Bruce and Norman Yonemoto’s Green Card: An American Romance
Watch the video and read a new interview with filmmaker Bruce Yonemoto, about Green Card’s exploration of longing, belonging, and freedom.
Oct 26, 2022
Bruce and Norman Yonemoto’s Green Card: An American Romance screened here October 26–November 9, 2022. The video is no longer available for streaming. Join us for the next Hyundai Card Video Views screening, beginning November 16, 2022.
Bruce (b. 1949) and Norman Yonemoto (1946–2014) were born in California’s Silicon Valley to a Japanese American mother shortly after her release from Tule Lake internment camp, and a Japanese American father who had recently completed a wartime tour of duty in the US Army. After moving to Los Angeles, Bruce and Norman forged a singular path in the nascent field of video art during the 1970s. Combining experimental approaches to the new medium without shying away from the visual codes of the film and television industries, they collaborated with a range of artists and counterculture luminaries including Mike Kelley, Mary Woronov, Spalding Gray, Susan Tyrell, and the Cockettes’s Goldie Glitters. The Yonemotos addressed complex questions about the Asian American experience, unfixing rigid notions of race and identity within an approach as rooted in popular culture as it was in underground sensibilities.
Green Card: An American Romance is the third and final installment in the Yonemotos’ Soap Opera Series, following Based on Romance (1979) and An Impotent Metaphor (1979). Satirizing 1980s Los Angeles and the city’s burgeoning art scene, Green Card betrays the Yonemotos’ fascination with the melodramatic clichés of American soap operas and the films of Douglas Sirk, drawing on the vernacular of Southern California’s entertainment industry. The video tells the story of Sumie Nobuhara, a Japanese artist studying in the US, who must pursue a green card marriage with an American surfer/filmmaker in order to secure her path to an artistic career, instead of returning home to a conventional domestic life in Japan. Examining an immigrant experience lived directly in the shadow of Hollywood, Green Card explores the mass media’s construction of cultural identity and ideals of romantic love. Using non-actors, the video revels in the absurdity of making work at the crossroads of everyday life in Los Angeles and the mythic dreams produced in the city’s studios.
Recently, Bruce Yonemoto spoke about Green Card with pioneering curator, art historian, and community leader Julie Ault, the author of forthcoming book Hidden in Plain Sight: Selected Writings of Karin Higa who in 1999 organized the Yonemotos’ first survey, Bruce and Norman Yonemoto: Memory, Matter and Modern Romance, at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. Join us in November for the next installment of the Hyundai Card Video Views series, which highlights videos from the collection to consider artists’ engagement with a technology that has become central to our daily lives.
—Stuart Comer, The Lonti Ebers Chief Curator of Media and Performance
A still from Bruce and Norman Yonemoto’s Green Card: An American Romance, 1982
BY: Norman was a product of film schools. He went to UCLA but then ended up going to the American Film Institute, and he wanted to make Hollywood films, he wanted to make movies. I went to Otis Art Institute to get my MFA in the late 1970s, when it was still a Los Angeles city school. It was the most diverse of the art schools. I was able to study closely with Germano Celant, the critic and art historian who coined the term Arte Povera. He was an amazing teacher. It was so inspirational to me. And I must trace back many of my works to Arte Povera. One of the reasons I decided to do a soap opera series is because Celant wanted us to examine our influences outside of art school in our lives.
JA: Pasolini often worked with non-actors. He said he chose an actor “for what he is,” not to interpret or transform himself. That method seems relevant here.
BY: Yes, they’re all people I have a relationship with, and I know who they are and how they act. So I write these scenes around that in many ways. For me, [Robert] Bresson was an influential filmmaker. His 1959 film Pickpocket is one of my favorite films. The pickpocket is a non-actor, and he is amazing.
JA: Were there communities or contexts where you found affinity? Or were you outliers? Yours and Norman’s early video work starkly contrasts with the prevailing art video of the time.
BY: The New York experimental film community rejected the narrative part of our work. We could not get grants initially because people thought, “This is commercial.” Every time they saw two people speaking on the screen together, they said, “This is not experimental.” I love experimental work that was trying these very strange, independent things. And so that’s always been a resource for us. You almost have to refer to these experimental films to break away from the dominant Hollywood film language. And so I understand that reaction. But there just weren’t too many people working like us. We were different.
Los Angeles, Hollywood, is a one-industry town. You have to face that everyone is supported by the film industry here. Particularly at that time. These creatives were arriving from New York, tired of performance art and experimental theater, and wanted to make money. They were getting older and wanted creature comforts: a house, a boat, and a pool. And so they came out here and got sucked up by the industry and the money. But they were very open to and interested in working with us. We worked with Ron Vawter, Mary Woronov, Patricia Arquette, Greg Mehrten, and Michael Lerner on Made in Hollywood in 1990 and, later, with Susan Tyrrell in Japan in Paris in L.A. in 1996.
Younger artists from New York who came out to California and went to CalArts would stay in CalArts’ bubble and study with the professors there, who were fantastic. But they were not part of the Hollywood community at all.
Media and Performance at MoMA is made possible by Hyundai Card.
Major support is provided by MoMA’s Wallis Annenberg Director’s Fund for Innovation in Contemporary Art.
Generous funding is provided by the Lonti Ebers Endowment for Performance and the Sarah Arison Endowment Fund for Performance.
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