East meets West in multimedia collaboration

By Andrew Clifford

Despite coming from such a small and remote homeland, New Zealanders still manage to find their way into influential positions around the world.

So it shouldn't be surprising to find the cellphone number of one of Japan's most famous artists, Takashi Murakami, in the address book of Auckland musician Bruce Ferguson, who plays in a rock group named the Sorecocks.

Despite his casual appearance, often showing up to official engagements in shorts or bare feet, Murakami, 44 is an influential figure at the centre of an impressive creative empire. His Kaikai Kiki company employs 60 people in Tokyo to produce his range of works, while an office in New York is his portal to the outside world.

Like earlier pop artists Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Billy Apple, Murakami's work is a response to mass-produced consumerism and pop culture, with a particular interest in the super-cute cartoon imagery popular in Japan.

Warhol and his fellow pop artists once held an exhibition in a supermarket and began hiring assistants and sub-contractors to create their work for them as a critique of art's role in a commercial marketplace.

Murakami's corporate approach is more an acceptance and celebration of commerce and marketing, with items such as bubble gum selling for as little as a few dollars while a statue can sell for more than a million.

Murakami's celebrity status went stellar when he began providing designs for Louis Vuitton handbags and other merchandise, one of their most popular and exclusive ranges. It was this relationship that brought him into contact with Bruce Ferguson.

Ferguson's background is in electronic music and he organised dance parties with friends as Auckland's rave scene emerged in the late-90s. This led to an involvement with the Kog multimedia collective, who continue to run recording studios and a record label from a converted Kingsland flat.

In 1998 Kog acquired a video editing system. Ferguson, having discovered he could edit video in the same way as audio, dived headlong into the new world of VJing.

A recommendation from live video expert Mike Hodgson of Kog act Pitch Black saw Ferguson invited to work on the Louis Vuitton ball held during the America's Cup defence in Auckland. Although he didn't end up working on that function, in 2004 he and Hodgson found themselves touring the world working on parties for the Louis Vuitton 150th birthday celebrations.

For the Tokyo party, Ferguson, an animator, was paired up with Murakami, an illustrator.

Although Murakami is used to having employees create work for him, there was no question from the outset that this was a collaborative exercise and Murakami encouraged Ferguson to do whatever he liked.

"I showed Takashi some of the stuff that I had been doing and he was really easy to work with," says Ferguson, recalling a particular animation that stood out to Murakami.

"I had been inspired by Japanese manga and anime art and I showed him that and he was, 'That's very close to my heart'. So I was in and without too many strings attached."

A month later Murakami contacted Ferguson because he had another project in mind - to work with one of his proteges from Kaikai Kiki, Chiho Aoshima.

This time it was a three-way collaboration with Murakami offering guidance as project producer and Ferguson as animation director, while Aoshima was credited as creative director for a five-DVD installation for her 2005 Los Angeles solo exhibition.

Aoshima met Murakami when working part-time for an advertising agency which had hired Murakami to work on one of their campaigns.

Thanks to tele-conferencing and internet file transfers, Ferguson was able to work from his Newton studio and kept in touch with Kaikai Kiki's Tokyo base and New York office.

"The whole City Glow work and Chiho's work is based around the Japanese psyche and it plays with the Western fascination with that psyche. So to have a Westerner animate it, I thought, was quite interesting.

"And I was really quite flattered that I could work with this entire Japanese team and have such an integral part of the production."

Murakami is well known for his Superflat theory, combining contemporary animation with the flat images of traditional Japanese painting, which have multiple points of focus.

City Glow's ultra-widescreen presentation has a similar effect, says Aoshima.

"In the resulting work, your eye will move from place to place every time you see it; no matter how many times you watch it, you can never take it all in. You get slightly bewildered - I really like this feeling."

Ferguson came up with the idea of animating Aoshima's illustrations with a single continuous tracking shot, which slowly moves out in a dreamy, cinematic fashion to transform details of lush undergrowth into vistas of swaying buildings and strange landscapes populated with fairies.

"No world is more fantastic than our own reality," says Aoshima, who confesses to a love of National Geographic documentaries.

"The landscape you see from a train, the busy comings and goings of people, the colour of the sky, the smell in the breeze ... these are mystical feelings that can't be expressed in words.

"There is a moment when all of the emotions build up and come together. It's those times when I have the most direction in my work."

* City Glow at Starkwhite, 510 K Rd, to June 24

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 22 Dec 2014 14:52:04 Processing Time: 902ms