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>Takahiko Iimura - Seeing/Hearing/Speaking, Michael R. (Mike) Mosher

Leonardo Digital Reviews, MIT Press, 08, 2003

>Takahiko Iimura OBSERVER/OBSERVED and other works of Video Semiology
Mike Leggett

Leonardo Digital Reviews, MIT Press, 04, 2001


Seeing/Hearing/Speaking

Michael R. (Mike) Mosher

DVD"Seeing/Hearing/Speaking", Takahiko iimura Media Art Instituter
ISBN 4-901181-06-8


This DVD collects a quarter-century of videos and texts by the Japanese artist Takihiro iimura that are all based upon a single line. The French philosopher Jacques Derrida wrote "I hear myself at the same time that I speak" in the Speech and Phenomena and Other Essays on Husserl's Theory of Signs, and iimura was inspired to create the several works herein.

When the DVD is launched the viewer sees an attract mode consisting of a rapid cycle of still images, atop a sound bed of speech multi-tracked into gibberish. Visually punctuated by text reading 'I am not seen' or "I see you", the photographic images beneath the words are duotones in blue, occasionally green or reddish brown. We see the artist's bespectacled eyes glasses, his ear, his full face. With a click we arrive at the discfs interface, which juxtaposes black and white video stills with color elemnts for the effectiveness expected of an elegant interactive instructional product.

The first choice on the menu is the work "Seeing". iimura declaims "I See You", then expounds several related philosophical propositions. We are given the process of the construction of the piece and the positions of camera1 and camera 2 as if we are about to re assemble the videos in a gallery installation. The work "Hearing/Speaking" begins with iimura stating "You speak to yourself the same time you have been speaking". Here we also have directions as if for installation in a gallery or museum, and one monitor includes propositions posed in the second person.

Beyond these exploded diagrams, the disk includes three video works and two texts. "Talking to Myself" is a seven minute video shot in 1978, where iimura finds variations inherent in Derrida's quote like a jazz musician riffing on an evocative musical phrase. The algorithms iimua imposes on the line are almost computer-generated, the second person fed in and new expressions issued. We see the back of the artist's head during some statements, or the camera panning and swinging back and forth over nearly-unreadable text.

"Talking in New York", made between 1981 and 2001, has eight minutes of footage shot on portapak and resembles a Japanese tourist's travel video of New York travel video (perhaps having its origin in that very genre). We see shots from a departing ferry, people in parks, Chinatown, all the while iimura reciting his variations upon Derrida in different locales and environments, silhouetted in low lighting, or under experimental recording conditions such as placing the microphone fifty feet away.

"Talking to Myself at P.S. 1" was made in 1985, four minutes documenting iimura's video installation of the "Talking to Myself" tapes at the New York alternative space, in greenish footage shot there by a colleague. In places the source video is fast-forwarded to add an urgency to the gallery-goers who evidently included musican-producer Brian Eno and the late filmmaker-folklorist Harry Smith.

In the first of the two text on the Seeing/Hearing/Speaking DVD, "On Talking to Myself", iimura discusses the "video-reality" of offscreen sound recorded and the "silent voice" of the movement of lips "so that the viewer perceives the sentence repeating itself". What he calls "synch out of synch" is the effect of a time lag between the visual depiction of an onscreen speaker and the words that come from that personfs mouth. "What I am trying to achieve in the piece is a communication (sender-receiver within the self) separated by function but integrated by its perception" writes iimura.

In a chatty May 1979 letter to iimura from David B. Allison, Derrida's translator calls iimura's project an "almost preposterous ambition...its beauty seems to be in a kind of vertigo, an infinitization of replications, mirrorings, suspected detours, half-forgotten and neglected stops, arrests, reconfirmations and confusions". Allison goes on to liken its "Godbergian variation" to Bach choral music, to Alain Resnais' movie "Last Year at Marienbad" and Terry Riley's serial musical composition "In C". One hopes that the enthusiastic Mr. Allison now has a copy of Takahiro iimura's DVD. He will find that philosophy plus minimal technique and imagery have produced a cohesive, compact and well-assembled document of an artist's long fascination with what to him has been Derrida's most "epiphanic" text.

Leonardo Digital Reviews, 08, 2003,MIT Press

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Takahiko Iimura OBSERVER/OBSERVED and other works of Video Semiology

Mike Leggett


Video and CD-ROM (Mac & PC) conceived, directed and edited by Takahiko Iimura. Co-produced with the Banff Center for the Arts.
Takahiko Iimura - Retrospective de films et de video
SEEING catalogue (in French and Japanese) Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume 1999. Essays by Daniel Charles, Takahiko Iimura, Nicolas Villodre, Christophe Charles.

These selected works on CD-ROM cover the period of Iimura's work from 1975-1998. Together with the catalogue Seeing, from the retrospective exhibition at the Jeu du Paume in 1999, both works significantly cover the central core of Iimura's oeuvre. His work with filmmaking was first recognized at the 1963 Brussels International Experimental Film Festival and, by the end of the 1960s, he had begun to produce work with video and moved easily between the two mediums until the 1980s and 1990s, when he completed only one film but thirty-two videos.

The ontological project he has consistently pursued was much admiredby the British group of "structural/material" film-makers in the 1970s and was described by Malcolm Legrice in his 1977 book, Abstract Film and Beyond, as being a "detailed examination of our perceptual and conceptual mechanisms." Iimura has maintained this tendency with contemporary projects, particularly the Observer/Observed CD-ROM.

What makes the newer medium of CD-ROM useful to Iimura's broader project? Clearly, analysis that sets out to define "seeing" in relation to sound, language and linguistics must provide the audience with the ability to participate in a process involving concentration and provide opportunity for reflection and even meditation. This work allows users to pace themselves through a medium that is part gallery, part lecture room, part catalog and part auto-analysis. Ingenious linking, judiciously designed, enables the user to move easily within a matrix of cross-referencing

The three original video pieces---Camera, Monitor, Frame, Observer/Observed and Observer/Observed/Observer---are presented in digital format, providing a complete facsimile version of the original video (in itself a collector's item). In addition, this version goes further with the option to then enter the documentation of each piece and navigate between animated diagrams ("Picture Plan"), a storyboard ("Program") or a narrative description. These are linked to one of the two essays written by Iimura: "The Visuality of the Structure of the Japanese Language" and "A Semiology of Video," which can be read in extract form or complete as discrete pieces. Access to such varied but related knowledge makes good use of interactive multimedia.

When the essential elements of cognition are applied to the ubiquitous video/television image, the complex play ("see") between the subject ("I") and the object ("you") are interrogated such that each element (image/sound) is perceived (seen/heard) in relation to the video (closed) system by symbolically creating a diegesis of the moment(s) of recording. Spoken description ("I -- see -- you") extends beyond these Vertovian principles, a la revenant, and introduces the semantic distinctions between English and Japanese and the separation created by the predicate verb being placed (in English) between the subject and the object. The emphasis placed on the subject/ego in the technology of language is mirrored, but problematized, in the closed system of the video installation and that of the camera/operator.

The Observer/Observed CD-ROM was made at the same time as another, Interactive: AIUEONN Six Features (which is also based on a video piece, from 1993), and provides the extension to the reflexive process that the time-based work proposes, enabling a practically active engagement with the work rather than an intellectual non-passivity. The work of other artists (Valie Export, Simon Biggs, Nigel Helyer, etc.), has also made use of this technology, but these have mostly been archiving projects, pulling images and text into a conveniently searchable and viewable form. Iimura's recent projects go far further in combining the rigor of earlier work with the accessibility and tractability of this interactive medium
The catalogue of the Jeu du Paume retrospective is a significant addition to the French/Japanese bibliography on the artist and a useful adjunct to the CD-ROM for English readers, providing hard copy of the diagrams and storyboards employed and a highly detailed listing of biographical sources.


Observer/Observed and other works of Video Semiology
Leonardo Digital Reviews, 04, 2001,MIT Press

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