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Le présent article n'est pas disponible en Français
May 2009

For the past 10 years internationally acclaimed Japanese multimedia artist Ryoichi Kurokawa has mixed video images, audio recordings, graphics and animations to produce stunning audio-visual installations, presentations and live performances. His work has been shown at international conferences and museums around the world including The Tate Modern (UK), Shanghai eARTS (China) and the Corcoran Gallery of Art & G Fine Art (US). George Cole spoke to Ryoichi Kurokawa about what inspired him to use video to create his artworks and how Canon’s video equipment helped him to produce one of his most ambitious works to date – ‘Rheo’.

What is it that attracted you to video as an art form? What does it enable you to do that can’t be done with any other media?

With audio and video, you can treat time in a way that you can’t do with other art forms, such as painting or sculpture.

When did you start working with video?

Ten years ago, but at first, I was using general animation to create motion pictures on a computer. For my generation, the PC is an ordinary tool, like a pencil. The audio-visual language can be seen as a true contemporary global vernacular.

Was it hard to convince the art world that video was a valid art form?

No, because in the world of contemporary art, video was already established. However, the difference between my generation of audio-visual artists and traditional video art is our new understanding of art. We operate in numerous fields, not only in galleries or museums, but also more popular clubs or festivals like Cinematics, Club Transmediale and FILE. This is, I think, our greatest achievement, and this evolution has a lot to do with digital culture.

Click here to watch some of Ryoichi Kurokawa’s ‘Rheo’ concert.

What equipment did you start using for your video projects?

I started using a Sony DV camera originally, but then I moved to a Sony HDV camera. I chose Sony because it was the first company to release a consumer HDV camera.

You now use Canon equipment. Why?

It is the combination of the camera with a high quality lens that is most important for me. I like the textures that you can get from Canon cameras compared with other brands. Ease of use is also important to me, and the Canon equipment is simple to use.

What difference has high definition video made to your work? What are your thoughts on the HDV format?

I moved to the HDV format because I knew that I could create even more detailed images. HDV is very colourful and it has made a big difference to how my work looks. I use it when I'm shooting concrete (solid) images.


Multimedia artist Ryoichi Kurokawa.

How long does it typically take you to complete a work?

It’s hard to say precisely, because I usually have several projects running together at the same time, but typically it's months. But there is also the act of live performance. The months of preparation form only the basis of the work because, during each concert, something new is added to the work. The work is organic; it's always in a state of constant evolution.

How do you create your multimedia works?

First comes the idea. Sometimes I draw the idea on paper but normally it just stays in my head. I then shoot the footage I need and record all of the sounds that I want – the storyboard is in my head! I also use computer-generated audio and video and mix them. This takes a long time and a 10-minute production can take a long time to create.

Your latest work is called ‘Rheo’. Can you describe the concept behind it?

‘Rheo’ is an audiovisual concert and uses multi-channel sound. I first had the idea about one or two years ago and I was inspired by the words of Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus: "panta rhei" which means, "everything is in a state of flux.” So I was very interested in recording movement in nature and combining it with graphics and sound.


Presenting 'Rheo' requires three 9:16 screens and a multi-channel 5.1 sound system.

I also wanted to show it in a different way by using three screens that are positioned lengthwise, that is 9:16 aspect ratio rather than the usual 16:9. Why? Well, Japanese paintings are displayed in this manner and it’s very rare to see video displayed this way, so I was very interested in showing 'Rheo' in this format.

What Canon equipment did you use to shoot ‘Rheo’ and how did you record the video images?

I used an XL H1S camcorder to record the images in HD quality. I also used many accessories, including the 20x zoom XL5.4-108mm f/1.6-3.5L IS and the 6x HD Wide Angle XL3.4-20.4mm video lenses - these were ideal for capturing landscapes and other objects. I also used the EF Lens Adaptor XL so I could attach an MP-E65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro lens to the camcorder for close-up shots. And I used Canon’s EF Extension Tube EF25 and EF Extension Tube EF12 for adjusting the minimum and maximum focusing distance when shooting close-up.

Because I was going to present ‘Rheo’ in 9:16, I had to shoot everything at right angles, and that was challenging, but the XL H1S produced excellent footage.


A cityscape still of one of the 9:16 screens taken during a performance of ‘Rheo’.

What did you do after recording the footage?

I used a Firewire connection to transfer the full HD footage from the XL H1S to my computer. I use a lot of software, including Apple’s Final Cut Pro to create the final artwork. This is a complex process, because with some images, I simply want to use the colour of the object; with others, I want to add the movement to the piece. I am also generating animations and mixing sounds – as I said, it’s very complicated! What you get in the end is what I describe as: “three-dimensional pixel sculptures.”


Ryoichi Kurokawa used a Canon XL H1S camcorder to create his latest work, 'Rheo'. It is shown here at one of his chosen shooting locations.

Tell us about how you present ‘Rheo’ in concert.

To display ‘Rheo’, we need three 9:16 screens, three projectors and four Apple PowerBook computers. It also requires a 5.1 channel sound system and some other equipment, such as a Local Area Network hub for controlling the various components. The concert lasts about 30 minutes.

What are your future plans for using video?

I always like to use new technology with video, as it helps me to expand my artwork, so I will be looking out for new technological developments.

To find out more about the Canon video products mentioned in this article or to try out or purchase Canon video products, contact your nearest Canon video dealer. For contact details just click here.