KK, Waratte itomon (original version), 2003, video


KK, Waratte itomon (edited version), 2003, video

It starts like this. “I heard a rumor surrounding a television program, a certain popular daytime program. On some days, though very rarely, the usually talkative host goes the entire broadcast without uttering a single word. How can he manage the entire hour? Does the show conclude successfully? Miraculously, I succeeded in recording the program on one such day. Let us examine it now.”

For the following forty-plus minutes, the artist loses himself, in body through mind, in the Japanese daytime variety show Waratte iitomo (Go ahead and laugh). The show has been running some twenty-three years since 1982, airing today at noon on Fuji TV for housewives, retirees, and the lunching employed. The jokes, topics of discussions, quiz games, and stage set have all gone largely unchanged. The show and its host, the comedian Tamori, are the ostensible subjects of an award-winning video work by a young Japanese artist that goes only by the pseudonym KK. Ironically titled the same WARATTE IITOMO, the work is on one level a diatribe against the banalities of daytime television, and broaches familiar issues of mediation and alienation within televisual experience. But critique motivates only part of the work; it is rich also as a video variety of concrete poetry and music. This as always means the subordination of narrative to more physical concerns.

Striking are the loops occurring throughout the work. Tight repetition of habitual movements (the host moving hand to chin, his interlocutor inhaling just prior to speaking, or nodding her head in thought to one side) and rapid overlapping of similarly formed and positioned faces mutate the flat video image into a space of sliding planes and high-relief spheres. Speech is cut up or out and the guests of the show are given over to expression in roars, screams, and stammers. These are not quite simulated forms of aphasia, but rather acts of digital ventriloquism.

KK later rearranges the speech of the host Tamori into a combative interrogation of the artist himself. With fat yellow bubble font subtitles there to aid comprehension of what often lapses into unintelligible vocal percussion, Tamori teases the artist, “Will you have sex with me?” The artist pardons himself. Questions and answers unfold in which the stakes of the work are laid on the line. “Are you intending to hack into our world with your images?” The artist responds with a, “No,” then a, “Yes.” And finally from Tamori: “You know, although it appears that you are producing images, really all that you are doing is re-indexing old images.” KK agrees, “Yes that is it. That is it exactly.” Clearly, positions are meant to oscillate, and it is the twenty-some years and still running television program host who may be accused of repeating himself and intruding upon the lives of the living. It is thus-jumping into the image and asking it what it asks of us-that KK passes a week of daytime television viewing through his system.

With this work, KK received the coveted Kirin Art Award, the top prize in a juried show for new artists held yearly at the Kirin Plaza in downtown Osaka. Last winter's recipient has had swarming around him a buzz of unprecedented volume. The jury had decided that the work incorporated such a large amount from the daytime television show in question that exhibition of the work was bound to violate both television program copyrights and individual likeness rights. As a variety show, Waratte iitomo has an endless number of celebrities coming and going across its stage and to clear the work with all of them prior to exhibition would have been impossible. Simply editing out questionable scenes would have resulted in the reduction of the work to nothing: just a few minutes of the artist talking into the camera. So KK produced a second version in which any potential trespass is bleeped, blurred, or effaced. In other words, a new work filled maximally with the signs of censorship. The original was further refigured by being split across three separate monitors: the leftmost screen offering the original work with all images digitally defaced, an all blue screen with frequent bleeps of ousted speech, and a third screen of text describing what's not seen and heard to the left.

Either way, edited or original, the work concludes with the artist bashing in the face of a television with a sledge. He drops the hammer and walks away, only to be pulled back (by a simulated cassette tape rewind) into the conversation just closed. It ends with KK mouse-clicking and stating, “I heard a rumor surrounding a television program . . . ” And then the screen zaps off.

Ryan Holmberg
Brooklyn, New York