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The Art of Perception, with Michael Murphy

The Art of Perception, with Michael Murphy

While Michael Murphy’s art may play tricks on your eyes, you will remain clear on one thing: his work creates a visual experience unlike any other. As a young boy in Ohio, Michael was obsessed with making his own toys. Now, a celebrated perceptual artist, Michael continues that dream. Listen to this episode of The Cultured Podcast, recorded in Michael’s studio in East Williamsburg, to hear how one of his installations was championed by two opposing political groups, and how this particular piece may have been viewed over 200 million times, yet was missing something crucial.

Read the episode transcript below.

While Michael Murphy’s art may play tricks on your eyes, you will remain clear on one thing: his work creates a visual experience unlike any other.


Michelle Khouri  0:00  
Today’s conversation is all about perspective. Michael Murphy toys with his audiences’ perception with intricate installation art that has to be seen from every angle to be truly understood.

Welcome to The Cultured Podcast. I’m your host, Michelle Khouri. And together, we’ll journey into the unknown reaches of the art world.

Hello, my babies! I hope you’re having a magnificent week, day, month, and year. Whatever it is, I hope it’s a beautiful moment. Today, we’re talking to Michael Murphy who’s an installation artist who sees the world very differently than most people and then invites viewers to see the world differently too through his perceptual art. You’ll see what I mean in a moment when we get into the conversation. But first, let’s talk about what’s inspiring me this week. So this week, what’s inspiring me is our immune system…because I got the flu. But I am pretty amazed at what our bodies can do. And I’m super grateful. I saw this meme on Instagram that said, “When you’re healthy, you have 1000 wishes, but when you’re sick, you only have one wish.” And that’s exactly how I felt when I had the flu. And everyone around me had the flu too. And this was around Christmas time and it was like the day after Christmas when I got a fever for three days straight and all I wanted was to feel better. But incredibly, my body bounced back and it took a while, but at least I got there. And it also just made me think about how powerful our bodies can be. And I already have an autoimmune disorder. I have celiac disease. But even through that, I’m so grateful of how strong my legs are and how I’m able to combat different viruses or bacteria, or you know, flus, colds, coughs, whatever it is, all of our bodies, at every ability level, are these incredible symphonies that just work like clockwork. That is inspiring. That shows the sense of order in a chaotic universe. And we’ve talked about that before, right? That’s been my inspiration, many episodes ago, was this idea of chaos versus order in our universe. And I think an example–a really good example–of order our bodies and just how well they work even through moments of chaos, like when a virus strikes. Alright, y’all. Well, I am feeling so much better. And I am feeling very grateful for feeling health right now. And so I hope you’re feeling healthy. And if you’re not, I’m sending you healing energy and I love you and I hope you feel better. And also, I want to remind you that you can reach out to me with your inspiration, you can email me at, or DM me @culturedpodcast on Instagram, with whatever’s inspiring you this week. The reason we have this segment of the podcast that opens up every episode every week is to show just how small an inspiration can be and how you can find inspiration every single day all around you. You just have to look for it and be open to it. But for now, I know what’s going to make you feel better. This interview with Michael Murphy. Leggo!

Welcome. (laughter) 

Michael Murphy  3:57  
Yeah, welcome. Welcome to the studio. 

Michelle Khouri  3:58  
We’re here in your studio. You pulled out all the stops for us. We, like, moved furniture, built a faux little recording studio out of walls that you have built. 

Michael Murphy  4:09  

Michelle Khouri  4:09  
So thank you for having us in your Brooklyn studio.

Michael Murphy  4:13  
Of course. Thanks for coming. I’m only sorry that we couldn’t cut out all the noise. If you can hear it in the background, it’s pretty intense here.

Michelle Khouri  4:19  
I mean, no one’s perfect, you know, Michael? 

Michael Murphy  4:21  
Cool, yeah.

Michelle Khouri  4:21  
And, um, it was disappointing. (laughter) But we’ve gotten over it. 

Michael Murphy  4:25  
Great. (laughter)

Michelle Khouri  4:25  
We’ve been through a lot together. No, I mean, you’re hearing like literal industry, things being made. There’s just a lot going on. We’re in East Williamsburg.

Michael Murphy  4:34  
Yeah, we’re in East Williamsburg. We’re in the industrial stone section. So they’re downstairs cutting granite right now–that’s what that sound is.

Michelle Khouri  4:41  
Which is loud. 

Michael Murphy  4:42  
Yeah, it’s intense.

Michelle Khouri  4:42  
Okay. So, enough about the stone cutters because we’re not here for them. We’re here for you. So for those who don’t know who you are, tell us who you are and what your art form is.

Michael Murphy  4:55  
My name is Michael Murphy. I’m a visual artist. I live and work in New York City. I refer to my work as perceptual art for a number of reasons, but the main reason is because the work deals with the viewers’ perception. So when you see my work, it may not be what it actually appears to be. So as you spend more time with it, it should transform and your understanding and your perception of the thing should change.

Michelle Khouri  5:21  
So it’s really fundamentally sculpture, right? 

Michael Murphy  5:25  
Mostly sculpture and installation art, I guess. 

Michelle Khouri  5:29  


Michael Murphy  5:29  
Installation art is a type of art that relies heavily on the space that it’s in. So a lot of my work will be these particles that are floating in space. And then if you take a photograph of it 80% of the photograph is the room that the thing is in. So, because of that, it’s, kind of, installation art.

Michelle Khouri  5:46  
I’ve never heard installation art defined in just that way. That was like a really nice concise way to put it. 

Michael Murphy  5:53  

Michelle Khouri  5:53  
Why installation art? I mean, to me, that that seems like perhaps one of the most complicated art forms because you don’t just get to prepare this piece of art in a sterile environment, that’s your isolated environment. As an artist, there are so many different environments, it seems, you would have to work with. Is that correct? Like how do you approach installation art? And why did you choose that as your art form?

Michael Murphy  6:20  
What I chose was sculpture. Sculpture was this sort of melting pot and all these different art forms that were difficult to define went into the category of sculpture. And that really appealed to me. Painting has very specific criteria that it has to meet in order to be a painting. Drawing has very specific criteria. Installation art typically falls into the category of sculpture, but it’s sculptural work that relies on the space around it. 

Michelle Khouri  6:48  
I love that.

Michael Murphy  6:48  
To be part of the component. But I picked sculpture because it was the sort of catch-all net for all the different forms of art that, you know, were being invented and created.

Michelle Khouri  6:59  
Were you always someone who liked to work with your hands?

Michael Murphy  7:02  
Yeah, ever since I was a tiny, tiny little kid. I used to make toys when I was really young. 

Michelle Khouri  7:08  
No! Out of what?

Michael Murphy  7:09  
Wood, mostly. Most of my background is in wood. My father was a bit of a carpenter. He was a plumber. He was a jack of all trades. He would refer to himself as–he was “a construction guy”. So he had every tool in the world. In Ohio, he had this big garage and it was filled with wood and tools. And if I wanted something, like I wanted a sword when I was a kid, he’s like, “I’m not gonna buy a sword. I’ll make you one though” and he would take me out into the garage and he would make a sword. And I was like, “That’s incredible.” 

Michelle Khouri  7:11  
That’s way cooler. 

Michael Murphy  7:18  
Now I have the coolest sword. Yeah. I was in the backyard, you know, chopping everything up. And it was just so special. You know, that sword was so special because it was handmade by my father. It’s was, like, incredible.

Michelle Khouri  7:20  
So before we get to the meat of the matter, which is talking about your art form, some of your recent pieces and how you go about–because I love exploring methodology. Let’s talk a little bit more about how you landed in this area of life. Because what I find fascinating is how little we can plan our lives.

Michael Murphy  8:11  

Michelle Khouri  8:12  
So like that sense of control and planning is such an illusion. And I imagine when you were young, you weren’t like, “You know what I’m going to do one day? I feel like I’m going to like invent this whole new way of making art and it’s going to be perceptual art. Perfect. That’ll be my handle on Instagram.” Probably not that. 

Michael Murphy  8:31  
Right. Right.

Michelle Khouri  8:31  
So talk to us a little bit about your journey as an artist.

Michael Murphy  8:35  
Well, like I said, I always made things, my entire life. And when I was in college, I was putting myself through undergraduate by doing construction. I had a small construction company, following my dad’s footsteps. I had a lot of tools, just like dad did. And I went to college with an open mind.

Michelle Khouri  8:51  
And what did you go to school thinking you were going to major in? 

Michael Murphy  8:55  
I wasn’t sure. I thought photojournalism because I wanted to travel the world and take photographs of beautiful things, which I get to do now. Which is great. So I went to school thinking I was going to be a photojournalist. I took some photo classes. I took some journalism classes. And I realized that the media is not a place where you can be your own voice, where you can be creative, where you can speak your own thoughts. I started working for a local newspaper. 

Michelle Khouri  9:21  
The news media, at least, right?

Michael Murphy  9:22  
Yeah, exactly. I started working for a local newspaper. I would go out and do reporting. I would come back, the editor would have at it and then I would read the article and it was not what I wrote at all. It was just, like, some of the key facts. And that really turned me off. And I immediately got out of the media. Also, you know, I’d taken some advertising courses and it was just horrifying to me. Really was not into it. 

Michelle Khouri  9:42  
What horrified you about advertising?

Michael Murphy  9:45  
I felt like it was trying to focus on people’s weakness, their vulnerabilities, and trying to sell goods to them because of their weaknesses, you know? And they’re trying to take advantage of you based on, you know, your insecurities, for example. Things like that. There is a form of advertising like that. Not all advertising is like that, of course, but a lot of it is.

Michelle Khouri  10:06  
Well, I think you can be a fan of marketing and still admit that it’s founded on the principles of manipulation.

Michael Murphy  10:12  
Yeah. Yeah, it is a type of manipulation. But I feel like you can also do that in a very genuine way. 

Michelle Khouri  10:19  

Michael Murphy  10:20  
You know, I do a lot of advertising, and I’m always telling my clients, like, “Let’s not do your logo. Let’s do something really, really cool. Like something that no one’s ever seen before. Something that just blows people’s mind and inspires them and makes them happy and makes them feel good. And then put your name on it.” 

Michelle Khouri  10:34  
Mmhmm. Exactly.

Michael Murphy  10:35  
That’s how you know I’m always encouraging my clients to advertise.

Michelle Khouri  10:39  
That’s what we do with podcast production. Same thing. 

Michael Murphy  10:41  

Michelle Khouri  10:41  
It’s like, you don’t have to spoonfeed people how to feel or what to think, like contribute to good energy in this world and then put your name on it. 

Michael Murphy  10:49  

Michelle Khouri  10:49  
That’s a good thing.

Michael Murphy  10:50  
Yep. So I started in journalism at Kent State University and didn’t like it. So I just continued taking these different courses in different areas. And I took a sculpture class with a guy named Brinsley Tyrrell. And I literally met this guy and I was just so blown away. I was like, “Wow, that’s exactly how I want to live my life.” And I literally modeled my life after his.

Michelle Khouri  11:12  
What did you see in his life that was so appealing?

Michael Murphy  11:15  
He was a university professor. He’s just making these giant artworks. He just like took over the entire university and would create these enormous artworks and they were going to go in this like high profile, public location, you know, as part of the architecture. The news media would show up and be photographing him and be on the front page of the newspaper. He’s, like, this local celebrity just doing his job, you know? And he’s just making things. And he was a classical sculptor. He would carve stone. He would carve salt. He would cast metal. He would model clay.

He’d do a lot of portraits and figures and things like that. So he asked me if I would–he knew that I was in construction–he said, “So you know how to build things, right,  like construction?” And I was like, “Yeah, Totally.” He said “Will you come out to my barn and see if you can help me restore this 200-year-old bank barn and turn it into a gallery, a sculpture studio, and a drawings studio, and all of that.

Michelle Khouri  12:07  
Oh my god. 

Michael Murphy  12:08  
Yeah. So we, for the next five years, worked together. After the first year or so, I started fabricating his sculptures for him. And he started taking on commissions that were based on my capabilities. Like I was doing a lot of concrete work. 

Michelle Khouri  12:23  

Michael Murphy  12:24  
Yeah, so we did a lot of concrete projects and things like that. 

Michelle Khouri  12:27  
When you say concrete work, what does that mean? So what does it take to fabricate a sculpture like that?

Michael Murphy  12:34  
Well, you know, it depends on what it is you’re making. What we were making was actually a 200-foot long retaining wall that looked like a bookcase. It was a lot of mold making. So we had like 75 molds, 75 different molds to create this serpentine wall. There were shelf molds. There were post molds. There were book molds. There were seat molds. You know? And by mold, I mean, you know, a negative shape that’s like an ice cube tray that you fill up with concrete and turn it over and you get positive parts. 

Michelle Khouri  13:03  
You’re very good at describing things. 

Michael Murphy  13:05  
Am I? 

Michelle Khouri  13:05  
I like the ice cube tray thing. That’s a gem. 

Michael Murphy  13:07  

It’s the simplest mold. We all use it. 

Michelle Khouri  13:10  
Yeah! Hey, we’re all sculptors. Huh?

Michael Murphy  13:13  
Yeah, exactly. Ice sculptors.

Michelle Khouri  13:14  
I work with ice. (laughter) Okay, so you started sculpting. Would you consider yourself, at that point in time, his apprentice? Or just like working with him? Was there a title for it? 

Michael Murphy  13:27  
He called me his fabrication technician. And before that, before Kent State University, I didn’t really know what art was, you know? I grew up with very little culture. I had never been to a museum or a gallery before college. I didn’t even know what art was. I just knew I was really good at making things.

Michelle Khouri  13:43  
Yeah. How did that affect how you saw yourself working with an artist who was a classical sculptor? I mean, you know, that’s such a contrast to not having grown up with exposure to that world. 

Michael Murphy  13:58  
I feel like I had immediately discovered my purpose in life. It was really cool. 

Michelle Khouri  14:02  
It just clicked for you. 

Michael Murphy  14:03  
Oh yeah. There was no doubt. No doubt. This is it.

Michelle Khouri  14:05  
God, that’s a beautiful thing.

Michael Murphy  14:07  

Michelle Khouri  14:07  
Well, you seem to be someone who knows exactly who they are. So, like, it seems like you’re one of those people, like me, who sort of just, like, popped out of the womb being like, “I know who I am.” 

Michael Murphy  14:16  
Yeah. Right.

Michelle Khouri  14:17  
And everything that doesn’t resonate, doesn’t resonate hard. 

Michael Murphy  14:20  

Michelle Khouri  14:21  
You know? That’s a hard no. Because you’ve already mentioned hard yeses and hard nos throughout your life. So this was that life-affirming, purpose-affirming hard yes. 

Michael Murphy  14:31  

Michelle Khouri  14:31  
With art. 

Michael Murphy  14:32  
Definitely. Yep. 

Michelle Khouri  14:33  
And so what happened then?

Michael Murphy  14:34  
What happened then, I continued to study art at Kent State University and then graduated there and went on to graduate studies at School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I went into the Art and Technology Department. While I was at Kent, digital video was, like, just being invented, basically. You know? Photoshop had just invented layers. 

Michelle Khouri  14:53  

Michael Murphy  14:53  
So that’s, like, where technology was. 

Michelle Khouri  14:55  

Michael Murphy  14:56  
So I was at the tail end of my education at Kent State University. I was working with projection and photography and video because it was new and exciting and just coming out. I think video was 720 by 480 when I was in college. Pretty intense. You know, the first editing I did was taping VHS tapes together. Oh, yeah. Yeah, VHS was still a thing.

Michelle Khouri  15:17  
But see, that’s so fun. Because for someone who likes to work with their hands so much, I mean, even video was a very hands-on process. 

Michael Murphy  15:24  
Mmhmm. Yeah. Yeah, it was.

Michelle Khouri  15:26  
You did get your hands dirty.

Michael Murphy  15:27  
Yeah, and, you know, my video work was–I was making sculpture and I was taking photographs and shooting video and then projecting it onto sculptural surfaces that I had created. 

Michelle Khouri  15:39  

Michael Murphy  15:39  
And it’s interesting. What I was trying to do was give two-dimensional images three-dimensional properties. Right? So I was doing that with projection and, you know, with all these like kinetic objects and moving parts and different planes and all that and projecting onto all this different stuff. But the problem was, you always had to put your eyeball right where the projector was in order to for it to look perfect, which isn’t really possible. So I tried to figure out how to eliminate the projector so that you when you position your head in this, like, one perfect spot everything lines up and it’s all perfect. Then you move around and then it breaks apart and animates. Everything is static but the viewer is moving. So, when the viewer moves around it, all the parts begin to move in relationship to one another. 

Michelle Khouri  16:22  
Super cool.

Michael Murphy  16:22  
So, like, I consider myself an inventor and I’m always trying to come up with new ideas. The basis of all of my work is in experimentation. I would, you know, just get all this tech gear that I could get and point them into each other and point them at each other and away from each other and you know, like, hit them with hammers and just make weird things happen. Right? Like, that’s how all of my work has evolved. That’s where it all started.

Michelle Khouri  16:43  
I mean, you’re essentially still that little boy in Ohio building things and making toys.

Michael Murphy  16:48  
Yeah, I consider my studio like a toy box.

Michelle Khouri  16:50  
Well, yeah. You gave us a tour, me and DonTae our sound engineer, and the amount of materials and tools and spray paint cans…it’s just amazing. And so what, you just like wake up one day and you’re like, “What if I…” and then your little mad scientist brain gets to work?

Michael Murphy  17:11  
Sometimes I still get to do that. Yeah, but not as much. 

Michelle Khouri  17:15  
Busy busy. 

Michael Murphy  17:16  
Yeah. Now, lately, I’ve just been, like, plugging in all the things that I thought of, like, the first two years that I was doing all the experimentation. I’m still doing most of those things. There’s still some things that I invented when I first started my experimental process that I haven’t yet got to do. That I still want to do. Like, I got some really cool ideas. 

Michelle Khouri  17:38  
Like what?

Michael Murphy  17:39  
Everyone who listens to this would have to sign an NDA for me to tell you that.

Michelle Khouri  17:42  
That’s fine. 

Michael Murphy  17:43  
Yeah. That’s okay.

Michelle Khouri  17:46  
We’ll do a verbal NDA. Nobody tell anyone.

Michael Murphy  17:49  
Yeah. No. Yeah. You know, we’re in such a…our culture has changed so much and become like a share culture that no one cares who the author of things are anymore and it’s really frustrating for authors and people who come up with ideas.

Michelle Khouri  18:04  
Okay, good. That was an important disclaimer. Okay, so we were talking about your path to where you are now and I’m starting to see those dots connect. Right? Because you– obviously there’s something about you that’s fascinated with perception and perspective. So my question is, is there someone in your life that you grew up around that like, exhibited, like different visual abilities? 

Michael Murphy  18:28  
No. My grandmother and I used to lie in the grass and look in the clouds for animals. And that is probably where my interest in, like, finding images in nature and just random occurrences. 

Michelle Khouri  18:45  

Michael Murphy  18:46  
Like, that’s pretty much where that comes from. And really, like, you know, I’ve been like out hiking and I thought I saw a woman’s face like out in the woods and I’m like, “Wow, that’s so cool.” And then what you do is you grab your friend and you’re like, “Hey, come over here. Look at this like this.” And you have to, in order to see a face in a tree, you have to think differently. 

Michelle Khouri  19:07  

Michael Murphy  19:07  
Right. You have to allow yourself to see it. Yeah, because it’s really not there. So you have to let your imagination go. So what I’m doing is: I’m trying to create these situations that are rewarding for viewers, right? I’m trying to get people to think critically, trying to get them to think outside of the box and see the world a little bit differently. Right? And that’s the whole perception part. Everything’s all about perception and the way that we perceive things. we can have a conversation and you can walk away thinking it was about something else, other than what I thought. You know, we can perceive things differently. Like, for example, my work, people will take photographs of it and everybody’s photos look different. You know, none of them look the same. So that’s kind of the way that that person perceived it. You know, they thought it was perfect. It’s interesting. My mother and Natalie are, like, the only people who photograph things and they look exactly like the photographs I take. So it’s like, you know, we see the world In a similar way. 

Michelle Khouri  20:00  

Michael Murphy  20:01  
Which is interesting.

Michelle Khouri  20:02  
Oh, that’s such a cool, like, litmus test. 

Michael Murphy  20:05  
Yeah, right? 

Michelle Khouri  20:06  
To see how you photograph one of these sculptures and how someone–what someone is drawn to–the angle, the message. That’s the thing: is that your installations have multiple messages to them and what someone’s drawn to, like for instance, sitting outside of the room we’re in right now you have hung up–is it alright, if I describe it?

Michael Murphy  20:25  
Yeah, of course. 

Michelle Khouri  20:26  
You have hung up: on one side, it spells out news, and on the other, it spells out fake. And me being a silly liberal snowflake, I’m drawn to fake. 

Michael Murphy  20:38  
Right. Right. (laughter) Silly liberal snowflake.

Michelle Khouri  20:41  
Oh. (Laughter)

Michael Murphy  20:42  
Yeah. Another good example of that is the gun piece which a lot of people have seen. It has like 200 million views or something like that.

Michelle Khouri  20:49  
200 million?

Michael Murphy  20:50  
Yeah, it has like over 200 million views. 

Michelle Khouri  20:52  
Wow. Good lord. What does that feel like?

Michael Murphy  20:56  
Well, that piece…it felt okay, but my name wasn’t on it. So, like, most of those 200 million posts don’t have my name on them. And I fought tooth and nail, the person who organized that show to put my name right underneath the piece so that when everyone filmed it, my name would be there and I would receive credit for it. 

Michelle Khouri  21:13  

Michael Murphy  21:13  
Like I was saying about this whole sharing culture. It goes up. It’s got 10 million views. Not one single person asks who made it? 

Michelle Khouri  21:21  
Right. People are interested in re-sharing something for what it says about them, like as curators.

Michael Murphy  21:27  
Right, exactly, like The Fat Jew. 

Michelle Khouri  21:28  

Rather than like, wow, Michael Murphy, of @perceptual_art–you see what I did there–is amazing. Because it is Michael Murphy @perceptual_art who made this and from whose mind this came.

Michael Murphy  21:43  

Right. You’re exactly right. It’s the curators get celebrated, not the creators. 

Michelle Khouri  21:48  


Michael Murphy  21:48  

So yeah. So, the gun piece was created around the corner from the DNC in 2016. So I had already previously done a map of the United States made out of guns. So I tried to kind of make it more interesting by transforming into something else, and all I could think of was another gun because the whole thing was all about guns. It’s all about how guns are fetishized, they’re like these fetish objects. And I was living in Georgia at the time and people love their guns. I wanted people to talk about guns. And it was interesting because pro-gun people thought that it was a pro-gun piece. I received all these requests to put that piece back up at, like, gun shows and inside gun stores. 

Michelle Khouri  22:26  


Michael Murphy  22:28  


Michelle Khouri  22:29  


Michael Murphy  22:29  

And then, you know, anti-gun people thought that it was an anti-gun piece. And they were like, yes, you know, this is the problem with America. There’s too many guns in America. You know? And it was just fascinating to me to see those two interpretations of the same piece. I love that.

Michelle Khouri  22:43  

You do love it. 

Michael Murphy  22:44  

Oh, I love it. Yeah. No one was upset about it, because it spoke to them in a different way. But it captured, you know, a really broad audience.

Michelle Khouri  22:54  

That is interesting because it it’s not like the anti-gun people thought it was pro-gun propaganda. And, you know, and vice-versa. So everyone loved it because they saw themselves and their beliefs in it. 

Michael Murphy  23:07  


Michelle Khouri  23:08  

But now, we’re now meeting days after one project. Can we talk about that?

Michael Murphy  23:14  

Two of them. Yeah, we just had two pretty big projects back to back. The most recent one, which we did, we finished two days ago. It was this large, three-dimensional mural that was the centerpiece of the after party for the premiere of Michael Bay’s new film on Netflix.

Michelle Khouri  23:37  

And what is it like?

Michael Murphy  23:38  

We’re trying to think of a title and we think it’s Bayism, because the whole idea–it’s a little tongue in cheek–but the whole idea was just this giant explosion, right? There’s just explosions everywhere, cars flying through the air, and human bodies like blowing up and flying through the air. That’s what it is. It’s all these cutouts of all these different images that are retracted from scenes from the movie.

Michelle Khouri  24:02  

Okay, so that’s Netflix. And then what was the other project?

Michael Murphy  24:05  

The other project was this build out we did for American Express. American Express had this pop up event that they did in Union Square at Union Square in Manhattan. And they created an environment and built three restaurants inside the environment. It was for their their premium members to come and enjoy, you know, free dinner, hang out, you know, big bar. Three top chefs from New York City set up camp inside that that space and did their thing.

Michelle Khouri  24:35  

I always thought it paid to have money.

Michael Murphy  24:38  

It does. I think it does. I think you get some perks if you if you got some cash. So we did eight different activations inside this space, we were kind of hired to do the weird stuff.

Michelle Khouri  24:50  

So this is what’s interesting to me. You hated advertising and criticized it, but you work for brands and, kind of, in an agency way, right? So, like, do you ever have moments where you are torn? What goes through your head, like, navigating that?

Michael Murphy  25:10  

I tell a lot of people no. I am working in advertising. But what I’m trying to do is, I’m trying to bring fine art into the world of advertising. Right? And I stress to my clients, like, I often say, “I’m sorry, that’s just not an artwork. That’s an ad. That’s not an artwork.” And I’m trying to make art. And I’m trying to make art in the world of advertising because there’s so much money in advertising that it can supply art, it can support artists. It’s like the church doesn’t support artists anymore, something has to. I don’t want to do galleries because I don’t want to give anybody 50% cut, you know, of the profit from the artwork. So I have to find some way of getting the art funded. And advertising is a great way to do it because, you know, we create these artworks and they go out in an ad and it sort of functions as an ad for my brand. If I create some, you know, like the Lexus commercial that was just on television for, like, two months or something like that, that was an ad for what we do as much as it was for Lexus, which is great.

Michelle Khouri  26:08  

I get that. I have a podcast production company and I am here. I have a very specific purpose on this earth as I see it. And it is not just to manipulate and make shows that lie or that try to convince you of something for a brand because we do branded podcasts. And I always have to check myself because also when you’re building your own brand, or business or your art, it’s easy to get swept up in revenue and numbers like that, because capitalism is a drug. So I was just wondering how you process that and face it and reconcile it and also use it for your own. And it sounds like it’s a constant. I mean, it is a very intentional thought for you.

Michael Murphy  26:52  

Yeah, we very carefully try to not work with clients that we think are evil.

Michelle Khouri  26:58  

Yep. It’s hard to know.

Michael Murphy  27:00  

It’s hard to know. 

Michelle Khouri  27:01  

Sometimes its obvious.

Michael Murphy  27:02  

I tried to not work for governments. I try to not work for politicians. I won’t work for pharmaceutical companies, which I recently just did, because the med that they were making is actually saving lives. 

Michelle Khouri  27:14  

Oh yeah.

Michael Murphy  27:14  

So that was the way that I reconciled with that.

Michelle Khouri  27:16  

Oh, there’s nuance there. My sister is a clinical trial manager of big pharma. And for the longest time, my hippy dippy thought was like, “Y’all are evil. Big Pharma is evil.” And then she like helped develop a drug that saved a ton of people from, like, terrible quality of life with cystic fibrosis. And I was like, “Oh. Oh, wait, nuance.”

Michael Murphy  27:44  

Yeah. It’s tough.

Michelle Khouri  27:45  

There’s nuance. You know, we talked about experiments. We talked about a massive Cultured Podcast-wide NDA that we’d have to administer to learn about them. But tell us without an NDA, where where you’re headed, what you’re tinkering with, and what you hope to do in the future?

Michael Murphy  28:02  

Yeah, like I mentioned, I’d like to get back to some of my early work. I invented a bunch of really neat things when I first started studying art, and I haven’t gotten to execute all of them. And I would really like to do that. I’d like to get back into it. There’s even like different branches, different fields. Like, what I do now is just one of the things that I came up with, you know? I’d like to get back into…I used to make these interactive video mirrors. You would stand in front of this thing and all this stuff would be happening in front of you. It was you. There were these real-time effects that would be happening to you. So, for example, like one of them, you would stand in front of it, and there was a camera filming you and then it was projecting your image onto this kinetic moving crazy surface. It was all also three-dimensional. And then your image is being projected onto that and then that’s getting refilmed and then that’s what’s presented in front of you. So when you stand in front of this thing, like your face is like exploding and going all over the place. 

Michelle Khouri  28:59  

I love it. 

Michael Murphy  29:01  

Yeah, it was really cool stuff. 

Michelle Khouri  29:02  

I want that to be my everyday mirror.

Michael Murphy  29:05  

Haha, right? It would be a little confusing. (laughter) So I had a bunch of those. You know, each one of those could be its own things. Like, one of those branched off and became this other body of sound work that I did that was visual, but it was also, you know, sound-based. 

Michelle Khouri  29:21  

I love that.

Michael Murphy  29:22  

I did a lot of sound installation back in the day and I’d like to get back to that. But it was all based on perception. There were all these weird things that happen. The perceptual stuff is like, super rewarding. 

Michelle Khouri  29:34  

Michael Murphy  29:34  
There’s like something neat about it. It’s like, whoa, that’s different. I’m trying to create new experiences. I want to create an experience you’ve never had before.

Michelle Khouri  29:42  

Michael Murphy  29:42  
And that was what really, really drove me early on was trying to find those experiences people have never had–totally unique. It’s exciting. That’s what life is, you know, that’s the good stuff of life, you know, having these new experiences.

Michelle Khouri  29:55  
And I feel like people don’t realize how easy it is to shift us off our daily perceptions, like, how we perceive the world. You notch something just a little bit off kilter, and all of a sudden, everything feels odd, you know? So I think the fact that you toy with that and sound is a massive part of that. Just the right sound wave and you’re just like a little bit disoriented. 

Michael Murphy  30:18  

Michelle Khouri  30:18  
Okay, so where can the Cultured Crew follow you and find you to keep track of all these things?

Michael Murphy  30:24  
Instagram, @perceptual_art. You can go to my website. The easiest way to get there is to go to That’s Mike with two M’s. Or you can just google “perceptual art.”

Michelle Khouri  30:39  
Cool. I love it. Yeah, it does sound like you’re coming full circle. I mean, you want to go back to what you were tinkering with a while ago because you have become so successful with what you’re doing now. So, it’s very inspiring. Thank you for altering our perception of this space by, like, making it so homey for us.

Michael Murphy  30:57  
Of course.

Michelle Khouri  30:57  
Thank you to Natalia and Serg and Dontae, our engineer. Thanks for coming on The Cultured Podcast.

Michael Murphy  31:03  
Thank you. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Michelle Khouri  31:10  
If perception is reality, folks, then my reality is that Michael Murphy is a badass, okay? I hope you’re as inspired by his work as I am. Until our next journey into the unknown, keep it classy. Keep it curious. Keep it Cultured.