My name is Takemura. Take means bamboo and mura means village. I was born and raised in a home surrounded by a bamboo forest. The cover of the DoP-2 pamphlet reminded me of my home, surrounded by the bamboo forest. I decided that this image and the memory of my home would be the point of departure for my presentation. But it would be a pity if my home were enclosed in a transparent glass case: does it signify virtual enclosure?
I personally prefer a home where information technology supports us, but is transparent and concealed, so that I'm never conscious of its existence; to talk to the bamboo environment rather than the whole life captured by the transparent display of the platform. I wish to talk about the experience of the Japanese home in space as a cultural and pre-electronic multimedia environment.
S p a c e . a s . a . M e d i u m
Multimedia is not a matter of technology, but of how we experience this world. It is a matter of designing our communications with others or our environment; of creation of a pattern of information editing through our interaction.
Multimedia is a mode of action and communication and a way of thinking and perceiving. It is not necessarily dependent upon the taste of technology. It might be amplified by the taste of technology, but not defined or confined by it. I will speak about the experiential aspect of the traditional Japanese home. For example, how our perception is mediated ecologically, socially or symbolically. The way in which multi-sensory or symbolic information is quoted, edited or reorganized is greatly relevant to the study and development of the multimedia environment. The title of my presentation is Eco-Aesthetic Home--a description of the Japanese home as multimedia space. This term eco-aesthetic, focuses on our deep experience of our environment, space and time rather than the prevalent materialistic or utopian ecology. It includes multi-sensory contact with the environment and the semiotic or symbolic perception of nature or social ecology in the context of human relationships. It is related to the three ecologies of Felix Guattari, that stress the phenomonological aspect of our ecological experience, defining three modes of ecology: physical, symbolic and social. But, here, the category of Echo Aesthetic is derived from a Japanese or Asian mode of thought and experience. My presentation will center on problems where the issue of multimedia and ecology and the issue of home overlap.
A . P r i v e l e g e d . M e d i u m
Bamboo has been traditionally thought of as a privileged medium. It is an antenna to communicate with spirits or advice gods. It is used for dances. Any place can be made into a temporary shrine if you erect four bamboo poles and tie them together with rope. Of course, the tree as a spiritual medium is a universal cultural phenomenon. But bamboo has a special implication for the whole of Japanese culture because it contains a void. It can receive or conceive something important and trigger off our imaginative or symbolic linkage of associations.
A good example is the famous old story of a girl conceived in the void of the bamboo. One day an old bamboo craftsman (this profession itself is symbolic) entered the bamboo forest and found one bamboo shining in the darkness. He got a girl from it, who became his daughter. However, she was actually a heavenly agent and eventually flew back to the moon. The void never has a negative implication in Japanese culture. The void is not mere emptiness. It is potent or potentially powerful in the sense that it is something to be filled. In Japanese, this void is called utzuo. If you change the last syllable to wa it becomes utzuwa; utzuwa means a bowl like you see on the screen. But it's not a mere bowl: it's something that conceives or receives some very important things. It's a defined tool. If you add an e to the last syllable of utzuwa, it becomes utzuwae, which represents a concept of time instead of a concept of space or a void. I'll return to this idea of space, time and integration later. The Japanese concept of space is essentially a medium.
A . M u l t i - d i m e n s i o n a l . E d i t i n g . S y s t e m
Now I've arrived at the basis of my presentation: that the Japanese home is multi-dimensional information editing system.
In Japanese, the word for room or space is ma, which originally means in between or intermediating space. In the context of western culture, things are substantial and the void in between is nothing, but in a Japanese context, a void is something and we put great value on this intermediary area. For example, something connecting two items or areas are commonly called hashi. Hashi means a bridge that connects here and there, the real and spiritual world.
These slides are ma, the intermediating space. Here is a hashi connecting here and there. But the Chinese character hashi also means chopstick. A symbolic bridge mediating ma with nutriants and food for the body. Hashi also means fringe, but it doesn't necessarily have a negative implication. Center or fringe? We don't have this distinction in Japanese culture.
Actually, the fringe is very much valued in a Japanese home. This slide shows the fringe of a house in open air, called engawa. An open-air veranda covered by a roof that is both outside and inside. And this is the very part where public and private merge and where the host and the guest meet without offending each other or impinging on privacy.
Here, the inner space of home is ecologically mediated to the environment through the engawa as, conversely, the house is socially mediated to a private area for guests. A mediation concept is also embodied in certain everyday, ornamental tools like bells; small bells hung from the fringe of the engawa. The bells are called furin which literally means wind bell.
The wind bell is designed not only for enjoyment, like other contempory soundscape designs. This is a media not for designing sound, but for designing our hearing by transforming the movement of the air into a subtle sound. It leads us to be more sensitive and conscious towards our environment. Thus, the bells serve as a sensory interface mediating our relationship to the environment.
The same thing happens with shozi, the sliding doors or screens. They never shut out the environment, but screen the light elegantly and conceal the outside scenery in a special way that makes you more conscious of the environment. The paper doors of perception...
Rather than reconstruct the natural environment, the Japanese have tried to revive the mood of experiencing nature not by designing the landscape itself, but by designing the relationship between the subject and the environment. Or manipulating the context instead of the text. These are all informational editing processes rather than forms of materialistic control. Designing the mode of perception, the mode of information in our body and brain rather than attempting substantial formation.
S h a k e i : . Q u o t i n g . t h e . L a n d s c a p e
Such a sense of ecological mediation through informational manipulation is most clearly expressed in the Japanese landscape design concept shakei. Shakei literally means borrowing the landscape or quoting the scenery. And this concept of quotation or re-editing could serve as a key to all Japanese culture. Scenery is quoted in concrete.
We quote the inner mountain seen here as a part of the scenery of our home garden instead of designing the home garden as a concrete microcosm. The gardener intentionally makes an opening or a gap in the garden scenery and lets the background landscape or mountain flow into the void. Thus the gardener is designer of a field of multi-dimensional experience where macrocosm is quoted and re-edited into microcosm. One might describe this as internalization of outside world through quoting and editing. And this is characteristic of Japanese home or landscape design.
One can quote and edit the macrocosm in the home by simple sliding doors. These are sliding door pictures. They are portable and transient, temporary, but they are not ornaments or decorations of the interior. It is an interface rather than a surface. And you can quote anything through other media: clothing, dishes, and so forth. So my point is that these are not aesthetic things. There is an informational editing process at work.
The process of quoting and re-editing also occurs on symbolic or symbiotic levels. A famous example is the stone garden. But instead of shaping or carving the stone to make a sculpture or ornaments, one puts the natural stone in the garden, manipulating the context of the stone without manipulating the stone itself and realizing a whole universe of legendary mountain scenery, something that is imprinted in the cultural memory, often based on legendary scenery. And the roof of the house is a quotation of the waves of the sea.
The borrowing of stone is not a material borrowing, but a borrowing of the whole symbolic concept through which a relationship to the cosmos is re-edited. The ecological interface serves as a symbolical or cosmological interface through which one's imagination will be linked to the transpersonal cultural database. Mishima, the very famous novelist who committed suicide a few years ago, said the garden is media not only into which the whole cosmos is condensed, but also through which we extend ourselves to the cosmic context. Nor is flower arrangement a mere aesthetic activity or decoration in the Japanese cultural context. Flowers are a media. Think about the meaning of sakura for example, the cherry blossom that is symbolic of Japanese culture. Sa means a mountain god flowing down in the spring. And kura means a place or location. So sakura means a sort of medium for the god and the enjoyment of a sakura blooming is a kind of deep, eco-aesthetic experience. But you borrow a small part of a scent and bring it into your home, where host and guest or public and private merge. This simple flower from the field can be put in the tea ceremony room or a niche in the guest room. What is important is not the flower itself as text but the whole context shift. Through quoting the flower from the natural context it becomes an interface mediating our relationship to the whole cosmos or other people.
I want to point out one more important aspect: the flower serves not only as an ecological or a cosmological interface but also as a social interface to other people. Host and guest or husband and wife communicate to each other. One famous Japanese critic has always emphasized that instead of stressing emotion, the Japanese convey a message through the formation of ecological arrangements of the flowers. For example, if you twist the one branch in an awkward or special way, it will be the interface. No direct code exists, but there will be an interface between husband and wife or guest and host. In this way, we have refined indirect communications. This contains an important implication for multimedia environment and design. I think that human-to-human communication is not necessarily direct or bilateral, but sometimes well mediated by a third factor. That factor is the environment or the interaction between human and environment: a triangle communication. I'll come back to this point later.
This concept of indirect communication has strong relevance to another important issue of the complexity of social mediation or hypercommunication: the ambivalence of human communication. For example, pretending that you are not listening is just as important a form of communication as showing that you are paying attention to someone. Like our skin, which consists of pores, water and interface, something dividing and connecting to each other at the same time. The fringe, the fragile partition of exit doors; intermediating space in Japanese homes has an ambivalent function. For example, using a portable partition to limit visibility and maintain privacy without enclosing something completely. This concerns the element of interpersonal proximity in hypercommunication discussed the day before yesterday and will thus be of great relevance to the design of network environments.
S p a c e . E m e r g e s . f r o m . A c t i v i t y . o f . S u b j e c t
I have described some aspects of space in Japanese homes: as an information editing system where a multi-dimensional quotation and re-editing process promotes multi-sensory or cosmological symbolic and social mediation which amplifies our environmental and interpersonal experience in a very complex way. Space is full of invisable linkage of information even in the scenery in a miniature garden or a paper door picture. There are many potential click points through which you will be led to follow the linkage of an ecological or symbolic meeting and trigger off your imagination. So the first thing about the Japanese idea of space is an omnipresent kind of media space. And this informational system is basically interactive.
The whole system activates the subject to follow the hidden linkage to multiple relationships mediated by it. Any space in a Japanese context emerges according to the activity of the subject. Space has no identity or fixed function outside of the practice of the subject. For example, in the traditional context, if you put a dining table on a tatami floor, the room becomes a dining room. You get rid of this and put down a futon, a kind of portable bed, and it becomes a bedroom.
If you shut all of the sliding doors, every room will be independent. If you get rid of all of this, it will become the guest room. In a certain Japanese village, for example, an everyday home becomes a traditional theater if you get rid of all the sliding doors.
So no place has an identity, a priority. Every space is created situationally by practice of the person. It is basically very interactive and multi functional.
This very small cushion is called a zuafuton. It is a chair of the host, but if you turn it over it becomes the guest's place. So everything is temporary and transient and emerges according to the activity.
This is a very attractive interactive art. Look at these awkward faces. You turn them upside down and they will become other faces. You find faces in the body of cats in those paintings and so forth. This one is also quite abstract. The image doesn't make sense until it is shown on a round surface.
It is not a fine aret, actually.
So space itself is a potentially multimedia environment. How we can interact with it? Here is one very priviledged case.
There is a popular custom of poetic games through which you interactively follow and find a link of images, symbols, time and space to amplify your experience of your environment. This poetic game is called haiku or, more precisely, lenka. A chain poem is created by networks of people.
Haiku, a seventeen-syllable poem, is a traditional mode of interactive game, in which one follows symbolic linkages and uses this associated knowledge to create. For example, if you find one bridge in the paper door picture or small home garden that represents the image of a famous legendary bridge, you can activate the linkage through quoting some poems illustrating that famous bridge and integrate them in your new poem. Here again, the multiple quotation and re-editing of knowledge links is essential. Secondly, the interaction with information space triggers symbolic links; activates interpersonal communication or collaboration. Interaction with the information space or environment activates interpersonal interaction. In the network groups, you may quote some context from the poem which was created a hundred years ago.
Through accumulation of such collaboration, linkage between some particular flower and bird; season or event; scenery or emotion becomes standardized. Some key word is used to trigger the image. So personal experience is networked and becomes a transpersonal reference. As a result of such accumulation and knowledge, a database of symbolic association--a symbolic ecology--has been compiled as a kind of encyclopedia of eco-aesthetic knowledge.
Here, we have the potential multimedia environment and the systematic interactivity and database to amplify our eco-aesthetic experience. But what is interesting is that this encyclopedia is not a mere collection of abstract knowledge, but is composed of a series of sample poems using passwords or seasonal key words. It is a kind of combination of interpersonal hypertext eco-aesthetic experiences. Actually, it has much in common with the home page.
L e a r n i n g . a n d . A l t e r i n g
You navigate through the database to follow or find a cultural link or image and activate your holistic experience in the eco-aesthetic sense. In such a system, the process of acquiring cultural knowledge of the eco-system is integrated in the process of using the data base to alter it. The process of learning and altering are combined or integrated. This altering process is also the process used to amplify the data base itself: to participate in the diachronic accumulation of interpersonal collaboration.
This is designed by my colleague and friend Mr. Matsuoka, director of an editorial engineering lab. It may be the first attempt to express the basic hyperconcept of Japanese symbolic linkage, the Japanese eco-aesthetic experience, in this kind of software. And this is a artistic tool and also a database. You can make haiku or E-mail, but in the text, you quote diverse contexts from the poems or database or diachronic home page and make up a text or a combination of graphics. Here, we chose the landscape interface. He chose the season of summer. In the graphics, a multi-contextual, re-editing of the context of an eco-aesthetic experience is accomplished. Here, a picture by Hokusai has been chosen: a view of mount Fuji. He also chose an object, in this case a Japanese nightingale, and tried to put it in the background. But there is no traditional linkage. What is a suitable background? What sort of background is linked to the nightingale? Here, it has become a tree.
What is happening here is not mere acquisition of knowledge, but an example of knowledge as learning and altering in context.