Immagina che qualcuno indichi un punto nell’iride di un occhio dipinto da Rembrandt e dica: “Le pareti della mia stanza devono essere dipinte di questo colore”.  [L. Wittgenstein, Remarks on colour, I.§58]

Present is not only what is visible. For identifying the presence – and all the entities that come out with it – we need more than dropping the attention on all the phenomena that occupy our aware senses. In fact, there is a sort of landscape full of visual and sonic inputs determining – unconsciously – our perception.

Just around these minimal perceptions, boundaries of the infinitely small, are the works of the Japanese and worldwide known artist Shiro Takatani, already leader of the Japanese theatre company Dumb Type and today involved in different projects, from installation – as Frost Frames, conceived for the Kyoto Spiral Hall in 1998 and the collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto for LIFE – fluid, invisible, inaudible…(2007) –  to live performances, like the recent La chambre Claire (2008) and Chroma (2012).

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I. The shapes of the imperceptible

Since his work with Dumb Type, Shiro Takatani has always been between different kinds of arts. The works of the group, in fact, arose as artistic installation for developing into real performance, focusing on themes and issues always returning in his art.

The inner architecture of the works has always begun from an enlargement of pre-existent elements: there are returning issues moving around considerations both about diseases – like in S/N (1994) based on a reflection on the HIV spread – and about the impact and the acceleration that technologies have on the relationships between people nowadays – like in [OR] (1997).

However, nearby these contingent topics, their production has oriented around issues like memory (and how it works within reality) and journey, above all with works as Memorandum (1999) and Voyage (2002).

In such a framework and close to these modules of structure, the actual production of Shiro Takatani moves out of the Dumb Type.

In that contest Takatani elaborates and founds part of the creative process on the wide use of multimedia: it means that he explores the combination of different kind of information (text, sound, moving or still images) coming from the use of several media, such as photography or video, up to the repetitive implementation of luminous bars and strobe lights. They remind the particular instruments used in the bio-medical contexts, as there were in [OR] of Dumb Type, where they did a sort of scan of all the stage components, including the performer’s body.

By an aesthetic point of view, following this direction of analysis, the shadow and the light (linchpins of the Japanese aesthetic reflection), using devices like the video, offer an important framework for approaching the work of Takatani, who starting with LIFE – fluid, invisible, inaudible… an environmental installation realized in collaboration with Sakamoto, since the creation of the two performances La chambre Claire and Chroma, his last production where space and time become two inseparable dimensions, as they are in the Japanese aesthetic vision. “In Japan the notion of time and space is linked by just one concept, the one of ma […] then all the arts are limbs of ma […]”, as Arata Isozaki underlines the concept of Japanese space [A. Isozaki, “L’espace Japonais”, in Chaiers Renauld Barrault, n° 102, 1981, p. 57].

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For entirely understand the aesthetic quality of this kind of composition process, it’s necessary to leave the spatial dimension and move away from the closest visible.

These pieces go toward the infinity – the figures of light are not something that we can see in the normal conditions of sight – but the starting point of this process is visible and occupies the place where the image comes out to the surface. These works are connected to time’s feature: both incorporeity and impermanency (mujo). Time appears and disappears; heterogeneous, singular and imperceptible. The transformation process itself constitutes the temporality of time and gives body to it, showing it like a luminous fluid, silhouette or sound or chromatic frequency.

Time is the indistinct, the indifferent; then, for creating the difference – that time offers itself to the human perception – it is necessary to have a micro-event, like the collapse of a gas bubble producing dense clouds, picking it up and giving it a proper shape. In other words, time becomes perceptible when a signal or a stimulus showing it.

This is the nature of the flow that LIFE, La chambre Claire and Chroma make visible: a flow that has not image in the iconic meaning of the term; that has no sense to describe because it has no shape and so, it’s not being fixed. We can just grasp the passing, ephemeral and evanescent transformation of a sonar frequency, of a trace of light – a fleeting movement of a body or a chromatic figure – that we can see.

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II. Logic of composition: acoustic images and chromatic figures

At this point, it’s necessary a suspension, like a not planned breath, like a fluid drawing the trajectory of a new departure; then we should come back to the kind of traces that become marks of this particular aesthetic. For doing that we need to analyze the three works considered here.

The first one, the artistic installation LIFE – fluid, invisible, inaudible… is realized in collaboration with the composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and commissioned by the Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media (YCAM), Japan. The installation is made with nine acrylic basins filled with water. They are organized to form a 2 -metres- and-half suspended grid. Each basin is inserted in a structure containing suspended speakers. Inside each basin, where the composition and the flow of the water can be controlled, the ultrasonic waves create a sort of artificial fog.

These fogbanks, then, work as a screen for projecting images toward the floor. The intensity’s level of the images and their visibility depend of the texture of the cloud. Their projection on the fog wall appears as a rhythmic scale in response to synchronisation’s parameters or, otherwise, in autonomous and independent way.

The intention of Takatani and Sakamoto’s project is to demonstrate a new relationship between the image and the video, where the sound is not just a soundtrack of the visual dimension, but actually it becomes its counterpoint. Sometimes the sound is audible without the presence of the images. About the control system of the installation, LIFE – fluid, invisible, inaudible… is basically a designed device, even if the disposition of its different parts, the sound and the visual ones, can be changed by the sensor’s determined impulses, that are placed all around the gallery where the installation is.

It seems like the sound score establishes a high-tension relationship with the image score: the sound-images – its atmospheric potential – give to the installation the special texture defining the visual image. Then, even if there is a visual image, this work of Takatani and Sakamoto has more intensity in its auditive aspect. That’s not just what we can hear: this particular image is about what there is inside the listening, then it becomes necessary to identify the peculiarities and find the specific point where the intensity works to transform sonic material into image. That means re-drawing the modalities of the listening and, as well, re-defining the modalities of the viewing; then the sound gives the atmosphere to the installation and the stage, too. Thus, in this particular frame, the visual image is just the counterpoint.

For that reason, we can consider LIFE – fluid, invisible, inaudible… a sort of time sculpture, through which the ephemeral dimension produced by the device, allows that time reveals itself with a shade of visible vibrations. This continuous game of appearance / disappearance makes the sound visible and, at the same time, allows us to “listen the image”: it surfaces to the perception and then disappears, passing through different gradations addressing to the audience’s perception.

A similar principle seems to be at the basis of La chambre claire (2008) – inspired by the last Roland Barthes’ book – and developed around the light-impressing device on the photo-sensible plate. It is a proof of what is been and also a sort of dynamic, able to produce different sensations becoming sound and images, on the stage.

The bodies of the performers – placed on a central platform on the stage – are exposed to the audience gaze, on the two sides of the stage frame. Above them, there are three screens – those remind the ones used for the LIFE – fluid, invisible, inaudible… installation – becoming projection surfaces for the flowing abstract and atmospheric images.

What is really relevant is the relation between the darkness and the light – close to the one ruling the light impression of a photo shoot. Most of the performance is composed by a soft black that determines the main colour, as a matrix of all the light impressions on the photographic film. Then there are also some sections of the performance completely characterised by figures of light, directing the temperature of the scene as evoking an ancient time – together with the performers actions – a past time, given to our memories and suspended in chronological time, like a daily phases succession.

On stage, a stage long diagonal of lamps forest marks this alternation of the different phases of the day. The intermittence of the light – that works parallel to the flowing of the bodies on both sides – is connected with the sound texture realized by the sound designer Takuya Minami. In this way, it’s like suspending the optical effect of the bodies before imprinting their light on the audience’s brain photo-sensible plateau, which glimpses the bodies on the stage as a flash.

This process creates a particular dialectic system between the transparency and the opacity of the bodies – mediated by the technological device  – make it close to the recent Chroma, the Takatani’s performance during the festival Biwako Hall of Shiga, Autumn 2012, Japan. As expressed by the title, Chroma is inspired by Derek Jarman’s book. This is a work entirely dedicated at the exploration of the colour spectrum, of the different tones through the light which reveals the world as we can perceive it.

The sound composition of the stage is realized by Simon Fisher Turner, who was also the collaborator of Jarman for the realization of some of his main works. As in the book of the English film-maker, the performance alternates some lyric moments with dialogical parts where the subject is the chromatic refraction of the light, characters like Aristotle, Leonard, Newton, Goethe and Wittgenstein are evocated: their thoughts about the grammar of the colour are played or projected on the stage screens.

About the stage development, the performance works on a time-upsetting: it starts from the end and then goes backwards all day long, as it would be possible to do with the entire human life.

Chroma is like a prism – this geometric figure is used for the investigation of the light and its spectral components – which shows the faces of the time in the same moment it organizes the different ways of sight.

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In the colour, the eye doesn’t perceive just a simple chromatic sensation, but also a shade of thoughts, sensations and temporal dimension that the light vibration imprints on the viewer.

For that reason, the work of Takatani goes to a constellation of chromatic elements that they don’t refer just to a visual system: they transmit thermal sensations, too – and with them it is possible to determine the specific temperature of the scene, as for example in the frame with the real time image of a fire dominating the centre of the visual mediated space. They transmit tactile sensations, making a kind of colour more or less still, fluid or malleable – as in the frame with a data storm, that rolls the performer’s body, dunking it in the electronic device. There are also some olfactory sensations: for those Takatani works with the colour of the stage props – for example, the sequence when the performer is on stage bringing some little trees, creating an iconic figure set in a frame. The last one is the acoustic dimension of the colour, where the temper of the scene is just perceptible or, otherwise, is acute or grave, like in the scene where the performer – and his total white figure – goes toward the proscenium, as it was from another space and time, from a glacial space that makes him really a stranger for the viewers: a special time-figure

But is not just the result of a technological combination of devices. For Takani more than thinking about the astonishing consequences involving the use of technologies on stage, is composing a sensorial experience for discovering – through the technologies mediation – an aesthetic experience in its etymological meaning. It means knowledge reached from the exploration (and also from the dilatation) of the perceptive net, as there is a flash in the morning starry vault of heaven: we can catch it just in the moment that it’s vanishing. We got it obliquely, as something that we can’t know for sure; as the suddenly appearance of an idea. Then, it is just in this sort of chromatic sensations the main aspect of Takatani’s work, in this affirmative ephemeral, in perfect trend with the Japanese art that considers the impermanence, as wrote by Christine Buci-Glucksmann, the central issue of the aesthetic of fluidity and transparency.

However, if it counts for the visible dimension of the scene, from the other side, also the sound dimension has similar tensions. From this particular point of view, La chambre claire and Chroma have two different levels for controlling the sound; the first one refers to a sound that explores the audible scale, while the second one works on the edge: from the imperceptible of lowest and bodily frequency, to the intolerable sound saturation of the highest frequency.

Then, the matter is to de-centralizing or multi-centralizing the perception, working close with others composition level, every time drawing new kind of combinations between sound, light and movement.

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III. On the Atmosphere: a note about perception.

For describing in a few words the composition work of Takatani, we can just say that we are in front of a scene thought as a system with subliminal elements, where the device conceives the environment and where all its components are activated. All the Takatani’s works here described are like operant fields strength: they reveal hidden tensions that change the environment’s temperature. And in this kind of vortex the presence of the body shows itself, as well as the autonomy of the colour reveals what we can recognize as figures – for example, in Chroma.

That means to affirm the necessity of escaping from the idea that the stage work is based on the action – and on the linearity – and finally perceive the function and the activity of another logic, the one of the transformation, working under the surface and making the presence appear. This way of working implies necessarily the relocation of the observation point, because it is not just how to perceive the presence – of the body, of the movement, colour or sound – but is about multiplying the observation points for understanding its starting point, its point of development and disappearance: how to be oriented inside the prism.

In conclusion, they are spread presences that become atmosphere.

This atmosphere is nothing else but the temperature of the stage work, the transient way of encounter between bodies and other entities. It’s a state of elements, that offers itself not really in a visible way: is more like a sensation to be experienced. The typologies of the atmosphere, created by the scene, are the ways with they impresses the audience, producing some effects to the public, by images speaking directly to its emotive perception, and surviving in its memory.  What impress people the most are the gestural architectures, the particular light design, the pulsation of sound – colour and glow: a perfect disposition of environmental sensations.

Then, for living in deep this stage temperature – this atmosphere of colours – is not enough watching or listening, but it is necessary the re-thinking how to feel the entire stage work, passing through a modality before the forms, to one that privileges the vibrating intensities of the space. To perceive intensity means to get closer to the invisible and to what we usually cannot hear; it means entering in the vision and the listening for recomposing them in different forms and declare the unheard as the vanishing point of the stage idea, the movement through reformulating our sensorial map and then living the particular extension of the visible that is the stage work.


The author thanks the Epidemic agency.

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