This DVD collects a quarter-century of videos and texts by the Japanese artist Takihiko Iimura that are all based upon a single line from the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. In Speech and Phenomena and Other Essays on Husserl's Theory of Signs, Derrida writes, "I hear myself at the same time that I speak." This quote inspired Iimura to create the several works herein.
When the DVD is launched, the viewer sees an attract mode consisting of a rapid cycle of still images, atop a sound bed of speech multi-tracked into gibberish. Visually punctuated by text reading "I am not seen" or "I see you," the photographic images beneath the words are duotones in blue, or occasionally green or reddish brown. We see the artist's bespectacled eyes, his ear, his full face. With a click we arrive at the disc's interface, which juxtaposes black and white video stills with color elements for the effectiveness expected of an elegant interactive instructional product.
The first choice on the menu is the work Seeing. Iimura declaims "I See You," then expounds on several related philosophical propositions. We are given the process of the piece's construction and the positions of camera 1 and camera 2 as if we were about to reassemble the videos in a gallery installation. The work Hearing/Speaking begins with Iimura stating, "You speak to yourself the same time you have been speaking." Again we have directions as if for installation in a gallery or museum, and one monitor includes propositions posed in the second person. Beyond these exploded diagrams, the disc includes three video works and two texts. Talking to Myself is a 7-minute video shot in 1978, where Iimura finds variations inherent in Derrida's quote like a jazz musician riffing on an evocative musical phrase. The algorithms Iimura imposes on the line are almost [End Page 81] computer-generated, with the second person fed-in and new expressions issued. We see the back of the artist's head during some statements, or the camera panning and swinging back and forth over nearly unreadable text.
Talking in New York, made between 1981 and 2001, has 8 minutes of footage shot on portapak and resembles a Japanese tourist's travel video of New York (perhaps having its origin in that very genre). We see shots from a departing ferry, people in parks, Chinatown, with Iimura all the while reciting his variations upon Derrida in different locales and environments, silhouetted in low lighting, or under experimental recording conditions such as placing the microphone 50 feet away.
Talking to Myself at P.S. 1, made in 1985, is 4 minutes documenting Iimura's video installation of the Talking to Myself tapes at the New York alternative space, in greenish footage shot there by a colleague. In places the source video is fast-forwarded to add an urgency to the gallery-goers who evidently included musican-producer Brian Eno and the late filmmaker-folklorist Harry Smith.
In the first of the two texts on the DVD, "On Talking to Myself," Iimura discusses the "video-reality" of recorded offscreen sound and the "silent voice" of the movement of lips, "so that the viewer perceives the sentence repeating itself." What he calls "synch out of synch" is the effect of a time lag between the visual depiction of an onscreen speaker and the words that come from that person's mouth. "What I am trying to achieve in the piece is a communication (sender-receiver within the self) separated by function but integrated by its perception," writes Iimura.
In a chatty May 1979 letter to Iimura from David B. Allison, Derrida's translator calls Iimura's project an "almost preposterous ambition . . . its beauty seems to be in a kind of vertigo, an infinitization of replications, mirror-ings, suspected detours, half-forgotten and neglected stops, arrests, reconfirmations and confusions." Allison goes on to liken its "Goldbergian variation" to Bach choral music, to Alain Resnais' movie Last Year at Marienbad and Terry...