Kelly Richardson’s star is fast rising. The Canadian-born, UK-based cinematic installation artist is currently presenting a solo survey exhibition at the storied Albright Knox Art Gallery (until June 9), with one to follow at the Towner in Eastbourne, UK; another just closed (Edel Assanti, London, UK); and yet another opening tomorrow at Toronto’s Birch Libralato. Richardson is gaining momentum with a practice both popular and deeply thoughtful. Her filmic work orients itself around apocalyptic cinema (informed by science fiction and B-movie horror films, among so much else), and is anchored in real-time animation while its disquieting subjects signal a world laid to waste. Richardson drops the viewer into cavernous environments, an expanse of screens enveloping the visual space, and demands our quiet focus. Other-worldly landscapes wink movement, deep industrial soundscapes carry portent, and our movement feels unauthorized. This is what’s termed 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.” ARTINFO Canada caught-up with Richardson on the eve of her Toronto exhibition opening to delve a little further.
You're producing immersive and sometimes disorienting filmic installations. In what ways does the conventional exhibition institution – the white cube - limit or enhance your work?
Every space has its own challenges and limitations (budget, size, light bleed, audio bleed, etc.) but white box gallery spaces still offer the best, controlled environments to present the work, where it's not otherwise informed by distractive elements around it or restrictive of how viewers engage with the work as it would be within a cinema, for instance. The works operate like moving paintings or filmic set extensions in a way, without a traditional narrative, inviting the viewer to spend as little or as long with the work as they like.
I noticed your photography at Papier13, this week, and was surprised to see your subjects and approach stilled in the photographic frame. What are the benefits of this medium's framework? Is it primarily to produce a salable object, or is there a greater good?
The work you would have seen is a C-print from “The Erudition,” which is also a video installation, as you know. However, the C-prints are much taller, incorporating a much larger, star-filled sky. I see the prints as being complementary to the videos, offering something that the videos don't, and vice versa. They are not simply stills; they are produced separately from the video and require quite a lot of studio time to facilitate. They lack movement and audio but they're also not confined to the limitations of video in terms of dimensions or quality – so they offer the opportunity to investigate a combination of composition and detail that video does not.
Sound and experience-based practices, where a viewer's reception "completes" the work, is becoming more popular. However, while your work certainly invites a viewer's response, it isn't dependent on a viewer's involvement to be "completed" (in the way that Janet Cardiff's audio-walks, or Raphael Lozano Hemmer's interactive installations are, for example). What is your reflection on this divide, and do you hope to bridge it, or transcend it?
I'm after creating immersive, experiential works where the viewer imparts their particular reading through a kind of calculated ambiguity. In a sense, the works are completed through interpretation and, quite importantly, the viewer imagining themselves within the landscape but not in the same way the audio-walks or physically triggered interactive installations are. I don't really have a particular agenda in how the two relate; I'm just trying to do my own thing, really.
Do you regard your landscape environments to be dystopic? If so (or, indeed, if not), what do you regard our dystopia to look like, and what will it be the product of?
Somewhat. It depends on the particular interpretation, as there are always several ways to read the work. Our dystopia? Well, paying attention to what the world's leading climate scientists are saying, the path that we're on is nothing short of terrifying, the exact results of which are truly unthinkable. Climate change, above all other threats (nuclear war, disease, etc.) is the one we seem least capable to preventing and the one which promises the most catastrophic results. It's the biggest human rights issue of our time.
How does your work define itself as art, separate from sensorial installation - something more educative or experiential, say?
Experiential, yes, but I would argue that all art is. I don't view my work as being educative, per se. The pieces may offer the opportunity for people to view the world differently but that, in my opinion, is what art does best. To quote a friend and researcher here at Newcastle University, "Art can take us out of our normal lives and enable us to change our thinking, which can have a profound influence on how we relate to the world around us." (Anna Goulding) I would hope that this is how my work is defined as art, as a start.
What is the potential of your media, and in what ways would you wield it if anything was possible?
The potential is in flux, always evolving. In the short term it would be great to always have proper equipment to show existing work but it remains a constant struggle. If all limitations were removed, I'm not sure how I would wield it but it's exciting to think about.