This month the NGCA opened LEGION, the first retrospective and premier UK solo show by Canadian artist Kelly Richardson. It features an extensive look at her audio-visual installation works of the last fifteen years prior to her new commission Mariner 9 opening in Whitley Bay next month.
Text by Rebecca Travis
Richardson’s works play with the ‘hyper-real’, a notion that due to our increased use of new media and forms of simulation we can no longer distinguish the real from the constructed. In particular she is fascinated by the way in which we connect with landscape and within her deeply layered practice she draws on devices from Hollywood sci-fi and horror, landscape painting and wildlife cinematography. The results are complex cinematic installations that present us with seemingly ‘real’ locations subtly doctored with CGI, animation and sound to create an unsettling, otherworldly atmosphere. The lack of any physical human presence enhances the work; often making the scenarios feel like a post-apocalyptic future or a pre-human past.
To walk through the first installations of LEGION is akin to experiencing the opening scenes of a sci-fi film. Utterly immersive and unashamedly strange, they transport the viewer to radioactive swamps where subtle ripples suggest hidden life forms (Leviathan), disquieting wasteland where a ‘too-blue’ sky is heightened to the point where perfection becomes quietly threatening (Forest Park), and fantastical woodland inhabited by a confrontational green spectre of a stag (Twilight Avenger). There is an amplified sense of anticipation and as the sole human inhabitant of these abandoned environments the viewer experiences a distinct feeling of displacement.
A collection of early works display clichéd Hollywood scenarios: a suburban street scene, moonlit campfire and lake at dawn, but each is doctored with cinematic devices employed to unsettle the otherwise ordinary. Meanwhile in Exiles of a Shattered Star the sky is falling… not in New York (Hollywood’s default apocalyptic playground) but in the romantic sublime of the Lake District.
Perhaps the most complex of the works displayed here is new commission The Great Destroyer. Viewers are invited to wander through multiple screens of a dense green wilderness which for the first time is un-tampered with. An otherwise ‘wild’ soundtrack is interspersed with chain saws, camera clicks and car alarms. This, combined with the ominous title, suggests that it is the human race itself, not an impending Armageddon, alien invasion or supernatural happening that threatens the demise of our natural idylls. However just as we are on the cusp of understanding, it is revealed that this ‘human soundtrack’ is provided by the lyrebird, nature’s very own generator of simulacra.
Once again, as with all of Richardson’s works, the distinction between the real and mimicry is inextricably blurred. It is an effective and affecting mode of working and even upon departure from the gallery, visitors will find themselves questioning the ever-thinning line between fantasy and reality.
Kelly Richardson: LEGION will be on display at the NGCA until 29 September 2012.
Rebecca Travis is an artist, writer and gallery assistant based in Newcastle Upon Tyne.