- John Cage Performs James Joyce, and: Fluxus Replayed
Taka Iimura is a senior figure among contemporary Japanese artists and has been working with film, sound and video since the 1960s. He was one of several Japanese who, coming from a 20th-century tradition of avant-garde intervention , contributed to the Fluxus group in the '60s. Like many media artists, Iimura made recordings of contemporaries and their work. Alongside his film and video artworks, such as the video Observer/Observed , his use of portable video enabled [End Page 409] documentation (and general note-making) more economically than film. As the cycle of experimentation moves through another generation, glimpses of precursors through archive recordings of this kind help ground artists' surviving words and artworks.
John Cage (1912-1992), the senior figure of Fluxus (NYC), who was active experimentally from the late 1930s, is the subject of a video portrait shot by Iimura in 1985, released in 1991 and made available on DVD in 2005. Cage had a long-standing fascination with the work of James Joyce, in particular Finnegans Wake, the book becoming the basis of many works, the best known of which is the Roaratorio-An Irish Circus on Finnegans Wake. Commissioned by German radio and IRCAM in Paris, the sound recording was completed in 1979, lasted about an hour and was a 62-track mix of the sounds referred to in the text, the text itself as prepared (using a mesostic system), and read by Cage, together with music played by Irish traditional music players of the day.
Roaratorio is one of the classics of Cage's oeuvre , and in Iimura's 15-minute recording, John Cage Performs James Joyce, Cage presents the core of the spoken part of the work. Its composition, like many of his other works, is aided by the I-Ching. Here he briefly explains that none of the sentences (sic) in Finnegans Wake are selected, only words, syllables and letters from different pages according to the chance decisions made by consulting the I-Ching and its representational hexagrams. In this way the 624 pages of the book are compressed into 12 pages of text, and it is one of these pages that we see him holding. He reads from it, sings it and then, hunching close to the camera and its microphone, whispers it. At the bottom of the screen are superimposed two lines of sub-titling synchronized with the text he is using.
Iimura's presence is felt but not seen, though we hear him responding to Cage's explanations at the outset. Cage's voice is not strong; he is in his 70s, and we strain to hear him against the noise of New York traffic coming through the window in the background of a sunlit room. His demeanor remains buoyant; at one point he makes light of a fumble he makes with a watch he is holding, an event incorporated into the flow of the tape. Like so many of his initiatives, the line between the artwork and its making is blurred, articulating a statement aided and amplified by Iimura's collaboration in its making.
In Fluxus Replayed, also released in 2005, Iimura documents a 1991 event held to reproduce historical performances by NYC-based Fluxus artists of the 1960s. The S.E.M. Ensemble, together with some of the Fluxus artists themselves, perform works by Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, Dick Higgins, George Brecht, Allison Knowles, Ben Patterson, Jackson Mac Low and Emett Williams. Iimura has edited together the sounds and images captured by two cameras as raw evidence of the goings-on, with scant regard for the conventions of continuity editing, thus maintaining the document in the space between the moment of recording and that of viewing. Time compression is only obvious in Ono's Sky Piece...