituto Giapponese di Cultura, and Diagonale, both Rome, 1997, pp.7~12, excerpted. Translated by Carla Scura.[ ] added and corrected by the editor.)