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Takeshi Murata's Infinite Doors at Empty Gallery, Hong Kong

May 22, 2017
Abby McKenzie is an independent art critic and poet currently based in Hong Kong. She holds an MA in Art Business from the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London and an MA in History of Art from the University of St Andrews. Abby has also held a variety of curatorial and research positions at Michael Werner Gallery, The Cob Gallery, Bonhams and The Fine Arts Society.

As part of a growing trend of vigorously curatorially focused exhibitions in Hong Kong, Empty Gallery is currently exhibiting the Los Angeles-based artist Takeshi Murata’s first solo exhibition in Asia, Infinite Doors, with a series of multimedia works spanning from the last decade. Designed as a spatial experimentation within the gallery to amplify Murata’s key thematic explorations, Infinite Doors presents a comprehensive survey of his practice, from his early psychedelic animations through to his latest CG films, creating an immersive experience of his meditation on the process of image-making and vernacular pop imagery.

Infinite Doors, 2011
Takeshi Murata – Infinite Doors, 2011

Infinite Doors

Born in 1974, Takeshi Murata graduated from Rhode Island School of Design in 1997 with a B.F.A in Film, Video, and Animation. His work has been exhibited largely in North America (including The Museum of Modern Art, New Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum) with only one appearance in Asia thus far at Taka Ishii Gallery, Tokyo. Thus, Infinite Doors marks a key point of introduction of Murata’s practice to the Asian market and cultural scene and the curation of the exhibition is evidently heavily infused with this motivation. In this respect, within its composite rooms of black walls, Empty Gallery has produced an exhibition that truly reflects the spatial dynamics of Murata’s work, bringing a nuanced layer of comprehension that extracts the spine of the artist’s practice.

As such, although Murata is arguably best known for his series of surrealism-inflected CG still-lifes, Infinite Doors instead focuses on the thematic core of his artistic practice: the moving image. The works within the show clearly present a synthesis of Murata’s diverse experimental video art influences, from the flicker films of Paul Sharits, the analog experimentations of Steina Vasulka and the new-age abstractions of Jordan Belson. These experimental aesthetics of Shartis and Belson in particular, can most notably be seen in Murata’s early work including Melter II (2003) and Escape Spirit VideoSlime (2007), in which Murata creates revolving pixelated images that create techno-psychedelic worlds exploring the subconscious and subjective experience.

Left: Takeshi Murata - OM Rider, 2013 / Right: Takeshi Murata - Flag, 2017
Left: Takeshi Murata – OM Rider, 2013 / Right: Takeshi Murata – Flag, 2017

A Post-Digital Infused Aesthetic

Within this focused exploration of the moving-image, Infinite Doors is also a strong survey of Murata’s diverse array of digital mediums and ongoing exploration of technology and process. In this respect, we can observe the fluid switching between stylistic idioms of hand-drawn animation, datamoshing (a form of glitch art), found footage and CG imagery. Furthermore, there is an inherent fascination with the process of image-making and the flux between two and three-dimensional presentation. Across the exhibition we see Murata’s progression from the abstract early works such as Melter II (2011) to highly rendered 3D narrative works such as Om Rider (2013). Yet, placed in dialogue, these works present the fluidity of dimensions and experience, with the technological medium divulging the illusionary nature of finite visual perception.

A further key feature of Murata’s practice that Infinite Doors adroitly presents is a post-digital infused aesthetic use of the pop vernacular that pervades many of his works. There are several prominent examples of this within the exhibition including Infinite Doors (2011), from which the exhibition takes its name. Infinite Doors utilizes found-footage from game show television culture, specifically clips from The Price is Right, to create a kinetic video piece that reflects the unremitting stimulation of both the game shows themselves and the inherent competition and superficiality within consumer behavior. The accelerated rhythm within the piece is constructed both from the visual pace of the clip rotation and from the unrelenting audience applause and heightened animation of the presenter. The result is a sensorial overload that’s excess brings the scenario into the absurd, ultimately extinguishing the elation they are originally intended to induce. This destabilization of vernacular imagery into the absurd can also be witness in Murata’s most recent work within the exhibition, Flag (2017) that presents a somewhat rudimentary graphic of the American Flag. With flashing light effects on each of the partitions of the flag’s composition, Murata transforms the iconography into something one would see in a Las Vegas casino. This, combined with the illustration of flames upon the right hand side of the flag, transforms the image into a beacon of consumerism with heavy overtones of decaying authenticity.

Takeshi Murata - Flag, 2017
Takeshi Murata – Flag, 2017

An Underlying Dark Humor

Ultimately, Infinite Doors is an exquisitely curated display of Murata’s experimentation with technology and the cinematic form. As a survey exhibition it is a strong introduction to his practice. The decision to focus on the moving-image is an inspired choice for continuity, however it would also have been a welcome addition if the exhibition were to include some of Murata’s still-life works, which would have brought the layer of historical reference within his exploration of the image-making process more strongly to the fore. Despite this, Infinite Doors succeeds in displaying the intensely sensorial experience of viewing Murata’s work complete with his underlying dark humor.

Infinite Doors is on view at Empty Gallery, Hong Kong until 27th May 2017.

Images courtesy the artist and The Empty Gallery.