800 Pound Gorillas

Curator's Note

Takeshi Murata’s Monster Movie (2005) is the digital descendent of an earlier analog film which I view as the most influential aesthetic object of the late twentieth century.  The so-called Patterson-Gimlin Film of 1967 (hereafter PGF) allegedly depicts a sasquatch crossing a creek bed in northern California (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOxuRIfFs0w).  Beyond their shared focus on an actor in a gorilla suit, the two texts are united in their willingness to fail in medium-specific ways.  PGF and Monster Movie are horrible not in their content, but in their form, which in each case is a calculated mess.

Appropriated by later pseudo-documentaries such as The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Paranormal Activity (2007), the “hook” of PGF involves introducing a surface layer of pseudo-illegibility.  The hyperkinetic camera of PGF barely manages to reveal the promised creature, while recording the cryptozoological encounter at a great distance and in complete silence.  These subtractive structures paradoxically add interest, and the prospect of not-wholly-seeing becomes central to the show.

Murata’s Monster Movie is clearly riffing on PGF.  Borrowing footage from the 1981 film Caveman, Murata delivers an artisanally crafted datamosh—a form of digital manipulation in which the raw alphanumeric data of a video file is purposefully damaged, but not crashed.  As the yeti emerges and then recedes into a swamp-like morass of colorful compression blocks, Murata takes the ontology of the digital glitch—which is by definition anomalous, momentary—and makes it ubiquitous.  Like the shaky-cam at the beginning of PGF, the very platform of our comprehension is repeatedly made to fail.

However, whereas Patterson and Gimlin operate within the confines of analog cinema, Murata creates his art by perversely adopting an overly manual approach to the automated processes of digital image production.  Changing, adding and deleting bits of data by hand as it were, Murata carefully destabilizes the compression algorithms of an existing, formerly coherent piece of video.  The result is a sublime kaleidoscope of digital color piggybacked on a horrific analog other that remains latent, repressed.     

Throughout the twentieth century, analog messiness was reviled, eradicated to the fullest extent possible (think Steadicam and Dolby NR).  Today’s paradigm of digital perfectibility, on the other hand, begs to be messed with.  The fact that films such as Ringu (1998), Sunshine (2007), Cloverfield (2008) and The Dark Knight (2008) sporadically incorporate glitchiness as a signifier of monstrosity tell us that Murata’s art, like PGF, was considerably ahead of its time.

Comments

Soumitra Ghosh's picture

Medium-specific Glitch

This is an insightful and pithy take on the centrality of failure/partial collapse of recognition/signification to representation. One can easily extend the author’s analysis of visibly present "glitchiness" to argue that failure/misrecognition is the core of representation as such. Consider the recent popularity of 3D: though 3D attempts at near-total dimensionality, the project is bound to partialness because while three dimensions are represented, an infinite number of other dimensions are not represented. 

Thus, my question is: how does one understand the ontology/topology of the "glitch"? To say that failure is "medium-specific" necessarily locates it in the form of the object. However, do PGF and Murata’s work not show that the instance of failure/glitch collapses the boundaries of form and content? As much as these two works employ formal partialness, are they also not about "glitch" per se? In other words, where/what is the 800 pound Gorilla?

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