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Kelly Richardson: 'LEGION'

Canadian artist Kelly Richardson is one of the leading representatives of a new generation of artists working with digital technologies to create hyper-real, highly charged landscapes, alongside figures such as John Gerrard and Saskia Olde Wolbers.


'Legion' is her first one-person exhibition in the UK, and provides a retrospective of over a decade of her work, including the UK premieres of four large-scale installations and the world premiere of one work.

Richardson creates works that ordinarily only a film studio might be capable of. Each of her works takes months of painstaking work to realize: she is one of the most exciting people working in her medium today.

Richardson's work imagines an array of possible futures for humankind. She draws on the imagery of science-fiction cinema, literature, and the history of landscape painting to visualize the kind of relationships mankind may yet have to the natural world in an imagined near future. Her works are created by combining high-tech animations with footage of some of the world's most spectacular wildernesses. They ask us to imagine what future mankind can shape for itself and the planet when environmental meltdown seems, to many, to be all but unavoidable. Many of her best-known works create a vision of a world on the brink of apocalypse.  In 'Exiles of the Shattered Star', fragments of a second sun fall to earth, covering the mountains and hills of the Lake District with balls of fire.
This is the first time that the artist has been able to show multiple works at the same time, and this is a major mid-career retrospective that will introduce her work to new audiences across the UK. The exhibition tours across three coastal cities around the country then to the USA and Canada. As well as revealing her body of work from over the last 10 years at NGCA, almost uniquely, Richardson's work was able to be able to seen in three venues at once in the North-East region in summer 2012.  The National Glass Centre, also in Sunderland, commissioned a further brand new work, 'Orion Tide' - a large scale photographic print shown 31 May - 9 September 2012.  And in 2011-12 Richardson was the first artist-in-residence at Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. She created a panoramic vision of future life on Mars, entitled 'Mariner 9', seen at Spanish City, Whitley Bay, on the Tyneside coast.

Richardson has been widely acclaimed in both North America and Asia. Her work has been selected for the Beijing, Gwangju and Busan biennales, and has been shown and acquired by major museums across the USA and Canada, from the Hirshhorn Museum Washington and Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Museum, Buffalo to the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal and Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. In 2009 Richardson was selected for the Sundance festival and was honored for her contribution to the visual arts at the Americans for the Arts National Arts Awards.

'Legion' is the first leg of a major international tour supported by Arts Council England and the Canada Council and initiated by Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art:


'Legion': Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland:
5 July - 29 September 2012

'Legion (II)': Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool
13 October 2012 - 5 January 2013

'Legion (III)': Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne  19 January - 31 March 2013

'Legion (IV)': Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, USA
15 February - 9 June 2013

'Legion (V)': Contemporary Art Gallery,
Vancouver, Canada

Works in the exhibition:

The Erudition, 2011, three-channel hi-definition widescreen video installation

'The Erudition' presents what seems to be an almost lunar landscape - or at least an other-worldly one. Lacking in any normal flora or fauna, it is populated only by what seem to be either the ghosts of trees past, or else spectral, holographic projections. Nature has become virtual.

The natural life here resembles the hallucinations generated by a super-computer. It is as though HAL from the film 2001 had gained control of a planet and had begun inventing life again from scratch.

The trees sway gently in a fictional wind: but there is no evidence of any climate here. Are we witnesses to a forgotten site of proposed colonization on another planet? Or to the wrecked remnant of this one, after life is over?

Leviathan, 2011, three-channel hi-definition widescreen video installation

Leviathan reveals an alarming landscape that seems neither natural nor capable of being man-made. We encounter a landscape seemingly devastated by a Biblical flood, where trees are submerged waist-deep in sticky, green water. The scenario resembles both scenes from science-fiction cinema, and the oldest and most fundamental classical myths or legend.

Richardson carefully leaves open competing lines of interpretation. 'Leviathan' suggests a tragic oil spill, or a nuclear disaster as much as a flood - all man-made events, but ones where the end of days has come with a bang rather than a mere whimper. Moreover, the title implies that the events on screen are the consequences of a sentient being's actions. Are the catastrophic scenes the result of an 'act of God', or of our own societies' mistreatment of the earth?

Characteristically, the work overturns our initial expectations. Truth is stranger than fiction in Richardson's work - and myth and reality are intertwined rather than opposed. The scene is based on actual footage of Caddo Lake in the wonderfully named Uncertain, in deepest Texas., where cypress trees grow in swampland naturally.

The world we see, however, is indeed reshaped by Richardson: the flow of the waters and the palette of unnatural colours have been carefully tailored to create an archetypal alarmingly eerie space into which we are absorbed. The soundtrack, on the other hand, has been entirely created to amplify the intentionally misleading narrative threads we initially encounter. As Richardson remarks, the work is "like a painting set into motion".

Twilight Avenger, 2008, widescreen hi-definition video installation

'Twilight Avenger' is a modern-day forest fable or science-fiction myth in which we encounter, unusually in Richardson's work, a fairytale-type image. In a misty, moonlit forest clearing, a majestic stag wanders across our field of vision, oblivious to our presence. Uncannily, he emanates a luminous green vapour. The spirit-like 'avenger' suggests that he is a kind forest sentinel; though our eyes suggest he may be a victim of a man-made industrial or nuclear accident. At first glance, we are drawn to the stag's unreal appearance. Gradually, we become aware that such a beast would never inhabit such a gentle pastoral landscape - that he has transcended his natural habitat and wound up in an unexpected location in time or space. Over months, Richardson painstakingly mapped the animal from one piece of footage into another, so seamlessly that we barely notice.
The Great Destroyer, 2007-2012, 7-screen video installation
'The Great Destroyer' is unique in Richardson's ouevre - a gigantic, room-scale eight-screen work that recreates being enveloped in an endless forest, so thick it resembles a jungle. Uniquely for her, the visual images are unadulterated - and "picture-perfect" so that we have an unnerving sense of anticipation and a sense of impending threat. The sense is extended, as there are no immediate visual revelations offered. Rather, after having scanned the horizon, whether for predators or unexpected additions to the landscape, we become aware over time that we should be paying close attention to our sense of hearing instead of sight. We are also enveloped into a natural soundscape of "the wild" - a positive symphony of animal noises, as different birds and insects fade in and out of focus. However, if we remain in the space, we also encounter a lyrebird's mating calls. The lyrebird is one of nature's mimics, who replicates sounds as part of his mating rituals. Here, the bird imitates thoroughly urban sounds, from a car alarm and gunshots to a chainsaw and the clicks of camera lenses being shuttered. Even here, deep inside 'nature', there is no 'wilderness', nor respite from modern life - and the 'great destroyer', we can only assume - is us.

Forest Park, 2007, 2 channel widescreen hi-definition video installation

'Forest Park' reveals a panoramic view on a 'non-place' - a scrubland at what must be the edge of the suburbs. This vast area of not-so-recently cleared land is circumscribed by forests and mountains, but for the time being has been left for nature to reclaim it. Weeds sprawl in every direction, as though humanity had begun to conquer this land and had, for some unknown reason, to retreat. The only evidence of our continuing presence here are a small army of flickering streetlamps - as though this was once a car park for a supermarket that has been long destroyed. As the streetlights crackle in and out of life, we are asked what kind of future we should expect, when fossil fuels run out, and when our expansion into every corner of the globe is arrested or reversed.