Before he laughed himself to death after painting a funny old woman, Zeuxis is said to have lost a competition with his fellow painter Parrhasius to see who the greater artist was. While he unveiled a painting of grapes so lifelike that birds flew down from the sky to peck at them, Parrhasius won when he fooled Zeuxis about the very existence of his painting: he portrayed a curtain so realistically that Zeuxis tried to push it aside. Exclaiming that he himself had managed merely to deceive the birds while Parrhasius had deceived the artist, Zeuxis conceded defeat.
That was in 5BC, but images still have the capacity to outwit the eye as a critical organ. The Yokohama-based sister/brother duo Yuka and Kentaro Shimura, aka SHIMURABROS., are driven by a desire to get behind and beyond the illusory two-dimensional surfaces of images. Their recent solo show at Taka Ishii Gallery in Kyoto, Film Without Film, presented four examples from their diverse ten-year collaborative practice, including their acclaimed X-ray Train (2008) (below). With a series of computer-controlled medical CT scans and special liquid crystal film depicting a locomotive engine in transit, the work is self-consciously entwined with the history of the moving image and carries with it essential questions regarding the relationship between image and reality.
The most obvious historical reference here is of course the popular legend about the group of Parisians being struck by panic in 1895 during the world’s first film screening – the Lumière brothers’ L’Arrivée d’un Train en Gare de La Ciotat (‘The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station’) – when they believed the steam locomotive on the screen was actually coming right at them. Unaccustomed to the amazingly realistic illusions created by the new motion pictures, the audience perceived the image as existing in space and were suitably incredulous and terrified.
Whether or not this actually happened, it is interesting that it was also in 1895 that the German physicist William Roentgens would stumble upon his breakthrough discovery of the X-ray and publish his paper Über eine neue Art von Strahlen, outlining the New Kind Of Ray that would allow us to see through opaque surfaces. A hundred and fifteen years down the track (so to speak), SHIMURABROS. have traced these two instances with their X-ray Train where the film’s projected light probes a series of screens and achieves the appearance of mass, inviting viewers to navigate their way around a moving image and experience it as a form with not just width and breadth but also depth.
The blurring of two-dimensionality and three-dimensionality is also the basis of the duo’s new photographic sculpture works on show, Roppongi and Nihombashi (2010) (above). Here the artists scanned the roads of select districts in Tokyo on Google Maps Street View and located several gaps – blurred lines that can be located on Street View all around the world, wherever the computer-generated photograph is partially incomplete. They then cast these sections of the road in fibre-reinforced plastic and mounted them so the digital images, including their erroneous creases, become materialised as something that straddles the image/object divide.
Part of the ongoing project to stretch images beyond the limitations of the screen’s flat surface, an earlier video installation, SEKILALA – uncovered family (2006-2008) (above), was also included in the exhibition. Here, a family drama is played out with multiple vantage points as figures appear on three screens in close proximity, facing each other but unable to touch each other. Things seem to them to be within reach, yet as with the grapes and curtains of our antiquity painters, any attempt to grasp hold of them is in vain. This work extends not only the conventional spacial limitations of film, but also the temporal ones. As with the automated, authorless images of Google Maps, the editing of the images here is not conscious, and thus the stories that emerge cannot be predicted. With 26 scenes of varying durations played out randomly, an infinite narrative unfolds of its own accord, and this strategy of indifference raises the question of whether editing without intentionality can still be considered editing.
The rendering of film as form takes a different manifestation in Film Without Film (2010) (above), the exhibition’s titular work. Presented as a response to Soviet filmmaker Lev Kuleshov and his pioneering theories of montage and creative geography, the work gives volume to cinematic images with the application of 3D printer technology. According to the Kuleshov Effect, the assemblage of the images in a film carries more meaning than their content, and while the original found footage used for his Film Without Film experiment is lost, SHIMURABROS. used the surviving text to re-enact it with fragmentary scenes borrowed from notable historical films that were set in Kyoto and are available on public domain. With the light from these films transformed into steel figures and mounted on a clear acrylic base representing a reel, this is evidently film without film but also film about film, a metacinema that has its own layered history wound through it and foregrounded as its raison d’être.
PHOTOS OF X-RAY TRAIN AT THE 2010 BIG IN JAPAN EVENT …