I am not Taka Iimura

Carl Eugene Loeffle

A: I am Taka Iimura.
B: You are Taka Iimura.
A: You are Taka Iimura.
B: I am Taka Iimura.
A: You are Not Taka Iimura.
B: You are Not Taka Iimura.
A: I am Not Taka Iimura.
B: I am Not Taka Iimura.
(Double Identities, Taka Iimura, video art, 1979)

"In addition to the "artistic" content, there is a "non-artistic" reality which has also been very important to me in producing my work. This is my residence in New York which started in the mid-sixties...Works of art are not isolated phenomena. They are formed in a certain place. My work was made in New York for an international audience."
(Thirty-years of Film and Video, Taka Iimura)

Although Taka was an continues to be an active part of the New York avant-garde scene, he always remained an enigmatic, mysterious presence, pursuing his own unique route through the very center of the avant-garde cinema...he explored this direction of cinema in greater depth than anyone else.
(Takahiko Iimura: Film and Video, Jonas Makas)

Some people just read about Taka Iimura, while others know him. For me, my introduction took place in San Francisco on a typical foggy Saturday afternoon, sometime in the late seventies. One of the benefit of a long art career, is in the approximation of dates.

There I was, reading several different publications on video art. And I found the work of Taka Iimura, who in his work was quite pre-occupied by introducing himself, if not affirming his own existence in the art corridors of New York City. His work at that time resounded with self recognition- "I am Taka Iimura," over and over and over and over.

Suddenly the door to my office rang, and I went to answer. Although wondering who is it that would disturb me this day. Upon opening the door, I saw a Japanese man who said "I am Taka Iimura." Sometimes life can imitate art. From that time on, I've enjoyed a relationship with Iimura-san.

Iimura Takahiko is not an ordinary artist. He is undoubtedly one of the first, along with Yoko Ono and Ryuichi Sakamoto to gain substantial international reputation. Strange that a country like Japan, so culturally adept in visual aesthetics and crafts, could lend less to no support for its avant-garde. Artists like Iimura flew out to the world to find an audience.

Today Iimura is a leading, major multi-media artist. His career spans 30 years and more, and ranges from concept based film works to addressable video laser discs. He is an artists artist. Never tiring, Iimura has kept his shoulder and heart to the advancing edge of the interface of art and media.

I had the opportunity to first visit Japan in 1985. My assignment came from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and I was asked to assemble Waveforms: New Video Japan, an overview of video art from Japan to be included in Tokyo: Form and Spirit, a major touring cultural exhibition. This brought me to Japan for nearly three months of field work.

It was during this time that I had the chance to visit with many video artists in Japan. Of course I could have gone to Scan, the only video art gallery and distributor in Japan.

There I could have easily assembled the exhibition. But I was interested to research the field for myself, establish a criteria, and make judgements.

One of my first stops was to visit with Taka Iimura, where we looked at many of his video works, ate Japanese food and drank beer. The beer was especially welcome as it was a hot and humid day in Tokyo.

Iimura presented me with a survey of his own works. we began with film documents of Yoko Ono and John Lennon at the Everson Museum, New York. This was shot on Super 8 mm film 1) and transfered to videotape. I recall becoming emotionally moved by this documentary. Later, when I produced a pilot parogram for Fuji-TV about Planet-TV: Art and Music, I included a segment of this work. I took delight in the idea of this scratchy, but wonderful film document, finding its way around national television in Japan via Satellite.

We then looked at other works. And through out Iimura was enthusiastically talking about himself, his work, and making clever references. His humor is very evident, not only in his personality, but in his works as well. New York Hot Springs, is of particular note. First, in Japan, hot springs are very essential to a culture that has elevated bathing to a high art form. To translate this to New York is a supreme Dada gesture, when the revealed hot springs are manhole covers with steamy sewer gas blowing out into chilly winter air. Iimura repeatedly exclaimed, New York hot springs, while shaking with laughter.

We screened yet more work. I especially liked John Cage Performs James Joyce, and Iimura explained his continuing interest in creative approaches to the documentary. Robina Rose and Me, is another example.

Then we screened Double Identities, and I selected this for the Waveforms exhibit, although I would also include another work as well. This work in particularly insightful, and I came to think of this as perhaps the apex of Iimura's self identity and concept type works. Shot in color, with sound in Japanese and English, he once again ever so carefully evolves through the conceptual process of self discovery and identification. I came to understand the difficulty of Iimura's position as a experimental artist born in Japan, and came to appreciate the role of these works for one who has no model, and is confronted with the prospect of imagining and creating the image of one's self and a future.

Then he introduced current work, and I learned that he has produced Ayers Rock, a laser disc with Pioneer Corporation of Japan. And in addition, he produced Moments at the Rock, an overview documentary shot on a consumer video recorder. I selected Moments at the Rock for the exhibition, and in doing so felt that Iimura's early work and his latest work was represented.

Moments at the Rock is very alluring, and employs the automatic timer of the video camera. So at regular intervals it records a segment of the journey by train 2) to the monument, and Iimura shooting with a betacam video recorder the segments included in the laser disc. The pace of the images and sounds become hypnotic, and creates a sense of "dream time," something basic to the Aboriginal monument itself.

Ayers Rock presents yet another side of Iimura. On one hand he is the experimental artist employing the materials associated with rugged experimentation-film, video, installation for examples. But here, Iimura began working in a "cross-over" sensibility, where mainstream media is assaulted by artist intention. Producing a laser disc, to be commercially available from Pioneer Corporation is about as far away from the experimental film world as one can get. Yet, Iimura as well as other artists at this time, musician Laurie Anderson and video artist John Sanborn for examples, were intent on making their mark on mainstream media. Anderson and her continuing relationship with Warner Bros is probably the most prime example to date. I found it amusing, and befitting the humor of Iimura, that he would document his Moments at the Rock as well.

Years later I organized In Regard of Nature, for the Montbeliard video Festival, France. Because of Waveforms, which tour continually for about five years, I had become the known non-resident expert of video art in Japan. Again I spent a considerable time in Japan, and caught up with the artists I included in Waveforms. We had grown older, but our love for the video medium grew deeper.

For In Regard of Nature, I included works that underscore the Japanese sensibility- nature, tradition, and technology. Iimura had just completed his award winning production Ma:Space/Time in the Garden of Ryoan-ji, and it was included in the program. Ma is a masterful work in film, also available on video formats. The music is extremely striking and is performed by Takehisa Kosugi the famed Fluxus musician,Iimura explains that the electronic music is based on sound samples collected while Kosugi would hit two rocks together. Iimura humorously refers to this as "Japanese Rock Music."

By now, I have enjoyed a near two decade relationship with the man who announced at my door a long time ago, "I am Taka Iimura."

*Carl Eugen Loeffler is the director of the media organization; "Art Com" and the organizer of Japanese video program "Waveform" and "In Regard of Nature." Also the project director of the Studio for Creative Inquiry, Carnegie Mellon University. He is the editor of the coming publication Virtual Realities: Anthology of Industry and Culture, published by Gijutsu Hyoron Co., of Japan.


Notes by Taka Iimura:
1) Not super 8mm but 16mm film.
2) Not by train but by bus.

("The Media World of Takahiko Iimura II", Kirin Plaza Osaka, 1993)