MONSTERS AMONG US
March 10 - April 18, 2021
Motomichi Nakamura’s work brings us face-to-face with monsters, but not the kind we usually think of. In Motomichi’s projections and drawings, we find representations of multifaceted creatures who can be, at the same time, monstrous and endearing; confrontational and playful.
Motomichi intends for the characters he creates, who come alive so vividly through the technology of projection mapping, to be nuanced entities who we, in turn, can project our own interiority onto. We can look into Motomichi’s work as if it’s a mirror and reflect upon who we are by examining how we perceive his monsters to be looking back at us.
Cryptozoology—the pursuit and lore surrounding mythical and mysterious creatures such as Bigfoot or the Mothman— is what first drew Motomichi into the world of monsters. “I like reading cryptozoology books,” he says. “What fascinates me most about cryptozoological stories is that witnesses often describe their encounters with the monsters with a mixture of fear and excitement. I like to imagine myself seeing these monsters through the witnesses’ eyes. I try to understand how they felt and sense the extraordinary yet also somehow intimate moment they had with the monsters.”
In the installation of his projected work, Motomichi affords us a version of the experience of coming across a cryptid. It’s up to the viewer to wonder why they’ve come here and what they might want from us. Our answers to these questions reveal the layers of meaning inside Motomichi’s monsters.
This piece was installed at the Governor’s Island Art Fair in 2018. The images and animation were projected onto hemispheric sculptures that had been installed on a reflective floor, which mirrored back the projected image and recreated the uncanny stillness of the water on a swamp’s surface.
This was my first projection project since the pandemic started. I recently moved from Brooklyn to Croton-On- Hudson, New York, which is surrounded by nature. It was such a great feeling to be outside again. All these projections were made guerrilla-style near my house using a mobile battery so that I could come and go quickly.
Hold My Gaze
The idea behind this piece was to create an animated version of my original acrylic-on-canvas painting. I wanted the painting to come alive and start to have intimate, awkward eye contact with the audience, making them feel self-aware. Perhaps they even started to wonder where each of our individual consciousnesses come from.
This experimental piece combined projection mapping with 2D animation. It tells the story of a lonely, scared boy who locks himself in his small room, but—inspired by an okami (a wolf), he overcomes his fear and embarks upon a journey to explore the outside world. In the end, he finds strength within himself.
When the Night Falls
This animated film takes place in the far future of Chicago, when the city has been taken over by humanoid bunnies and other mysterious creatures. Once night falls, the giant guardians of the city are awakened and start walking the streets as flying sea serpents emerge from the lake and take to the sky.
More Than Simply Watching
— An interview with Motomichi Nakamura
What are your earliest memories, going back as far as your childhood, of wanting to be an artist?
My grandmother from my mother’s side was an oil painter and my grandmother from my father’s side was a Noh dancer, and I think because of them I was always aware that there was such a thing as an “artist.” One day when I was around 9 or 10, I showed my grandmother—the one who painted—a watercolor of a tree I’d made on a field trip at school. She really liked it and she kept telling me how strong and energetic the tree looked.
What a great way to describe a painted tree. It’s important for a young artist’s family to encourage their first efforts.
I remember that it made me really happy and that I felt very proud when she told me she liked it. Maybe she was just being nice—you know how grandmothers can be—but now that I look back on the moment, that could have been the first time I kind of imagined myself doing something like painting or creating something visual.
Which mediums were you focusing on in your practice before you arrived at projection mapping?
I worked as a web designer after finishing college, and I started making animation after that. Later I started VJing and that led to projection mapping. And I still consider myself an animator.
Animation feels like an intrinsic element of your practice. When did you first experiment with projection mapping, and what do you remember about discovering it as a medium?
That was in 2012. I was living in Quito, Ecuador at the time, and I was asked by the city’s government to do a public projection in the old town there. I didn’t know anything about mapping yet, so everything was new to me. But one thing I was really impressed with was how people started interacting with the projection and wanting to be “in” it, or be part of it rather than simply watching it.
There’s a filmic component to projection mapping. Who are a couple of your favorite directors?
I would say Michel Gondry and Takeshi Kitano.
And what do you like about each of them?
I love the way Gondry creates witty, artistic, fun work that is almost like playing magic tricks. My favorite music videos of his are “Star Guitar” by the Chemical Brothers, “Come Into My World” by Kylie Minogue, and “Around The World” by Daft Punk.
When it comes to Takeshi Kitano, I particularly like Violent Cop. It was his very first film so it’s kind of raw and unrefined. I was so stunned by it and, maybe because I am Japanese, it made me recognize something that I was avoiding seeing.
I like how Kitano will spend time with very simple everyday things even in the midst of an action film.
Violent Cop starts with an ordinary and almost painfully long walking scene, which I really love.
What is a dream project you’d like to make one day?
I love watching music videos because they produce strong emotions along with the visuals and they reach out to many people. So it could be a music video, a concert video, a big installation, or even a live-action film, but I would love to direct and create large-scale sceneries using popular music.
Do you see any similarities between projection mapping and the burgeoning technologies of AR and VR?
I see projection mapping as VR without the headset and with real-life objects, or as AR but outside of screens. The main limitation of projection mapping is shadow. No matter how you position the projectors, there is always space between the lens and the surface where you can’t enter without casting a shadow. I hope to see some kind of solution, maybe a combination of projection with VR, to improve this limitation. I also would like to see a drastic decrease in the size of projectors. As of now, projectors that are typically used for large venues can easily weigh over 50 pounds. That requires a lot of effort to transport and install. Once they become smaller and more energy-efficient I think it will open a lot of possibilities in projection art.
Born 1972 Tokyo, Japan
Lives and Works in
Croton-on-Hudson, New Yorkn
Motomichi Nakamura is an animator, projection artist, and lecturer. He was born and raised in Japan, then emigrated to New York and attended Parsons School of Design where he majored in Communication Design and Illustration. After graduation, he moved to Quito, Ecuador—where he first discovered and began to explore the medium of projection mapping. Motomichi lived in Quito for seven years. Today Motomichi works with various media including painting, drawing, sculpture, animation, and, primarily, projections. His work has been exhibited globally in numerous museums and galleries including the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, Winzavod Center for Contemporary Art in Moscow, MARCO in Monterrey, Mexico, and the Taubman Museum of Art in Virginia. His films have been screened at the Sundance Film Festival, the Onedotzero Festival, and the Edinburgh International Film Festival. His commercial work includes projects for clients such as EA, MTV, USA Networks and Sony, as well as the production of a music video for the Swedish band The Knife. Motomichi’s practice also extends to teaching and lecturing, which he has done in such diverse locales as Chile, Thailand, The Netherlands, and Ukraine.