1-1 | Table of Con­tents | http://​dx​.doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​7​7​4​2​/​I​M​A​G​E​.​i​n​a​u​g​u​r​a​l​.​1​-​1.3 | Dia­logu­ing PDF

Dialoguing on Miniature Cinema as New Art |
Sheena Wilson with Midi Onodera

Midi Onodera is a well-rec­og­nized Cana­di­an film­mak­er with more than thir­ty years of film­mak­ing expe­ri­ence. She has had screen­ings inter­na­tion­al­ly at such pres­ti­gious venues as the Andy Warhol Muse­um, the Inter­na­tion­al Fes­ti­val of Doc­u­men­tary and Short Films, Bil­bao, Spain, the Rot­ter­dam Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val, the Berlin Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val, the Nation­al Gallery of Cana­da, and the Toron­to Inter­na­tion­al Film Festival.

Her first film, a sev­en-minute short film enti­tled Real­i­ty-Illu­sion that she shot on Super Eight, appeared in 1979, while she was still in high school. She now has twen­ty-four films, two tele­vi­sion writ­ing cred­its, two com­mis­sioned artist pro­files, two fea­ture length works, two inter­ac­tive DVDs, 434 short videos, and a total of 467 films and videos to her name.

Start­ing in Novem­ber 2006 and con­tin­u­ing for one year, Onodera worked on the A Movie a Day project, and an arti­cle on this project was fea­tured in Cine­Ac­tion in 2008.
[1][2] As part of that project, she cre­at­ed one 30-45 sec­ond video per day for 365 days. These films explore a vari­ety of issues and social sit­u­a­tions from a vari­ety of per­spec­tives that are occa­sion­al­ly spe­cif­ic to Onodera’s own life and view­point but also include the per­spec­tive of fic­tion­al char­ac­ters. In the arti­cle men­tioned above, pub­lished as “Mini-Cam­era: A Dig­i­tal Diary for iPod,” Cather­ine Rus­sell has argued the following:

The 365 videos rig­or­ous­ly inter­ro­gate the nature of the “image” as an object. The tech­niques Onodera uses include a play with fram­ing in which the image size and shape is con­sis­tent­ly var­ied, a dynam­ic use of sat­u­rat­ed colours, and spe­cial effects that alter space and time. An exten­sive palette of design­er colours are used to frame the videos, mak­ing inter­est­ing con­trasts with the many strik­ing images of nature. The rich colours con­tribute to the object-like nature of the image. (3-4)

As an acknowl­edge­ment of Onodera’s long and pro­duc­tive career as a Cana­di­an artist and film­mak­er who has con­sis­tent­ly demon­strat­ed crit­i­cal engage­ment with her sub­jects and her cho­sen media, we have invit­ed Onodera to be the guest artist-film­mak­er for the inau­gur­al issue of Imag­i­na­tions: Jour­nal of Cross-Cul­tur­al Image Studies.

Blame Warhol

Ani­mal Cross­ing Underground

If Wish­es Came True

In Dia­logue

Sheena Wil­son: Hel­lo, Midi. I would like to thank you for accept­ing the invi­ta­tion to be the guest artist-film­mak­er for the inau­gur­al issue of Imag­i­na­tions, and for agree­ing to par­tic­i­pate in this dia­logue.[3] As you know, the vision that the edi­to­r­i­al board has for this jour­nal is to use it as a vehi­cle to tran­scend some of the tra­di­tion­al bound­ary lines between acad­e­mia and the crit­ics, and artists and film­mak­ers work­ing with images. One of our goals is to cre­ate an ongo­ing con­ver­sa­tion between var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties that inter­sect because of a shared inter­est in the role of the image in the cur­rent image-dom­i­nat­ed cul­tur­al-medi­as­cape; our con­ver­sa­tion is the begin­ning of that process. You were invit­ed as the guest artist for many rea­sons, includ­ing the fact that your work deals with cross-cul­tur­al aes­thet­ics and images, as well as the fact that you are work­ing in the cut­ting edge area of minia­ture cinema.

I am draw­ing atten­tion to 365 because the video-shorts that you have cre­at­ed specif­i­cal­ly for this inau­gur­al jour­nal issue are in the same vein as those cre­at­ed for that project. Also, your use of images, or image as object, as Cather­ine Rus­sell refers to it, aligns well with the focus of this inau­gur­al issue, devot­ed to defin­ing the­o­ret­i­cal frame­works for image stud­ies through var­ie­gat­ed approach­es to man­i­fes­ta­tions of the image as it is informed by dif­fer­ent cul­tures, nation­al his­to­ries and lin­guis­tic tra­di­tions. I hope that we can address most of these issues dur­ing the course of our dialogue.

Per­haps the best way to do this is to begin our dis­cus­sions of these issues by address­ing the three fea­ture videos that you cre­at­ed specif­i­cal­ly for Imag­i­na­tions. I must say that I appre­ci­ate how you have cre­at­ed three dra­mat­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent videos:  Ani­mal Cross­ing Under­ground, Blame Warhol, and If Wish­es Came True. Do you think you could com­ment on how each of these videos was inspired by the Call For Papers and the focus of Imag­i­na­tions and how each of these minia­ture films is, as you see it, a com­men­tary on the rela­tion­ship of the image to our con­tem­po­rary lives?

Midi Onodera: First of all, Sheena, thank you very much for the hon­our of being involved with the inau­gur­al issue of Imag­i­na­tions. I wel­come a forum that encour­ages dia­logue between acad­e­mia and artists and a jour­nal that uti­lizes the tools of dig­i­tal pub­li­ca­tion. In some way, the three shorts that I’ve made are ide­al­ly suit­ed for your intend­ed audi­ence and form of dissemination.

As you’ve men­tioned, these shorts have their roots in the A Movie a Day project, as well as the Movie of the Week project. For four years now I have been mak­ing short videos for per­son­al view­ing: either online or for portable view­ing devices such as the iPod, etc. I see these movies as a form of minia­ture cin­e­ma: inti­mate, tem­po­ral, and spon­ta­neous. These tiny movies or, as I call them, “Vidoo­dles,” have a very dif­fer­ent rela­tion­ship with the view­er than larg­er screen movies. Unlike con­ven­tion­al cin­e­ma that draws on tech­niques and a visual/auditory vocab­u­lary of over one hun­dred years, tiny cinema’s his­to­ry is only five years old, marked by Apple’s intro­duc­tion of their fifth gen­er­a­tion iPod with video play­back capa­bil­i­ty. There are vast unex­plored and unex­ploit­ed oppor­tu­ni­ties for visu­al and audio manip­u­la­tion in this new for­mat, and even after mak­ing over four hun­dred titles, I know that I am only super­fi­cial­ly scratch­ing the sur­face. There­fore I am very inter­est­ed in par­tic­i­pat­ing in this dia­logue to both fur­ther my under­stand­ing of this unique view­ing for­mat and to begin form­ing a crit­i­cal frame­work in which to exam­ine these wire­less, portable artist-pro­duced works.

I call these shorts “Vidoo­dles” because like a doo­dle these videos are meant to be an almost uncon­scious form of expres­sion. I want­ed to chal­lenge myself to cre­ate an every­day amuse­ment, a thought or quote for the day but in the form of mov­ing images. Obses­sive­ly-craft­ed with­in a lim­it­ed time­frame, I some­times think these Vidoo­dles have a stronger rela­tion­ship to folk art than cin­e­ma. My Vidoo­dles are sim­i­lar to many per­son­al YouTube post­ings: these videos reflect the pas­sion­ate inter­ests of the mak­er, whether it be an ama­teur glee club or a make­up demon­stra­tion. These movies are designed to attract an audi­ence of like-mind­ed indi­vid­u­als, a social net­work. This is an audi­ence that makes pub­lic com­ments, cre­ates mash-ups and reworks post­ed videos to cre­ate their own per­son­al state­ments. This is the con­text for online videos, it is dom­i­nat­ed by the per­son­al and the DIY cul­ture. In some ways, it is the con­tem­po­rary ver­sion of the soap­box in the park.

But I am not naïve or ide­al­is­tic enough to believe that there are vast num­bers of like-mind­ed souls devour­ing videos in the pri­va­cy of their homes. In real­i­ty I think that unless a video has gone “viral,” then the chances are quite high that one’s audi­ence is made up of friends, fam­i­ly, and a few strangers who hap­pen to stum­ble upon your post­ing. This is the flip side of online view­ing: what if no one is watch­ing? For me, the prac­tice of online video-mak­ing is a con­stant rebal­anc­ing of the desire for anonymi­ty and pull for increased audi­ence num­bers, although I think that I am more weight­ed to the anony­mous side.

The shorts that I made for Imag­i­na­tions are very much tied to dif­fer­ent forms of dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion. My world has always includ­ed a screen. Although I am old enough to remem­ber black and white tele­vi­sion, I have become a game addict with a num­ber of gam­ing con­soles, a col­lec­tor of dig­i­tal toy cam­eras, and an inces­sant com­put­er and iPhone user. I tweet, text, and auto­mat­i­cal­ly refresh my email every minute. (But odd­ly my pres­ence on Face­book is more of a lurk­ing ghost­ly inhab­i­tant than active par­tic­i­pant). This is the con­text in which I make these Vidoodles.

Specif­i­cal­ly these forms of ins­ta-com­mu­ni­ca­tion have pro­vid­ed me with more toys to play with in the dig­i­tal sand­box. For instance, both Ani­mal Cross­ing Under­ground and Blame Warhol use manip­u­lat­ed Nin­ten­do DS scores. These tin­ny sound­ing MIDI sound­tracks are ide­al for the ear­bud gen­er­a­tion. The metal­lic taste of these tracks is both sooth­ing­ly famil­iar and abra­sive. The sound­track for Blame Warhol is from Soni­cRush Adven­ture, a SEGA pro­duced title, fea­tur­ing Son­ic the Hedge­hog. This end­less­ly cli­max­ing, relent­less sound­track evokes a hyper­ten­sive feel­ing, a sense that one is on the brink of fame, with­in reach of con­quer­ing the vil­lain or win­ning the game. In con­trast, Ani­mal Cross­ing Under­ground uti­lizes the ambi­ent tones of the pas­sive almost non-game Nin­ten­do title, Ani­mal Cross­ing Wild World. This movie also employs an uncon­ven­tion­al frame for­mat or screen size, some­thing which at this point can only be achieved using soft­ware pro­grams such as Quick­Time. Fur­ther, this short is an ani­ma­tion, made up of one hun­dred-plus stills tak­en with my iPhone using the Quad­Cam­era App.

I have always been inter­est­ed in how we see the world through visu­al tech­nolo­gies. Hav­ing cut my teeth on the Struc­tural­ist films of the 1970s, I chal­lenged myself to exam­ine the fun­da­men­tal qual­i­ties inher­ent in film: grain, com­po­si­tion, superimposition/dissolves. Now, sev­er­al decades lat­er, I find myself play­ing with sim­i­lar for­mal con­cerns, except now the palette is not lim­it­ed to film stock, the cam­era, film pro­cess­ing, and edit­ing but it encom­pass­es a diverse range of dif­fer­ent image and sound cre­at­ing equip­ment. But just as our stor­age shed of image-mak­ing tools has expand­ed, our nar­ra­tive sense of sto­ry­telling has also shift­ed. More and more ideas, con­cepts, and con­ver­sa­tions can be dis­tilled into 140 char­ac­ters, slo­gans, brand­ing devices, and catch phrases.

In the end, how­ev­er, there is still the rela­tion­ship between the view­er or user (in the case of par­tic­i­pa­to­ry works) and the mov­ing image. Do you see these minia­ture movies dif­fer­ent­ly than you do the­atri­cal or gallery-sit­u­at­ed works? In what ways do we expe­ri­ence con­tem­po­rary mov­ing images that are similar/dissimilar to the past?  As an aca­d­e­m­ic, how do you frame dis­cus­sions in “cross-cul­tur­al image stud­ies” with­in the ever-evolv­ing state of both polit­i­cal glob­al­iza­tion and tech­no­log­i­cal advancement?

Sheena Wil­son:  I’ll answer your last ques­tion first and then go back to your oth­er ques­tions about deliv­ery for­mat and recep­tion: big screen ver­sus minia­ture screens. Your ques­tion regard­ing how I frame dis­cus­sions in cross-cul­tur­al image stud­ies with­in the ever-evolv­ing state of both polit­i­cal glob­al­iza­tion and tech­no­log­i­cal advance­ment, speaks to the focus of Imag­i­na­tions. The short answer to this ques­tion is that I frame the dis­cus­sion of any image in rela­tion­ship to the con­text out of which it orig­i­nates and the rever­ber­a­tions it has in the cul­ture or cul­tures of its recep­tion at one or more his­tor­i­cal moments. Some images can com­mu­ni­cate a con­sis­tent mes­sage across time and cul­ture and oth­ers can­not. Some images are recu­per­at­ed over time, trans­form­ing the orig­i­nal mes­sage. This, in fact, is the theme of the next issue of the jour­nal: “Steal­ing the Image.”

How­ev­er, the use of the term “cross-cul­tur­al image stud­ies” as it appears in the jour­nal title refers more specif­i­cal­ly to our desire to address images from a diver­si­ty of cul­tur­al con­texts, and not specif­i­cal­ly to dis­cuss images that do, or do not, tran­scend cul­tur­al bor­ders, how­ev­er porous they are ren­dered by tech­no­log­i­cal advance­ments in glob­al communication.

Now, to answer your ques­tion about whether I see minia­ture movies dif­fer­ent­ly than the­atri­cal or gallery-sit­u­at­ed works, the answer is yes. I do agree with you that the big screen and the minia­ture screen func­tion very dif­fer­ent­ly. You made spe­cif­ic ref­er­ence to the dif­fer­ent tech­ni­cal tools and appli­ca­tions used in the pro­duc­tion of these dif­fer­ent film for­mats. I’d add to that the fact that gallery-sit­u­at­ed film is typ­i­cal­ly con­struct­ed accord­ing to more clas­si­cal notions of nar­ra­tion and sto­ry­telling, even exper­i­men­tal film is in dia­logue with those expec­ta­tions. The sub­jects of gallery films, regard­less of the spe­cif­ic genre, are gen­er­al­ly devel­oped over a long peri­od of time, require sig­nif­i­cant funding—which comes with its own implications—and the mes­sage often makes social or polit­i­cal com­men­tary, either implic­it­ly or explic­it­ly.  Sto­ries, after all, are how we under­stand our­selves, our world, and our place in it. View­ers take time to watch and to con­sid­er the mes­sage of such a film, often in a com­mu­nal set­ting. When viewed in a movie the­atre, the venue requires a cer­tain amount of social inter­ac­tion and it is received as a shared expe­ri­ence. Beyond that, gallery films usu­al­ly receive at least some atten­tion from film critics.

Trans­for­ma­tions are now tak­ing place in the world of mov­ing images – movies and videos – that can be com­pared to what hap­pened decades ago in the music indus­try; his­tor­i­cal­ly music was per­formed live and it was a com­mu­nal expe­ri­ence. Then, the advent of vinyl LPs allowed music to be record­ed and played on a gramo­phone or stereo; lat­er tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ments result­ed in the 8-track, the cas­sette, the CD play­er, and then the Mini­disc (to less­er com­mer­cial suc­cess), and we now play music stored on com­put­er files. The sim­i­lar­i­ties that I see between ear­li­er devel­op­ments in sound tech­nol­o­gy and more recent trans­for­ma­tions in movie-image deliv­ery devices are large­ly in people’s reac­tions to the notion of indi­vid­ual or pri­vate expe­ri­ences as replac­ing the com­mu­nal view­ing expe­ri­ence. Peo­ple once balked at the notion of record­ing music and lis­ten­ing to it in a pri­vate space. In fact, the Walk­man was orig­i­nal­ly designed to have two head­sets because the belief was that no one would want to lis­ten to music alone. Ulti­mate­ly, mar­ket tri­als proved that this was not to be the case. More­over, we know that sound record­ings did not, as some feared, sep­a­rate the indi­vid­ual from the larg­er cul­tur­al expe­ri­ence. Nei­ther will this occur with the increased pop­u­lar­i­ty of indi­vid­ual view­ing expe­ri­ences. The con­cept of watch­ing a movie alone or in a pri­vate space using a VCR or DVD attached to the home tele­vi­sion has long been accept­ed. How­ev­er, as you know, since the release of the iPod, film/ video/moving image tech­nol­o­gy has become as portable as sound (music) tech­nol­o­gy, and this is hav­ing ram­i­fi­ca­tions not only on how we receive visu­al mes­sages but on the form those mov­ing image mes­sages are tak­ing. Now, we are not sim­ply watch­ing fea­ture length movies on the go or catch­ing the lat­est episode of our favourite TV dra­ma while rid­ing the bus; the iPod has inspired a new genre of minia­ture-cin­e­ma that is respond­ing to this new medium.

These minia­ture movies are for con­sump­tion on a dynam­ic indi­vid­ual basis, and as such, they are filmed with tech­nol­o­gy that cor­re­sponds to the small screen. Unlike some shows where visu­al clues might be pro­vid­ed in the back­ground as you watch, the minia­ture screen does not allow for this kind of visu­al detail. Also, it is very sig­nif­i­cant that minia­ture films are not only small­er but short­er. These visu­al mes­sages are con­veyed as an “image-bite” (sound-byte) and received more like the way in which one would view a com­mer­cial. The amount of time that cer­tain view­ers or com­mu­ni­ties of view­ers spend watch­ing the film may be pro­por­tion­ate to the time he/she spends reflect­ing on the issue; giv­en, there are engaged view­ers who fall out­side these cat­e­gories. Paul Vir­ilio saw speed as an innate­ly trans­for­ma­tive agent of con­tem­po­rary civ­i­liza­tion. There­fore, I’m very inter­est­ed to dis­cuss fur­ther with you your per­spec­tive on the short deliv­ery for­mat of minia­turecin­e­ma giv­en that you are a pio­neer in the explo­ration of miniature-cinema.

How­ev­er, you had asked, “In what ways do we expe­ri­ence con­tem­po­rary mov­ing images that are similar/dissimilar to the past?” and my answer to you would be that the gen­er­al view­er, both past and present, to vary­ing degrees, is look­ing for the mes­sage being com­mu­ni­cat­ed via the images, with an eye to the way they are com­bined and jux­ta­posed in order to cre­ate mean­ing. Peo­ple are always seek­ing mean­ing, and cer­tain com­mu­ni­ties of crit­i­cal view­ers even more so. Ear­li­er, you drew a par­al­lel between your “Vidoo­dles” and the soap­box in the park. The metaphor of the soap­box, of course, makes recourse to polit­i­cal speech and action. There­fore, my next ques­tion to you would be whether you see “Vidoo­dles” as hav­ing a polit­i­cal mes­sage?  What is the trans­for­ma­tive pow­er of minia­ture-cin­e­ma as an art form?

Midi Onodera: You’ve touched upon many dif­fer­ent aspects of image mak­ing and the var­ied rela­tion­ships between the view­er and the image: com­mu­nal and indi­vid­ual. How one sees the work plays a very big role in how one inter­prets the con­tent of the movie. Step­ping back fur­ther to the con­cep­tu­al stage, it’s impor­tant to dis­cuss why one would choose to cre­ate movies with­in the frame­work of the small screen in the first place. Over the years film­mak­ing has mor­phed into video-mak­ing. Today, there is very lit­tle dis­tinc­tion between the two. Film fes­ti­vals now show videos or dig­i­tal copies rather than cel­lu­loid film prints. Pro­duc­tion costs have dimin­ished, allow­ing more peo­ple to make movies. Peo­ple with­out for­mal film­mak­ing edu­ca­tions can now cre­ate their fea­ture length mas­ter­pieces and post the work online for the pub­lic to view. But is the pos­si­bil­i­ty for wide­spread dis­tri­b­u­tion the only rea­son one would choose to pro­duce work for the small, portable screen?

For myself, dis­tri­b­u­tion is one fac­tor, but it was more an after­thought than the main rea­son I became inter­est­ed in this for­mat. After mak­ing Skin Deep (1995) I became dis­il­lu­sioned with the pol­i­tics of tra­di­tion­al film­mak­ing. I spent so many years try­ing to raise the funds to pro­duce that the­atri­cal fea­ture that I lost sight of what was impor­tant to me. I found myself mak­ing com­pro­mise after com­pro­mise, and grad­u­al­ly the con­tent of the film became less impor­tant than get­ting it made. For five years fol­low­ing Skin Deep, I strug­gled with the idea of ever mak­ing anoth­er film again. Instead I worked in water­colours and carved large wood “paint­ings” and kept it all locked away in my stu­dio. But around that time, elec­tron­ic toy man­u­fac­tur­ers began to pro­duce toy cam­eras for children.

Back in 1987 when the Fish­er Price Pix­elVi­sion cam­era (PXL-2000) came out, I was a starv­ing artist unable to buy the pre­cious device that record­ed fuzzy black and white images onto cas­sette tape. I vowed I would nev­er let anoth­er toy cam­era slip through my fin­gers and eager­ly pur­chased the lat­est gad­gets for chil­dren. At first I had no idea how to work with this new for­mat. The fixed lens and cam­era bod­ies were made from cheap plas­tic, and the record­ing capac­i­ty lim­it­ed to a few min­utes. The res­o­lu­tion of these record­ings was so low that it would make it extreme­ly dif­fi­cult to show in a the­atri­cal set­ting, nev­er mind ever con­form­ing to broad­cast stan­dards. But since I had turned my back on large bud­get pro­duc­tions, these lim­i­ta­tions were exact­ly why this form appealed to me. Work­ing with toy cam­eras made cre­at­ing mov­ing images fun again.

As I men­tioned before, the birth of portable cin­e­ma real­ly began with the first iPod capa­ble of video play­back. With this inno­va­tion, my toy cam­era-pro­duced works final­ly had a dis­tri­b­u­tion plat­form. Although iTunes began to sell fea­ture length movies refor­mat­ted for the iPod, this reduced ver­sion of a the­atri­cal expe­ri­ence did not appeal to me. Beau­ti­ful­ly com­posed wide shots that were breath­tak­ing on the large screen were reduced to tiny land­scapes for ant-sized char­ac­ters. The loss of so much visu­al detail and the iso­lat­ed view­ing expe­ri­ence cre­at­ed a clear dis­tinc­tion between the large screen and the tiny screen.

I began to exper­i­ment with what kinds of images “worked,” the use of audio heard not through speak­ers but head­phones, the use of text—the font size, place­ment, and style. I dis­cov­ered the sub­tle visu­al dif­fer­ences between the dig­i­tal VCam­Now and the Mat­tel Vid­ster ver­sus ana­logue toys such as the Bar­bie Cam­era and Trend­Mas­ter video cam­era. I worked with aspect ratios and video com­pres­sions and allowed myself the free­dom to manip­u­late the footage in post-production.

I nev­er saw these minia­ture movies as “call­ing cards” for a tra­di­tion­al career in film­mak­ing. These are not movies that can be eas­i­ly trans­lat­ed to the large screen; they are specif­i­cal­ly made to hold in the palm of your hand. But because of the porta­bil­i­ty of this for­mat, the view­ing con­text in which one can watch minia­ture movies is incred­i­bly var­ied. We are no longer restrict­ed to spe­cial loca­tions such as movie the­atres or gal­leries, liv­ing rooms, etc. in order to view mov­ing images. The video screen now dom­i­nates pub­lic spaces from mon­i­tors show­cas­ing the bag­gage claim net­work in air­ports, to ele­va­tors, wash­room stalls, and of course elec­tron­ic billboards.

Obvi­ous­ly these pub­lic screens are dif­fer­ent from the per­son­al screens we car­ry in our pock­et, but they are linked through an urban con­text. I imag­ine that the typ­i­cal urban iPod video audi­ence is on the go, trav­el­ing to and from work on pub­lic trans­porta­tion. In order to make the trip more bear­able the portable view­er dis­tances him/herself from the real­i­ty in front of his/her eyes. In a way, the iPod screen becomes dom­i­nant, and real­i­ty falls into the peripheral.

The Vidoo­dles that I made for Imag­i­na­tions and most of my oth­er small for­mat shorts are shot spon­ta­neous­ly. While going about my dai­ly life, I hap­pen upon moments or loca­tions that I find com­pelling. It could be an unusu­al inter­ac­tion, an odd jux­ta­po­si­tion, or sim­ply a moment in time. Most of these shots even­tu­al­ly evolve into tiny nar­ra­tives. Because these Vidoo­dles are pro­duced very quick­ly I’ve learned how to care­ful­ly nar­row my pro­duc­tion para­me­ters and there­fore my shoot­ing ratio is very small. I carve these nar­ra­tives out of mate­r­i­al found lit­tered in the street, from a direct expe­ri­ence of the real­i­ty in front of me. This rela­tion­ship that I have with the images is almost in direct oppo­si­tion to the escapist desires of the urban iPod audi­ence. I am try­ing to call atten­tion to the moments we may have over­looked or want to avoid.

For instance, Blame Warhol can be viewed in the loca­tion where it was filmed—Time Square, NYC. Watch­ing the Vidoo­dle in situ ampli­fies the viewer’s rela­tion­ship to the vis­i­ble bom­bard­ment of com­mer­cial­ism dom­i­nat­ing this phys­i­cal loca­tion. But is it sim­ply a rein­force­ment of this phys­i­cal real­i­ty or does it make the view­er con­scious of our grow­ing obses­sion with celebri­ty and con­sump­tion? I would hope that Blame Warhol reawak­ens how we per­ceive the real­i­ty in front of us, reclaims the periph­er­al expe­ri­ence and forces it into focus. Ani­mal Cross­ing Under­ground could work sim­i­lar­ly, chal­leng­ing the audi­ence to re-exam­ine a mun­dane sub­way ride.

If wish­es came true works on anoth­er lev­el: it is a reflec­tion of urban real­i­ty, but the nar­ra­tive also evokes child­hood mem­o­ry, desire, and imag­i­na­tion. The split screen device works to sep­a­rate and con­trast these two worlds. Yet the over­all con­nec­tion with present-day real­i­ty is still vis­i­ble through the imagery of the Egypt­ian god Anu­bis set against a down­town cityscape.

Look­ing back at what I’ve writ­ten, I real­ize that I have only pro­vid­ed par­tial answers to some of your ques­tions and per­haps I have just com­pli­cat­ed our dis­cus­sion even fur­ther. I’m not sure if I could answer the ques­tion, “[W]hat is the trans­for­ma­tive pow­er of minia­ture-cin­e­ma as an art form?” That seems to be a nev­er-end­ing dis­cus­sion in itself. I feel the same way about the ques­tion of whether my Vidoo­dles have a polit­i­cal mes­sage. To answer this I think we would need to define what a mov­ing-image “polit­i­cal mes­sage” is in the land­scape of media con­sumerism and con­sump­tion. How does one dif­fer­en­ti­ate between a polit­i­cal mes­sage and a “Just Do It” Nike adver­tise­ment, or is this dis­tinc­tion even important?

Sheena Wil­son: It is true that cur­rent com­mu­nica­tive tech­nolo­gies and the asso­ci­at­ed com­mu­nica­tive envi­ron­ments have cre­at­ed a spe­cif­ic flu­id­i­ty regard­ing the polit­i­cal spec­trum, a flu­id­i­ty that allows for a plu­ral­i­ty of simul­ta­ne­ous mes­sages, con­tra­dic­to­ry, para­dox­i­cal, and/or evanes­cent, to instant­ly dif­fuse via the net­works of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. How­ev­er, in the age of instan­cy or imme­di­a­cy grat­i­fi­ca­tion, this post-polit­i­cal cli­mate risks mere­ly cre­at­ing a noncommittal/ethical polit­i­cal action—post-polit­i­cal par­tic­i­paction—that rein­forces the dom­i­nant dis­cours­es, how­ev­er masked they might be by the com­mu­nica­tive envi­ron­ments.[4][5] And, in order to define what a polit­i­cal mes­sage entails in the con­text of cur­rent com­mu­nica­tive envi­ron­ments is to first acknowl­edge that in the present sit­u­a­tion the image is instant­ly dif­fused in such ways that the con­texts of pro­duc­tion, the con­texts of dif­fu­sion, and the con­texts of crit­i­cal engage­ment are no longer know­able, in many/most cas­es: nei­ther to the artist, nor to dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties of view­ers respec­tive­ly. Cur­rent com­mu­nica­tive tech­nolo­gies thus result in an era­sure of con­texts, both of pro­duc­tion and of recep­tion. The image might still have, when nec­es­sary to strict ide­o­log­i­cal enter­pris­es, some pos­si­ble polit­i­cal mes­sage, but it depends on how it is cre­at­ed, used, con­sumed, dis­trib­uted, fil­tered, recon­tex­tu­al­ized, re-invent­ed, re-cir­cu­lat­ed, etc.

In any case, your respons­es have giv­en your view­ers (and our read­ers) some insight into your chang­ing rela­tion­ship to the mov­ing image by indi­cat­ing how toy cam­eras and minia­ture cin­e­ma have, in fact, inspired you anew to use video—the mov­ing image—as your medi­um of expres­sion. How­ev­er, I’d like to ask more specif­i­cal­ly how you see your­self in rela­tion­ship to the cam­era. Are you a film­mak­er, an artist, a col­lec­tor of images, a nar­ra­tor of con­tem­po­rary life, all of the above, or none of the above?

On a relat­ed note, regard­ing how you iden­ti­fy as an artist, I can­not end this con­ver­sa­tion with­out touch­ing on the eth­no-cul­tur­al influ­ences in your film­mak­ing. I am most famil­iar with your film The Dis­placed View—a film that I have called your eth­nic com­ing out film, since your films pri­or to that did not direct­ly address your Japan­ese Cana­di­an heritage—and a film that makes use of Japan­ese lit­er­ary motifs, visu­al sym­bols, and images. Relat­ed to that, I’ve always been intrigued by your use of fairy­tale and poet­ry in your film/videomaking. Poet­ry and ele­ments of clas­sic sto­ries and sto­ry­telling tech­niques are present in many of your ear­li­er exper­i­men­tal films, includ­ing The Dis­placed View, and your Vidoo­dles.  These nar­ra­tive tech­niques also seem linked to the use of the split screen that you just referred to as a way to rep­re­sent mul­ti­ple real­i­ties at once. Could you com­ment on the role of poet­ry, fairy­tales, clas­sic sto­ry­telling tech­niques, and the more tech­ni­cal ele­ments of visu­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion such as colour, split screens, graph­ics, col­lage, etc., in con­struct­ing your films and Vidoo­dles?  Sim­ply stat­ed, how do you self iden­ti­fy and how does this impact your artis­tic vision and your artis­tic production?

Midi Onodera: It’s fun­ny that you ask if I con­sid­er myself to be a col­lec­tor and a film­mak­er. The lat­ter is a term that I have been won­der­ing if I can con­tin­ue to use to describe what I do. From the begin­ning of my career I have made a clear dis­tinc­tion between film and video. Back in the 1980s the terms film­mak­er or artist film­mak­er con­not­ed a spe­cif­ic prac­tice in the con­text of art pro­duc­tion: exper­i­men­tal, non-indus­try, and non-tra­di­tion­al. Sim­i­lar­ly, video artists had their own his­to­ry based more on alter­na­tive nar­ra­tive struc­tures and the aes­thet­ics of ana­logue video. Today, how­ev­er, I see myself more as a mov­ing image artist: some­one who is work­ing in dif­fer­ent areas of media pro­duc­tion, dis­cov­er­ing the inher­ent qual­i­ties of each medi­um and explor­ing these through an alter­na­tive sto­ry-telling frame­work. I would say I see film, video, and mov­ing images as a con­tin­u­um rather than sep­a­rate dis­ci­plines such as exper­i­men­tal film, artist videos, and new media. Over the years I have become a col­lec­tor of images, and through the col­lec­tion process I adapt, shift, and ques­tion those images and how we process them.

An exam­ple of this would be my video I have no mem­o­ry of my direc­tion (2005). This piece was an infor­mal fol­low-up to The Dis­placed View (1988). I have no mem­o­ry of my direc­tion was shot in Japan over five months between the ear­ly spring and late fall of 2003. Rather than approach the video as I had pre­vi­ous­ly done with my oth­er script­ed work, I decid­ed to shift my approach and tack­le the work in a more freeform way. Hav­ing nev­er been to Japan, I was unsure of what I might dis­cov­er there. The only ele­ments I had to work with before I arrived were vague fam­i­ly his­to­ries and pop cul­ture ref­er­ences flavoured with fairy tales and con­tem­po­rary myths. The one con­stant frame­work was Chris Marker’s film Sans Soleil (1983). This essay film mas­ter­work deeply influ­enced my approach to image mak­ing, and I want­ed to pay homage to Mark­er while con­struct­ing coun­ter­points from the per­spec­tive of a woman of Japan­ese descent. Arriv­ing in Japan, a few days after the 2003 inva­sion of Iraq, I armed myself with var­i­ous cam­eras (toy, tra­di­tion­al video, and still cam­eras) and dove into the cul­ture. My agen­da con­sist­ed of vis­it­ing dif­fer­ent loca­tions that were in Sans Soleil and locat­ing my rela­tion­ship with those spaces.

Each day I would leave my apart­ment before the over­whelm­ing Tokyo rush hour and head off to a few places I tracked down from the film. I would observe the area and try to imag­ine what Mark­er might have seen twen­ty years ear­li­er. What had changed? How did I view the scene dif­fer­ent­ly? What did this place mean to me? I would unpack my gear and film images that cap­tured my atten­tion. From these orig­i­nal Sans Soleil loca­tions, I dis­cov­ered links to oth­er places and con­nec­tions with fam­i­ly back in Cana­da and a fam­i­ly I had nev­er met in Japan. Every night I would return to home, log my shots, and jot down my impres­sions of the day.

My first trip last­ed about three months. Return­ing home, I mulled over the footage and watched my father strug­gle with Alzheimer’s. I became obsessed with mem­o­ry: famil­ial, per­son­al, and cul­tur­al. I chose the frame­work of a dream because I didn’t want to be lim­it­ed to a doc­u­men­tary per­spec­tive; I want­ed to cre­ate a fan­ta­sy that flowed in and out of the crevices of real­i­ty, a form that might resem­ble a shift­ing mem­o­ry or a dream. I returned to Japan in the fall and picked up the miss­ing shots that I need­ed to shape the dream­scape. The Japan­ese title of the video is Yume Oi, which rough­ly trans­lates to “chas­ing the dream.”

Mak­ing this video in this non-script­ed man­ner was par­tic­u­lar­ly chal­leng­ing, and through the process I honed my skills of qui­et obser­va­tion that lat­er became essen­tial in cre­at­ing my Vidoo­dles. Liv­ing on an over­pop­u­lat­ed island with peo­ple who phys­i­cal­ly looked like me was an expe­ri­ence I had nev­er had. Although I had always self-iden­ti­fied as a Japan­ese Cana­di­an, I real­ized that I had to a cer­tain extent been mythol­o­giz­ing my Japan­ese­ness. On many lev­els this cre­at­ed eth­nic mythol­o­gy has shaped my work. How­ev­er, I do not see this in iso­la­tion to the oth­er aspects of my iden­ti­ty. I can­not sep­a­rate my eth­nic­i­ty from my sex­u­al­i­ty from my gen­der iden­ti­ty. They are all intrin­si­cal­ly linked and some­times in con­flict with each other.

The visu­al man­i­fes­ta­tion of this shad­ed iden­ti­ty could be sub­con­scious­ly tied to my mul­ti-screen devices that seem to per­me­ate the Vidoo­dles. Obvi­ous­ly the use of mul­ti­ple screens has invad­ed our visu­al land­scape through adver­tis­ing and the omnipres­ence of pub­lic and pri­vate screens. How we now digest these mul­ti­ple mov­ing image screens is vast­ly dif­fer­ent today from just a few decades ago. I remem­ber, as a five year-old child, attend­ing Expo 1967 in Mon­tre­al and vis­it­ing the Ontario Pavil­ion. Christo­pher Chap­man cre­at­ed A Place To Stand, a fif­teen-screen por­trait of the province with six-chan­nel sur­round sound. Engulfed by the orches­tral sound­track, I felt trans­port­ed to anoth­er world, not one that actu­al­ly exist­ed but one that was locked away in my mind’s eye. The sheer diver­si­ty of the mul­ti­ple images was inspi­ra­tional­ly irre­sistible, and I think I must have child­ish­ly come to the deci­sion that mak­ing images was what I want­ed to do, but it wasn’t until I picked up my first Super 8 cam­era in high school that I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to pur­sue my dream.

Being involved with this dia­logue for Imag­i­na­tions has forced me to con­sid­er the tra­jec­to­ry of my prac­tice and has demand­ed that I exam­ine, eval­u­ate, and artic­u­late what that means. It’s not an easy process to go through. To a cer­tain extent, I want to hide behind the tra­di­tion­al artist’s mask and tell you that it is up to your inter­pre­ta­tion, as a view­er, an aca­d­e­m­ic, some­one who is forg­ing a path or paths between the audi­ence and the mak­er. But that would be the easy way out, less chal­leng­ing and less threat­en­ing. By agree­ing to this process I have exposed frag­ments of myself that I have kept pri­vate. These frag­ments, to some degree, are the shards that I use to piece togeth­er a fac­sim­i­le of a screen iden­ti­ty, char­ac­ters that become woven into imag­i­nary land­scapes that con­front or avoid the com­plex­i­ties of that space.

In 1990, I was invit­ed to cre­ate an artist pro­file on David Cro­nen­berg for the Toron­to Arts Awards. Dur­ing the inter­view he spoke a bit about the “sur­gi­cal impuls­es” of an artist: the desire to “cut open the sur­face skin, and then once beyond that, to make sense of what lies beneath it.” He spoke about how art can be dan­ger­ous to the artist: the dri­ve to push one­self over the edge, into the abyss of the unknown. I would add that there is noth­ing more exhil­a­rat­ing and melan­cholic than com­plet­ing a work. The dizzy­ing intox­i­ca­tion one feels when absorbed in cre­at­ing some­thing is high­ly addictive.

But there’s noth­ing like that first time, and one is always search­ing to recap­ture that extra­or­di­nary expe­ri­ence again and again. For some, how­ev­er, the process of ana­lyz­ing the artis­tic cock­tail endan­gers the mag­ic and destroys the high. I like to think of myself as a cul­tur­al mixol­o­gist: just as I need to keep increas­ing the poten­cy of my own work, I also want to under­stand the ingre­di­ents bet­ter in order to reach that next lev­el (of scrumptiousness).

If you are inter­est­ed in fur­ther infor­ma­tion about these Vidoo­dles, please read the inter­view-dia­logue between the artist in this same vol­ume of Imag­i­na­tions.  For fur­ther details on Midi Onodera and her body of work, con­sult her web­site(http://​www​.mid​ion​odera​.com), her fil­mog­ra­phy, or con­tact her here.  A DVD col­lec­tion of her work from 1981 -2008 is also avail­able is avail­able for pur­chase through Art Metro­pole. Her films and videos can be rent­ed from the CFMDC or V tape.


Ansel­mi, W. and Sheena Wil­son. “Per­for­ma­tive Rad­i­cal­ism in contemporary

Cana­di­an doc­u­men­tary film.” Film Inter­na­tion­al # 37. 7.1 ( 2009): 44-53. Aty­pon. Web.


Ansel­mi, W. and Sheena Wil­son. “Tech­nolo­gies of Mem­o­ry, Iden­ti­ty and Obliv­ion in Perse­po­lis (2007) and Waltz with Bashir (2009).”  Rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Self in Iran­ian Lit­er­a­ture, Art, and Film. Ed. Mani­jeh Man­ani. Athabas­ca UP. Forth­com­ing 2011. Print.


[1] This project is referred to as both “A Movie a Day” or “365.”

[2] Rus­sell, Cather­ine. “Mini-Cam­era: A Dig­i­tal Diary for iPod.”  Cine­Ac­tion. Toron­to. Issue 73/74 2008.

[3] This dia­logue took place in writ­ten for­mat, via e-mail correspondence.

[4] These terms come from an arti­cle co-authored with Dr. William Ansel­mi enti­tled “Tech­nolo­gies of Mem­o­ry, Iden­ti­ty and Obliv­ion in Perse­po­lis (2007) and Waltz with Bashir (2009),” forth­com­ing in 2011 with Athabas­ca Uni­ver­si­ty Press. In that arti­cle we explain the fol­low­ing: “These two terms refer to the cur­rent socio­cul­tur­al con­di­tion cre­at­ed by tech­nol­o­gy. On the one hand, we can be in mul­ti­ple spaces simul­ta­ne­ous­ly and, on the oth­er, the grand nar­ra­tive of post­mod­ernism has trans­formed His­to­ry into a pletho­ra of diluted/deluded nar­cis­sis­tic performances/stories for com­mer­cial use.”

[5] The term “post-polit­i­cal” comes from pre­vi­ous and ongo­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive work with William Ansel­mi where we refer to the post-polit­i­cal as a cur­rent real­i­ty where the his­tor­i­cal­ly under­stood polit­i­cal spec­trum has been mutat­ed, such that it has mere­ly become a rhetor­i­cal ref­er­ence in a post-polit­i­cal real­i­ty where all posi­tions on the spec­trum can simul­ta­ne­ous­ly be attrib­uted to one indi­vid­ual or action in a media fren­zy where there is no respon­si­bil­i­ty to his­to­ry and its ref­er­ences. Like­wise, all per­spec­tives on the polit­i­cal spec­trum can simul­ta­ne­ous­ly exist and find view­er­ship with­out hav­ing to acknowl­edge or be acknowl­edged through crit­i­cal debate, thus elim­i­nat­ing dialec­ti­cal processes.

This arti­cle is licensed under a  Cre­ative Com­mons 3.0 License although cer­tain works ref­er­enced here­in may be sep­a­rate­ly licensed, or the author has exer­cised their right to fair deal­ing under the Cana­di­an Copy­right Act.