Get Your Ass to MarsMay 10, 2011
“Get your ass to Mars. Get your ass to Mars. Get your ass to Mars” repeats like a mantra on a bloodied video screen showing a scene from Total Recall (1990), a sci-fi classic starring action film–legend Arnold Schwarzenegger. The film, based on a text by Phillip K. Dick, has acquired a residual cult following and is even in the process of being remade, with the former State of California chief executive rumored to have a cameo role. Takeshi Murata appropriates this line as the title of his current solo exhibition at Ratio 3. This exhibition is more figurative—featuring digitally rendered still-lives as opposed to the dense video abstractions of his earlier works.
Get Your Ass to Mars references a moment in cinematic effects production when digital computer graphics were in ascendance but coexisted with physical manipulations of latex, animatronics, and miniatures in front of a lens. This is not to say that these production relationships have been severed in the past two decades—they are still essential—but contemporary digital texture and lighting techniques have unequivocally taken over the field, providing films with a grit of the hyper-real. Movie audiences are keenly aware of this as they flock to experience the next comic-to-cinema spectacle.
Murata’s still-lives are innocently retro, composed of such traditional still-life subjects as fruit and shells, as well as sci-fi VHS tapes, art texts, and beer cans displayed among primitive geometric forms. For example, Cyborg (2011) focuses on a conch shell resting on a box procedurally textured with a
simple brick pattern. It is accompanied by a scattering of Plasticine-looking lemons and a VHS tape of the Jean-Claude Van Damme martial arts film Cyborg (1989). The arrangements are lighted in washes of saturated color that are gathered into the renders with a striking beauty, reminiscent of paintings crafted in oils. Compositionally, the spaces are antiseptically tactile, abounding with perfect reflections and unmarred surfaces; absent are the displacements and occlusions that formulate the grime and grit of contemporary computer-generated imagery (CGI) realism. In the service of these still lives, Murata harnesses the computer not as a producer of spectacle, but as a renaissance tool—a mathematical engine for composition of geometry, perspective, and light. They are images that evoke visual contemplation over emotional entertainment.
In the back room, Murata screens a charming animation titled I, Popeye (2010), a 3-D cartoon in the tradition of the Fleischer Studio. Such a direct retelling is a brave choice, as the character of Popeye will not enter into the United States public domain for over a decade. Tragedy drives the narrative: Popeye loses his job, gets evicted, goes on a spinach-fueled violent rampage, greaves for the deceased Olive Oyl and Sweet Pea, and ultimately takes his own life. Punctuating the animated short are dream sequences and psychedelic freak-outs wherein Popeye pilots a gleaming gold hot rod. The story is a dark coda of realism that inevitably follows the heroic exploits of Popeye as eras and time leave him behind. It is reminiscent of the descent of Major Tom in David Bowie’s Space Oddity (1969) and Ashes to Ashes (1980) through Hallo Spaceboy (1995). Depicting Popeye’s libratory transcendental dreams, the tragic retelling of him as a broken man contemporizes and builds humanity within the Depression-era cartoon icon—all without depriving him of his sense of humor.