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TAKAHIKO IIMURA - Born Tokyo, 1937. Lives and works in Tokyo & New York.

Takahiko iimura, 'AIUEONN Six Features', 1993

"A letter or a character may be national or regional, but a sound is more universal." Takahiko Iimura

Takahiko Iimura is an international artist and experimental filmmaker, who has been working with time-based media since the 1960. Throughout his career his work has investigated the structures of language and the differences and relationships between Eastern and Western ideas about time and space. At the same time he has been fascinated by the semiotics of film and video: their narrative stuctures and the way we 'read' both individual still images and moving audio-visual sequences.

Iimura came to New York in 1966, and became involved in the of avant garde movement there, which included artists Yoko Ono and Nam June Paik. Much of his work seeks to disrupt the ways we view film and video, often by paring it down to its essential, frame by frame elements in order that the audience become aware of its construction as much as its content. In this way he is also attempting to understand why we view moving images the way we do, whether that is projected on a cinema screen, through a TV monitor, or now on computers.

Working in different cultural contexts, in Japan, America and Europe, Iimura has made a number of pieces which explore identity, forcing the viewer to question how we visually and aurally perceive and try to 'place' others.

Takahiko iimura, 'AIUEONN Six Features', 1993 (3)

The piece featured on this page (shown here as still clips from video), has been presented in a number of formats. These include a single video projection, an installation of six TV monitors facing the viewer and also a performance where the artist and the projection appear side by side, competing for the viewer's attention.

Each screen shows a sequence, beginning with the Roman characters representing English vowel sounds and the Japanese characters representing the vowels in Japanese. We then see Iimura's face, contorting and distorting as he pronounces one of the six vowel sounds of the Japanese alphabet: A, I, U, O and E, all of which also appear in the English alphabet and finally NN which is unique to Japanese. The images have been manipulated by computer animation techniques so that his face becomes an exaggerated icon to represent the sound which accompanies it. These sequences are then repeated. The sound of the vowel at first sychronises with the image, but later de-syncronises.

"If you know Japanese, you perceive the video differently from someone who doesn't know Japanese. Yet those who know Japanese also become confused initially, as the voice doesn't synchronise with the image. I tried to separate the sound from the image and treat them differently."Takahiko Iimura

The effect of these exaggerated sounds and images is both funny and confusing, underlining the experience of being lost between two cultures, illustrating the slippages and misunderstandings which occur when one feels 'foreign'. By working in two languages, the piece also illustrates the relationship between the linguistic sound and the alphabet character representing it, which is conventional rather than natural.

Takahiko iimura, 'AIUEONN Six Features', 1993 (1)

Takahiko Iimura's work is concerned, not only with the languages we use to communicate with in everyday speech, but also with the 'language' of film and video.

  • What would you do or make, inspired by this artist's work?

  • Have you ever watched a film with subtitles? How easy is it to follow the visual action at the same time as reading the dialogue? How do you know that the characters are saying what you are reading? Perhaps you could try covering the titles and 'reading' just the picture, making up your own soundtrack of dialogue and sound effects.
  • You might try using a very simple animation programme like Gif Builder (Mac) or Gif Animator (pc) to animate someone speaking a sentence or singing a short song. You could use a sequence of still images either drawn or photographed & scanned in, or digitally photographed & downloaded. Try to match the mouth movements with the words. When you play it back, get different people to do the 'voice-over' and video the results.

You can view video clips from 'AIUEONN Six Features' and get more detailed information about Takahiko Iimura's other work at his Web site: