26 March 2015

Mutoscope (ミュートスコープ, 2011)

Many animators take an interest in early cinema technologies and often experiment with them.  In fact, their first “animations” are often flip books drawn on the corners of school workbooks.  References to early technologies can be found in many animated films, from Taku Furukawa and Kōji Yamamura’s  experiments with the Phenakistoscope (see: Odorokiban and Omake) to Toshio Iwai’s 3D Zoetropes of Toy Story (made with Gregory Barsamian, who does a lot of art inspired by early animation/cinema) and Bouncing Totoro at the Ghibli Museum Mitaka. 

The animator / artist Hirotoshi Iwasaki (岩崎宏俊, b. 1981), who just this week won the Grand Prix for Non-Narrative Short at HAFF for his latest work Dark Mixer (2014), built a Mutoscope out of iron in 2011.  The Mutoscope is an early cinema device which was patented in 1894 by the American inventor Herman Casler (1867-1939).  Instead of projecting on a screen, the Mutoscope creates the perception of movement in the same way that a flip book does except, rather than being bound like a book, the large cards (7 x 4.75cm) are attached to a circular core.  These were coin operated machines that could be viewed by an individual through a single lens, as the poet Jared Carter describes in his 1993 poem “Penny Arcade”: “The light goes out, the ratchet handle stops, / along the tightrope stretched across the falls / the cards collapse.  Another penny crawls / into the slot.  The light blinks on.  She hops, / she keeps her balance with a parasol /and strikes an hourglass pose.” (read the whole poem)

Iwasaki’s Mutoscope is a pared down version of the original – just the mechanical structure of the device without it being encased in a coin-operated viewing device.  Instead of the approximately 850 cards used in the original machines, Iwasaki made just 16 images that repeat.  Interestingly, 16 frames per second is the minimum frame rate needed for the phenomenon of persistence of vision to work.  With projected film, anything slower would cause a flicker that soul be distracting to the spectator.  I don’t know if this is why Iwasaki chose 16 frames, but it seems likely. 

According to his official website, he made four sets of 16 images for the device: Phantom, Wave, Moon and Bottom.   The Mutoscope was exhibited as part of his exhibition Invisible Time at Gallery Terra Tokyo from 6 June – 23 July 2011.  The event description reads:

Iwasaki constantly tries to turn invisible existence - time, space and memory - into perceivable objects. He uses moving images to make palpable what was formerly invisible, transcending language barriers and producing a poetic atmosphere. This exhibition showcases works that focus on the theme of “time” - in our memory, in a mirror, at the bottom of a well.”  (Source: TAB)  Footage of Phantom and Wave in action can be seen on Iwasaki’s Vimeo and Youtube channels.

2015 Cathy Munroe Hotes