Tokyo, 11pm. People entering a train.
Shot in one take the video communicates the inevitable, up to the edge of the unbearable.
A platform at the Shibuya train station at the end of the day, office workers and students pile onto a subway car. In one shoot, the artist records the human activity of boarding an already full train, the expressions captured are bland and uninterested, a perfunctory activity it would seem - but here in Tokyo it turns into a ritualised magic-show.
Like a conjuring trick, one by one, passengers inch their way into the train, there is no sense of urgency, just a calm and polite squeezing of one's way, indicating not only the regularity and ordinariness of the occurrence, but also the socially accepted mannerisms developed from sheer necessity. An announcement is heard for the platform behind, '(Female voice:) In a moment a train to Kichijoji will be arriving at platform 2. Please wait beyond the yellow line!' and '(Male voice:) At platform 2 the train is about to arrive. Please be careful!'. The announcements make no impact on the motions or expressions of the passengers, who having taken their places in the train, are merely waiting. Drawing the audience from spectator of contorting bodies into narrative and identification with its passengers is the development of the video soundtrack. Beginning with the hiss of train engine and the impersonal announcements, the soundtrack gradually fades into a sequence of sounds, combining a sense of the familiar with a slight sense of foreboding, amplifying the sense of awkwardness of the tableau of individuals and emphasizing each movement they make as they try to maintain place and a sense of balance.
The artist's exploration of human movement, juxtaposing the flow of platform pedestrians against the ones apparently contentedly awaiting transport within the subway car creates a simple yet profound effect of suspense: will they all manage to fit in the car, will the train ever leave? In spite of being a routine and commonplace occasion, there is a certain tension and narrative that engages the audience in their willing for something to happen. And it does. Closing up momentarily upon the grimace of a woman as she squeezes through, the brief narrative reaches its denouement, and shortly after, we see the platform attendants arrive, trying to draw the doors and the narrative to a close (without having to sacrifice any of the players), with a final salute and wave to the train-driver (as we cheer them on), they are on their way.
The simplicity of the narrative and effect which is also seen in the artist's earlier works such as Palindromic Passage and Skip and Return, is marked by a particular success of his paring down and analysing the most basic of movements repeatedly. Emphasizing the uniqueness in each performance, from the toe edging onto the floor of the train car, the up-stretched arm that indicates one's commitment to entering the train car, and leveraging one's body securely against others, each action metamorphoses into a breathless study of the body as it transports and navigates through a waiting world.
June Yap, Singapore Art Museum
in: Twilight Tomorrow, exhibition catalogue, July 2004
Courtesy of the artist