Yukiko Shikata on Tue, 24 Mar 1998 18:21:48 +0100 (MET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Maniacs of Disappearance--the membrane in personal media

[This essay was made for the lecture at "SYNC-('Maniacs of Disappearance'
synchronized)" in Rotterdam(March 8-29, 1998), which shows the various
video expressions of Dutch and Japanese artists.]

Maniacs of Disappearance*---the  membrane in personal media

by  Yukiko Shikata + Kazunao Abe

       Video art can be classified into two. One is works which align with
autonomous aesthetics of formal art, such as conventional films and the
like. The other  is used as a recording device for receiving and sending
images on a personal level having digital network as a prerequisite. The
former has developed since 1960s as the video art came to be recognized as
an independent genre. This kind of video art places importance on the
formality of the content of the film. The  latter appeared in the 90s as
various electronic gadgets while personal computers became part of one's
daily life. Many artists started to liberate video images from the
confinement of the genre called "video art" and to accept it as just one of
the many alternatives for artistic expression. Compared with the more
formal video art, which values forms and rationality of editing, the
liberated video works focus on their process and contents  as the important
        "Maniacs of Disappearance" was conceived to probe how artists using
videos have started to deal with reality (although the interaction is not
yet sufficient). They are tackling the medium of video which is expanding
to various directions, while inventions of more compact and personal
technology tools are taking place, and they are based in Japan where videos
are mass produced and widely popular.
        Various interpretations are possible for "Maniacs of
Disappearance." It can be viewed from such viewpoints as; expansion and
extinction of the genre called video art, and disappearance of the
conception of subject by the possibility of omnipresence of communication
caused by the diffusion of computer media. It can be also evaluated from
the domain of self which is expanding in an accelerating speed especially
among young generation, and the change caused by communications in Japanese
hi-tech society.
       "Extinction" or  "disappearance" is not always used with a negative
connotation. It can be interpreted as a movement which makes duality of
visible and invisible ineffective. The extinction can be considered as
entering to a gray zone or a kind of noise. It also means getting away from
the object and carrying something neutral. It also might be a development
of a strategic movement as a camouflage which Paul Virilio pointed out in
his "Strategy of Disappearance," or the concept of "trajective" that he
proposes to add between " subjective" and "objective" while having Gilles
Deleuze in mind.
        In "L'empire des Signes," Roland Barthes wrote after his visit to
Japan in early 1970s that Japanese culture and city structure are basically
empty in the center. He invented this concept and also talked about
priority of images in Japan. The  "empty center" has become a cliche and
widely known, and in the context of European modernism, where there is some
how a theoretical center and critique develops from there, it was an
encounter with a different society. Or rather, this void functions as an
attractant due to its emptiness, and one becomes aware of insubstantial and
invisible politics. Japan that Barthes understood was "empty" and
"peripheral," which were opposite of meaning. Isn't there a possibility for
something that is not confined to duality of center and peripheral,
affirmation and denial, or self and others, but something that can claim to
share areas of interface.
        Barthes' positioning of language (concept) as the priority in the
West, compared with the image in Japan, seems an exaggerated analysis, but
it is still valid. Image in Japan is not exactly image in the West which is
understood in the conflict between language and image (as sometimes
symbolized in Protestant vs. Catholic). Images in Japan seem to contain
potential to generate more ambiguous relationships and to mutually
circulate. It can be due to the fact that Japanese language is written with
ideographs. Since the letters were derived from images, the image and the
language maintain an organic relationship, that is, an interface. It can be
compared with languages written with alphabets such as English, consisting
of a group of abstract signs which do not have meanings as individual
       Those who speak and think in Japanese seem to communicate images as
they are, instead of dealing with an abstract, geometrical concept
constructed by language. We may add that in Japanese conversation, the
subject of the sentence is usually omitted. The subject is understood in
the relationship between persons involved in the conversation. The
relationship, in which the subject and the other are taken in the mesh of
the inter-subjective network, seems to reveal that the evasion of clear
responsibility = omnipresence of sharing responsibility, and the definite
disposal of the self = omnipresence of the self as an extension. Jacques
Lacan once said that Japanese people cannot be clinical. We wonder if the
phase of the self, in which the other is constructed on the basis of
language, is different among Japanese from Europeans.
        Barthes wrote on the prioritization of image to language in Japan;
"Streets in this city (Tokyo) do not have names. The addresses are in
accordance with the census map (however, by area or by block, and not
geometrically)."  In Tokyo, for example, address is not determined by
street names as in European cities, but is specified according to a totally
different system. Address in Tokyo starts with Tokyo; then a smaller unit
under Tokyo which is a ward; and a smaller unit within a ward, which is a
tow;, and then the number of
smaller units within the town; the number of the block and the number
within the block. By this zoom up, the area which the house belongs to is
specified. The structure of the city is not based on the logical rule as in
Europe, and even Tokyoites find it difficult to get to the destination only
with an address.
       Barthes writes "people gave a shape to address by handwriting or
printing maps with directions. "...
(omitted) I have to reach there by walking around, looking, habit and
experience, not with the help of a book or an address. (omitted) Thus
visiting a place for the first time means to begin to draw the direction.
The address is not drawn from the beginning, so I have to establish my own
'ecriture' for the address." For Barthes, the Japanese city was reached
with a map, not with words (address), and was grasped by images which
become visible by moving around. It might be explained as a chain of
        This city structure, which consists of a collection of independent
particulars, generates a sense of image-generated city. In order to
exchange maps to get to a place, Japanese people were in need of facsimile
machines, and the product spread immediately. At present, the popularity of
a car navigation system is significant for this characteristic. The system,
which shows images constantly changing as the car moves, navigates the car
until it reaches the destination. The system offers interactive maps which
are based on the position of the car. Through the images projected onto a
monitor, an electronic skin, in a personal and closed space of the car, and
through the thorough navigation of smoothing down the streets, the driver
feels the mutually circulating virtuality and reality for which the change
in outside scenery means mobility. There is a sense of a feeler as an
extension of the skin. This feeling of having a feeler is awakened in the
interaction of images and senses, and it can be grasped as connection and
mutual circulation of the driver's self to images (the self as visual
extension), then to the moving car (the self as his/her physical
        In Japan, the subject and the object are not completely separated
within their images, words and behaviors, the other kind of subjectivity,
or inter-subjectivity, as an extension of areas of the self, is constantly
generated. It is different from the Western thought where all the noises,
which cannot be controlled, have been always excluded as incomprehensible.
Western music, for example, generated a higher system of a geometrical
basis by perfecting the scale and the key. And at the same time, what is
not recognizable as music (= noise) is excluded.
        After the end of the Cold War, the social structures that used to
be based on the static systems neighboring or opposing to each other are no
longer valid. And now, the issue is that the theory on communication has to
come prior to the theory on system. That communication is not subordinate
to system means that noise needs to be introduced to communication. In
other words, communication in language should shift to communication
through images and a world of senses. Image of course includes the noise
        The only modernism that Japan has adapted is the multiplication of
industry and its economic system, and it is the same thing as the
multiplication of images(a superfcial world, facade culture lacking the
contents). Especially after the WWII, the high precise techno- industry
flourished since the nation and corporations made up as of the homogeneous
machine, and promoted economic development. Since 1980s, Japan has started
to mass produce precision techno products which are substantially made
compact and light. The symbolic product is the Sony's Walkman cassette
player sold since 1980, which architect Arata Isozaki described as "one of
the most important inventions of this century." What is important is the
personal quality of Walkman, and the mobile sensory culture realized by
Walkman. Other important characteristics include; the area which one moves
around can be transformed to space--personal space and extension of the
self--with the music of his/her taste. Separation of audio/physical world
from visual/sensory world (public world) is made possible while traveling
through space. Comfortable distance is created from the outer world by
creating a personal space, which is at the same time accompanied by the
paradoxical solitude.
        The reason why Japanese tend to accept technology without
resistance or criticism is probably because we take it as a sensory tool
which expands ourselves and is, in a sense, something wearable, not as
something opposing humans. After Walkman, personal-scale technologies
invented in Japan: handy-cam videos, MD players, and computer games have
been received smoothly, and are being made compact and wearable (as
extension of the physical senses). What we would like to point out here is
that the wearability is not confined to wearing practical materials(i.e.,
as clothes)  which are the subjects of research at MIT in the U.S., but it
includes wearing the range of interfaces of the self and the other, and
wearing shared images.
        Such extension of the body and one's senses is naturally causing
change in communication. Especially among the generation of junior and
senior high school students, low-priced, handy and portable personal tools
are very popular and considered accessories (which is also the extension of
one's self). Pagers, mobile phones (PHS), instant cameras, computer
games---for them high quality images are not required. Rather, the users
feel more comfortable with the noise, that is, they prefer the rough and
shaggy images. Hundreds of cheap and small instant stickers called
"purikura," print club stickers filling in high school girls' pocket
diaries; wearable virtual pets, Tamagotch (tamago/egg + watch); computer
game "pokemon," pocket monsters with which children can electronically
exchange favorite characters via terminal units---they all function as
wearable communication tools. The possibilities of communication and
wearablity brought by such tools are more important than the contents of
the images themselves.
        The content of the message is not important, but the feeling of
being "connected" and to wear that "possibility" of being connected are
important. (In the Western society, there is a reason for human existence
and ethics is maintained on the imaginary premise that God is watching over
us. On the other hand, for Japanese teenagers, self is maintained by the
possibility of being connected to someone even if that someone could be
anonymous.)  Hungarian film critic Bela Balazs once said "I maintain my
consciousness only through shooting."  It can be paraphrased as "I maintain
myself only  through the possibility of being connected."
        The self (the subject) is the image only recognizable in existing
in the communication network and being connected. They, "the tribe," share
the "self" which can be only maintainable through the invisible community
while arming themselves with survival tools such as mobile phones, pagers
and print club stickers.
        This kind of relationship is rooted in the anxiety that they would
lose their selves if they are not connected. Those who are skeptical of
such communications will be isolated. When the possibility of communication
with the other is shattered, people need to autonomously prescribe
themselves. An increasing number of junior high school students are now
armed with butterfly knives to protect themselves. Sociologist Shinji
Miyadai commented that "they are always being prepared." Pagers as well as
knives are necessities for those identity is put to crisis, and they are
required to be ready in daily war condition although they do not have
definite enemies.
       Female high school students are called "kogyaru"(literally
translated as mini gals), and the stereotype kogyarus are "armed" with
little gadgets such as mobile phones, pagers, dye their hair brown, wear
pierced earrings, loose socks and mini skirts. They are the main characters
in the film "Love & Pop," based on the novel by Ryu Murakami. The film was
on theaters this January and drew attention for its uniqueness. Murakami is
a popular writer who always takes up the hottest topics since early 70s.
His 1996 novel "Love & Pop" focuses on kogyarus who indulge themselves in
so-called "supportive dating." They date men for money. But unlike
prostitution, the man and the girl do not play their obvious roles of
subject/object. Supportive dating is considered more voluntary.
       Interesting thing about this film is that its director Hideaki Anno
has directed a cult SF TV animation program "Neo Genesis Evangelion" which
has turned to a social phenomenon, supported not only by "otaku" maniacs
but also by the general audience. The work has a strong appeal for Japanese
who have experienced incomparable catastrophes such as the burst of the
bubble economy, Aum Shinrikyo cult's criminal activities, and the Kobe
        It should be noted that "Love & Pop" is Anno's first directed film
other than animation where he used DV(digital video camera), the new image
tool. Although Anno was very famous as an animation director, he keeps some
distance from the maniac world of animation. It means that he is not
involved in animation for its form. And as he found unique reality of DV,
he immediataly shot a film.
       DV has liberated film from its immobility. Light, compact and high
precision DV has liberated film from its immobility. It is very easy to
edit and synthesize pictures. In a regurlar film, a camera has to function
as a human eye, that is, a subjective viewpoint. But DV made unexperienced
viewpoints possible by its being a parasite or moving around(apart from the
human-eyes). It can be worn by a person, put on a toy rail system or can
run through a narrow space or in a corner of a ceiling. It also made it
possible to paradoxically extract animation-like perspectives and image
world(where  superficial images multiplies with lacking normal
perspectives), which could never be filmed in reality, from real scenes.
Noise areas are easily manipulated by DV, for example, extremely distorted
world view created by the use of a wide-angle lens in motion would be
overlapped three or four times so that it is impossible to recognize what
it was. Consequently, the image world, which consists of strangely remixed
reality of the wearable image world with  animetic, fetish taste is made
possible by DV, which is a borderless personal medium. Additionally, we
would like to draw attention to Anno's method of inserting words as images.
       What is worth the attention is that the mobility of the DV camera
enabled the film to acquire a machine's viewpoint as well as the third
person's view and bird's-eye view already existing in conventional films.
For example, the protagonist of the film, one of the kogyarus, had a DV
camera attached to her body parts. In a sense, the cameras have become part
of her body and are included in her body range. Images between the body and
the clothes are filmed, and the viewpoint here is an ambiguous one, neither
that of the subject nor the object. The clothes function as the protector
of the body inside of them(which we call the enveloping function) while
they also work as media dispatching expressions toward the outer
world(which contain their sign and interface qualities). In this ambiguous
boundary area, as invisible membrane between the public and the personal, a
view point, which is subordinate to nothing, is inserted. The viewpoint,
which has evaded human's subjective viewpoint and the ideology of "eye =
sight," is presented to the audience as the automatic movement and the
accompanying blur, detached from the filming side's control over the filmed
subject, and the director's intention. What are we actually watching?
       Treating data as material resources, and editing and reconstructing
them to destroy form was conducted in the West by William Burroughs in the
fashion of cut-up languages. On the other hand, Japanese "manga" comic
culture continues to multiply the cut-up of images, not language. In case
of sound, the cut-up is creatively generated by remix by DJ and composers
of techno music. Anno boldly intervened in the cinema world with his "Love
& Pop," experimenting on the cut-up of personalized digital images.
       The membrane quality as interface between the self and the other is
transformed into a wearable recording devide by collecting a massive amount
of images in kogyarus. This device is not something practical, but it is to
surround one's body as a piece of suits, a virtual wear, along with the
sphere of images which can be communicated.
       Japanese society is going through a transformation phase. The
economic recovery promoted by the modernist idea is already a product of
the past. At the same time, the illusion of a community imagined from a
modernist viewpoint is ending in failure. Younger generation depends on
communications that are confined to a small scale and limited level.
However, this communication is a multiplying act to evade the identity
crisis, and is the product of the community's illusion as noise-proof. This
dying yet essential communication is exchanged as if it were the signs of
       In this era of communication, artists multiply the domain of such
membranes and enter into their own interior so that they disappear. In this
way, the artists try to practice the use of interface as media.
(translated by Miki Miyatake)

*" Maniacs of Disappearance--Today's Japan as Disseminators of Video
Messages" was curated by Kazunao Abe, Christoph Charles, Yukiko Shikata.
Artists including Taro Chiezo, Yuji Kitagawa, Noritoshi Hirakawa, Natsuko
Otsuki, Mari Terashima, Noriko Umano, Yoshinori Tsuda, Teiji Furuhashi,
David Blair and David d'heilly.

-"SYNC" was curated by Nathalie Houtermans + Antoinette te Paske, by adding
10 Dutch artists to "Maniacs of Disappearance."

-The quates from Roland Barthes are directly translated from Japanese

Yukiko Shikata
postal address: Canon ARTLAB, 106-0032 Japan
Tel: 81-3-5410-3611 Fax: 3615 http://www.canon.co.jp/cast/
    --ARTLAB Exhibition: May 10-21 at Spiral, Tokyo--
 "LOVERS"(Teiji Furuhashi)+"frost frames"(Shiro Takatani)

#  distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo@desk.nl and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  URL: http://www.desk.nl/~nettime/  contact: nettime-owner@desk.nl