16 mm film on video
18:16 min., color, sound
Courtesy of the artist and Electronic Arts Inter- mix (EAI), New York
Best known for shorts that digitally manipulate movies and television shows, artist Takeshi Murata was born in 1974 in Chicago and now lives and works in upstate New York. He received his BFA in Film/Video/Animation from Rhode Island School of Design in 1997, before computers were introduced into the animation curriculum. Thus, he began his career working non-digitally, with frames of film. While more laborious, the physicality and rigor of this earlier process can be seen in his later work.
Murata also started out showing his work at film festivals, from the New York Underground Film Festival, Cracow Film Festival in Poland, and DOTMOV Festival in Tokyo to, eventually, the Sundance and New York Film Festivals. He found audiences at galleries and museums as well, including The Museum of Art and Design, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; and The Kitchen, New York, where he has had solo shows. His work also has been included in group exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, Argentina; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Henry Art Gallery, Seattle; New Museum, New York; PS1, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati.
Earlier works by Murata demonstrated his ability to create wonder and convey emotion using the simplest of forms. Melter 2 (2003) shows blobs of color that grow and morph from the shape of a flower to undulating waves. As music is an important influence in Murata’s practice, the video is set to an ambient soundtrack that complements the visuals with a synesthetic effect. Minimal white line drawings form on a black field in Homestead Grays (2008), then float or drop to the bottom of the screen and disappear. Although the imagery is non-representational, Murata’s style renders the marks animate and emotive as the drawings increase in number and evolve in complexity with wavy gray forms introduced intermittently.
Since his earlier works, Murata has become a pioneer in the field of “glitch art,” which employs computer faults and video compression to produce distorted pictures, otherwise known as “data moshing.” For example, Monster Movie (2005) features footage from Caveman, the 1981 comedy by Ringo Starr, which features a Sasquatch-like character. Murata transformed the monster into a mass of distorted pixels that swirl across the screen to a soundtrack of thrashing beats. In Untitled (Pink Dot) (2007), Murata also altered footage from a B-movie—Sylvester Stallone’s First Blood from 1982—and set the visuals to a pulsing, hypnotic score. As a bright pink circle flashes in the center of the frame, pixels of Stallone’s action sequences appear to ooze from the screen. Thus, gun fire and bursts of flames become painterly scenes of melting forms and flowing fields of colors.
Time Warp Experiment (2007) features the opening credits of the sitcom Three’s Company. The sequence is shown in slow motion and, rather than the theme song, it is accompanied by a distorted guitar soundtrack. We therefore are given a sinister introduction to John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt, and Suzanne Somers. Their slapstick comedy routines figure as dark and twisted when one takes in details of the actors’ exaggerated behavior and expressions.
Murata’s practice has evolved beyond experiments in form. He also has created story-based animations, such as I, Popeye (2010), a postmodern tale starring the spinach-eating sailor.
The short CGI film follows a down-and-out Popeye. He is fired from his job at a canning factory and then evicted by his landlord. Later we find him sitting at the bedside of Bluto, who is on life support, and visiting the graves of Olive Oyl and Swee’Pea. After swallowing a can of spinach, he gains superhuman strength that he uses to destroy his home and finally hangs himself in despair. The final scenes, however, show Popeye full of life and with newfound vigor and freedom as he zips in a car through a vibrant abstract landscape.
Game shows also have inspired Murata, particularly the absurdities of the genre. No Match (2009), however, focuses on a peculiar moment, even for this type of program. In an apparently unaltered television clip, a contestant is shown on a Memory-like game show. Words and numbers in a grid are momentarily revealed and the challenge is to remember their location to find the matches. Stunningly, the man never is able to find a match over the course of 999 seconds (approximately seventeen minutes), and we hear Alex Trebek announce repeatedly, “no match, no match…,” as the contestant perpetually struggles.
Rather than the game, Infinite Doors (2010) features the prizes. Several clips from the Price is Right show sliding doors that open to reveal a string of prizes—board games, furniture, a piano, a camping trailer, jet skis, and so on. Applause seems to grow with each announcement, and Murata builds up tension that is released through a climactic ending—repeated reveals of the ultimate prize: “A New Car!”
The seemingly endless succession of doors sliding open to reveal prizes has the effect of nesting dolls, as “Barker’s Beauties” continuously present a different reward every second. Moreover, the animated voice of the announcer, incessant applause of the audience, and zooming in of the camera throw the emotional manipulation of game show culture into sharp relief. Murata’s Infinite Doors demonstrates how an overload of visual cues can make everyday objects appear extraordinary and create desire for items you never knew you wanted.—Kanitra Fletcher