July 2, 2015
Interview with Takeshi Murata
A comprehensive exhibition of New York-based artist Takeshi Murata's work is currently on view at Kunsthall Stavanger through August 5, 2015. The exhibition marks the artist's first institutional survey, and comprises his iconic digital animations and photographic prints. Below, independent curator Heather Jones speaks with Murata about his artistic influences, Robocop, and working with digital animation at the dawn on the internet era.
You work has been described as hyper-real, animated still-lifes, the 21st century's surrealism, and has been compared to lucid dreaming, anime, graphic novels, gaming culture, pop culture and the painterly traditions of everyone from Baroque masters to Georgia O'Keefe... When I experience your work, it feels simultaneously totally unique and vaguely familiar. Can you describe your visual influences and how you arrived at this very particular aesthetic?
My immediate surroundings have always had the greatest influence. My wife and I moved to the Catskill Mountains about eight years ago. We had lived in Los Angeles and Brooklyn, so the move had a great impact on my life and work. Sixty foot pine trees surround our house, and the wildlife far outnumber humans (though rats outnumber humans in NYC, so maybe this wasn’t as big a change). The new environment was jarring at first, but was easily surpassed by the excitement of being in a new place. It challenged my perspective immediately. The internet also developed a lot since our move, and closed much of the distance from the cities. I’m far more aware of contemporary art, film, music, comedy, etc. than I ever was when actually living in the cities. But it’s also from a slight distance. And maybe this outer perspective creates the aesthetic that you describe.
I know you've previously noted your time at RISD as formative in your working process. Can you tell us a little bit more about your background and how you arrived at animation, CGI, and digital manipulation of images so early on?
The decision to focus on animation came naturally. I've always loved cartoons, and when I finally saw experimental animation, and what independent artists were making outside of the studio system, I knew it’s what I wanted to do. The combination of the studios art, in time, with sound, and having the illusionary powerful to create immersive narrative spaces, is exciting. I still love it.
Working with CGI came as a practical necessity at first. I wanted to work independently, and computers offered way to do this. And as I continued learning, I found the closer connection to technical innovation exciting as well. There are seemingly endless new territories to explore.
In addition to gallery exhibitions and other expected venues for fine art, your videos have screened in more traditional film settings like Sundance Film Festival, the Nitehawk Cinema, and Anthology Film Archives. How do you place your work in relation to these two traditions – film and fine art – and do you draw inspiration from each equally?
My main focus has been making work for galleries, but I really enjoy screening my videos in front of a theater audience. I also tend to structure my videos with a linear narrative. Even when they are primarily abstract, there’s an story arc. I draw inspiration from both worlds, though my obsession with film goes back further. Moments of filmic enlightenment have happened though out my life. Like being 12 and seeing Robocop. I was shock, and in disbelief that something like it could be made. The satire and irreverence were especially thrilling to my young eyes. Pre-internet, these theater experiences were a rare window into a greater world that I couldn’t wait to be a part of. Years later in college I would have a similar feeling of lawless excitement watching Sweet Movie. It’s the realization of seeing something entirely new that tend’s to happen more in film than anywhere else.
I understand that your father was an architect, and the spaces in your work feel very believable, very definite, even at their most dreamlike. What's the relationship to architecture in your practice and does it actively play a role in the construction of simulated space in your animations?
My mother was an architect too. Their work was always around me as a child and has played a very personal part in my life. I’m always aware of the spaces around me. We live in an octagonal house, so that could have something to do with it too. One of my favorite aspects of working with 3D-CG software is its tie to architecture. It’s the space in the computer, and simulations suggesting other spaces. It’s also the lines, and shadow produced shading that can become a form of drawing in itself. I can move a wall back, or cut a window out, or add a staircase, all to serve the single perspective of the final image.
Sound is also an obvious distinguishing feature in all of your videos that I've seen. How would you describe the relationship between the visual and audible elements, as well as your relationship with collaborating musicians?
I try to link visual and audible elements whenever possible. It’s one of the great qualities of video. Sound’s directness, and ability to produce visceral responses out of pure abstraction, guides my visuals. It’s important to all my work, and it also creates a great opportunity for collaboration. I’ve worked with one artist Robert Beatty, for over 10 years. Now our working process is extremely fluid, even though we’ve never lived in the same city.
I want to touch briefly on the still images that (and correct me if I'm wrong) you started working with around 2011/2012. We see a few familiar characters/props from some of the videos – musical instruments, cracked iphones and to-go coffee cups (but here they're more composed, inert) – as well as other more classic sill-life tropes such as skulls and fruit. What was behind your decision to start making still images and what is the relationship between these images and the video works?
I was finding and building objects that worked best as still lifes. There were intuitive connections happening, but I wasn’t sure what they meant. The still-life compositions were a way for exploring those connections. And, as with my animation, I am continuously fascinated with these objects that can be altered, moved, and rendered photo-realistically, but don’t really exist. Working with prints, or still images instead of animation, added a level of immediacy too. And speed is so important.
You've worked in Stavanger before, showing some film screenings in 2010. Did you visit the city then? Are you taking any impressions about Stavanger with you as you prepare for the exhibition at the kunsthall and can you tell us anything about what will be included in the upcoming exhibition?
This was my first time being to Stavanger, and I had a great time. Hanne and the Kunstall were amazing to work with, and I couldn’t be more happy with the show we all put together. I hope many people get to see it, and that I get to return to the Stavanger again soon.