Overview, Images

If-Storage: Makiko Yamamoto, Ego as Echo II

Danni Zuvela

Makiko Yamamoto is an artist working with sound. Across Yamamoto’s live performance, audio and video work, the artist’s main material is her voice. An Osaka-born, Melbourne-based contemporary artist, Yamamoto’s voice is highly distinctive, warm and low and throaty, and wears its robust Kansai accent at the fore. While Melbourne has shaped and nurtured VCA-educated Yamamoto’s artistic practice for many years, Japanese vocal traditions, such as Osakan comedy and rakugo storytelling, structurally inform Yamamoto’s exploration of the polyvocality of the artist-as-narrator. Through her voice, speaking English, bilingual Yamamoto expresses her relationship to difference performatively, often thematising problems of pronunciation and tasks of translation in her work.

But as central as Yamamoto's unique voice is to her work, it is not, however, the artist’s primary subject, and neither is her cultural background. Rather, the artist uses her distinctively raced voice as a vessel for a presenting set of propositions probing language as a system of structural thought and social organisation; a shared but highly breakable apparatus. Across her vocal practice, Yamamoto uses her voice to problematise the naturalness of language, examining its slippages, breakdowns, lacunae and phantoms, tuning the spectator’s attention to phrases, words and individual phonemes through which social meaning is (and isn’t) conveyed.

Like a language, Ego as Echo ii is a modular work, consisting of a sequence of component parts which, ordered together, make a communicative system. Extending from the artist’s ongoing research into semiotics, linguistics and auditory phenomena, and employing a similar anthological form to recent works on ventriloquism and non-human cooperation, Ego as Echo ii concatenates a series of smaller works in which the artist presents a simple utterance or gesture regarding the operation of language. Yamamoto’s artistic concern is the examination of language via the estrangement of the voice, which she tests through a systematic deconstruction of the idea of the unified voice (‘one body, one voice’). Across the series of these short video works in Ego as Echo ii, we witness:

One voice, one body

One voice, no body

One body, no voice

Many bodies, one voice

Many bodies and many voices

Laughing with the self

An empty spotlight (no voice and no body)

The voice of a ghost

No voice, no body, but ears and a beep

This disarticulation of the voice and body is achieved through performances in Ego as Echo ii, consisting largely of the artist’s head and shoulders, lit and shot in unflinching close-up, against a black ground. Yamamoto edits together her multiple bodies, voices, laughs and silences to generate encounters between herself and various non-humans (a banana, an onion, and an alter-ego/ghost character named George). With increasing spectrality, after-images linger, words become non-words, and words are heard where there are none. Across Ego as Echo ii, Yamamoto strategically employs the psychological phenomenon of semantic satiation - in which repetition of a word or phrases causes a (temporary) loss of meaning for the listener - to alienate not just speech and language, but also to diffuse, and so estrange, herself. The effect of all these Yamamotos speaking (and listening), often simultaneously, should be somewhat egotistical. Here, however, proliferation seems to work against self-regard, through the ego-effacing effects of a voice separated from its body.

The logic of Ego as Echo ii is cumulative, rather than teleological; there is no build-up, no climax, no resolution. With a rigour her affable demeanour sometimes masks, Yamamoto proceeds systematically through her examples, elaborating different aspects of her concept with each new configuration of body and voice. Ego as Echo ii opens onto the multiple, recombinant nature of contemporary selfhood - the many versions of ourselves that (co-)exist now and into the future, from the fleshy IRL human to the endless permutations of our online existence, to all the thoughts and “ifs” we ever considered that are not gone, but somehow stored somewhere, encoded into bodies and bytes and pixels in various degrees of delay, overlay and opacity. Yamamoto, increasingly fascinated by this ‘parallel track’ of our digital possible lives, has made a work which leads us from the human to the non-human, from the individual ego to its echoes; to a place where they may not be opposed, but dissolved, one and the same.


  • Ego as Echo ii is an anthological work consisting of numerous parts.
  • The first half of Ego as Echo ii contains video works that were exhibited as Ego as Echo, commissioned for Octopus 19: VENTRILOQUY at Gertrude Contemporary, curated by Joel Stern, and presented in association with Liquid Architecture in 2019. Subsequent parts of Ego as Echo ii are commissioned for ROGUE SYNTAX, co-curated by Nathan Gray, Joanna Zielinska and Danni Zuvela.
  • The Play button that appears over the image at approximately 08:40 is intentional.

Exhibition text by Danni Zuvela for the 2020 Satellite exhibition Makiko Yamamoto, Ego as Echo ii.

Danni Zuvela is a curator, creative producer and writer, originally from Brisbane, now living in Melbourne and the Gold Coast. Danni’s interest in experimental practice is informed by her academic training, particularly her research and theoretical background, and manifests across her projects and activities.

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Working on unceded sovereign land of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation, Blindside pays respect to Elders, past, present and emerging.