Takahiko Iimura (1937–2022)
By Pamela Wong
On July 31, Takahiko Iimura, a pioneering figure in media art and expanded cinema, died from aspiration pneumonia at the age of 85. The New York-based Microscope Gallery confirmed his death on their Facebook page on August 5.
Born in Tokyo in 1937, Iimura became fascinated with Dadaism and Surrealism in his teenage years and started writing Dadaist poetry when he was still in high school. After graduating from the law department at Keio University in 1959, he began producing experimental 8mm and 16mm films in the early 1960s. His frequent collaborators at the time included artist Yoko Ono, painter Genpei Akasegawa, composer Takehisa Kosugi, and butoh dancer Tatsumi Hijikata. His ten-minute film Ai (Love) (1962) features intimate, obscure close-ups of human body parts with a soundtrack by Ono, but was not widely appreciated when it was first screened in Tokyo in 1963.
The following year, Iimura became a founding member of the independent filmmaking collective Film Independants, a group that produced and screened experimental films, with fellow filmmakers Yoichi Takabayashi and Nobuhiko Obayashi as well as other filmmakers and critics. In the same year, Iimura, Takabayashi, Obayashi, and Donald Richie won a special prize at the third International Experimental Film Festival organized by the Royal Belgian Film Archive. Their winning work Onan (1963) depicts a man stabbing nude pictures of women with a hot rod, then masturbating and giving birth to a plastic egg which he tries to share with a woman. In December 1964, they held a screening event at the Kinokuniya Hall in Shinjuku and invited the public to participate by submitting two-minute films.
Following his early ventures into experimental film, in 1966, he moved to New York on a fellowship from Harvard University. During his years in the United States, he started producing videos and exploring possibilities of expanded cinema. His film Ai (Love) was highly praised by filmmaker Jonas Mekas, who led the underground movement in New York at the time, and Iimura became an active participant in the avant-garde film and art community. In the 1970s, he started creating videos that examine his own identity and document his experience in New York. For example, his single-channel video Self-Identity (1972–74), inspired by Jacques Derrida’s 1967 essay Speech and Phenomena, records himself repeating lines such as “I am Takahiko Iimura” or “I” in front of the camera, at times in-sync and off-sync with the sound.
Since mid-1970s, derived from his interest in the synchronicity of images in both the camera and the screen, he started questioning and dismantling the semiotics of video and its relationship to the viewer. He often incorporates double projections, which questions the format of “one-screen, one projector.” He explored the relationship between the camera and the monitor, for example, in a 1975–76 trilogy of works including Observer/Observed (1975), in which he created a loop with cameras observing each other. These experiments led to his most well-known work This Is A Camera Which Shoots This (1980), which comprises two pairs of video cameras and monitors facing each other with the title of the work printed in black letters across the middle of the wall behind them. He explained: “In video you can shoot at the same time as you project, where the camera as a subject simultaneously becomes the object . . . In this way I showed the double identity of a camera and conveyed the correspondence between words and images.” Similarly, in TV for TV (1983), two TV monitors are broadcasting face to face with each other. As a result their screens are exclusive to themselves, as the TVs become their own audiences.
He held a duo exhibition with fellow New York-based video artist Shigeko Kubota in 1979 titled “New Video” at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which spotlighted his performance-based works and interactive installations. In the 1990s, his works were shown at several major group exhibitions including “Japanese Art After 1945: Scream Against the Sky” (1994) at New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and “The American Century, Part II” (1999–2000) at the Whitney Museum.
His works have been shown at museums in Japan including Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Art Center Tokyo, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, as well as internationally at institutions including London’s Tate Modern, Munich’s Filmmuseum, and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid.
Throughout the years Iimura also published a number of books about filmmaking and the art community he was involved in, including the influential Japanese publication on experimental filmmaking, Geijutsu to higeijutsu no aida (Between Art and Non-Art) (1970); a biography of Yoko Ono (1985); and New York Art Diary (1988), which reflects on his personal experiences and the art scene throughout the 1970s and ’80s in New York.