Invited Footage + The Plurality of “I”

from You Saw Nothing: Sight, Digital Video, Post-3.11 Japan

We look at the employment of the methodologies and aesthetics in various processes involved in the production of I Told Our Story, ranging from the narrative structure, via the image production, to the viewership and the adoption of a subverted positionality as artist- researcher in front of the camera, as well as the use of found footage. The type of found footage employed here is invited footage.

The invited footage is digital photographs and videos that were produced by the Okinawans and the Americans who live on the island with their mobile phone cameras. The use of invited footage avoids the usual processes of objectification in the designation of power through the camera, thereby establishing a new relation of subjectivity.

The invited footage consists of apolitical, ahistorical digital photographs and videos of the unauthoritative, unofficial records of Okinawa. It is also un-archival, in contrast and allusion to the use of archival footage in Hiroshima mon amour and Level Five. These images are private, and were solely selected and sent to the artist-researcher by the Okinawans and Americans referred to as participants or contributors to I Told Our Story, in order to keep her intervention to a minimum. This process allows the formation of a space of intimacy and opacity private to the participants of I Told Our Story, namely the irreducibility and the unknowability of the dairies of their lives. Collected from 2016 to 2018, the items of invited footage are private documents of contemporary Okinawa created by individuals in their twenties to forties.* In contributing to I Told Our Story, there was no requirement to submit details concerning when and where the images were produced. The aesthetics of intimacy and opacity in the process of contribution functioned to respect the ethical dimensions of this research.

This subversive mode of the production of representation, inviting the multiple voices of “I” of the Okinawans and the Americans, creates “a commentary on the world that makes no grand scientific or totalizing claims but is uncertain, tentative and speculative”.** The subversive yet collective mode of the production invites those participants, through their personal and day-to-day use of mobile phone cameras, to become visual narrators of “ITold Our Story. As we have seen, the action of relinquishment of the position behind the camera was reflected in the change in the language of representation from artist-researcher to I and me. In this collective mode of production, the notion of authorship traditionally ascribed to the artist-researcher becomes less credible and she blends into this ensemble of many different participants, each of whom enacts the role “I”.

 

The Plurality of “I”

 

The invited “I”s pluralise not only the narrative voice, but also reality, self–other, and interrelation through their participation in the production. This idiosyncratic notion of “I”s manifested by their participation in the image production dismisses the dichotomous recognition of Okinawa and the United States that could reductively be represented through the nationalities of the Okinawan and American participants as signifiers of geopolitics. That is to say that the idiosyncratic mode of documentation of their lives denotes the Okinawan and the Americans with their identities articulated outside the terrain of the geopolitical subjectivity. Kazuo Hara’s documentary film Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974, 1974 and Mao Ishikawa’s publication of 1975 photographs, Hot Days in Okinawa, 2013, for example, document the lives of the Okinawans, the Americans, and the Japanese in the 1970s, framing them outside the political stipulation of their subjectivities and identities. These autobiographical documentations embody the self in a way that Michael Renov describes as “conditional, contingent on its location within an explicit social matrix”.*** These autobiographical practices observe the conditional and contingent nature of the boundary between self and other in these private and intimate details of the authors’ lives from a perspective that implicates the “I” outside the geopolitical stipulation of subjectivity.

*The age range of twenties to forties corresponds to that of the majority of the American participants, who are serving military personnel and contractors, or their dependent family members. The age range of the Okinawan participants was chosen to match that range, and is that of the generation born after the handover of Okinawa to Japan in 1972. The definition of the Okinawan, the American, and the Japanese in this context is defined by the power structure which is the subject of the argument of this chapter and does not refer to the participants’ national or ethnic identity. One such example of the distinction enacted by the imposition of authoritarian power is the demarcation of areas of jurisdiction. The fences that surround the US military installations visualise the boundary of the jurisdiction on the ground, whereas there are invisible boundaries in the sky and water. See also Japan–U.S. Status of Forces Agreement.
**Catherine Russell, Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999. p. 277.
***Michael Renov, The Subject of Documentary, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2004. p. 179.
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