Installation view of “Takao Minami” at Ota Fine Arts, Singapore, 2014. Courtesy the artist and Ota Fine Arts, Singapore.

TAKAO MINAMI, Fire Symbol, 2013, engravings on glass cups, magnifiers, candles. Courtesy the artist and Ota Fine Arts, Singapore.

Takao Minami

Ota Fine Arts
Singapore Japan

In March, the poetic meditations of Japanese video artist Takao Minami were exhibited at Ota Fine Arts in Singapore. This solo show, comprising five installations, chronicled opaque light and imagery through footage recorded during the artist’s travels in Southeast Asia. While Minami’s palette is derived from the wrenching intensity of video color-test bars—solarized neon pigments that include greens, pinks, blues and fierce, nearly infrared, whites—the elongated, rectangular screens upon which the work was projected suggested restless calligraphic scrolls.

Minami plucks disparate elements from memory, then distills them into form, color and gesture. He begins with a basic composition upon which he layers narrative with visual facets extracted from the whole. Quoting French filmmaker Robert Bresson’s description of art as “a form of writing with images in movement and sound,” Minami describes his process as being closer to painting than film editing.

While playing with the language of cinematography, Minami’s works avoid the anatomy of film. His looped narratives are more suggestive of traditional Asian puppetry, such as Japanese bunraku, which imposes strata of the literal (cloaked puppeteers) upon the fantastical (puppets); and Indonesian shadow puppetry, with its enigmatic silhouettes and repetitive, rhythmic movements. In the deceptively simple, single-channel In Penta (2006), a vague tension mounts in a nearly 20-minute loop that comprises fragments of ritualistic exercise on the deck of a boat, beneath the cadenced drift of a cloud. In the slow vertical pan of Quiet Hole (2009), incomplete, color-obscured figures and structures replay and replicate themselves in a stammering, insistent recollection.

At Ota, Minami’s Difference Between (2014) dominated the exhibition space. This contemplative diptych’s imagery is in diazo blue and stark white. Two large screens are suspended side-by-side, each scrolling a distinct, six-minute narrative at slightly mismatched paces. On the left, the predominantly white screen reveals blue shapes—some clear, some indistinct, some in motion, while still others are static—of fishing boats, leafy hillsides, musical instruments, a radio tower, a snake and a swimmer. On the right is its yin likeness, predominantly deep blue, whose glowing white forms are similar, yet somehow amplified: a waterfall, lapping waves, Indonesian musicians, more boats. Difference is underscored by a nebulous soundscape that suggests a faltering boat engine, muted voices, and perhaps crashing waves. Minami captures these shreds of gestural tone and pattern, and reiterates them to the brink of climax, over and over again.

In his installation Fire Symbol (2013), Minami deconstructs video itself into pure light and shadow. On the floor of the gallery, alongside his pensive visual progressions, Minami set out a row of eight small candles, each in its own glass cup engraved with ancient Chinese characters and glyphs symbolizing “fire.” Flames project the glyphs through small magnifying glasses, which then cast faint, trembling images onto the wall. These prototypes of projection hint at the filmic theory of persistence of vision, whereby an afterimage lingers on the retina and persuades us to perceive continuity of motion. Minami’s video-collages can be viewed as his own deeply intimate, mesmerizingly obscure afterimages of personal experience. It is only when he rewrites their ambiguity as gestural fragments of beauty that we understand the infinite persistence of memory, and how it colors the present moment.

Takao Minami was on view at Ota Fine Arts, Singapore, through May 3, 2014.

Marybeth Stock is a writer, researcher and editor based in Singapore and Japan.