Computer-generated images saturate our media, from films to advertisements to video games. However, rarely do we think of these images singularly—most commonly we encounter them within the context of their media environments. In 1000 Years, Takeshi Murata’s fifth solo show at Ratio 3 gallery, the artist asks viewers to consider these images in isolation, outside of their complex digital environments. Murata uses 3D-modeling software to construct high-resolution facsimiles of whimsical objects, which he then prints as photographs onto a slightly reflective paper. Consisting of a handful of photographs and one video, the exhibition’s sparseness belies its conceptual import, which is vast and nuanced. Part object, part image, part physical, and part digital, the works in 1000 Years situate themselves in the in-betweens, pressurizing notions of fact and fiction.
At first glance, Murata’s images seem simple enough, but with time they perform a slow conceptual burn. Together with their simple titles, the images are almost didactic; for instance, Squirt Gun (2017) is an image of a teal plastic squirt gun. Floating without support in the center of the frame, the pistol’s barrel points outward and toward the viewer’s immediate right. Behind the toy, and slightly out of focus, is a two-toned cropped square that, when the eye finishes its geometry, easily becomes a window in a white room. Painstakingly rendered, the collision of lighting effects and pixels that Murata virtually commands creates the illusion of a giant 30-inch plastic toy. Almost. In describing it as such, the work begins to unfold into more conceptual gray areas: There is no plastic present in this photograph. There is no room, no toy gun, and no window. Squirt Gun’s formal simplicity plays on our perceptual assumptions of shapes and textures to create an illusion of an unlikely, tangible object.
In other works, Murata places his digital models floating against a black backdrop—a recognizable standard when viewing and checking digital proofs. Each object’s surrounding darkness frames it within the conventions of digital production. Yet, if these images are meant to simulate traditional photographs, then why these objects, and what importance do they have? Separately, the pictured objects seem arbitrary: an ornate cuckoo clock, a zoomed-in and cropped image of suspended handcuffs, and a smooth candlestick complete with flame, to name a few. But no clear narrative or connection reveals itself conceptually other than their peculiar digital origins. If these are to be already understood as digital models, then what separates them from the slew of video-game avatars and film effects easily accessible from our personal technological devices, and elevates them into artworks? Why print them as photographs, rather than display them on monitors? These questions of context and association construct a mystery about image production that Murata does not seem concerned with answering, only providing more possibilities to entrench the viewer at arm’s length from a coherent or satisfying conclusion.
The constant readjustment of perception that comes with attempting to define Murata’s images is consistent throughout the exhibition. In Seahorse (2017), a vibrant yellow seahorse floats in the middle of a now familiar darkness. Its school-bus-yellow skin is shiny and wet, an understandable quality for an aquatic creature. Yet, its stripes are an electric violet hue, the color that sits suspiciously on the other side of the color wheel from yellow. Unlike Squirt Gun, the hyper-realistic smoothness of Seahorse makes a strong case for being indistinguishable from a traditional photograph. It’s nearly impossible to determine whether Murata has altered the color of his source material, or if somewhere in the ocean there is a very colorful seahorse, except for a tiny pixilated tendril near its head, which makes it certain that the photograph was once a digital file.
Attempting to decipher whether these images are replications of physical objects, or completely original computer-based models, only brings Murata’s procedure into question. What if it was a photo of a rendering of a toy of a seahorse? A facsimile of a facsimile of a facsimile? The ambiguity of Seahorse’s source highlights one of the core strengths of the show: the uncertainty that leads us to close looking is the only dependable method of approach.
1000 Years’ intensely conceptual and sparse works challenge how we as viewers build context around images and objects. While other forms of media have assimilated digital imaging practices to the point of them almost being uninteresting, Murata shuffles traditional art conventions and new media methods around to pose questions, not to provide clarity. This ambiguity is significant in that Murata’s objects/images/facsimiles force a reconsideration of subjective notions of “image” and “object,” and the ways in which technology is unperceivably changing those within a digitally saturated visual landscape. Murata’s use of 3D imaging becomes strategic within an art context, acting as ample kindling for a storm of conversation around the intersection of artistic and technological modes of production, and the perception of physical and digital realities.
Takeshi Murata: 1000 Years is now on view through February 25, 2017.