Desire to look provokes the mind in different ways. (1) Telling the difference between what is real and what is not becomes more difficult with time. Immersed in stories littered by the presence of other people, simply ‘looking’ by itself often comes with little reward. There needs to be something else, so it makes sense that the clarity in film detaches long enough for it to question how the surrounding landscape is seen and represented. As Antoine D’Agata says “fictionalizing an unreachable truth” is the peril and pitfall of the photographer and filmmaker. The challenge is to not to simply focus attention but also play a part in what is filmed, something he awkwardly refers to as a “mediatic game” as manipulative as it is playful. (2) The trick it would seem is expressing reservation and doubt in equal measure, questioning the connectedness of film as the desire to express truth and honesty is provocative regardless of what appears.
“Video Screening (eizō-jōei)” at KAYOKOYUKI in Tokyo’s Komagome, featured Hikaru Suzuki and Reiji Saito, two Japanese artists provoked by a playful manipulation where both film and camera are just as ambiguous. They ask whether what is seen can ever truly be objective and when any trace of presence is removed or emotional attachment stripped away, is all that remains a flat surface of an image and nothing else? Yet D’Agata, theres plenty left to the imagination.
The two short films by Suzuki and two from Saito are shown alongside other films from Japan, Europe, and South East Asia, all of who appear as outliers in their field, and a cross-section of artists who have turned to the moving image. From Gōzō Yoshimasu’s obsessive poetry, to Futoshi Miyagi’s intimate portraits, Hiroyuki Ohki’s tracked observation, Philip Widmann’s studied migration, and the sedative flow of Chai Siris, each pick out moments of connection, wrestling with a sense of distance and detachment, poetry and propaganda, and stories that beg to be shared. Yet they all serve to support the four films at the centre of “Video Screening”.
With trace removed and emotion detached what remained were images of the world working its way backwards, if not literally in the case of Suzuki, then figuratively through strange manipulation and an even stranger sense of déjà vu. In Garden (2016), a young women sitting indoors talked of her experience acting. Over the course of the talking, the image of woman gradually sank into that of an elderly women watering her garden. The first spoke german while the second women was somewhere in Japan. The sound of her spoken german rolled over the garden scene with the ease and transparency of glass as both they rolled seamlessly from one image into another. Any listlessness in Saito’s films was quickly displaced by an apparent deep well of emotion that seemed to quietly point at a cultural malaise of present. Faces are out-of-focus, literally stripped of any known connection personal and recorded indiscriminately with video cameras and cell phones a-like.
Saito’s #18-5 (2017) and #20 (2016) jettisoned structure by shifting focus from one moment to the next, with an indiscriminate sense of attention. His films were full of still after still abridged by moving images in different states of undress, all interrupted by the odd blank frame. The soundtrack located images in the here and now—the ambient noise of a buzzing fridge, a tv set left on, and noise drifting in through an open window—and documented the moment without giving away a sense of date or time. Curtains were drawn and a laptop left open as the camera pulled into the dark expanse of an open mouth. Subtle and understated, the recurring image of a mouth wide open swallowed the film and everything with it. This built the picture of a world impossible to escape from, flickering with possibility, and filled the screen with bizarre, mundane and terrifying scenes of normality.
On the other hand, in 01-19-1984 (2017), Suzuki’s world was seen through subtle manipulation and our reaction as both unravelled. He used narration to introduce worlds that seem familiar that are anything but. He seemed almost central to the story but borrowed the story from somewhere else. Yet with every corner turned this seem more believable until the abrupt ending where both audience and camera were left hanging on.
Suzuki comes from Fukushima. The area to the east of Japan is now synonymous with a more wide spread sense or uncertainty. Entire towns were quickly abandoned following the meltdown at the nuclear power plant in 2011 and now lay overgrown as reminders of their former selves. And while life slowly returns, these ghost towns have replaced people for wildlife and packs of wild dogs. As seen in “18 months” by Toshiya Watanabe, cleaning up the gradual creep of nature attempts to bring a normality to the abnormal situation as something much stranger takes hold. Most uncertain of all is what will happen in the future. If Suzuki’s storytelling could best described as anything, it would echo in sense and sensation the zone that area has now become: An unreachable and difficult to return to place.
Each film depends upon the familiar. Curtains, images of abstract fear, stories of becoming someone else or something different, taking on the personality of another. Philosopher Timothy Morton’s idea of the “strange stranger” (3) where presence of a thing is so strange it triggers a sense of familiarity we can’t quite place. Call it déjà vu if you will. Yet, the “strange stranger” here is built with a sense of place along with identity, and a physicality beyond any tingling spider-sense. The closer things appear, the further away they are, always slightly out of reach and far from being in whatever sense ‘real’.
With Suzuki and Saito in mind, I recently rewatched Lost Highway (1997) and realized that characters were more important than I had realized at first, and despite my desire to pick apart and then piece together each film, as vague as this characters might have been, they were far more important and central to what happens (or with #18-2 and #20, what doesn’t happen) and the way the film is seen or experienced. Each character in Lost Highway could easily be an analogue for watching these two filmmakers nervously navigate the world around them: the personality crisis of Fred (Bill pullman) becoming Pete (Balthazar Getty), as suggested by Suzuki’s narrator literally becoming someone else (Garden), or Alice and Renee (both played by Patricia Arquette) being one and the same person like Saito’s brief flashes of people, at times inert and unresponsive and other times characters on a TV screen. Even The Mystery Man would figure, representing the audience that has now a character that no longer watches but is intimately involved — “It is not my custom to go where I am not wanted”.
Coupled with an echoing of Morton’s “strange stranger”, Suzuki and Saito have not simply done away with film structure for the sake of setting tone or making atmosphere, but are provoking the idea that desire and will do not always meet eye-to-eye. The world they both ‘picture’ or strangely ‘characterise’ heads toward a more curious path where the signs and references that guide on a daily basis are upended. Lost at first, the world is seen awkwardly in all its unresolved glory, and then slowly revealed as full of hope and opportunity however unnerving that might appear.
1. “Looking can be an act of empathy or aggression. It can provoke desire or express it. And from the blurry, edgeless world we inhabit as infants to the landscape of screens we grow into, looking can define us.” — from the introduction to Looking at Cities and Cityscapes, Art and Cinema, (Mark Cousins & Andrew McMillan) / https://www.futurecityfestival.co.uk/events/looking-at-cities-and-cityscapes-art-and-cinema/
2. Photographers have to accept they can just convey fragments of illusory realities and relate their own intimate experience of the world. In this process of fictionalising an unreachable truth, it’s up to them to impose their doubts about any photographic truth, or accept being impotent pawns in the mediatic game. / https://www.vice.com/en_dk/article/ppzp78/fear-desire-drugs-fucking-608-v17n11
3. Morton T, “The Ecological Thought” (US: Harvard, 2010)
‘Video Screening (eizō-jōei)’,
Hikaru Suzuki / Reiji Saito
Video screening / exhibition
at KAYOKOYUKI, Tokyo / www.kayokoyuki.com/en
July 8 – 30, 2017
* Images courtesy of the artists and KAYOKOYUKI