Haris Epaminonda

‘Introspection and Image Memories in the Light of the Setting Sun’

Renate Wiehager on Haris Epaminonda’s Japan Diaries

Still from Japan Diaries, 2020. © Haris Epaminonda

Haris Epaminonda’s film Japan Diaries, created in Tokyo during her time there as recipient of the 2019/2020 Art Scope scholarship,[1] represents a subtly composed visual homage to Japan as a country where images and traditions from art and history still exert a strong influence on everyday life. The film, which has been transferred to video, was created by the artist using an 8mm camera. It presents an admixture of direct recordings Epaminonda took from real life as well as footage of various screens and monitors which the artist happened upon and spontaneously documented.

The film begins with a stationary shot of the sun setting into an ocean horizon. Already here, a cautious comment is being made on the difficult global political and economic situation during the summer of 2020. We recall that Japan is traditionally known as the ‘Land of the Rising Sun.’ During the Meiji period, the flag of the rising sun with its sixteen red rays, the Kyokujitsu-ki, was the official symbol of the Japanese military. A modified version of the flag was adopted by the modern Japanese army. Today in Japan, it is occasionally used on national holidays and at sporting events (the motif of the flag occurs later in the film in an animated form in which other visual material is incorporated).

Epaminonda uses this motif of the solar disk as a formal element, showing within a circular segment film footage from various cultural contexts, all of which, however, are linked to traditions that still permeate the present-day reality of Japan. The circular shape is then replaced by full-frame, slowly pulsating images and flowing impressions from nature, film history, manga culture and art, with references to Hokusai’s famous series One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji and many other sources. Music by the pioneering Japanese composer Hiroshi Yoshimura, drawn from his 1986 album Soundscape 1: Surround,[2] delightfully sets the tempo for the slow, circular rhythm of the images.

Allusions to film history appear in Epaminonda’s work, especially via its aesthetics and editing techniques. Some of the cinematic techniques utilized recall those from silent-era films; for example, the graphic isolation of image details references the iris shot technique, in which a round section of the image is focused upon using a mask and the remainder of the image is hidden from view. Images with monochromatic colors are, in turn, reminiscent of the techniques used to tint black-and-white film stock. For her media historiography, Haris Epaminonda uses a wide variety of memory techniques such as revealing the perforations on film strips or anachronistic video timecodes.

The vintage techniques, as well as the retrospective aesthetics of the film, awaken memories, opening up a field of manifold interferences and correspondences as historical layers. Such an approach is especially suitable for the dairy film format as a space for the fabrication and representation of memory. For Epaminonda, memory is neither a single entity nor a simple collective, but, rather, a composite constructed through her re-filming of found imagery and historical or historicized media technologies. As a heterogeneous ensemble of relationships, memory in its filmic forms combines the most diverse narrative strands: Japanese history and the subjective worlds of the imagination are brought into association with one another.[3] The interplay of a sober, abstract-geometric vocabulary of forms with charged content is characteristic of the work of Haris Epaminonda. Fluidly arranged historical images are combined with culturally significant symbols, such as the stylized form of the chrysanthemum (a reference to the seal of Imperial Japan) brought together with readymade visuals from the spheres of advertising, television and the internet. With her selection of pieces from Yoshimura’s Soundscape 1: Surround, originally produced as an ambient soundtrack for a series of prefabricated houses (his first record, produced for the Hara Museum, was called Music for Nine Postcards),[4] Haris Epaminonda emphatically roots her film Japan Diaries in a still little-known aspect of Japanese culture of the 1980s.

Haris Epaminonda integrated a text work dedicated to Yoshimura by the German conceptual artist Daniel Gustav Cramer into her extensive installation for the Hara Museum. Cramer writes about the Japanese composer:

“Hiroshi Yoshimura was born in Yokohama, Japan on the 22 October 1940. Forty-two years later he composed a set of abstract musical tracks in his living room with an analog synthesizer and a Fender Rhodes. The arrangements were inspired by the window views of his house. The sparse and subtle sounds came as a direct reaction to the overload of bustling Japan of the 1980s. He described his music as a form of resistance.

In 1982 Yoshimura approached the newly opened Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo, and proposed to play his compositions inside the exhibition spaces as background music to the displayed works of art. In the months to follow, visitors requested information about the creator of the sounds. As a consequence, his first album, Music for Nine Postcards, was released the same year. It marked the beginning of the Wave Notation series, a long-term project of environmental music on Sound Process, a newly founded label by Satoshi Ashikawa. Tragically, the series came to an abrupt end a few months on, when Ashikawa died in a car accident. Yoshimura continued to release several more records. His activities were followed by a small, loyal group of listeners in Japan. With his passing in 2003, his musical legacy seemed to have come to a close. A decade passed.

As it happened, YouTube’s automated logarithm would eventually direct those searching for ambient music and electronica—Brian Eno, Aphex Twin or Kraftwerk—to the outer fringes of its ever expanding archive, to the Japanese eighties subculture of environmental music and to Hiroshi Yoshimura’s compositions. Here at last, in the digital realm of the internet, he rose to unforeseen prominence, silently adored by millions across the globe, who sit at home and in their living rooms, studying, reading and listening.”[5]

Text: Dr. Renate Wiehager

[1] Beginning in 2003, the Hara Museum partnered with Mercedes-Benz Japan and the Mercedes-Benz Art Collection for its Art Scope artist-in-residence program which invites young artists from Japan and Germany to live in and draw inspiration from a different cultural environment. In 2018, the Japanese artist Tsuyoshi Hisakado was invited to Berlin for the 2018-2020 program and, from Germany, the Cypriot artist Haris Epaminonda went to Tokyo in 2019. See: Mercedes-Benz Art Scope 2018–2020: Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in co-operation with the Mercedes-Benz Art Collection, Stuttgart/Berlin, July 27–September 6, 2020, Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. Mercedes-Benz Art Scope 2018 – 2020 – Mercedes-Benz Art Collection.

[2] Cf.: https://wearethemutants.com/2019/03/20/drifting-like-smoke-hiroshi-yoshimuras-soundscape-1-surround/[accessed April 24, 2021]. The album was originally released by the label Misawa Home. Today, Hiroshi Yoshimura’s estate owns and controls the rights to his music. The label Light in the Attic is working on behalf of the estate for synchronization purposes, and is mentioned as “By arrangement with…”

[3] I would like to thank Friederike Horstmann, Berlin, for information on theoretical and historical aspects of the film.

[4] Cf.: https://lightintheattic.net/releases/3538-music-for-nine-post-cards [accessed April 24, 2021].

[5] Daniel Gustav Cramer. Hiroshi, 2020, text work for the exhibition Mercedes-Benz Art Scope 2018–2020. Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo 2020, see note 1.


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