Throughout my career I have produced works of art with media and the technologies employed by media. The impetus behind most of these works came from discoveries made while tinkering with things that are part of my daily life such as televisions, videos, and computers; the works emerge from the attempt to find what makes these things interesting. In my case, television has been in existence since I was born. Machines stimulate my creativity and I use machines to create—perhaps if these media technologies weren’t close at hand I wouldn’t, or even couldn’t, produce art. That is how deeply I have been affected by the existence of media technology.
Yet I have recently come to realize that what stimulates me most is not the information conveyed by various media, but rather the actual machines those media use. What is interesting about the television is not the content of the programs but the fact that an electromagnetic wave broadcast from somewhere reaches one’s own home to become points of light that are continually combined to create a moving image. What fascinates me is the mechanism of such media and the actual machines that make them possible. Perhaps my strong attachment to these things-in-themselves, in spite of the fact that I create media art, shows that I am still partly grounded in the age of materiality.
The work I have produced for the opening of ICC “Seven Memories of Media Technology” will be permanently installed in a place nearby the entrance hall. I was very conscious of the fact that it was likely to be the first thing visitors would see upon entering ICC, and that it would also serve as a lead-in to the workshop space. Thus, I thought that the work itself should be introductory in nature, an aid to the general public’s understanding of media art and media communications. Since the installation space is long and narrow, rather than creating one large work, I aimed to convey a sense of continuity and diversity through the juxtaposition of several works in a series.
In thinking about this “introduction to media art” as a permanent installation, I came up with the idea of choosing a few major elements of the media technology that has influenced me so and using them to create a kind of personal history. Perhaps in turning the absolutely commonplace machines that I have always used into art, something about the starting point and conceptual process behind my work might be conveyed. In concrete terms, I installed seven pillars in the exhibition space and placed an object in a specimen box on each of them that have great personal meaning for me, having been the stimulus behind my work—the flipbook, Phenakisti-scope, photography, television, video, computer, and music box. I then synthesized computer imagery of each of these objects taken through the use of half mirrors, in the hope of demonstrating, in my own way, the essential beauty, appeal, and moreover the potentialities of these media technologies by contrasting the material and immaterial aspects of each.
On the Artist’s Work
IWAI Toshio’s start as a visual artist sprang from his work in experimental animation production after entering college. He first took an interest in pre-cinematic visual devices such as the flipbook, Phenakistiscope, and zoetrope. Giving movement to static pictures by showing them in a continuous series, these devices constitute the very basis of animation. IWAI arranges them in a contemporary fashion to create animation objet. What advanced his work yet further was his series “Time Stratum” (1985–), in which a group of small objects attached to the inner wall of a dome or revolving disk attain lively movement through the flashing light of a monitor.
“Man-Machine-TV” (1989) consists of eight television monitors equipped with interface devices such as revolving handles, joysticks, and switches. When the viewer manipulates these interfaces, the objects on the screen begin to move as though directly connected to the actual interface. This work was not simply an interface experiment; by experimenting with various links between people, sound, and image the work became a reflection on interactivity itself.
IWAI has also produced many music-related works such as “Music Insects” (1992), in which insects crawling on a screen make sounds and create music in accordance with pictures drawn by visitors. In “Resonance of 4” (1994), groups of four visitors can use a mouse to make points of light that are then performed as musical score, creating a harmonic musical space.
At the “MultiMediale 4” (ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany) held in May 1995, IWAI equipped a grand piano with a MIDI interface to create “Piano—as image media.” By moving a trackball, visitors made the notes depicted on a screen run across the musical score to collide with the keyboard, producing a rhythmical sound, whereupon three-dimensional images would suddenly emerge from the keyboard. Fusing together the materiality of the piano as mechanism and the immateriality of computer graphics as light, the work gave people a glimpse of the new relations between sound and image through the mediation of interactivity. Based on this work, a collaborative performance with SAKAMOTO Ryuichi was held in December 1996.
Recently, IWAI has also produced work in which he uses a video camera to take images of visitors to his installations and then presents these images as sequential photographs.
Pursuing, in his words, “visual media that becomes part of one’s body and can be controlled at will as an extension of the bodily functions,” IWAI makes deliberate use of interfaces where reality and visual media intersect in order to blur the boundary between material and virtual realities, and develops devices for performing music through the mediation of interactive visual media. In the process, IWAI continues to create visual media devices that he hopes will “raise people’s consciousness, sensibilities, and creativity to ever higher levels.”