Bruce Yonemoto uses a camera to see the world — and himself — a little differently.

Invisible Man 

Bruce Yonemoto uses a camera to see the world — and himself — a little differently.

Bruce Yonemoto, whose video installations are showing at the Kemper Museum, uses cinema to show us what we can't see: the inside of the globe, the backs of our own heads, the paths of clouds. His mission might seem problematic -- if we can't see it, how can he show it to us? -- but Yonemoto reminds us that film is "the medium of desire." He continues, "Because of our desire for [movies] to be real, we make them real."

Take, for example, his installation titled La Vie Secrete, in which he responds to the surrealist writings of Robert Desnos. Desnos' narrator sees discs on a canvas that he realizes, upon approaching, are holes; he puts his head through one and sees an aerial view of Paris. In La Vie Secrete, Imitating Desnos' narrator, Yonemoto sees the back of his own head when he pushes it through a projection screen. What inspires him is that in both cases "you see a perspective of yourself that is usually invisible to yourself."

To gain that perspective, Yonemoto often uses time-lapse photography. For The Wedding, he takes footage from Brazilio-Japanese home videos and projects a slowed-down version of a wedding ceremony onto a traditional folding screen used in Japanese rituals. Alongside the wedding ceremony, he shows speeded-up footage of moving clouds.

While the installation raises metaphysical questions, its images also provide cultural insights. Yonemoto, whose grandparents came to the United States from Japan, always considered himself American; he was born in California, spoke English in his home and was educated in American schools. Still, people expressed disbelief when they asked his nationality and he answered that he was American. Growing up, he began to think that if he were going to be perceived as Japanese, he "may as well just go there and see what it's about."

He studied art in Japan in the 1970s, learning the language in the process. So when he went to Brazil to visit the largest Japanese-speaking population outside Japan, he was able to communicate more easily. Still, inquiries Yonemoto posted for home videos he could use in his work ("For minorities," he observes, "home video is the only filmic representation of the past") met with little response. "They were suspicious of me as an American," he says. "They were afraid I was there to impose my capitalist values on them and all this bullshit."

The response he got was enough, though. When he finally showed The Wedding in Tokyo in 1999, viewers were fascinated by the sight of a traditional Japanese wedding set in rural Brazil in the 1950s.

Through such travel, Yonemoto has discovered a part of himself that was previously invisible. He became connected to a Japanese past from which he'd been removed by three generations of assimilation. "It wasn't until I got back from Japan that I had my first true conversation with my grandparents," he says. The experience must have been a little bit like seeing the back of his own head.

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