Mariner 9 and Legion by Kelly Richardson, review by James Smith
I would like to begin by asking the question; are all artists Gods’ When we spend time with an artwork one can become acutely aware of, and invited into, a very particular landscape of that person’s mind. I am not suggesting a type of megalomania here; it is more that each artist is commanding and bringing forth their vision of their own world, complete with its own politics, rules and structures. In some cases this is more explicit than others, partially as each new piece of work links together to create a detailed texture of that artist’s thoughts. I am thinking of the film-maker Roy Anderson here, who specifically alludes to the architecture of his own vision in films such as ‘Songs from the Second Floor’ (2000). The choices he makes are so specific and structured it is hard not to be seduced into his world yet still be highly aware of the artifice of his ‘art-making’.
Kelly Richardson’s work, which is currently on show across the North East of England, explores these ideas in much detail. At her show ‘Legion’ at the NGCA in Sunderland we are presented with a number of major landscape works. Very quickly we become aware that these worlds operate under their own internal logic. For example in works such as ‘Exiles of the Shattered Star’ (2006) meteors fall from the sky like rain. In ‘The Erudition’ (2010) we are presented with a lunar-like landscape; across the terrain holographic trees flicker into and out of life. In this piece time seems to be elastic, the landscape is primordial (as it is elsewhere in the show) but the trees specifically suggest an unrealised future. Is there no such thing as a ‘real’ tree in this world’ Is it impossible to grow here’ If artists are generous in their visions then this is where the facade of Godlikeness will fade. It is the space that they leave for us where we can begin to add our own readings of what is going on. The strength of Richardson’s work is that the reasoning is left up to us. We get to populate these landscapes with our own ideas. For me there was a distinct suggestion of the idea of myth-making, these ghostlike trees only seem like suggestions, hints that actually these trees could exist in the past as illustrations of stories handed down through generations, setting the scene for the arrival of otherworldly characters.
Richardson continues these ideas in her major new commission ‘Mariner 9’ (2012) currently on display at Whitley Bay’s historic Spanish City Dome. This stunning 12 metre-long panoramic installation, depicts a dark vision of Mars. Here we find the landscape littered with the detritus, or more like, the dying, prostate bodies of previous explorer craft, twitching in their last moments of life. Presumably the current probe, ‘Curiosity’ will join this ‘elephants’ graveyard’ of human exploration. Again there is no reason given for the demise of these machines; it is up to us to decide if it was a Martian fight-back or a failed attempted at colonisation of the red planet. In a sense these attempted explorations, the desire to extend human knowledge (and therefore power), are Godlike attempts to capture information - to become all-knowing. But as Kelly suggests in this work, we are not gods; we are human, weak, full of hubris. But here, where the facade and the attempt to control our world falls away, it leaves a space for the unknown or unplanned to emerge.
‘Mariner 9’ was commissioned by Tyneside cinema and is part of the Pixle Palace programme; a digital arts initiative that supports artists in the creation of new work.
Mariner 9 is at Whitley Bay’s, Spanish City Dome ran from 3 August - 19 August 2012
Legion is at the NGCA Sunderland 5 July - 29 September 2012