I’m fond of DivX and VLC, the freeware video codec & viewer, in the same way I like my laptop, held together with gaff tape. I wasn’t surprised when, watching some guy on a DivX video, he was engulfed in a swarm of triangles. Every movement left a trail of them, until he drowned in geometry. It seems the codec was misinstalled. Later, when VLC pushed the the gaff tape to bursting, this happened:
It’s an image of some poor farmer freaking out over losing his milk, swimming in digital blocks.
Last fall in Washington, DC, I first saw the work of an artist who uses these technological lesions as his medium. Takeshi Murata had three of his recent video works in the Black Box downstairs in the Hirshhorn. One was a forgettable computer animation, a devil’s rorschach in color.
The other two, though, were excellent. “Pink Dot” and “Monster Movie” both run found footage through a digital wringer, with results half-Brakhage, half-codec panic. “Monster Movie” takes footage from the 1981 junk classic Caveman. Almost unrecognizable, Murata’s monster fights his way through flowing gobs of digital gunk. “Pink Dot” pits Rambo against the same gunk, joined by a pink dot throbbing on fluorescent blue ground. Rambo appears behind the dot, subsumes it, disappers in a mess of blocks, then bursts through. As he stands still, the dot engulfs him from behind. It’s a zero-sum game.
Murata renders the digital image as a flowing vat of colors, like a well-used palette. He also understands how insubstantial the medium is. Anyone who’s lost a hard drive knows how fragile digital images are. I’ve imagined chemical photography as bricks, but digital as sand. Murata prefers sludge, and he makes it literal. His subject appears to be the human figure in motion, fighting through his medium. And the music, by Lexington, Kentucky’s own Hair Police, counterpoints it all.
YouTube never lets you down, with incomplete clips from both “Monster Movie” and “Pink Dot.” Shot handheld off the screen, it’s watchable, and YouTube’s own awful encoding adds yet another layer of muddy, endearing blocks.