> Takahiko Iimura - Seeing/Hearing/Speaking, Fred Andersson

Leonardo Digital Reviews, MIT Press, 10, 2003

> Interactive AIUEONN - Six Features & a Game of Words Which Starts With the Letter A, Fred Andersson

Leonardo Digital Reviews, MIT Press, 02, 2001

> Takahiko Iimura - Retrospective de films et de video SEEING catalogue (in French and Japanese), Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume 1999, Fred Andersson

Leonardo Digital Reviews, 02, 2001


Seeing / Hearing / Speaking by Takahiko Iimura

Fred Andersson

Published by Takahiko Iimura Media Art Institute in cooperation with The Institute for Electronic Arts at Alfred University, Euphonic Inc., and the Tokyo Institute of Polytechnics, Tokyo & New York, 2002.


This DVD is basically a presentation of the idea, structure and different realizations of Takahiko Iimura's video- and performance piece Talking to myself. The title Seeing / Hearing / Speaking refer to the two general sections of the DVD. In the one section, called Hearing / Speaking, a 2001 revision of the original piece is presented and performed. The other section, Seeing, is a shorter piece in which the act of talking to oneself is replaced by the one of seeing oneself. The visual system used in Seeing, including two video cameras and two monitors, is taken from Iimura's earlier Observer/Observed pieces. The DVD also contains the video recording of the original talking piece from 1978, and a documentation of how a section of the piece was conceived as a video installation in 1985. This material sheds some light on Iimuras method of reworking ideas over long spans of time. One more video of earlier date is included, namely Talking in New York. This is a dreamlike documentary in which Iimura repeatedly, in both English and Japanese, utters the circular phrase "I hear myself at the same time that I speak to myself at the same time that…". This performance was done at various locations in New York. There are also some short texts on the DVD. Simplicity and clarity characterizes this excellent presentation, and it surely reveals some of the most essential ideas of Iimura's work.

If I was to write a monograph on Iimura, I could well use as a heading a quote from his film-script Talking Picture from 1981: "I have nothing to show". Still, this nothingness is, to borrow a metaphor from another of Iimura's texts, comparable to the stillness of a wave, or to a film strip showing immobile objects. Even if nothing seem to move in that kind of film, there is of course a constant movement - 24 frames per second! Iimura's dryly rigorous investigations of the space/time of film and video viewing give the patient spectator and listener a rewarding experience of losing ground. What's at stake here is the ontological status of seeing, hearing and speaking. The talking piece is an instructive example of this. When it was first realized in the late Seventies, Iimura had read David B. Allison's English translation of Derrida's La Voix et le phenomene (misleadingly titled Speech and Phenomena). Despite the limitations of any translation of French into English, Iimura must immediately have recognized a close affinity between his own work and one major theme of Derrida's critique. That very theme is contained in the following sentence taken from Allison's translation: "When I speak, it belongs to the phenomenological essence of this operation that I hear myself at the same time that I speak".

By simply isolating the phrase "I hear myself at the same time that I speak" and adding the words "to myself", Iimura had the basic material for his talking piece. In order to create what he terms a "phenomenological operation", he turned the phrase into the loop mentioned above. An inversion of the original statement then appeared: "I speak to myself at the same time that I hear". By exhausting the logical alternatives of interchanging singular pronouns within the original phrase and its inversion, he ended up with a number of variations such as: "I hear myself at the same time that you speak…", "He speaks to himself at the same time that I hear…" etc. This minimal poetry opens up a vista of unresolved questions already present in Derrida's text.

What if the hearing and speaking is all in my head? What if I hear my thinking and think my hearing (to turn it all around in Iimura's own manner). Can I hear myself, or any person, if I don't hear myself think what I hear? Is the other really another? Is the same time really the same? When the variations were systematized as a video script for the original talking piece, a visual dimension was added. The footage shows Iimura reading the text lines, but there are frequent and systematic contradictions between sound and image - lip movements and voice being out of sync, superposition of identical recordings that are out of sync, lip movements without voice, and voice without lip movements. There are also more subtle contradictions. In tape nr 5, in which only Iimura's mouth and ear are shown, the statements beginning with "I hear myself…" and "I speak to myself…" are first accompanied by the images of ear and mouth respectively. Later on, however, the relations are reversed. What all these contradictions suggest is the purely subjective character of hearing in relation to speech and sight (you can see that someone speaks, but you can't see if he/she really listens).

Without getting too much into detail here, the following observations could be made (and I think they're essential): the image of the ear has nothing to do with the validity of the statement "I hear". All we see is an ear. We can’t see the hearing. The ear is nothing but an outer, conventional symbol of the inner activity that we call hearing. In this context, which also involves Iimura's bilingual sensitivity, it's interesting that "I hear" rhymes with "I ear" or "my ear". How do we know, then, that what we see is really Iimura's own ear? When dismembered, the parts of a body or an image lose the identity given by the whole. And when the ear image is replaced by a mouth image, the combination of the statement "I hear myself…" and a mouth could be seen as an ideogram of the idea of hearing as inner speech.

At this point it's difficult, at least for a Scandinavian, not to think of Bergman's film Persona. The leading characters in Persona are a nurse and her patient - an actress called Elisabet, who has suddenly ceased to speak. In one of the episodes in the film, the nurse isn't sure if she has just heard Elisabet's voice or if it's been an inner experience only. At the end, when the nurse cracks up and begins to confuse herself with her patient, a speaking mouth is zoomed in as she screams: "Jag ar inte Elisabet Vogel!" (I am not Elisabet Vogel). The strangeness of seeing a mouth speak without seeing the rest of the face has to do with the loss of identity in fragmentation. Self identity or self perception is constantly at stake in works in which Iimura insistently repeats phrases like "I am Takahiko Iimura", "This is not Takahiko Iimura", etc. In the end, memory and consciousness might well be thought of as the circle/spiral of "…I hear myself at the same time that I speak to myself at the same time that I hear myself at the same time that…", or the infinite tunnel produced when the camera films the connected video screen in the work Seeing on the DVD.

This would remind us of the old paradox that we tend to think of the mind as a small figure sitting inside of our heads - a figure who would then of course have to carry an even smaller figure within its own head, and so on for infinity. There is no final, essential person or identity, and the idea that there is one is absurd. Instead, it must be the dialogue between me and myself, and between ego and alter, that breaks the infinite regression. It seems that what Takahiko Iimura basically does is to show that there is a spatial logic that makes it possible to define this dialogue/separation in terms of both vision and language(s). This has nothing to do with the peculiar qualities of visual and aural sensations as such, even if it might be easy to experience poetic and aesthetic dimensions in even the most matter-of-fact works of Iimura.

LEONARDO DIGITAL REVIEWS, MIT Press, 2003.10,MIT Pres

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Interactive AIUEONN - Six Features & a Game of Words Which Starts With the Letter A

Fred Andersson

by Takahiko Iimura
.Languages: : English and Japanese
Interface: Mac and PC, 640 X 480 screen.
ISBN: 4-901181-02-5.

As a conceptualist and a minimalist, the Japanese filmmaker and video-artist Takahiko (Taka) Iimura might seem to represent some kind of anti-film. From this point of view, it's maybe not surprising that he has busied himself during the last years with making CD-ROMs and a very nice website (http://www2.gol.com/users/iimura/Front.html) - primarily with the purpose of presenting and re-working earlier works. Not surprising, because as a conceptualist Iimura cares for flexible mediums in which he can present his ideas, and less for filmic or videographic experiences in an essentialist or aesthetic sense. At the very same time, his ideas are always inseparable from the medium itself.

The CD-ROM "Interactive AIUEONN" is about the idea of letting six facial (or oral) expressions represent six sounds (namely A, I, U, E, O, N), and to construct a game which plays on the differences between the visual and the aural/oral, between English and Japanese. He did this for the first time in 1982, in a video installation at the Victor Video Center in Tokyo. In 1993 he presented a new version of the same video in the Kirin Plaza, Osaka. The present CD-ROM is a re-working of this later version, with it's grotesque distortions of the artist's face when he pronounces the sounds. The first five sounds, A, I, U, E and O, are of course the japanese vowels. The last one, N, is the only Japanese consonant with which a word can end.

The CD-ROM consists of three parts. The first one is the Demo. Here is shown, very slowly, six digital video-clips with the artist's distorted face(s) pronouncing the sounds. Each sound/clip has its own background color: A is red, I is yellow, U is green, E is blue, O is white, N is black. In this way, every sound becomes associated with a grotesque face ("feature") and a color. When shown in Western or Japanese phonetic script (katakana or hiragana), they are colored in the same way. In the second, "interactive" part of the CD, one is however supposed to alter the relations between pictures/colors and sounds. If I choose the picture/color A, then I can't choose the sound A to accompany this picture. I have to choose another sound. Depending upon my choice, the relations between all the other sounds and pictures are then automatically re-grouped and re-played in a new order. This is a very simple but also striking statement about the arbitrariness of semiotic relations.

Any exact phonetic correspondence between a sound and a written symbol is of course purely illusory and conventional. Likewise, anyone claiming the possibility of exact translation from one language to another is unlikely to have any experience of foreign languages. If I would write this in Swedish, I would never be able to express exactly the same content or sense. Taka Iimura's experience of living in the gap between two very different languages and semiotic systems, English and Japanese, is expressed in the third part of the CD which is a game of words for two players. When you play it, you use the six faces/colors to construct Japanese words. The words have to start with the vowel A. Once a word is formed, the scoring is made according to word length, and the word is shown in Hiragana or Katakana (phonetic script), in Kanji (ideograms) and in English. This CD is both simple and tricky - and also a funny lesson in Japanese. My four-year old son loves it, especially the crazy features. I guess that's the best credit an artist can get.

Interactive AIUEONN - Six Features & a Game of Words Which Starts With the Letter A

Leonardo Digital Reviews, 02, 2001,MIT Press

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Takahiko Iimura - Retrospective de films et de video SEEING catalogue (in French and Japanese), Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume 1999.

Fred Andersson


Is there such a thing as a conceptualist filmmaker? Isn't conceptualism in a sense contradictory to filmmaking? The feeling of immersion and narrative in the filmic experience - is this necessarily the popular opposite of an intellectual, conceptual standpoint? Takahiko (Taka) Iimura is a filmmaker and video-artist who since the beginning of the sixties has moved towards the experimental peripheries of the mediums of moving images - peripheries in which the popular sphere of filmmaking gradually transforms into the conceptual and minimal.

The present catalogue, "film et video", was made in conjunction with his retrospective at the Galerie national de Jeu de Paume in Paris, 11-30 of Mai 1999. With only black and white illustrations, which is perfectly fitting for a production so dominated by black and white, this catalogue (with parallel texts in French and Japanese) covers and explains Iimuras development from early 16 mm films like "Ai" (Love, 1962, music by Yoko Ono) to the final presentation of his Video Semiology in an impressive CD-ROM produced at the Banff Center in 1998-99 (Observer/Observed and Other Works of Video Semiology). However, the major part of the catalogue consists of Iimura's own text on Video Semiology, taken (with illustrations) from the CD-ROM.

It's good that this text is made available in languages other than English. It describes three series of minimal video sequences (2 minutes, 1,15 minutes, etc). The series are:Camera, Monitor, Frame (five sequences, 1976-98), Observer/Observed (three sequences, 1975-98) and Observer/Observed/Observer (three sequences, 1976-98). According to Iimura, these videos are Semiology - Art as Theory rather than Theory of Art. In a very matter-of-fact way, they explore the spatial structure of the video medium - relations between camera, monitor, observer and observed.
There is nothing to be seen here, except of cameras, monitors, written or spoken statements like "this is monitor" - and of course also the Observers (who sometimes become the Observed of their own observation.).

Referring to formalist film theories such as those of Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov, Iimura looks for a relation between "the logical structure of the video system" and the grammar of spoken language. But his aim is also to stage a rupture (une saut) between Word and Image, for example when a camera first films a text saying "this is a monitor" and then turns to a monitor connected to the camera itself, which creates a short circuit (monitor within monitor within monitor.). Contrary to the written statement, there is really no monitor but just images of monitors within images of monitors. I.e.: a camera (a mechanical eye) which films it's own filming. Therefore, Iimura concludes that the phrase "this is a camera" signifies a Signified which is unique for the video medium. I.e.: this short circuit effect is only possible with a video camera. It demonstrates that the Video Frame (photogramme) is nothing but interruptions of an electrical signal - thus being a more unstable, temporal unit than theisolated Film Frame.

Iimura also concludes that "I am a camera", following Dziga Vertov's statement "I am the mechanical eye". In this way, Iimuras video semiology puts forward the question of the relationship between Self Identity and Visual Technology in the modern world. It's good that the present catalogue, with its additional texts by Daniel and Christophe Charles, makes clear the importance of this question in Iimuras work. I think it's a good introduction which calls for more elaborate studies.


Leonardo Digital Reviews, 02, 2001,MIT Pres

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