Watching Derek Jarman’s Blue (1993) is like seeing everything and nothing at the same time. The cinema screen is entirely covered in a projection of blue, the particular tone of which was inspired by Yves Klein’s monochrome painting IKB 79 (1959) as well as the blue filter Jarman felt covered his own failing eyesight, symptomatic of his complications with AIDS. Made just a year before his death, the film involves the British artist. A number of his close friends recount his memories and moribund experiences in poetic stanzas. The screen is saturated with his pain, the extent of which is too vast to depict in a framed image. While Blue is introspective and deeply personal, the emptiness of the blue invites the viewers to see whatever comes to mind and in their own way. It is this fleeting quality –oscillating moment to moment between the concrete and abstract– that made John Paul Ricco describe the film as ‘becoming-disappearing.’
Apart from the blue tone that imbues much of the film, it is this tension between presence and transience that made me recall Blue while watching Takashi Makino’s 2012. Alleged to be everything the filmmaker saw in the year, the film 2012 is an exercise in the impossibility of containing all that you experience into a single artwork – while still giving it a good attempt. Capturing everything from the cosmic sky to the microscopic details of the ground, Makino brought these disparate images literally together by repeating the on-location multiple exposure process of filming and then rewinding in-camera. Branches and water, selected as his primary subjects for their organic quality, defy pre-determined formations in Makino’s cinema. Subjected to intense layering, their original shapes disappear within the image only to create fleeting forms and invoke shadows of a memory. As such, the experience of watching 2012 is like trying to recall a dream in the flash of a second after you awake, before it dissipates for good. You think you’ve grasped hold of it but it quickly becomes apparent you hadn’t.
While 2012 may not embody the personal pain of Blue, it is certainly instilled with a similar urgency, but one that is levelled at what Makino considered to be the twilight of film culture as he knew it. In 2012, both Kodak and Fujifilm announced there were to stop producing photographic film. A year before, Tacita Dean presented her installation Film (2011) in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern that was marked in the art world as an outcry for film preservation in the midst of film labs shutting down their production in London – a dismal situation that saw parallels with circumstances in Tokyo that were more intimate to him. As if in response, 2012 sees Makino use Super 8, 16mm and 35mm films onto which he applied scratches and sand particles in order to enhances their materiality. But 2012 doesn’t stop short at following Dean and others in mourning the imminent loss of a treasured past. Amid the frenzy of images, the film also visually marks the transitional moment from film to digital that he has experienced first-hand as one of the few Telecine operators in Japan: for the first time in Makino’s artistic career, he incorporates digitally shot material into the fabric of his picture. The co-existence of material shot in both analogue and digital formats represents his devotion to a medium to which he is attached as well as a valiant decision to seek new ways of experiencing images for his audience.
Makino’s unique method of presentation for 2012 was one other way he re-examined film experience in this changing phase. Throughout the year 2012, Makino presented the film as a performance work –Project – in various locations and contexts: Festival Play, Madrid (Act 1); Open Experimental, Tokyo (Act 2); Bakuon Film Festival, Tokyo (Act 3); Kontraste Festival, Krems (Act 4); 3D Bakuon Film Festival, Tokyo (Act 5); a lecture in Kyoto (Act 6); and Aichi Art Film Festival (Act 7). In such ways, 2012 was presented as an incomplete fragment of a project onto which Makino built on each occasion. Notably, at least three of the events listed above are focused on sound explorations as much as visual experiments: Makino began accompanying his film projections with live music composed of similarly layered collection of noises. Through these performances, live-ness became an integral constituent for the evolution of the project. I had the pleasure of attending 2012 Act 5, presented in the now-defunct cinema Baus Theatre in Kichijōji, Tokyo, where Makino sat on the stage facing the screen, not the audience, with his electronic noise-generating equipment. The simple gesture spoke volumes on the evolving nature of 2012 as the artist himself responded to the audio-visual experience by layering semi-improvised drone sounds. While he composed his own film music earlier in his filmmaking endeavours, Makino preferred to collaborate with musicians who would offer new and unexpected perspectives on his works. The challenge now was to bring about the sense of renewal himself, which he attempted on each incarnation of 2012 throughout the year. At a time when many Japanese people fell into silence in the wake of the 3/11 disaster, the act of being present at each screening was a way of speaking out for Makino. The moments are transient but his presence is felt throughout.
On the other hand, the optional incorporation of the Pulfrich 3D effect was a way for Makino to offer the experience of 2012 into the control of others. The Pulfrich effect is the name for the psychological perception of depth induced by signal delays between one eye and the other, most commonly introduced by a dark filter over one eye. Watching an abstract film, particularly one with an abundance of lateral motion like Makino’s cinema, can make the quality of depth within the image appear enhanced. In his screenings of 2012, Makino handed out the handcrafted spectacles –with one eye filtered and the other unblocked– and asked his audience to put them on during the film if they feel like it and whenever they want. While the effect was slight at first, gradually the screen appears thicker as the image layers increased and the motion accelerated. Looking around at the audience during the screening, I was made aware of the participatory potential of cinema as each person took their spectacles on and off and swapped the filter onto the other eye in response to the projected image. Rather than the negative parallax often exploited by digital 3D in contemporary blockbusters, Makino’s images operate on an axis that appears to dissipate as he coalesces zenith and horizon. We’re invited to perform with our own sensory perception and get in touch with our own ways of seeing.
Blue flashes in my eyes
As the flickering light flashes through branches, Makino proposes for us to explore the fundamental characteristics of the act of seeing –to discovery to what extent we have any control over it. While he explores his own limitations of image-making in the transitional phase of cinema, Makino asks us how we will contribute as viewers to these changes. In this moment, I see myself in the boy to which Derek Jarman refers to the opening lines of Blue:
You say to the boy open your eyes
When he opens his eyes and sees
You make him cry out. Saying
O Blue come forth
O Blue arise
O Blue ascend
O Blue come in