NEWS FROM AFAR – SKETCHES ON IIMURA TAKAHIKO

This entry was posted on February 9th, 2018

Iimura Takahiko

by Claudia Siefen

Iimura Takahiko started his filmmaking in the 1970s, concentrating on questions of time and speech of pictures and sounds. Mainly focusing on the rhythms of language and its theories, his means of expression investigated and developed the semiotics of video art, and connected to that, the performing arts. As a non-native speaker, he is still interested in the use of the English language, observing the evaluation or even interaction of his own artwork. What happens to the way of your artistic expression, when your rhythm of language changes, how does this impact your personal way of expression?

“I hear myself at the same time that I speak to myself.”

Iimura met the American writer, film critic and artist Donald Richie (1924-2013) in Tokyo,  1964 (iimura moved to New York City in 1966), where they founded the “Film Independents”, and started making films in 1962 with regular 8mm film material. Richie himself was writing on cinema for daily papers and had made some 8mm and 16mm experimental films. They both explored the American underground and experimental film scene via magazines. Richie had been a programmer for the Museum of Modern Art in New York and had already been in Japan for a long time. Iimura’s film is titled Kuzu (Junk), shot at Tokyo Bay, where all the industrial and home garbage stay stranded along the beach. By including some kids playing along the beach them in his work, Iimura wanted to give this wasteland a new life, or a kind of future. “Just go outside, take your camera with you and see what will happen. And if nothing happens at all, maybe you are the one at that second and at that movement who needs to make something happen!”

At that time Iimura thought films had to be produced only by a professional film company, and that no individuals could ever think of making films. You were considered an “amateur” then, but not only in Japan. If you wanted to make films yourself, based on an ambiguous creative drive, it was hard, if not impossible, to be taken seriously. But Iimura started shooting in 8mm. That was that. As he could not afford an 8mm-projector at that time, he carefully used his chopsticks to pick up the film strips, holding them against a light bulb, and with time and experience he used his instincts  in counting frames for a concentrated film editing.

Talking in New York

“I hear myself at the same time that I speak to myself.”

Iimura still wrote poems and also moved into painting, but he kept looking for something else, something in-between, and found it within the expression with film: now both of them, poetry and painting, came together. This will take more theorizing, of course, and more oriented work toward the visual than toward a specific narrative story. At the “High Red Centre”, (a group name taken from the first characters of the names of three artists: Takamatsu, Akasegawa, and Nakanishi), Iimura came in touch with Fluxus, making films with their participation. It was at the same time, when Yoko Ono did an eye to eye contact performance piece where she sat at the front edge of a stage, watching the audience one by one, making eye contact individually, but only to lead people sneaking out of the theater. Iimura stayed, just right to the end of her performance. That was the start of an artistic friendship; she later composed the music for his film Ai, the wind making noises, recording it right out of her flat window in Tokyo.

As mentioned before Iimura moved to New York City in 1966, he shot endless little scenes, later called New York Scenes (1967), shooting his friend Linda with a lens, where he caught her playing along with a lens in front of her face, the light flickering, catching her eyes, her blonde hair and her smile, using cross-fades and a particular rhythm. Akiko on the Roof is close to that feeling, here he works with a slow pan shot, capturing the roofs of the neighborhood and his wife Akiko, walking against the circle of his camera.

Iimura visited filmmaker Jack Smith (1932-1989) at his loft in Grand Street, SoHo, which was not that famous at this time. It was the occasion of a private screening of Smith’s Flaming Creatures. His own print was full of scratches and splices and torn perforations, so the screening was interrupted a few times. Iimura filmed Smith right in front of the screen, Smith posing around, framing his face with his hands, stroking along his hair and shirt collar, smiling sometimes, softly shaking his head: “Leave something for me, Taka!” Iimura called this film Framing Creatures. As another contemporary document, Iimura’s A Hippy in the Central Park is also a famous short work: a blonde female beauty is playing the flute, smiling between breaths right into her camera, kids jumping around, the sun shining and glaring, with a little melody that only exists in our heads, because there’s no sound in the film material.

“I hear myself at the same time that I speak to myself.”

24 frames per second

One of Iimura’s most famous works is called 24 Frames per Second and consists, like Peter Kubelka’s Arnulf Rainer, of black and white frames only. Iimura’s idea was based on a positive and negative concept of language, as well as the concept of visual language, yet it is also found with the Chinese “Yin and Yang” graphic concept, where you have a white dot inside black space and a black dot inside white space. This double structure is similar to his film: a white frame among black footage and a black frame among white footage. So the structure switches from positive to negative, and negative to positive. It differs from western dialectics, where you have positive and negative, and then you have a synthesis. In 24 Frames per Second this positive becomes negative and the negative becomes positive, still, they are not opposed, but suggest two probabilities that can be switchable. One might think of the Japanese tradition of using black and white, especially in Zen paintings.

What lightness in Talking in New York where Iimura manifests his never ending work on French philosopher Jacques Derrida: in Japanese and English Iimura repeats “I hear myself at the same time that I speak to myself”, shooting a woman sunbathing in front of the Café Orlin on St. Mark’s Place (the cafe closed in autumn 2017). The sound bursts with heavy construction noise, foghorns and a young singer dancing along the street. His wife Akiko shoots him talking into the camera, “I hear myself…”, but we don’t hear a word, his lips moving, Iimura reciting his variations upon Derrida in different environments, silhouetted in low lighting, and recorded placing the microphone a few feet away. The foghorns are still around and the young woman is still draping her bikini top. Iimura tries a deconstruction of your own identity, a feeling, not an abstraction: a theoretical way of understanding and of living.

“I hear myself at the same time that I speak to myself.”

Re-watching Hot Springs again, this time it reminded me of Chantal Akerman’s News From Home, the streets in New York, cars passing by, burning cardboards, the steam coming from the numerous manhole covers. At that time Iimura had already started his “Video Semiotics”, although on film. He was already shooting on video, because: “You can see what you see on screen and what you see in the camera… at the same time.”

  • The Collected Writings of Takahiko Iimura, Wildside Press, 2007
  • Retrospective Exhibition of the Early Video Art, Nagoya City Gallery, 2006
  • Abstract Film and Beyond, Malcolm Le Grice / Studio Vista and MIT, 1977