Observer/Observed and Other Works of Video Semiology (CD-ROM)
Author: Takahiko Iimura
Publisher: Tokyo: Banff Center for the Arts, 1999
Review Published: May 2002
At first I should say again, as it is written at the beginning of the text, "A Semiology of Video" in the CD-ROM, "The aim of this work is to create 'A Semiology of Video' as a video rather than written text." That means "A Semiology of Video" as a work of art. I am not interested in the theory as a written text but more interested in making it as a form of video which includes the text written and uttered. To say this another way, as written by Daniel Charles who reviewed Observer/Observed: "In fact, Takahiko Iimura isn't really a theoretician, if we mean by that his theory could be shown for itself, separate from the object. On the contrary, object and theory are mutually activated, or even interpenetrated without obstruction. One could say in this sense that Kegon Buddhism's logic, long ago apprenticed to John Cage by Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, grows in depth -- a depth not reached by Nam-June Paik's TV-Buddha -- in Iimura's art" .
When Linda Leung says, "Iimura utilizes the ideas surrounding language and the process of signification, then applies them to video," this one way logic of theory to video is not right. I am not "applying" "the ideas" to "video," but starting from video with an idea and organizing it in a certain way in which a theory may be generated, then going back to video with the theory to juxtapose them. Thus one could realize "object and theory are mutually activated, or even interpenetrated without obstruction."
About the dating of the work: The video trilogy -- Camera, Monitor, Frame; Observer/Observed; and Observer/Observed/Observer -- was first realized in 1975-76, and remade in video without changing the concept or the script but in much shorter length. It was then put together in 1998 as a CD-ROM with all the components: text, video, script, graphics and animation linked to each other so you can refer back and forth horizontally. It has become an interactive multimedia piece. So that the technology of the video is analogue based on the 1970s, yet the organization of the multimedia is digital.
When Leung says, "the issue of representation also dates the work considerably. After all, Iimura is talking about representation through analogue means," she is half right on the video which "dates" to the 1970s, but the multimedia goes much further. As another reviewer, Mike Leggett, says, "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 [films made in 1960s] with the accessibility and tractability of this interactive medium" .
On the individual piece, she has a good point. Leung describes the 'This is A Camera' piece (piece within a piece) as follows: "When we see a shot of a camera, we know that this is an image which refers to the physical object that is a camera, as well as the product of looking through the lens of a camera. We are confronted with being both in front and behind the camera at the same time. So these apparently straightforward statements become increasingly inadequate for what should be the easiest of meanings." This is exactly what I am trying to indicate as the gap between the signifier and the signified; the signifier, 'This is A Camera,' means an object in front of the camera and at the same time the camera which we are looking through. The same is true for 'This is A Monitor' in which you see a monitor, an object, multiple monitors in feedback, and no image in a monitor which actually you are looking at (not a monitor as an image but a real monitor). The multiple signified indicates the "inadequacy" of the signifier. (In the case of Japanese, we use no article in front of a noun, which indicates ambiguity, but also inclusiveness as far as the number is concerned).
On Observer/Observed, she complains it is "deceptive in its suggestion of an active participant and passive recipient." The slash between Observer and Observed indicates the reciprocal relationship of Observer and Observed, not a fixed relationship as a hyphen may indicate. The piece actually proves their reciprocal relationship which is an important, even the central point of the piece, not only in the video, but also in the text, graphics, and animation. You can't miss the animation which shows the observer with a camera is being monitored which turns into the observed immediately.
I agree with Linda Leung when she notes "digital media has added further complexity" but the foundation of video had already been established at the time of analogue. Based on the analogue video I have discussed, "A Semiology of Video," a unique language/media system, different from film, which no one had ever tried by that time in mid 1970s as far as I know, is demonstrated. My main concern is the structure of "seeing" in closed circuit video as exemplified in a sentence "I see you." This is a basic model from which further complicated structures are investigated.
When I made the CD-ROM in late 90s, which opened me to a new digital arena, I could combine all the components and develop them further as stated above already. What I had discussed in the text was the analogue one, but what actually the viewer practices is the multimedia/digital one. So I do not easily understand what she has explored with the CD-ROM, if not having any technical problem, as she notes, "Iimura has not tackled any of the new possibilities offered by the digital arena." She could have examined all the interactivity if that is one of "the new possibilities." "The issues of time and temporality" which "are absent" by her account are not my main concern as the structural issue, yet, the non-liner structure of the CD-ROM inevitably examines multiple temporality as the matrix (table of contents) indicates all the choices at once. Not only that, even in video (movie), for instance, you can control the speed and the frames with the time bar.
If you have tried any of above you can hardly say that "there is no effort on Iimura's part to experiment more with the language of multimedia" as Linda Leung put it.
As I said earlier, it is an art work for "A Semiology of Video," but also, you might say, a study for "the language of multimedia" through it.
1. Daniel Charles, "Narcissism and Postmodernity (Notes on Takahiko Iimura)", in Seeing, Film et Video, translated by Eleanor Mitch, Takahiko Iimura (Galerie Jeu de Paum: Paris, 1999): 8-18.
2. Mike Leggett, "Takahiko Iimura, Observer/Observed, and Other Works of Video Semiology," Leonardo Digital Reviews, 2001, MIT Press.
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