Kelly Richardson’s uncannily evocative works are as haunting as they are beautiful. The UK-based Canadian artist works meticulously with advanced digital technology, interwoven with dramatic natural wilderness landscapes, to construct intricate imagery that projects a dystopian future in which shadowy technological developments and human negligence have permanently altered our natural environment. Her latest exhibition, “Legion,” brought together both new commissions and works created over the past decade, illustrating an intriguing evolution in her singular technological vision.
The widescreen, high-definition video installation Leviathan, 2011, shows an eerie landscape in a Texas bayou. Here, thanks to Richardson’s blend of reality and simulation, what at first seems natural and beautiful grows frightening and toxic. Lovely bald cypress trees emerge from the water, but bizarre rings of light hover beneath its surface as a strange humming sound fills the air. In Exiles of the Shattered Star, 2006, an idyllic landscape set in the pastoral English Lake District becomes surreal as tiny fireballs gracefully fall from the sky. Although visually exquisite, this juxtaposition is disquieting: a premonition, perhaps, of a planet exploding. Forest Park, 2007, shows a nondescript, desolate place, covered in shrubs and weeds and sonically framed by the menacing screech of cicadas. Oddly, disconcerting rows of flickering streetlights line this scrubland, with no apparent purpose. Was this a neighbourhood at one time? Or is it some futuristic landscape where the purpose of the lights has become unfathomable to us now? These are the kinds of unsettling questions about the interactions between humans – or more accurately, human technology – and nature posed by Richardson’s work.
In a recently completed piece, The Great Destroyer, 2007-12 the artist experiments with a different approach. Nine screens were hung throughout the space, each displaying video of a thick forest, which a sound track of gurgling streams and birdsong. Here Richardson’s intervention, so subtle as to be almost unnoticeable at first, was in the sound rather than the imagery. She has added the song of the lyrebird, a natural mimic, imitating the sounds of car horns, car alarms, and jackhammers, hinting that as the man-made environment encroaches ever more on nature, it modifies what we hear as much as what we see.
Exhibited separately in Whitley Bay’s historic seaside resort, Spanish City Dome, was a new work commissioned by Tyneside Cinema, as part of an artist residency. Mariner 9, 2012, is a forty-foot-long panoramic vision of the surface of Mars, sometime in the future. A sandstorm moves across the screen; the light of the sun shines dully through the pink haze made by the blowing sand. There are damaged spacecraft scattered throughout the minutely detailed Martian landscape, perhaps debris from a battle. There are also remnants of scientific-research equipment, some still decrepitly scanning the surface, seemingly without purpose, especially considering that the video gives no indication that human life still exists to collect the results. Taking NASA’s technical data of the Martian landscape and combining it with scenery-generation software, the artist has pushed the technology’s capabilities to create a distinctive geological surface with its own weather patterns and a soundscape. Here – as in her other works – Richardson purposely leaves interpretation open. But Mariner 9 has left Earth itself behind, apparently having abandoned not only the idea of the natural landscape but the image of a future hospitable to humanity as we know it.
Review of Legion and Mariner 9
by LAUREN DYER AMAZEEN