An Interview with Taka Iimura

Publication TypeJournal Article
AuthorsIimura, Taka
SourceCenterfold, Centerfold (1978)
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This is an edited transcript from an interview with Taka Iimura following a screening of his tapes at Arton's Calgary in Toronto; April 16, 1978.

Centerfold: What is the conceptual difference between your work for film and your work for video?

Taka Iimura: It might be better to talk firstly about how those works come out, perhaps we can mention what I have done in film, too, in relation to video. The pieces I showed yesterday was a series I have titled the Observer/Observed series which consisted of three titles: Camera, Monitor, Frame (1976); Observer/Observed (1975) and Observer/Observed/Observer (1976). Each one of those titles is broken down further, for example, Camera, Monitor, Frame consists of five pieces, shot separately - each segment lasting from 2 minutes as the shortest, five as the longest. Some of these tapes are developments from earlier works although not as expressly as I have used before this programm or the theme of this relationship between language and image. This one is particularly concerned in video with language relating to the video system, trying to define each other using this video system. When I say system, I mean the whole system of video-not just what you see on the screen but including the camera, monitor, the whole system which you see in the tapes. There was a text in advance of these tapes where I diagrammed the whole procedure, the operations, as much as possible defined on paper.

C.:Which is very much like shooting script for film.

T.I.: Right. But it's more precise. A Shooting script in the general sense is mainly written text but in this case there is the picture and the description of the picture, voice-over, timing, cable connections, floorplans and its operation.

C: What properties did film lack on a structural level that led you into video?

T.I.: Mechanically, film has the camera and film - it's like videocamera and tape, it has been said that you have this monitor as well, so that you can control the whole mechanism simultaneously whilst you're shooting - that is not the case in film, obviously. Also, the feedback mechanism; film materially is different from videotape, film has frames which is not the case in videotape. Also the way film is exhibited is quite different. Film has this contained closed theater space, mainly projected on a big screen, people seated in front, and the picture itself is reflected from the screen. The whole exhibition system for film is also quite different from video. These are more the technical aspects between the two.

C.:Wouldn't you say that film is a more common medium for those whose work has been called 'structural'?

T.I.: The type of structure is problematic, you can interpret it in different ways - everyone has their own interpretation, it doesn't cover everything. In case of film, when we say structural what the structure means is somehow different from the way you could describe structural video, which, because of the time property, is more of a system than a structure. In the case of film it's more on the level of what you see on the screen, as a result of what is within the projective surface. Video, on the other hand, I suppose, includes not what you see on the screen but also, in this case, the whole closed-circuit system, which in this illustration you have the camera, monitor and videorecorder as the complete components of the system, so it somehow has a different implication. With video it is quite easy to record the sound, film records sound simultaneously too, but video uses a magnetic material which is common to both picture and sound synchronization. So I found this ease of synchronicity to be one advantage.

C.: Are there more structural paradoxes or contradictions in video that in film? As your work often consists of the system as content there seems in video to be an inherent quality of illusion because of the inclusion of the monitor.

T.I.: Yes. In 'This is a Monitor' piece [Camera, Monitor, Frame] you see the monitor as a real object, whereas if it were projected it would be an illusory surface, you see it both ways. A film screen somehow always remains as an illusion, video has more of a furniture aspect as an object. To me the film theatre space is quite ritualistic, watching a movie screen in a darkened room; video is watching a TV box in the living room in everyday life. In a film theatre you instantly get into the illusionary box, you are conditioned that way.

C.: Last night in the third version of Observer/Observed/Observer where there are also graphics on the screen, symbols which as well as the voice identify the relationship between the camera and the monitor. The understanding of that becomes very abstract in some circumstances. Last night you made an analogy which seemed to make it clearer, the relationship of a TV interview, do you mind repeating that?

T.I.: The Observer/Observed is similar to the Interviewer/Interviewee(Interviewed) situation, in this case more abstractly in my tape, so in the case of interviewer/interviewed you have the distinct personality involved, in my tape there are no such personalities - however the role relationship is similar. The interviewer is always interviewing who is interviewed, like now I am supposed to say something to the interviewer at the same time you are addressing an audience who is not present, so in fact I have a dual role. In one sense I am talking to the interviewer as well as talking to the non-existent (in that space) audience.

C.: And television has to use its own cueing system as you show in your tapes, so that people an understand exactly what the relationships are as they change even though in television there is a more fixed relationship as you suggested.

T.I.: I was thinking about that too, perhaps I could do an Interviewer/Interviewed piece though I have dealt with it abstractly in the Observer/Observed piece where the 'interviewer' is not only asking but is also 'interviewed' too, observer and observed are switchable. An example is when I say, "I see you" - if the man in the monitor is saying that it means that he is addressing that to the audience, but if an off-screen voice says that he is addressing it to the man in the monitor. So this separation of the sound from the picture makes another role to be put in the tape, although he doesn't physically exist. One thing I am doing is that the voice or the sound is not necessarily identified or identifiable with the picture.

C.: Are you less interested in the clarification of identity and more interested in the paradoxical ways in which identity can be presented through the tape?

T.I.: No, I cannot distinguish those two. Somehow how you identify the picture is also somehow involved in how you separate, how you distinguish one from the other, we're just too conditioned through the medium. You're supposed to look at the picture to identify with the voice, but it can be quite manipulated. Identification is just not on one level.

C.: Have you ever been asked whether you are creating a basic language which at some further point could be used to recreate specific rather than abstract situations?

T.I.: It could be applied, those tapes are abstract but also very concrete, yes, it could be applied into social situations like in the interview situation or news commentary - those programs could be analyzed through this structure.

C.: How about your procedure for this work, is it essential to work on it as a step-by-step procedure?

T.I.: Yes, to produce those tapes it is necessary to do a lot of pre-production work, diagrams etc., so that I can get into a certain form which shows what I want as clearly as possible. Those tapes are made in series, each piece shows a different aspect. The Observe/Observed and Observer/Observed/Observer pieces deal with similar situations, the latter being much more complicated, it could be further analyzed though there is a certain limit to what can be comprehended by the viewer, people are not always following what I might expect them to follow - there is a limit to the audience following a visual logic.

C.: Do you ever think of your work in political terms?

T.I.: It is not directly political, though it can be applied to the political context. In political documentaries or politically engaged films or tapes there is always somehow narration involved. The caption or narration dictates the pictures on a political level. This is controlled by the maker. I see it as overpowering the narration in the picture, the stressed implications. Not so much recognizing this dual play between the object and who is doing the shooting. So in a sense I think it shows that political or non-political tapes or films are manipulated. It has I think political implications, it is not necessary to have narration act in such a dictatorial manner, For instance, Godard's film A Letter to Jane is the politicization of a photograph. Godard intended to show what he thinks about the picture. In a way, it is well analyzed, but still I feel that film still allows the voice to dictate the picture. There is some kind of confusion too, when I say the roles played between Observer and Observed, in a sense in my tape also there is narration--somehow commenting on the picture; and yet the comments have a double role so that the choice of interpretation is open, which is not the case in so-called political tapes or films. The out of scene commentary in those films gives another dimension that means it has given up its straightforward documentary approach.

These pieces I have done are more concerned with the relationships between the sentence, the structure of the language and the image. All languages have their own logic, in this case I am using English. This English logic is quite different from, say, Japanese logic. In English you always have to stress in the fist place who is the subject. In Japanese that is not the case, who is the subject is often omitted. Often in Japanese we just point out the object, what you see there or what you recognize. When I say in English, "I see you" in Japanese we would say "you see." So this logic is closer to what you see through the camera, you thereby identify when you look through the camera what is the subject, unless you explicitly say...

C.: This is an important connection which I think you omitted last night, that actually explains why you use the language-image in that way. I don't think it's defined that well that the camera is not always given the role of the subject.

T.I.: This logic, if I return to political issues, without saying who is the subject in film or tape, by generalizing all the things that you see on the screen without mentioning who is responsible for the commentary you can easily manipulate the image as propaganda, the narrator off-screen hides behind the film.

Taka Iimura
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