Void Gallery, Derry, Northern Ireland
24 May – 18 July 2014
by DARRAN ANDERSON
For all the commanding boom of his blank verse and the puritan atmosphere of his time, Milton’s most intriguing implication is almost a whisper to the reader, that this doomed rebel Satan is, at the very least, an anti-hero. It is a vision and a message that springs to mind viewing Kelly Richardson’s quietly stunning Haunted at the Void Gallery, Derry. Here we have humanity’s glorious ambition on display and also, intertwined and perhaps inseparable, humanity’s propensity to destroy itself and everything around it.
We enter the first and largest work on show here, Mariner 9 (2012), down a darkened corridor. There is the sound of rumbling drones, the clicks and whirls of hydraulics, the wind across desert plains. The effect is oceanic. It is a disconcerting and thrilling introduction. As we emerge into the room, our eyes become accustomed to the strange light of another world. Before us, projected on to a screen, Richardson has constructed a 13 metre panorama of Mars. Using Terragen software and adhering to Nasa’s footage from the Martian surface, she has created a life-size landscape that seems almost possible to step into; the shadows of our silhouettes from the projected light reminding us of our Earth-bound viewpoint.
For all the immediate impact of this created space, it is curiously, and perceptively on Richardson’s part, the question of time that justifies the ghostly nature of the exhibition’s title. The size and hyper-real accuracy of the work impress, but left simply at that and Mariner 9 would be a science-centre spectacle or a modern version of the Victorian attraction to camera obscura and magic lanterns. In itself, that would be interesting, of course, but there is real conceptual and philosophical depth to Richardson’s piece. It reveals itself when we notice the age of technology scattered around the landscape. These are future ruins.
Beneath the unnatural blue glow of our once-familiar sun through an alien atmosphere, the rovers are still at work. Lights still blink and radiate, transmitters and gyroscopes still spin. Yet the metal from which they are made is visibly rusting. Other traces of decay and abandonment permeate throughout, from a corroding network of industrial pipes to a strange twin monolith on the heights, a crumpled capsule to what might be – and the uncertainty is telling – scattered waste or wreckage. The Martian winds come in waves, slowly eroding everything. It is a hauntological scene; a glimpse of a possible future or rather a post-future; debris from an odyssey or a colonisation. The machines probing the soil for signs of life, as Richardson notes, might be relaying their findings back to a cold dead Earth. These are clockwork artefacts, winding down and fading away from a lost civilisation.
With Orion Tide (2013), there is a related sense that our species’ great triumphs come bound together with catastrophe. The projected scene is that of desert scrub with the suggestion of a secret remote section of the American Midwest. Above the horizon are constellations of stars. The silence is soon interrupted by the manmade thunder of rockets being launched into the cosmos. The absence of explanation gives the work its regret and its power. Are they some brave armada setting off to conquer other planets? Are they abandoning a world they have destroyed? Or both? A more worldly reasoning could be that they are not rockets in the space-shuttle sense, but nuclear missiles, launched from subterranean silos in an act of mutually assured destruction. Whatever the explanation for blazing a trail through the night-sky, the image of Milton’s rebel angels cast out of heaven burns brightly in the mind.
In the third section of this video triptych, Exiles of the Shattered Star (2006), we are greeted, with deceptive serenity, by the sound of birdsong. Again, we face a scene without trace of humanity except for the possible aftermath of our actions. Here is the Lake District in England, the area eulogised by the Romantics. In the midst of the bliss of cultivated nature come slowly falling balls of fire. It is a scenario both biblical and futuristic; the result of a vengeful god, a technological malfunction or a calculated political decision. It would be a mistake to judge the piece as contrived, given that that is essentially the point, but the overt symbolism and the uniformity of the falling debris seem marginally less convincing than the two earlier works. Would birds remain in such a scene? Would the landscape not be scarred? Admittedly though, the uncanny meditative quality to the piece proves spellbinding and renders the literary allusions perhaps unnecessary. The work carries itself.
There are many other thoughts that return to the mind after viewing Haunted and reading Gregory McCartney’s enthralling accompanying volume, Abridged. The quality and colour of light changing on the Martian surface almost like Monet’s Rouen Cathedral. The rusting droid that seems almost arachnid, like a post-human evolutionary creature. The beacons as landing lights or an SOS message to the stars. The idea that many possible futures were abandoned by the reining in of Nasa space exploration in favour of the expansion of calamitous military ventures. The connotations that spin off from the last piece, which recall the Challenger disaster, will-o’-the-wisp and the tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit. These are added elements to the central resounding theme of human salvation and damnation at our own hands. It seems we’re all Satan now.
To the Finland Station and Back: RUSSIA!
The same may be true of Russian art, as anyone who was lucky enough to see the recent exhibition, 'RUSSIA!', in New York from 16 September 2005 to 11 January 2006 might attest. The exclamation point says it all. It is a tough task to occupy that vast parking garage on Fifth Avenue known as the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum. Only an exhibition of the size and ambition of 'RUSSIA!' fills and fulfills it.
Impressionist Gardens. National Gallery Complex, Edinburgh, 2010
We review this outstanding exhibition, which moves on to Madrid imminently, able to report that visitor numbers amounted to some 90,000, a highly commendable success. Edinburgh of course is the capital of a nation of gardening enthusiasts at all levels.
Having attended the Monet exhibition at the Grand Palais on a regular morning like any other paying punter I can attest that one never needs to see another Monet show for this is the definitive, ultimate, career-retrospective, but also that one leaves longing to have seen just one painting properly and in entirely different circumstances.
Turner Whistler Monet
In the words of Henry Matisse, 'It seemed to me that Turner must have been the link between the academic tradition and impressionism'. This transition from Realism to Impressionism and beyond forms the backdrop of 'Turner Whistler Monet', an exhibition specifically aimed at establishing the visual and contextual connections undeniably linking JMW Turner, James McNeil Whistler and Claude Monet through a century and almost three artistic genres.
Berthe Morisot: An Impressionist and Her Circle
Berthe Morisot was the first woman to join the circle of Impressionist painters and it is through focus upon this painter that the exhibition presents more than 75 paintings and drawings from the Impressionist movement, including Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Odilon Redon and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, as well as Morisot, who is as recognised and celebrated with affection in France, even if she is less well known than her male contemporaries elsewhere.