Hanezawa Garden

Text: C.W. Winter, 2015

Roughly thirty-one and half minutes into Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D. (1952), a dispirited pensioner, finding himself down to his last lire against a backdrop of economic austerity, calls an ambulance and feigns illness so that he might briefly stay in a hospital in order to get a more comfortable bed, even the temporary succor of nurses, and three good meals a day. In the dominant culture of the Western narrative cinema of the time, following such a moment, a director would then be expected to cut to something like the arrival of the ambulance, to the pensioner already in the ambulance, or to the pensioner already at the hospital—dramatic action begetting dramatic action in an unbroken chain.

De Sica, however, disrupts these defaults. He makes us wait. He leaves us there in the boarding house passing time[1] in real time awaiting the paramedics‘ arrival from the nearby hospital. In a sequence running nearly eight and half minutes in total, we spend the middle four minutes eighteen seconds in dramaturgical suspension. The chain of dramatic action is broken. Nothing happens that advances a plot. We just wait. Listening to and seeing the type of span that Deleuze refers to when he says that the „image no longer has space and movement as its primary characteristics but topology and time.“[2] It was in this moment in Western narrative cinema, in this waiting for an ambulance, that lived time came untethered from text and emerged into the foreground.

From our current vantage point, with a legacy of image makers ranging from James Benning to Andy Warhol to Tony Conrad to Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet or to Chantal Akerman, among others…or more recently from Pedro Costa to Wang Bing to Heinz Emigholz to Jean-Claude Rousseau to Sharon Lockhart or to Lav Diaz, among others…a dramatic suspension of four minutes eighteen seconds might seem like an insignificant gesture. And those in the West would later learn that Yasujiro Ozu out in Japan had already been up to such dramatic suspensions for quite a while. However, given the Western cinema of the time, De Sica’s was a startling move.

As this passage from Umberto D. begins, we see an image of a young chambermaid. She has been awakened by the pensioner’s phone call, and, as she lies in her bed, she stares upward through the atrium ceiling of the entryway where she sleeps. From her point of view, we see a glass roof littered with old wet leaves clumped in black patches partially blocking out the soft morning light.

Sixty-two images into Anders Edström’s Hanezawa Garden, we find a similar image. One of five in a sequence. A picture of old dead pine needles in large black clumps seen through a glass atrium ceiling. A kind of inadvertent phagosome from Umberto D. And through this passage, one can begin to discover a sense of duration and resistance that is so central to Edström’s project. A patience. A waiting. A refusal of the speed of the dominant economy.

Deleuze, in his writings on cinema, often referred to Pure Optical Situations. Breaks in the dramaturgical chain. Pauses in the action. Or temporary steppings out of dramatic action. He saw these dramaturgical pauses as the birth of a modern cinema with Ozu as progenitor. A declaration of the latent power of the longue durée, on the one hand urgently contemporary and on the other echoing the Kant of 1754 who declared that it is no longer time that depends upon movement, but the opposite.

We can trace a through-line of such Pure Optical Situations from Ozu through Italian Neo-Realism into Antonioni, Minimalism, Structuralism and various conceptualisms, and on forward to cinematic new waves emerging from Iran to Taiwan to Romania to the Philippines and elsewhere.

But what does it mean when someone like Edström, surely the protagonist in Hanezawa Garden, doesn’t simply offer us a brief break from Aristotelian conflict/resolution, a momentary pause, a dramaturgical lapse…but instead makes a whole of a work—in its fixed, multi-year gaze upon a single geographic point—that is a Pure Optical Situation, a sustained act of looking, an exercise not of an agent but of a seer?[3] Gone are Deleuze’s Small Form and Large Form of narrative. And in their place there arises a situation-description, both a document and a performance. In this case, a POV of an individual and his frequent visits to a garden just down the road from his home in Tokyo—a garden that would eventually be uprooted, erased, and monetized by the contingent forces of development.

When thinking of contingency, we often think in terms of the Event. Of unforeseen occurrences of broad scale and impact. 9/11. The 2008 Crisis. Google. And so on. But contingent materials and forces are at work across all dimensions: from the massive, to the elementary, to the human scale. A practice like Edström’s both describes and affirms the contingency of our everyday at an everyday scope. Not through a sense of openness or improv, but through limitation. A limitation of technics. Of options. Of parameters. And, in the case of Hanezawa Garden, of geography. Here, we see the unfolding of a resolute focus on a single place. A site whose ultimate undoing was unforeseen. This isn’t a document of openness or chance; it’s a document of a closing down, of the contingent, of a befalling.[4]

And in thinking of such befallings, of an artist whose site disintegrates before him, one could think of superficial parallels to Pedro Costa’s long-term documentation of the Fontaínhas quarter in Lisbon. And while a strength of that work is its deeply empathetic focus on the ever-diminishing agency of that neighborhood’s inhabitants, a somewhat Straubian political description of a people who would otherwise not be seen, Hanezawa Garden, with its smaller scope and narrow-gauged volatility, with its quieter equanimity, brings us closer to something like a Latourian notion of perception—that of the human as sensitive instrument. Of detection reinforced by repetition, revisitation, and looping back. Describing and re-describing a location, orientation, and effects. „When the dictionary defines sensitive as ‚quick to detect or respond to slight changes, signals, or influences‘, this adjective applies to the anthropos.“[5] Just as it applies to Hanezawa Garden, to the whole of Edström’s now twenty-nine-year practice, and to his perpetual examination of what is and isn’t worthy of being a photograph.

Edström began taking photographs in 1986. And in looking at his work from that early period, one finds it is largely indistinguishable from work he made in 1996, 2006, and now.[6] He has forged an uncompromisingly concise set of principles. A disciplined asceticism. And, over the last three decades, there are few other photographic bodies of work that have been more directly and indirectly imitated. Aspects of what now we take for granted as photography-generally can be shown to trace back to work he began in the 1980’s.

As a result of his long-term consistency, I tend to think of his images as the byproducts of duration. Hanezawa Garden is now a subset of that duration, a period of nine years, evidence of a straightforward and unpoetic approach, a resistance to allure and to commodity, an insistent exercise in plain speaking, a description of lived time emerging into the foreground.

[1] And in this, one could be reminded of Michel Butor’s Passing Time (1956), in which surplus descriptions of presentness accumulate to render an amplified banality, in some ways echoing his Russian Formalist predecessors.

[2] Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time Image. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1986.

[3] And from this, I’m reminded of the following passage: „The pleasure and astonishment of looking are unnegotiable. Nothing the world can do to them will make them go away. And yes, I agree, the world does plenty to try. Pleasure and astonishment seem to me qualities that the world around us, most of the time, is conspiring to get rid of…By which I mean the full range of human possibilities and sympathies that make up the human, as far as I’m concerned. Recognitions and sympathies, but also losses and horrors and failures of understanding. Everything the present ecstasy of „information“ wants us to transfer to trash…We are accustomed from a young age to living in a constant flow of visual imagery. The imagery is designed not to be looked at closely or with sustained attention…So make time for the opportunity for sustained attention, proposing that visual images carry within them the possibility of genuine difficulty, genuine depth, genuine resistance—a way of life in which the image-life of power could at once be derided or spoken back to.“ — Retort Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War. London: Verso, 2005.

[4] „Unlike the etymology of ‚chance‘ and ‚aleatory‘, which relate to ‚falling’—cadentia, alea, the fall of a dice, the eventuality of one of a number of possible outcomes (the faces of a die)—’contingency‘ comes from contingere, meaning ‚to befall’—it is an event that happens to us, that comes from outside, that simply „strikes“ without any possible prevision.“ — Mackay, Robin. The Medium of Contingency. Falmouth, U.K.: Urbanomic, 2011.

[5] Latour, Bruno. „The Anthropocene and the Destruction of the Image of the Globe“ Lecture, The University of Edinburgh, February 25, 2013.

[6] …which is somehow in a similar spirit to that of Mark E. Smith of The Fall, who, in 1977, penned the lyrics: „This is the three R’s, the three R’s: repetition, repetition, repetition.“ [i][ii] A resistance to the economics of the perpetually new. And while Smith has released thirty studio albums and nearly one hundred releases total over the last thirty-nine years, and while consistently brilliant threads have persisted in this work, his output, with its varied array, never fully adhered to the model of the three R’s. By this one specific standard, Edström could perhaps be seen as more Smith than Smith.
i. This footnote itself is a repetition, lifted from the text „The End of Seeing“, written for and never published by Ravelin Magazine.
ii. In the case of Hanezawa Garden, this isn’t a completist or limit point exercise as we might find from Borges‘ fictional Pierre Menard, who re-writes Cervantes‘ Don Quixote as-is, word for word. [†] Nor like Rodney Graham’s 39 billion-year Parsifal. Nor like Tony Conrad’s Yellow Movies (1972-1973), high water marks of the longue durée, that span, uninterrupted, for longer than any viewer could consume in any single lifetime. Hanezawa Garden, like most of my favorite representations of duration is a description, not a transcription, of lived time. It is an act of implying. A mutual understanding with a viewer of the power of fragments to imply a whole, not unlike the implications of time beyond ourselves that we might extract from sources such as Hindustani drones, much early Persian classical music, or the works of people like Jon Gibson, C.C. Hennix, Folke Rabe, Michael Snow, Henry Flynt, Earth, or Phill Niblock, among others.

. Borges, Jorge Luis. „Pierre Menard, Autor Del Quijote.“ Sur, May 1939.