Kelly Richardson

In this exhibition, Kelly Richardson toyed with the limits of photography and video while playing with the notion of the manufactured landscape. The photographs Scene Setter #3 and Scene Setter #4 (both 2008), for example, depict lush picturesque lakes bordered by trees in an environment imbued with the artificial (the perspective appears slightly askew; the blue sky so flat and unmodulated as to imply digital enhancement). Unfortunately, however, the images are too subtly manipulated to stray far from a sentimental postcard aesthetic.

Scene Setter #1 and Scene Setter #2 (both 2008), however, offer more impressively ambiguous and groundless views, which focus strictly on trees and skies—and so resist any conventional definition of landscape. In the former work, the gray sky has the synthetic translucence of Plexiglas, while the trees below it appear flatly superimposed, further underlining the contrived reality of the image. In the latter work, a central image of trees with spotty foliage is shrouded in darkness, the only illumination coming from a small spherical form positioned too low, and glowing too selectively, to make sense as the moon. Richardson presents a light source that suggests natural phenomena, but that could also, given the way it emanates, be the product of technology, or of paranormal activity.

The video installation Twilight Avenger, 2008, shows a grassy clearing in a coniferous forest—an environment connoting the quiet eeriness of an empty stage set. Shown from a fixed perspective—which encourages associations with painting—the vacant scenery makes one hungry for actors and narrative development, a desire enhanced by an ambient sound track featuring the noises of animals absent from the screen: An owl hoots, crickets sing, frogs croak. A mere taste of plot is offered by a stag wandering about and grazing indifferently on the lawnlike expanse; depicted in a decidedly toxic blend of green hues, the animal appears to radiate fog, vapor, or smoke—which may suggest body heat reacting to cold and moist air, but which extends too widely and regularly here to be considered an accurate portrayal of any “natural” phenomenon. The additional smoky exhalation from the stag’s mouth is slightly reassuring in its fidelity to the real, and yet this otherworldly glow leads us to consider Richardson’s wilderness a fantastical construction—in this case composed of footage she shot in Kielder Forest in Northern England and Algonquin Park in Ontario, Canada. These sites were filmed during the day and digitally altered so as to suggest the twilight hour. But the naturalistic suggestion of twilight is less convincing when one acknowledges the seemingly supernatural deep blue glow that halos the tops of background pine trees, which register as subdued relatives of the spectral cypresses in van Gogh’s Starry Night.

In Twilight Avenger, Richardson shows she is wonderfully adept at drawing attention to the role of artifice and to the limitations of her technical and creative means of probing the natural world. No surface is made too cleanly, pixelation here detectable in even the thinnest trees and in the amorphous, rippling presence of the stag’s hindquarters and antlers. Initially hesitant and fearful, the stag soon appears to be oblivious to onlookers as he feeds; at the end, however, he exhibits territorial boldness, turning his head to face us, as if he might be pondering the act of skewering encroachers, and thus performing the “avenging” act implied by the work’s title—perhaps in response to the predicament of domestication, or to the threat of being mounted as a trophy.

Dan Adler