Video Letters, 1982 - 1983

2 x U-matic, NTSC, son, couleur + Beta SP, PAL

Video Letters is a video correspondence between Shuji Terayama and Shuntaro Tanikawa. As with a book, the chapters of a shared story emerge piecemeal and form an authentic video exchange. At the heart of the exchange is the power of anticipation (the motif of the red thread which traverses and intrudes on the frame is one recurrent expression), and its combination with the poetic strength of a denuded world (the rustling of leaves, or still, the characters 'dissolving' in space).

With Video Letters, poets Terayama and Tanikawa become what we could call 'collectors of the fragmentary'. Gleaning hither and thither, the savouring of words, then their meanings, the images are conditional upon their context, and may echo the 'fuites d'interlocution' borrowed from Roland Barthes.

In Video Letters, there is a dramatic composition, the foremost elements of which are the dynamic and the static, as well as the sense of space and fluidity of each element. Details merge in an evanescent atmosphere, permeating beings and objects. In the process, man unveils himself by what he throws on the ground (personal curios, book, clothes, medicine, food …), or what he 're-edifies' scattered scraps of torn photographs flattened out side by side). The camera allows an actual visual correspondence, like clearly addressed postcards – 'From Terayama to Tanikawa' or 'From Tanikawa to Terayama' – which initiates a new modality of fiction.

But it is also their self-portraits the two letter writers confront the viewer with. Between figurative presence and the reminder of absence, the faces that appear in the images transform into visions through the fascination of the viewer's gaze. Photography and videotapes provide, by the fact of 'having been present', the proof that the real actually happened, that it is discernible. But which or whose real is it? We are, writes Jean Borreil, like “impossible subjects that never resemble our photographs, we do not know which are our features.” “Is this me? No, it is just a photograph. And this voice that speaks, is it me? No, I do not even exist anymore.”

The motifs of faltering identity (identity papers strewn on the ground), and disfiguration (Tanikawa's 'face-landscape' making all sorts of grimaces and deformations while facing the camera) refer to the idea of an almost spectral portrait, and that which cannot be figured par excellence. Thereafter, video becomes like a mask, or like the double of death, which is forever delegated into the world of the living. In Video Letters, there is something of the nature of the persistence of the portrait.

In their way, these letters are as much testimonies to the individual's situation, and to his or her fragility, as they are to the strength he or she musters at the moment of decline: Terayama passed away on 4 May 1983.

Lou Svahn
Translated by Yin Ker