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<eyebeam><blast> the membrane in personal media

[Excerpt from an essay made for the lecture at "SYNC-('Maniacs of
Disappearance' synchronized)" in Rotterdam (March 8-29, 1998), by Yukiko
Shikata and Kazunao Abe.]

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 memory.

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based on the static systems neighboring or opposing to each other are no
longer valid.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 area.

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

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

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 earthquake.

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 SOS.

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)

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