Hoaxers and hucksters, obsessives, fake scientists, doomed explorers, pathetic inventors, liars, a make-believe whale, and two goats : these are the creatures of Ethan Murrow’s worlds.
Here are the mises en scene : waterside exploration with undefined, antiquated scientific equipment ; Victorian American aviation inventors with personalized jet packs ; early twentieth century marine biologists with fake meters and projectors ; and barefoot miners hawking dust, holding umbrellas, and leashed to women on tricycles.
The gestalt of Murrow’s work, hidden in the fakery and malfunction of his subjects, is a truth about America. An honesty so veracious it can only be carried by the fictional accounts documented in Murrow’s videos and drawings.
Murrow is the grandson of pioneer broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow and though the man passed away nearly a decade before his grandson’s birth, Edward’s life hangs over Ethan the way notoriety often lingers over its descendents. Ethan says he finds himself « weirdly curious ; attracted and confused all at once » by his grandfather. And like many children or grandchildren of successful, famous people, a tension exists between being one’s own person and living up to the family name ; between trading on the accomplishments of one’s forefathers or forging one’s own path. Along with this tension, Ethan inherited his grandfather’s inquisitiveness about America ans a strong need to tell the truth.
The truth Murrow is attempting to share with us is buried in the collective of fictions that make up his work. As the viewer, he must become one of his intrepid explorers to find it. Here are some tools.
The drawings are, for a part, based on photographs and stills from his video and performance work. They are photorealist : Not recreations of the events, rather the renderings of images of the events in graphite. The drawing retains the flattening effect of photography, an effect that highlights, certain details : the sheen on the gauge, the man’s veiny hands, or the wrinkly texture of the currency.
Murrow’s subjects come from a fascination with American mythology and that part of our national identity where we are pioneers, explorers, and inventors. From 1951 to 1955, Edward R. Murrow hosted a five-minute radio program called This I Believe. During the program, guests made commentary about their personal philosophies. It was the rawest form of journalism. It was simple and democratic. Edward wanted to report the truth about what people thought. The truth Ethan is feeding us may be hard to swallow : We believe in glory as defined by fame not deeds. We believe in success as marked by riches not accomplishment. We will believe in anything if it dressed up in science until it is exposed by the media.