The leading person on Anti-War Art
As a son of a unique painter, Isao Mizutani, I have known Izuru Mizutani since he was a young boy. I know that he has participated in the exhibitions of cultural exchange among Japan-Asia-Africa- and Latin America or “War Exhibition” of Chikyudo Gallery. However, I wasn’t aware of him as a film director. He has participated in Aichi Arts Center’s “Art Film Festival” a few times and he also worked for the NHK’s DVD project on Kazuo Ohno. He has traveled abroad for the exhibition and for the research of filmmaking projects. I had a great impact on him as a painter when I curate “Oh No! Reprisal War” at Maruki Art Museum. The huge picture of deserted mountain bombed was displayed on the floor. There were sculptures wrapped by cloth were place over the painting as if they were representing corpses or used weapons. Yo Henmi, well-known writer, who willingly “served in the war” told that the strongest country of the world, the USA, created the most advanced weapons and attacked the poorest country, Afghanistan. Numerous people got hurt. Izuru Mizutani points out the cruelty and the facts of the war by drawing with blur “suibokuga” black-and-white painting. Mizutani got inspired to work on “Killing Field” after visiting Cambodia in 1996 and 1997. He drew people who lost their arms and legs by land mines, children and women who suffer from serious burn scars. The “Black Wind” series which will be exhibited at Chofu Gallery began. Same as the Gulf War, many children and women got harmed by uranium bombing. It is natural that Mizutani’s intention is carried to the anti-war now. Asia has voice to prosecute the war of Bush and eager to have the general public’s resistance break through the power of American “Empire” . I hope Izuru Mizutani will take time to develop the theme to speak the Voice of Asia loudly.
Ichiro Hariu (Art Critic)
The President of International Association of Art Critics of Japan (AICA)
“Izuru Mizutani Exhibition “in the shadow...”
In fine art works, often times, the viewers are standing in a safe place where the art piece is not provoking. Recently, there are many installation works which welcome viewers to come into the world or demand bi lateral communication through art works. However, it is rare to find art works which overwhelm viewers and rise anxiety just like getting seated on the roller coaster. It is not only in the case of fine art world, it is also found in the movie; audience gets relaxed to see horror movies. The video installation work “in the shadow...” which Izuru Mizutani attempt has fallen short of expectations of the relationship between the work and the audience. Heretofore, when the work was viewed, the work has been separated from the audience and mainly it has been talked about the work and its elements. On the contrary, the work has emphasized on the relationship of the work and the viewers firmly. The work’s gadget is very simple. Monochrome street scenes were projected from one side on the wall in front of the audience. Each audience stands in front of the projection for 10 minutes, the one faces to see his/her own shadow which is isolated from the projected flow of images. After a while, and all the sudden, shadow image of man is projected on the wall. The image is found only on the wall, there is nobody around in actual space. And there is another projector placed with angle projects feeble light of colors, and it creates the shadow of viewers, as if there is another person just appeared. When the other projector turned off, on the wall, the red candle light is appeared. The world of image and the actual audience have structured with many aspects. First of all, the scenes of busy street have the audience’s viewpoint, and audience has to see the shadow of him/herself which doesn’t move. So when the scene of camera moving up the steps rises audience’s anxiety. Secondly, the image of man moving within the shadow of audience reminds viewers that there another eyes watching him/her from inside. Moreover; the shadow image of man walking towards viewer’s shadow would give impression that the shadow image of man overwhelms the audience. In reality, there is no body coming toward the audience, so only the scary feeling remains. The red candle light image will shelter and assimilate the two worlds, viewers world and the imaginary world.
Hideki Nakamura Member of International Association of Art Critics (AICA),
Professor of Nagoya Zokei University of Art & Design
Mizutani Izuru Nakamura Essay 08
In essence, what should be most valued in the field of visual expression is the ‘dialogue’ process that takes place between a viewer and an artwork, which should be seen as nothing other than a hypothetically objectified “Other for the viewer to face.” This is true no matter whether the work is a conventional type of painting or sculpture, or an experimental film within the genre of new media art. An artwork does not exist on its own, severed from the experience that a viewer undergoes through viewing the work. Rather, the passage of consciousness that takes place within the mind of the viewer via the holding of a ‘dialogue’ with an artwork should be seen as the substantial content of the work.
Generally speaking, a dialogue becomes necessary because “the Other” is someone that can never be consistent with ‘oneself.’ But in order for a dialogue to materialize, there must first exist the possibility for oneself to discover one’s “alter ego” within ‘the Other.’ In other words, ‘the other person’ in a dialogue is inevitably equipped with the duality consisting of “the Other,” whom ‘oneself’ can never completely understand, and one’s own “alter ego” to which one’s feelings can be superimposed. Therefore, the foundation of a dialogue indeed lies in between “the impossibility of understanding” and “the possibility of understanding.”
Izuru Mizutani’s recent works are mostly video films and installations. In these works, viewers can actually perceive the dual characteristic that is involved in the ‘dialogue’ held through his hypothetically created devices. In his newest work, Memory & Oblivion 2007 version, he first projects the flame of a candle on each of the three large, arch-shaped walls inside the spacious hall. After the flame fades, a person’s face occupying the entire projected surface of each wall appears and begins to talk to the viewers. But the viewers become disoriented when they realize they cannot clearly understand what is being said. If I were to borrow Mizutani’s expressions, it would be said that this work manifests the duality behind “one’s intention to convey” and “one’s anxiety at not being able to convey” from ‘the other side’ to the side on which the viewers stand. Hence, the viewers end up going back and forth between “wanting to understand” and “being irritated at not being able to understand.”
When the person appearing on each wall finishes talking and looks down, the scene goes back to the candle flame, followed by a different person who appears and begins to talk. By creating gaps in the time each person talks, each film projected on the three walls has different combinations of ‘candle’ and ‘face’ images. As the viewers stand before the many faces that alternately appear, the memory of an archetypal face itself is brought back to their minds. That is to say, in between the time one face transitions to the next, an archetypal face that is “the Other/alter ego” (meaning a face that is anyone’s face as well as no one’s face) is manifested within the viewers’ minds. The duality of the ‘certainty’ and the ‘uncertainty’ of a memory is implied through the images of the candle and the faces that alternately fade into the darkness that spreads in the background, as well as through the contraposition of the dimly lit candles and the images of impressive faces.
Furthermore, this type of Mizutani installation is based on the duality between “the Other” and one’s own “alter ego,” which is inherent within ‘the other person’ when one has a dialogue with oneself. The core of this work lies in its interactive nature, which occurs within the viewer’s inner-consciousness. The viewer projects his or her own “alter ego” onto the hypothetical “other person that one’s own self faces,” while also feeling unstable from being stared at by ‘the other person’ considered as “the Other.”
In most cases, artworks are created on the condition that viewers can position themselves in a ‘safe zone’ so that they are not intimidated by the side that is being viewed. Recently, it is not rare for us to find installations in which viewers enter into the inner spaces of the works, or interactive types of works in which viewers take an active part within the work. However, there is hardly a case when viewers feel that their footings are unstable as if they were riding a roller coaster, thus forcing them to tremble as though they were sensing something frightful maliciously approaching them. Not only in artworks but even in a medium such as horror movies, the audience can normally relax and enjoy the other world they have entered.
Contrary to this commonly accepted idea, Mizutani’s installation “in the shadow... ”was noted for its rare expressional method, in which he placed the pivot of the work on the structural relationship that existed between ‘the other side of the world’ and ‘the self on this side of the world.’ Conventionally, when an artist describes the structure of an artwork, it is centered on the relationship between the various elements that are inherent in the work itself and which exist on the other side of viewers; rarely would such a work be influenced by the viewers’ perspective. In contrast, Mizutani’s idea that is consistently found in this work is that the leading role is the relationship itself between the visual object and the viewer.
I would like to introduce my own experience of viewing “intheshadow....” The mechanism behind this installation is quite simple. Monochrome video images of city scenes and the city’s bustling energy were shown on the frontal wall with a projector placed at a right angle to the wall. As I stood before the wall for ten minutes, I was placed in a situation in which I was gazing at my own still, solitary shadow that was projected on the wall and which was unrelated to the developing scenes shown in the film. After a while, the shadow of a man appeared beside my shadow, followed by another shadow on the other side, both drawing closer to my shadow. But when I turned my head to see the owners of the men’s shadows, there was nobody there. Then, a weakly lit color image of a suspicious-looking person appeared inside my shadow, which was shown from another projector placed diagonally to the wall; thus, that person was facing me as if he dwelled inside my body. After the strong light from the first projector went off and the wall became dark, countless images of red candle flames were ‘lit’ on the entire wall. The structural relationship between ‘the other side of the world’ and ‘oneself on this side’ was devised to possess several characteristics. First, because I stood in the exact same visual point in which Mizutani stood as he filmed the city scenes, I was compelled to see the gap between the world in motion and my own motionless shadow. My sense of instability increased especially after the visual shifts took place in the film, such as when people went up and down a flight of stairs. Furthermore, the person who wriggled inside my shadow made me feel as if I had come face to face with the unearthly “internal other,” whose eyes stared back at mine. The shadows of the men who drew closer to my shadow gave me the illusion that they were actually coming toward me; but because the men were not actually at both my sides, I felt all the more frightened. The countless red candle flames that appeared at the end of the film enveloped and assimilated both the other world and my own existence on this side of the world.
Izuru Mizutani’s production method is pivoted on the duality of the above-mentioned hypothetical “Other for oneself to face” and the interactive relationship in which one is stared back at by ‘the Other.’ This method saw its inception in his early two-dimensional works, as well as in his installations in which he had not yet utilized video images. For example, in his work “There will be a certain life” (1999), he created mounds out of an enormous number of lifeless, empty seashells that seemingly closed in on the viewers’ feet. But in contrast, the light that lit up the seawater inside the tank utilized in this work allowed viewers to perceive a symbol of new birth. A hollow-looking jacket that was displayed on a panel at the center of the room reminded viewers of the state of human existence that is positioned within the vortex of the dualistic conflict between the ‘birth’ and ‘extinction’ of life. Many of the ‘glue paintings’ on wooden panels, which also composed this work, were assembled so that they partially overlapped one another and so that they could spread out from the background to the foreground. This effectively amplified the interactive relationship between the work (seen as the “Other for one’s own self to face”) and the viewer.
The dual characteristic possessed by the ‘other person’ (who is both “the Other” and the “alter ego”) who engages in a dialogue with oneself, as well as the duality within the ‘birth’ and ‘extinction’ of life, are both connected to the duality of “being hostile” and “being friendly.” The interactive relationship that is created between an artwork and the viewers can guide viewers to stand in the shoes of people who have experienced life-threatening crises, while also allowing them to understand the sense of fulfillment these people felt when they realized they had the mental strength to survive such crises. In an artwork, the intensity of an artist’s sense of crisis toward his/her own life strictly remains a personal, spontaneous act; it also inevitably becomes the artist’s social and political expression toward antiwar sentiments. Similar to his use of seashells, the various types of worn-out shoes that Mizutani has frequently utilized as materials for his installations and reliefs convey calm but strong messages that contain the dualistic theme of ‘lives that have ceased to exist’ and ‘vibrant lives that once existed.
In his video installation “Tears of the sky”, Mizutani presents the idea of duality from a different perspective. A fabric screen utilized in this work concavely curves close to the floor, as the screen is put up via strings attached to its four corners. A projector installed far above the floor casts a refreshing blue sky onto the screen. A transparent water tank that is suspended below the projector is rigged in such a way that ripples are created on the water’s surface. The rays of light that penetrate through the ripples project a wavering sky on the screen as if it were a water surface. Mizutani’s aim is not to indicate the natural phenomenon of a blue sky that is reflected on a wavering water surface; rather, his work hypothesizes a view in which the viewer can look down at a blue sky that wavers like water. Via this hypothesis, viewers are reminded of the duality consisting of “looking up at the blue sky” and “looking down at the water surface,” and are led to consider the formation of the self that is derived not from looking at one or the other, but from the “sole act of looking.” Based on this premise, this work also alludes to the duality consisting of ‘the sense of freedom’ and ‘the sense of crisis.’ This is achieved through the occasional transformation of the image of the blue sky into the image of a red flame.
The idea behind Mizutani’s installation “Voice of the painting” is to create a dialogue between the viewer and the inner world of his painting. The viewer who stands before his painting picks up a telephone receiver that is connected with a cord to the surface of the painting, and listens to the sounds inside it. This work is also aimed at drawing the viewers into the interior of his work by creating an interactive relationship. The sounds heard out of the receiver are indeterminable; thus, this work shows a side that captures “the Other” as an elusive external world.
In his work “Portrait of the Sphinx”, he ingeniously composes two photographs of a face: one with its eyes open and the other, closed. When viewers fix their eyes on the face with the eyes that look like they are closed, they begin, in time, to appear as if they are open. Therefore, the viewers who thought were looking at a face with its eyes closed at some point notice that they are being stared back at by the open eyes of ‘the Other.’ This work is a lucid and typical example of a work that can induce viewers to hold a ‘dialogue’ via their direct and interactive visual perceptions.
In his work “Microcosm”, he purposefully focuses on a small-scale work that allows viewers to perceive a boundlessly expanding macrocosmic space inside a minimized, two-dimensional space. Utilizing a processed copper-foil sheet, he conveys this perception through the creation of minute speckles and subtle changes in tonality on the velvety, delicate surface of the work. The duality consisting of the ‘microcosmic world inside one’s consciousness’ and the ‘macrocosmic universe outside one’s consciousness’ is generated through the dialogue that the viewer holds with this inexpressible, nonverbal form. Mizutani’s interest toward the density of nonverbal, materialistic details can also be found in the ‘glue paintings’ that were utilized in his work “There will be a certain life...”.
In his performance “Mirror in the mirror”, which utilizes a live camera and a video projector, the audience is made to become conscious of the “multi-centered-self within oneself,” via the projection of countless duplicated ‘alter egos’ of each viewer and the dancer who appears in the performance. That is to say, “another self who is gazing at the multi-centered-self” is manifested within the mind of each viewer. “A dialogue between oneself and another self,” achieved via the ‘duplication of the self,’ enables each viewer to possess confidence toward his or her own self.
Having closely examined the visual expressions of Izuru Mizutani in this essay, the peculiarities of his works gradually became distinct. He steers viewers’ mind so that the dialogue held between the viewers and his work (considered a hypothetical “Other for oneself to face”) can function as a process of inquiry into the possibilities possessed by the mental structure of the self, which coexists with “the others.” Mizutani’s hypothetical visual expressions that are peculiar to humankind can allow us to recover the original state of the medium of self-generation that is essential for us to exist.
Dualistic and Interactive Images Hideki Nakamura, Art Critic, Member of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA), and Professor of Nagoya Zokei University of Art and Design
(Translated by Taeko Nanpei)