Visual abstraction with artist Maria Takeuchi

Brooklyn-based Japanese audio-visual artist Maria Takeuchi, aka ÉMU, talks art, nature and quarantine.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Mar 29, 2021

US-based Japanese audio-visual artist, Maria Takeuchi, better known as ‘ÉMU’, sets stunning visual effects to ambient noise that hum and brim with a disarmingly naturalised energy. The artist creates works that command attention and instigate contemplation; Takeuchi’s sounds are hypnotic, and perfectly complement her visuals, which tend to move, breathe and transition at a calm pace, confidently dictating their more stimulus-saturated audience members’ internal tempos, and bringing them in sync with their own meditations. Engaging with Takeuchi’s work requires viewers to dislodge themselves from wholly material associations, and instead, attempt to connect with her shifting forms on a more visceral level; a process that has a curious aspect of time-dilation to it, and may leave audience members feeling quite as weightless and suspended as the art they interface with is. It is likely no overreach to say that this is art one gets lost within.

Silent resistance | Maria Takeuchi | STIRworld
Silent resistance Image: Maria Takeuchi

Takeuchi’s visual art is code-based, and the formations of pixels and gradients she creates move in mathematically driven paths. However, this does nothing to address the apparent randomness that appears within some of her work. Many pieces by Takeuchi possess a certain entropy to them, which feels highly atypical for works that fall within the broad ambit of generative art. Yet, there is also a distinct sense of order within the chaos, tying neatly into the aspect of ‘naturalised energy’ referenced earlier. This is a product of the ethos behind Takeuchi’s coding of visual noise, which she carries out on Touchdesigner. She explains, “Combining multiple sets of visual noise can create complex forms of lines and shapes. It's interesting that the results may become very organic, such as what exists in the natural world”. Referencing the Japanese aesthetic philosophy that seeks beauty within imperfection and transience, Takeuchi says, “It may have led to the philosophy of wabi-sabi. Rather than perfect symmetrical shapes, I am more interested in the imperfection of beauty”.  

When the sun sets by Maria Takeuchi | STIRworld
When the sun sets Image: Maria Takeuchi

Takeuchi grounds her explorative art within the natural realm, which adds to an interesting trend among emergent generative artists; that being a preoccupation with the reproduction of naturally occurring forms and patterns, through the digital medium. She tells STIR, “I get inspired from nature. When the ideas click between the visual inspirations and concepts that are floating in my mind, I start to experiment with tools that I know how to use, or I try and learn new techniques. If I am lucky to be within nature, I'll be able to feel directly inspired. If not, I’ll search for beautiful images or photography online, that I may draw inspiration from”. Takeuchi does, however, also express distress at the current environmental state-of-affairs, remarking that we as a species possess a wealth of technology at our disposal; technology that is pulling us further away from the sacred and beautiful. “Through my work, I am searching for the beauty of coexistence, and for a resonance between nature and technology,” she adds sombrely.

05 mins watch Underground Love Letter, from Trilogy of Waves | Maria Takeuchi | STIRworld
Underground Love Letter, from Trilogy of Waves Video: Maria Takeuchi

There are distinct echoes of glitch art within Takeuchi’s work, and she is well aware of this. She consciously pursues the ethos of the medium, not dissimilar to the concept of wabi-sabi, yet separates her work in a sense from glitch culture. Her art is at once on the periphery of the glitch movement, yet stands as something that is independent and distinct. Takeuchi mentions that glitch effects have served as one of her first artistic preoccupations, and one wonders if works such as hers, which possess strong inclinations yet never feel derivative, should be placed within their own bracket? Perhaps it is wiser to disregard questions of genre placement entirely, as Takeuchi’s distinct craft is largely incomparable to the vast swathe of digital practitioners. However, she has found like-minded artists in the Testu Collective, which she encountered at an event organised by a friend. She tells STIR, “I have performed at Testu's events many times. We also co-curated the audio-visual compilation ‘Solace’ for COVID-19 fundraising in 2020. Through this audio-visual community, we inspire each other, and are therefore able to continue creating and experimenting with sonic and visual art”. One of Takeuchi’s most mesmerising works is her ‘Trilogy of Waves’ series, which she uses as a means to respond to the COVID quarantine. She explains, “A Trilogy of Waves is an audio-visual trilogy that is an excerpt of the emotional waves that I have experienced during the global pandemic. Many problems arose in the chaos and it has caused all of us significant emotional turmoil - sadness, fear, sympathy, anger, hope for a better tomorrow, concern for our loved ones, vacillating thoughts, resentment at the suppression of freedom and so on. This piece presents a stream of thoughts that are meant to question our perceptions and understanding regarding our surroundings and the societies that we live in”. When viewing these works, a sense of chaos and obscured hope transitioning slowly towards clarity and understanding becomes very palpable, as Takeuchi’s video works become gradually more ‘naturalised’. She acknowledges this, and tells STIR, “While experiencing major emotional waves in isolation, reconnecting with nature has been a great remedy for me. Bathing in the sun, feeling the soil, smelling the grass, touching the trees...the pandemic reminded me that we are part of a greater, natural realm that is largely beyond our control. The sounds and visuals for A Trilogy of Waves were created by taking in information such as noise and sound frequencies from natural shapes, which was then worked with digitally”.

04 mins watch Kyou | Maria Takeuchi | STIRworld
Kyou Video: Maria Takeuchi

Speaking of prospects and ambitions, Takeuchi mentions that she wishes to create installations that overwhelm the audience with a sense of awe for nature. She also wishes to map territory that is as yet largely uncharted, in whatever shape or form that may be. The current global paradigm has brought with its various challenges for her, such as the postponement of an exhibition along with multiple performances that Takeuchi had been rehearsing for. She explains that she found it to be a highly depressive time at first, yet eventually came to spend it in quiet contemplation, and even grew closer with the people around her. She does not know what exactly it was that affected her the most last year, but mentions that her appreciation of art and the environment has been heightened by it, and we may only wait and see what captivating exultations to the two Takeuchi will create next.

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