Vital Signals: Selected Works

Special Online Screening

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Organized and published in 2009 by Electronic Arts Intermix, Vital Signals: Early Japanese Video Art presented rarely shown works as a touring screening program and a DVD + catalogue publication. This project was the seed from which the concept for Collaborative Cataloging Japan emerged. CCJ is very pleased to welcome back Professor Hirofumi Sakamoto and to co-present afresh, parts of this program with its long-standing partner, EAI, and its more recent collaborator, Lightbox Film Center.

The on-demand screening will take place from August 19th through August 31st.

Vital Signals is a survey of the vibrant, interdisciplinary video art scene in Japan in the 1960s and '70s. Produced by EAI, the DVD anthology features sixteen works by fifteen Japanese artists, among them key figures such as Takahiko Iimura, Mako Idemitsu and Toshio Matsumoto. The DVD is accompanied by a 100-page, bilingual (English and Japanese) illustrated catalogue publication. Essays by Barbara London, Glenn Phillips, and Hirofumi Sakamoto draw out the unique art historical and cultural contexts of early Japanese video art, and its relation to film and other visual art forms. The Vital Signals DVD anthology and catalogue publication illuminate this fertile period of creative engagement in Japan.

In this special online screening, seven works are selected from the anthology to showcase the wide range of practice using video. CTG’s Computer Movie No. 2 (1969) is an example of early computer art utilizing a large-scale calculator and plotter. Kohei Ando’s Oh My Mother (1969) plays with the interaction between film and broadcast mediums: Ando used television broadcast equipment to create a feedback effect by looping the image of his 16mm film. In this chilling work about expectations of Japanese women, What a Woman Made (1973) by Mako Idemitsu is a feminist critique of normalized conformity. Image of Image—Seeing (1973) and Digest of Video Performance, 1978-1983 (1978-1983) are works by fine artists that captures their experiment with the moving image, broadcast medium, or performance. The phenomenon of seeing is tested in the conceptual works by Morihiro Wada’s The Recognition Construction: Hyojyutsu (Against Application or Mimesis) (1975) and Keigo Yamamoto’s Hand No. 2 (1976).

Computer Movie No. 2

Computer Movie No. 2 is a CGI animation created in advance of video-editing software. CTG programmed graphics on an IBM computer, filmed the screen with a 16mm camera, and assembled the frames as an animated film.

CTG was founded by Masao Komura, Haruki Tsuchiya, Kunio Yamanaka, and Junichiro Kakizaki in December of 1966. These four founding members were later joined by Koji Fujino, Fujio Maruha, Makoto Otake, Takeshi Hasegawa, Shigeaki Iwashita, and Michio Sasaki. With the cooperation of Japan IBM, the group utilized a large-scale calculator and plotter to create cutting-edge computer art. In 1968, the group participated in the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition at the ICA London, which featured computer art in the context of contemporary art. That year the group also won the 6th annual computer art contest held by the American magazine Computers & Automation, and was featured in the publication. In November of 1969, CTG disbanded; Komura Masao continues his work in media art. (Computer Technique Group, 1969, 8 min, b&w, sound)

Oh! My Mother

Writes Ando, "Oh! My Mother was the first work I made using a newly bought 16mm camera I had purchased with the writer Shuji Terayama in Paris. This piece was selected for the Oberhausen International Film Festival. In 1969, there were, of course, no video cameras like ones we see now, and color TVs were only found at broadcast television studios. I had just been employed at the TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System), and I often snuck into the studios after hours to experiment with the equipment. Oh! My Mother was made using the feedback effect, which is produced by infinitely expanding the image by looping the video."

Kohei Ando produced experimental films for Shuji Terayama's theater company, Tenjo Sajiki. Using a 16mm camera he purchased with Terayama, Ando produced first film, Oh! My Mother (1968). His works include My Sons (1971), On The Far Side of Twilight (1994), and Whispers of Vermeer (1998). He has won awards at the Hawaii International Film Festival and the Monterey Electronic Cinema Festival. (Kohei Ando, 1969, 14 min, color, sound)

What a Woman Made

In Idemitsu's seminal feminist video, the image of a tampon swirling in a toilet bowl slowly appears, as the artist speaks about the troubling roles, responsibilities and expectations of women in a clinical tone. Minimal in composition, What a Woman Made is a candid critique of the treatment of women in Japanese society.

Mako Idemitsu creates video narratives that examine female identity within the contemporary Japanese family. Echoing and subverting the popular melodramas of Japanese television, her work applies a feminist critique to the strict gender roles that shape mother-child and husband-wife relationships. Her works, which have been exhibited internationally, include Hideo, It's Me Mama (1983) and the Great Mother series (1983). (Mako Idemitsu, 1973, 10:50 min, b&w, sound)

Image of Image-Seeing

A collaborative performance, Image of Seeing--Seeing investigates the meaning of television watching. This work was created for television broadcast on the Nippon Broadcasting Corporation's program "Hyōgo no jikan" (Hyōgo Time).

Tatsuo Kawaguchi founded the avant-garde artist collective Group "I" in 1965, and since then has presented numerous three-dimensional works and installations in galleries in Japan and around the world. In the late 1960s he began to create film and video works. His works include Riku to Umi (1970), and COSMOS (1974-).

Saburo Muraoka has presented primarily sculptural works in exhibitions in Japan and internationally. His works were included in the Venice Biennale in 1990, and in the Invisible Nature exhibition in 1993 in Prague, Budapest, and Aachen.

Keiji Uematsu has exhibited his sculptures in Japan and internationally. His works also include photography, film, and video, among them Earth Point Project Mirror (1972) and Falling Water/Rising Water (2002). In 1988 his work was presented at the Venice Biennale. (Tatsuo Kawaguchi; Saburo Muraoka; Keiji Uematsu, 1973, 11:20 min, b&w, sound)

Digest of Video Performance, 1978-1983

Writes Imai, "As a photographer during the 1970s, my interest in capturing time led me to explore the video medium. After utilizing video in two or three works, I saw a similarity between videotape and an ancient scroll, in that they both capture a story of our time. I started using physical videotape as a metaphorical representation of time, rolling out the magnetic tape from right to left, representing a narrative from beginning to end."

Norio Imai was part of the avant-garde artist group Gutai, and exhibited three-dimensional projects and installation works in galleries nationally and internationally. At the end of the 1960s he began to create works using film and video. in the 1970s and '80s, he presented video art that incorporated photographs and performance. His works include Hachibun no rokubyoshi (1976), Digest of Video Performance 1978-1983 (1978-1983), and others. (Norio Imai, 1978-1983, 15:35 min, color, sound)

The Recognition Construction: Hyojyutsu (Against Application or Mimesis)

A member of the collective Video Hiroba, Morihiro Wada also used video in his solo projects. In The Recognition Construction, each subject entering the frame is identified by a narrator, while the video camera slowly rotates. As the rotation speeds up the identification becomes more difficult, and the objects ultimately become "indecipherable." (Morihiro Wada, 1975, 20 min, color, sound)

Hand No. 2

Using video technology as an extension of his body, Yamamoto interacts with a pre-recorded image of his hand displayed on a monitor.

Keigo Yamamoto is a mixed-media artist. In the 1960s, he created performance pieces and videos using fire and smoke, and in the '70s, he began to experiment with "network art," combining video and communication. His communication-based games were featured in the 1975 São Paulo Art Biennial and at Documenta 6 in 1977. (Keigo Yamamoto, 1976, 7:50 min, b&w, silent)