Interview between Masaki Fujihata, Daniel Pinkas and Jean-Louis Boissier, Paris, IAP, August 29th 2008

Interview between Masaki Fujihata, Daniel Pinkas and Jean-Louis Boissier
Paris, IAP, August 29th 2008

P = Daniel Pinkas [DanielPinkas is philosopher, professor at HEAD Geneva]
F = Masaki Fujihata [Masaki Fujihata is artist, professor, dean of Tokyo University of the Arts, Graduate School of Film and New Media]

P: So the starting point is really map making and the kind of landscape that arises out of the new ways of recording all kinds of data and images. It is about new forms of design, new kinds of communicating objects linked to the fact that these objects are mobile and at the same time localizable in a geographical way.
I would really be interested to know in what precise way you think the « new media » change our consciousness, because it is something you have said repeatedly and I know you are very interested in these changes.

F: I am very interested to know the real meaning of new media, of new technology, which are already very present in our environment and therefore affect our daily life and of course also our consciousness. Especially IT progressed so fast that we could not follow its developments. Actually, no one knows the reason why humans invented and perpetually develop computers. This questioning is a very fundamental attitude of me and it is undoubtedly the reason why I am using these technologies.

In the last 15 years, a lot of investment has been made. Even if most of the effort has failed, it means that a lot of curiosity and energy was spent to create revolutionary technology. Today we already have very small computers and the communication network, which developed in the last 50 years. The digital computer was invented, only 50 years ago. At the beginning, it was just a calculator and now it is connected to the Net. It’s not only a calculator any more, but also a communication terminal. From the very early moment, everybody could easily imagine a machine, with which one can e-mail, phone and use the web, at the same time. But this took a long time to come into view, for political and economical reasons. Anyway, we do have this kind of media now. But we still do not know the real purpose of these developments. What are they for?
I know this is not a common question to ask. People normally use these media for rational reasons. They do not modify anything by themselves, they only wish these technologies to be faster, easier, smoother, and smarter to communicate with each other.

I have a slightly different approach to observe these changes. This is because we, as artists, develop things, which have not been developed by the industry, and because we are independent. I do not have to develop a consumer product. My task is to reveal other potentials, which are useless, for the time being. I would like to express the potential of this uselessness. For example, most mobile phones have GPS integrated whose functions are, however, almost useless. But in order to sell the same product, the industry has to propose new functions continually. Only by creating variability the product will stay commercially interesting.

P: What is your understanding of this “uselessness”?

F: We can see the map on the I-phone by using GPS but does this mean that it is really efficient? GPS tells you where you are, but isn’t it still easier to ask someone the way? And at the same time, I do not want everything to be exposed on the map, neither myself. I want the world to stay mysterious in a way.
I think GPS is more interesting beyond it’s “useful” functions, beyond the fact that it tells you a longitude, latitude and altitude, which is a very simple function. In a way, I also think that GPS can be a fascinating object for artists and people to discover new points of view.

P: I am coming back to the modification of consciousness, which is where we started. Is it perhaps so that it gives us the feeling that the world is more domesticated than it really is and that we know the space?

F: The notion of space has certainly become more complex. The Descartian, Newtonian perception of the universe was very rigid. Notions were very clear, one km always corresponded to one km. Today it is possible for me to make a phone call to you in Geneva, while I drive my car in Tokyo, although this is illegal. We accept this functionality, because it is useful. But when we observe this situation precisely, regarding the notion of space, it is only our ears, which are extended to the other side of the earth, as our body stays in the car. Our body is fragmented in a strange space and in a strange way. I believe artists should reveal what is happening here. They should not only capture their experiences with these technologies, but they should absorb and integrate them, in order to express themselves.

P: The notion of space you reveal does not only concern the networks you mentioned, but also your installation pieces, as Morel’s Panorama? Is this right?

F: Yes, it is possible to discuss Morel’s Panorama as an example of a distorted space. I apply new technologies to show the strange structures, which can be found behind the art piece. Actually, Morel’s Panorama is clearly showing the different structures of mirror, photography, cinema and video. As you know, in a distorted mirror your body looks fatter or skinnier, taller or smaller, because of the curved surface of the mirror. This distortion is the result of the physical and optical structure of the mirror. Morel’s Panorama also creates strange images by an electronic, optical structure. Metaphorically speaking, Morel’s Panorama is a kind of distorted mirror. However, the fundamental difference between a distorted mirror and my installation piece is that in Morel’s Panorama the system reflecting your body is a computer. The distortion is created by an algorithm, which was programmed and realized by computation. It is not a real reflection. I conceive it as a key for the apprehension of the strange aspects of the computer and the panorama. It is a sort of experiment to experience the difference between the old distorted mirror and the distorted mirror created by a computer.
Sometimes I think that my work resembles a scientific experiment. First, I try to figure out a hypothesis. In the case of Morel’s Panorama it is, apparently, camera and computer rendering. Then I start to construct, realize an experiment in an exhibition space. Then the observers, viewers and users enter the experiment. They experience the installation and think about what is happening to them. It is fun to watch their behavior. Perhaps my task, my exploration consists of collecting as many keys as possible to open up different dimensions of the same system.

Another aspect of Morel’s Panorama is that there are two panoramic cylinders embedded. One is a real time rendering. And the other one is a recorded image. Inside this recorded image, a person, who is myself, is walking around reiterating Adolfo Bioy Casares’s « Morel’s Invention. » This is another key part, it shows the audience the possibility of image recording.

P: So the real time rendering is mixed with images you have prerecorded, is that right?

F: Concerning the term « mixed » that you employ, in fact, I do not mix the images. The images only seem to be mixed up in a strange way because of the shape of the cylinders.
Anyway, the piece is very much a questioning of our existence. How can we attain reality and feel that we exist? We have several different sensors: tactility, seeing, hearing. But basically our brain tries to combine, to integrate these stimulations in order to perceive the variety. However, once we start to analyze our devices, like the eyes, we realize that perception is characterized by many difficulties, by gaps and doubts. By using the new media, I think I can reflect these gaps, and I can make the spectator doubt whether he exists or not. The mirror is one of the central elements of the work. In the mirror, you can see your face and recognize yourself, which is a very symbolic situation. But as the projected image is moving alongside your real time movement, you perceive yourself in a strange way. It is, certainly, different from other experiences of self-observation, and that difference is an important point.

P: If I understand it correctly, it is basically at one level a simple projection. So I was wondering whether in a way all these very complex spaces are represented spaces. Inside that frontal projection there are very complex cylinders, and cylinders inside cylinders, but on the other hand, there is just a flat projection. Isn’t it also like in the real world, where the ordinary people think that the world is just a 3 dimensional Newtonian order and that all the rest is just imaginary and represented?

F: Your question places our discussion on a higher level, because you mention real space and the perception of real space. Until now, I’ve just been talking about the lower technological level.

Morel’s Panorama is a projection and a shooting at the same time, which is another important aspect. The camera needs brightness, but the projection rather requires a dark space. When you see the cylinder on a white background, you consider this white background as a screen. But this screen is totally different from the conventional cinema screen. It is a normal wall, as there are only dim lights and during the time there is no projection. When the cylinder starts moving slowly, it results in a strong 3D illusion. The cylinder looks as if it is floating in the air. This is the most important point I have to consider during the installation of the piece in the exhibition space. I struggle a lot with the strong brightness of the lighting and the brightness of the projector. I need to find a certain balance between the two different brightness’s, in order to realize the 3D illusion of the cylinder floating in the air.

P: So in a way, by very different means, you obtained the same effect, as using real stereoscopy like in Landing Home. So this is important for you. But why is it important?

F:  Yes of course, these two examples implicate totally different techniques. I conceived Landing Home in Geneva as a 3D stereo-scopic projection, which is not the case concerning Morel’s Panorama. Both of these works, however, propose an experience of perceiving illusions, illusions for reflecting reality.

This reminds me of George Méliès who is very famous and who is shown at the Cinémathèque française at the moment. George Méliès is like a magician at the theater. He used the cinema for creating stronger illusions rather than having a theatrical approach. In a way, Morel’s Panorama has a similar attitude. This attitude differs totally from that of the inventors of cinema, the Lumière brothers. The Lumière brothers and George Méliès were opposed to each other. Their attitudes towards the cinema were totally different. I think Morel’s Panorama can rather be analyzed from the point of view of the work of George Méliès, than from the cinema system made by the Lumière brothers. Film image is a collection of illusions. It is not a real event, it is a recorded image, but it reflects reality. The question is when does this reality emerge? This is a curiosity I have, which is connected to the fact that I have doubts about my existence.

In regard to this, I would like to tell you a story of myself. When I was in Junior High School, I was about 12 or 13 years old, I had a very severe fever of nearly 40 degrees. I had a very bad dream at that moment. Did I tell you about it? It was an awful nightmare. In this dream I was falling down a tube made of a black and very smooth gum. My fall lasted almost infinitely. I knew that there was another person falling down at the same time, and that we would meet somewhere. I knew that we would both die if we hit each other. So this was a very, very scary experience. It was a nightmare. When I woke up, I told my mother about this nightmare, and she explained to me that my birth had been very difficult. My birth had taken a very long time and this had been very tough for my mother. I don’t know whether there is really any connection between this dream and my birth. But I believe that my existential questioning started at that time.

P: Because you were wondering how you tell the difference between dream and reality?

F: It was rather a meditation on death. Perhaps I am doing what I am doing now, because I faced a very severe situation in the past. Art is an action of externalization, an action to produce something that will last in time. You know that you exist, because the artwork you created exists. I think this is very fundamental idea of making art.
But in a way, there are many interesting gaps. Once you use some kind of medium, you get aware of this. Once you start to doubt and to ask yourself if the represented objects are real or only illusion, it becomes really difficult.

P: So you do mention, quite often, that you are interested in gaps. Is there any way to map those gaps? And how do the Field-Works, a series of projects you realized, relate to this topic?

F: The most interesting and fascinating point when I focused on maps was that the governments organize the majority of these. Each country has its own map, and in most of the cases they are highly secret, because once you know where the important buildings are, you can potentially attack them. These maps are still very important, as they give us a general understanding of each location. Once I organized a workshop for children at elementary school. We asked the children to draw a map showing the space between their school and their home. Each student made a completely different map. These drawings express very personal cognitions. I believe that these drawings are more « real » than the general maps the governments make. I am very curious about this private perception. This is why I was so fascinated when I discovered GPS technology. I can remember that, in the year 1992, I was talking a lot about GPS with a friend. Instantly we thought that we could use this technology not only to capture data, but that we would also be able to alternate the map by using it. This was my first idea, I guess, to personalize the application of GPS. Then, as you know, the project of the mount Fuji with the distorted images was made according to this idea.
I think each person should have a different reality, and these realities cannot be exchanged without any expression, without any medium.

P: We could talk a little bit about language now, about translation. Of course there is the question of the border, which you have talked about already quite a lot on previous occasions. There is also the question of translation that has a direct link with what you have said about the personal perspective and the difference and how we can meet somehow, how language seems to be a way to meet.
A good starting point could be to talk about code and talking with machines, communicating with machines. You say, at one point, that as human beings we can communicate, although our languages aren’t perfect and we still understand.

F: Starting from the early 80s, when we faced with CD-rom, just before Internet started, people talked a lot about multi-media. In that period, people feared that the book would disappear in the future, that everyone would start to use only computers to manage text, sound, still image and moving image. Now we know this was utopist, as we are still reading books. I think this notion of multi-media failed, because it tried to mix up different elements, the oral and the visual and the text. In the 19th and 20th centuries, we were very much oriented on text, because the book technology is a good medium to exchange ideas even if we, of course, need some translation. The book is a physical object, which remains even after we die. It is a compact and a stable medium. In contrast, computer based media are not mature yet. So far, there is no certain format to combine oral and visual information with text. 99 percent of the Web pages are still very much text oriented, because the text is rather simple and strong and easy to use.

In the 21st century, we have to invent new ways of communicating with each other using different media than the text. The movie is an example; we have just started making movies instead of looking at movies. However, we are not experienced enough to handle the new possibilities of communication with each other. The new capabilities are not like the word, not like photography. The 21st century seems to have a double reference for thinking and talking and communicating.

P: So you think we are logocentric in a way?

F: I think so, yes, too logocentric.

P: But what about translation? There can be translation between languages, but can there be translation and how does it work between these different media?

F: I think the common concepts can be translated into any other language. But the atmosphere surrounding the different languages changes a lot. The structures of each language reflect the people who are using this language. For example, in our Japanese language, speech is always concluded at the end. People often start to say something, which stays very open in the beginning. Then, very slowly, and after having observed the reaction of the other, the person starts to conclude. In this case, I know that a Japanese English translator, or interpreter will have a very hard time, because he has to wait until the end to conclude. For us the most interesting aspect of talking, chatting with each other is that of drifting, of evaluating each other. When you listen to someone, in order to know if he agrees or not, this person can look as if he agrees but at the same time say something, which makes you think he disagrees. I know that the English interpreter cannot translate this type of drifting. I think this is an important point: text making and reading is very different from speaking. I believe that all written texts can be translated, but the translation of speech is more difficult.

P: What about when you were saying communicating with machines without code because that is a very intriguing idea?

F: This idea comes from Prof. Toru Nishigaki, an information scientist, whose talk I heard at a symposium in Tokyo. After having made a scientific research about artificial intelligence, he got to know many thinkers and became interested in philosophy. He then tried to combine philosophical concepts with information science. Recently, he published the book Foundation of Information Science (2004, NTT publications, Japan), in which he mentions three different categories of informatics. The first one is « Biological Information, » the second one is « Sociological Information », and the third one is « Machine Information. » Nishigaki says that, when we, as biological organisms, employ computers, we make use of sociological information systems, which can be called “CODE”. “CODE” is a translator between the human and the machines. But Nishigaki could also imagine possibilities, which enable communication between human and machine without any code. It is a kind of dream of informatics (which be called “telmatics”). He told me that this idea was inspired by my installation Orchisoid he had seen at the exhibition in ICC. When I heard this from him, I was happy that I could give him such an idea. I hope he is right. It looks like we are facing quite a new dimension concerning communication. Our logocentrism will certainly become more sensa-centric or stimulation-centric, maybe we have to invent a new word for this.

P: So it doesn’t concern talking to the machine but the machine reacting to us the way one Orchisoid reacts to the simple presence of the spectator. It’s a kind of telepathy.

F: In the process of developing Off-Sense, which is a shared cyber space using networks, I discovered many interesting gaps that exist in reality and difficulties concerning the resolution of certain problems.

Even inside a small local network, it is difficult to synchronize computers. This is because each computer has its own clock and it takes a certain time for one computer to communicate its time to the other. But if we are not able to attain certain synchronization, one computer cannot reconstruct the whole world.

For example, if there are two computers, each one having its own avatar in cyber space, they have to construct the image in front of themselves each time. In order to realize this image rendering, the computer needs to get the information of the position of the other computer’s avatar. Once the computer has successfully received the information of the other computer, he his able to construct an image in front of him. Each view is rendered independently. There is no way to check if the views are correct or not. When the network is slow, it is possible that one computer abandons to render the other. It actually takes a few nanoseconds for one computer to receive the information of the other. In this case, the computer avatar starts blinking, which is quite funny, don’t you think?

Regarding this experience, I really doubt communication. I am hearing you and I am talking to you, but I think this is a kind of illusion. We try to synchronize, but actually my voice needs a few seconds to reach your ear. After you hear my voice, you react and my brain tries to understand. This is not happening instantly, there is always a certain time delay.
I can give you another interesting aspect concerning e-mail. I can set up and schedule an e-mail, which will be sent to you on your birthday automatically. But it is possible that, meanwhile, I die in an accident. This e-mail will still reach you, because my server survived. In this case, the life of my server is independent of my life. Therefore, you can get an e-mail from a dead person, who is me. This is a totally occult experience. According to this type of examples, all these potentials of the digital networks can be used as metaphors for the occult accidents happening in the real world.

P: So what you are saying is the way the real world functions normally, before the artists intervention, is that it tends to hide all the gaps and everything seems to work perfectly well.

F: Yes, and this is also true concerning mobility. People use mobile phones in order to reach a remote person while staying at home. This is also occult. We already accept it, if we had used this same device 100 years ago, it would have seemed totally occult. And of course, we always want to go somewhere. As me in Paris, I am in a remote place from Tokyo, but I can also be connected to my daughter by mobile phone. So every person can reach everyone without moving. Our existence has become more phantomlike.

P: But this is really a change, I mean, when we talk about changes in consciousness, there is a real change concerning this accessibility in principle and the expectation that you will be reachable all the time. So you are present as a ghost all the time with all the people who can reach you.

F: Perhaps interactivity is another new, upcoming aspect concerning communication.

P: When people talk about interactivity, people can think about two things. Either man – machine as interactivity or interactivity between people as we were talking about. And this first type of interactivity with machines seems to become so fast, or so transparent that it is enabling the second type of interactivity.

F: I would like to talk about « interactivity » in regard to one of my pieces, which is Unformed Symbols. This installation is not an interactive art piece. The installation consists of playing cards moving around. The movements are created by traditional animation techniques. It is not a computer generated animation, but made in an analog way, but made by recording frame by frame. At the exhibition site, the projection was made from the ceiling on to the surface of a table. So the table is a kind of screen, but of course it has two functions, it looks like a normal table, but it is also the projection screen. When you look at the document on DVD, it seems to be an interactive piece, but in fact it is not interactive. The spectators start to interact by playing with the cards and by moving them. The interaction is then organized by their playing, by their imagination, and not by the interaction between the machine and the user. This is my recent conclusion or irony concerning human machine interaction. Of course this piece contains several different aspects regarding illusion. It is like an extension of a work by George Méliès. The interaction is started by the spectator thinking about the playing cards and asking himself why these are moving. He will define this motion in his way. The spectator sees that the author Masaki Fujihata tries to achieve something, but why did he move this object this way, there and there and there?9

P: Does the spectator find out? Does he get answers in that piece?

F: It is, certainly, difficult to conclude, but people can enjoy thinking about it, which I believe is enough. We have been talking a lot about existence and about how we can construct the feeling of existence, of reality. I don’t know whether the common public can accept my exploration. Anyway, I doubt whether I exist or not and that is my starting point, as I told you.

To conclude, I would like to mention the plant and the animal, these two different types of organisms choose totally different strategies for surviving. The plant does not move, it just stays in place, spreads it’s seeds and waits. This is totally fabulous. One the other hand, the animal has an unbelievingly different strategy. It moves and moves in order to get food. It is very short minded. I believe this desire is also a very fundamental attitude of humans. People love to move, to go somewhere, to explore. They want to change atmosphere, change environment to test themselves, to see whether they can survive or not. This is another way to test whether you exist or not, by moving, only by moving and changing environment, by exploring and experiencing it. And when you face a gap or a difficulty, then reality rises up. Then you have to « sew » the gap. My notion of reality is very much linked to this fact. While you try to « sew » and fill up the gaps, reality arises. If you don’t face any problems, you will not be stimulated and you cannot feel any reality. This is why we try to change everything, move everywhere, try to know more, because we try to fill the gaps.
So, I hope that my installations make people move to other spaces and places, which are still unknown for them.

P: This is a very good conclusion, because it shows how fundamental, how instinctive moving around is for us in the deepest evolutionary meaning of what we are. We are moving biological entities.

F: I think so. Mobility is a fundamental desire.

[Transcription : Anne Zeitz]