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I have been making a video work called “The Stream” since 2011, producing one work a year. So far I have completed 10 works.  The total duration of 10 films is 57 minutes.

In the man-made waterways of rice paddies, the water in nature must follow artificial rules. In that way, nature is made abstract, giving rise to a new form of beauty distinct from the natural state.

This work is a ballet using the sound and the movement of the algae and water. With the waterway as the theater, I filmed the choreography of the algae that flow in the water.

The theme of this work is the liveliness of the water as it follows the man-made course.

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The landscape of the rice paddies changes through the course of the changing seasons.

There are also manmade changes caused by the artificially managed rice cultivation process.

After rice has been harvested in the fall the rice paddies are prepared from winter to spring for the next planting, a process that sometimes includes burning them. In early summer, water is released into the rice paddies and rice is planted and begins to grow. However, animals and plants unrelated to the human endeavor of rice cultivation gather for the water and grow in the rice paddies. Amphibians, fish, algae, and various environmental settings where human activities and natural activities intersect are born and changed. This cycle of interaction of man-made and natural activities throughout the four seasons is also an important theme of this work. 

“The Stream” was shot at “Oguraike Pond Reclaimed Land” in Uji City, Kyoto. Until 1933, this was called Oguraike and it had the largest area of any freshwater lake in Kyoto Prefecture.

Irrigation is carried out by groundwater in a part of this polder. I only shoot the landscape in underwater waterways that use this highly transparent groundwater. In addition to shooting corn and other vegetables and tea, the film is also shot at a drainage station that manages flood control in the area.

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Regarding the shooting, I used a GoPro HERO4 video camera with a close-up lens that can be attached, along with a Leebeck ALLEX ALX S8, which I used as a slider for the moving camera in the waterway. I always go to locations with this equipment by my bicycle.

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Algae, an important motif, appears in waterways in June when water is first put into the rice paddies. The algae flow away when it rains heavily, and they change to a yellowish color in July. I try to finish shooting algae by mid-June to avoid these problems. Algae grow densely like bundles of thread inside a concrete waterway that continues for about 100 meters. A slider is fixed on the waterway, then the camera is suspended from the slider and moves back and forth along its length. The groundwater that is pumped up into the waterway is highly transparent and I can see to shoot a scene as far as 30 meters ahead. 

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The waterway is 50cm wide and 50cm deep. At this size I can't see the scene when I go into the water. Only a small camera like a Gopro can move and shoot freely in such narrow spaces in the water. In addition, there are scenes that cannot be seen on the ground due to the nature of water.

One of them is a scene caused by water and light refraction. If you place the camera in the center of the water and shoot, the scenery outside the water will not be reflected. On the surface of the water, you will see the reflection of the riverbed, as if in a mirror. It is a phenomenon of light refraction called total reflection. It becomes a surreal scene where the landscape of the riverbed is reflected in the sky.

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The second is a phenomenon in which the periphery of the vanishing point at the farthest point of the waterway appears as a bright blue color. Light traveling in water absorbs red with a long wavelength and it does not scatter easily, so the red color disappears in proportion to the distance. Conversely, blue, which has a short wavelength, is not easily absorbed by water and scatters easily, so that only the blue color remains.

 

In the third, the angle of view becomes narrower in water due to the difference in the refractive index from air. In terms of focal length, the angle of view is about 1.33 times longer than usual. As a result, subjects such as underwater aquatic plants appear to be larger than they actually are. In my case, because the underwater scene is shot from a low position, the side wall of the waterway looks like a cliff.

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As for sound, I created environmental sound effects that do not actually exist by processing and using environmental sounds. I used the underwater microphone H2a-XLR Hydrophone. I recorded sound captured by a microphone in a pipe that draws water into the rice paddy. Have you ever experienced the continuous sound that you hear when you hold a shell up to your ear? A similar resonance is produced in the pipe. The ambient sound outside the pipe may resonate and at a certain height the sound may become a chorus-like chord.

In addition to the pipe method, glass cups and bottles were placed at the shooting site to record the environmental sounds in the rice paddy resonating through them.

When editing the recording, I retained only the frequency that sounds like a person’s voice. The resulting sound that the audience hears is like a chorus.

There is a world that can be seen with the naked eye. There is another world that can only be captured through a media eye like a video camera. Through the media's perspective, I discover ideas about events related to the stream. I come up with new exploration plans from the ideas discovered. Then I explore the stream again with the new plans. "The Stream" is created from the material obtained through this repeated feedback. This work is not a scientific documentary, it is a ballet of sound and image created with the impression of the flow of the world around me as the motif.

Hiroya Sakurai

Translated by Carolyn Miyake 

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Thanks to

    Ogura-ike Land Improvement District, Kyoto Prefecture

    Sahara Farm Uji, Sahara Tsutomu

    Carolyn Miyake

    Seian University of Art and Design