Bruce Yonemoto at ICC

by Monty DiPietro

There is tendency to automatically consider video art as contemporary, due in part to the relatively recent appearance of the genre. Another reason is the immediacy that video has brought to art – on the very day Sony introduced its first commercially-available video camera, Nam June Paik used one to record Pope Paul VI’s visit to New York City, then took his tapes cross-town to a Greenwich Village Café screening. It may be assumed that the hip young audience believed they were watching more than the Papal ceremony of a few hours earlier, it may be assumed that they believed they were seeing the future.

Although Bruce Yonemoto would have been only about 15 years old when Paik fathered the form, from the late 1970s onward the artist and his elder brother Norman have been making important and influential contributions to video art by using the medium to look into the past, and to explore our relationship with and understanding of time. Where Paik and most of his contemporaries used video to put new images on televisions in galleries, the Yonemotos often by-passed galleries by arranging to have their works broadcast or cablecast. More significantly, the brothers avoided the use of those newfangled video cameras altogether, by appropriating and transferring archival film stock.

Bruce, 49, goes solo with "The Disappearance of Memory," an installation of several new multimedia works, now showing in the expansive Gallery A at NTT’s Intercommunication Center (ICC), in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward.

The California-born Yonemotos began looking backwards in time in search of their identities as third-generation American of Japanese descent. Archival film footage from the internment camps set up to hold Japanese Americans during the Second World War were used in some of the brothers’ best-known pieces, while other well-received work featured grainy old stock shot by and of the large Japanese community living in Brazil. The show includes one such piece, "The Wedding," which sees old film documentation of the everyday lives of the Nipo-Brasilos of Parana video-projected on a 12-panel, gold-colored folding Japanese byobu screen.

Working with the past can pose certain problems – an old-fashioned film projector that sits at the center of "The Time Machine" broke down on opening night. Fortunately the clunker was soon repaired and a good thing it was, because the piece it anchors is one of the best in the show. Featuring the only images Yamamoto actually filmed for this exhibition, "The Time Machine" combines time-lapse photography of a white lily coming to bloom with claymation of a "dead" flower coming back to life. The two metamorphoses run concurrently, one projected on a clock-face and the other on a projection screen.

"I would say it is about the apparatus of recording time itself, which is of course film or media that is able to somehow translate time into images," says Yonemoto, adding, "I guess all media is basically fiction."

Conceptual work dominates the exhibition. "Screen Saver," for example, is made up of a set of three clear acrylic cases in which visitors will find an early Macintosh computer whose monochrome monitor displays a 1980s city-skyline screen saver; a Japanese sliding shoji door; and a 1960s-style free-standing projection screen. Each of the two-meter-high display boxes is lighted from below by soft blue florescent tubes, and attendant texts instruct visitors to "reflect upon ideas and events projected on various screens, as well as the act of projecting."

There is plenty of projecting in "Hanabi Fireworks," the largest and loudest of the works in the show. The piece features appropriated fireworks films that have been transferred to a three-channel digital video system, accompanied by a multi-channel soundtrack from Mayo Thompson. The five-minute experience begins with a swirling parade of distorted film studio logos and tinkling new age music. As the logos give way to ever-more-spectacular fireworks playing across the ceiling-high screens, the score builds to a thunderous crescendo that shakes the floor.

"The Disappearance of Memory" may not deliver the slick, "now" content one sometimes expects from video installation. And if visitors somehow find themselves in imagined nostalgia, it is because Yonemoto has succeeded in taking video beyond the limitations we bring to the medium, by evolving it into the past.


notes: "The Disappearance of Memory" by Bruce Yonemoto is at the NTT Intercommunication Center (ICC), until June 13, 1999 (03-5353-0800).
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