This Week: Gestalt (Heya/Keitai)
I had a variety of university dorm rooms in my time, but I will never be able to say I ever used one quite like this.
Something I have really enjoyed as reflective writing experiments every now and again over the course of this blog has been playing with the more experimental end of Japanese animation techniques in all of its various forms.
This has ranged from endeavors into Nagisa Oshima’s filming of a manga via Band of Ninja, Hiroshi Harada’s rage fueled The Death Lullaby, Mamoru Oshii’s mechanically ambitious World Expo 2005 theatrical exhibit Open Your Mind, to textile designer and graphic artist Fantasista Utamaro’s anime music videos, and impressionist painter Naohisa Inoue teaming up with Studio Ghibli to breathe movement into his gallery works via Iblard Time. Among others!
Takashi Ishida, creator of Gestalt, is an international award winning installation artist and Associate Professor at Tama Art University. One can find his personal website archiving his comings, goings, and accomplishments in a full English language version right here. Given the kind of art he tends to make, in order to experience their work one often needs to be at very particular exhibition events that can house their physical nature. Or specialty art film screening nights for his short movie work.
However, in 2005, Image Forum released a DVD anthology set entitled Thinking and Drawing: Japanese Art Animation of the New Millennium (Thinking and Drawing: Nihon no Shinseiki Art Animation), collecting some previous works from over a half dozen experimental animation artists for wider distribution. Ishida’s Gestalt, finished in January 1999 after a year of painstakingly painting a little bit of the subject room each day and filming the process for an entire year so as to assemble the individual shots of these paintings in animated form, being among them for this wider distribution and accessibility effort.
While I normally default to exclusively using the English titles within the body text of these posts after establishing the Japanese at the top for stylistic purposes, it would be a gross error to not bring up the naming conventions here.
Heya/Keitai, as its original title, has an English translation which breaks down to ideas concerning “Room” and “Form” or “Shape.” “Gestalt” as a word is of German origin, which also means “Shape” or “Form.” Taken then in English usage, it sees usage in holism ideas, which is to say the concepts relating to the viewpoint that any given system should be viewed as a complete whole unit acting as one rather than a collection of parts. In further extrapolations it has led to developments such as gestalt psychology, with its associated views of how the brain processes matters of perception, complete with its own psychotherapy models based on the same.
It is certainly an apt word use consideration for animation in many respects, as the entire medium is one dedicated to individual components firing together as one to generate the illusion of movement from static individual components.
As a short film that seeks to so thoroughly embrace the idea of the synergistic moment, Gestalt has no direct narrative to speak of. Unlike even the previously mentioned Iblard Time, which one could craft a cursory flow relating to the idea of the viewer being on a guided tour through its fictional world as it built up and subsided in vista and metropolitan tone, this is very focused in keeping such matters removed. There is only the room, with its stained and amber hued windows in dying light and the shapes that can be given to its surrounding walls through inspired and careful painting to sell the ideas of “Form” and “Shape.”
With stark bright and dark color application from Ishida’s hands, allowing for judiciously little in the rainbow between them, the focus remains locked on the visual movement as we see these recordings play out before us. Lines sprawl out and harden, then transform and warp in skewed fashions. Vines, waves, and other snake-like contortions dance their way through both them and each other. Spheres rise and fall on the wall. This canvas itself, acquiring layer after layer of repeated painting on top of years of who knows how much other hardened gobs, grime, or other build-up zoomed in on select moments to specifically highlight how its crevices and scars denote their own shadows and impact upon the larger animation work and painting work at hand. Though the thought itself on the whole is perhaps never far from the viewers own mind either, as the location is time and again enraptured in visual cadences only to be washed over and begin again and we consider the past. The shapes themselves on some occasions leading a way behind which their form is erased, on others slamming directly into the oncoming filler.
The experience is set to the tune of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland, BWV 659 [Come now, Saviour of the heathen], a selection from his Great Eighteen Chorale Preludes. The song is one far older than Bach himself, and he used it as a basis for several works within his vast musical career output (the immediately following BWV 660 and BWV 661 also utilize it as a base, for instance. This particular chorale prelude version is one noted for its ability to methodically walk a line where the rhythmic inner elements and the ornate upper aspects swerve through and around each other in a meditative tonal manner that makes it difficult to audibly suss out the constituent parts separately from one another versus the whole.
It plays well to its intended purpose for trying to embody contemplative mysteries and its religious intent. The idea of artistic creation on the whole. And, indeed, concepts relative very much back to the gestalt ideas Ishida was enamored enough by to name this entire laborious animation project after as its representative thematic grounding.
In this work, I would by every measure consider Takashi Ishida to have accomplished his intended goal.
Regardless of if one were to call it Gestalt or Heya/Keitai, it is the sort of artistic demonstration showmanship work that is seemingly very easy to break down how it operates and what it wants to do, and the symbolism it may contain which one can latch on to should they so choose. Yet, it retains its own artistic power beyond any of that, for the very ethereal act of these paintings moving around and living such vibrant life in both their splattered or rigid geometric forms is one that still demands one to revisit it and take it all in as a whole once again. Certainly, I have come back to it a few times even over the course of just this week since I first watched it, and I have already seen details and flourishes I know I missed the first time around. Aspects within the shifting light, multiple arching curves where I had previously see but one, and so on. There are a lot of details to take in and try as hard as one might to notice within the complete final product, as there should be given the themes involved.
It is entirely possible one may never have the opportunity to see one of the artist’s physical installations, and experimental art animation screenings can zip on by without elaborate advertising at best or be rare, even nonresistant, where one lives at worst. If a purpose behind selecting this film for part of the Thinking and Drawing compilation was to represent and champion a bit of Ishida’s work, to encourage folks to seek more out by him should it resonate with them appropriately, that is commendable. Were another to be so that a viewer would have an opportunity to own or see but a small part of the output from the artists in the longer anthology to revisit and share, that is valuable.
I doubt I will be privileged enough to be able to take in all of Takashi Ishida’s artistic works. This is especially true on the installation end of the spectrum. But, I would like to think there is a great well of himself and his expression poured into Gestalt, a singular entity in that whole of his portfolio though it may be.
Perhaps that is counter intuitive to the theme. Maybe that too is a kind of point.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.