GWANGJU BIENNALE 2004: The work of Kelly Richardson

It’s a wonder what it must have been like for ancient civilizations, never knowing if once set, the sun would rise again. In some ways these things should be terrifying, we rely on the repetitive, the banal, to give our lives structure, but in still other ways these gaps, these “moments between moments” are full of promise, wonder and expectation as to become almost magical.

This theme has become somewhat of an obsession in the work of Kelly Richardson; drawing attention to the unlikely, which somehow inspires a multitude of sensations. It is no secret that the pregnant pause in a conversation can hold more significance than the words that surround it, that “reading between the lines” isn’t merely a casual turn of phrase. In her video Wagons Roll (2003), a car hangs portentously in midair, castrating a clichéd mini-climax in an action movie. The viewer can only guess as to what events led to its peculiar suspension, likewise they have no idea if it will ever plummet to the earth below, but in this “in-between” state lies an uneasy calm. The Sequel (2004) inspires similar emotion. A foreboding car tire lies suspiciously in the middle of an idyllic country lane. A sense of dread hangs in the air, until the tire rights itself and gently rolls out of shot. Knowing where the tire came from or where its ultimate destination is, is superfluous to our wonderment.

It seems that obsession itself has fascinated Richardson for a long time. In her earlier work, broken drumsticks were rebuilt with wine cork and cymbals with gold cigarette foil, all this done with a painstaking tenderness seldom seen in an increasingly cynical world. Yet such meticulousness is never forceful – the repair, while visually effective and even beautiful, is ultimately feeble and would fall apart the instant stick met cymbal. It's this fragility, this futility, that makes the initial act all the more precious. Unlike, however, the obsession of those who catalogue, who draw attention to things for no more reason than the satisfaction of knowing that others seldom notice them, Richardson's moments are filled with an overwhelming beauty that transcends context to intoxicate even those most lay of laymen. It is an art that requires no previous qualifications to experience, yet forgoes none of its aspirations in an attempt to coddle – it has a deceptive simplicity. Plainly put, these moments or things are worth noticing.

In keeping with the artist’s tendency to weave a common, though not obvious, thread through all her work (In her own words " linked primarily by the idea that all sensations can be summed up in key, slight moments”), such epiphanies can also be found in her ongoing series of landscape photographs appropriated from low-budget horror films, the Supernatural Series (2001 – present). Here Richardson acts as cinematographer after the fact; exalting moments that were never intended to be exalted - moments that only served as crude punctuation, to offer a few frames of peace before the next killing.  Sparing us from the dire storylines, they are at once serene, bleak, eerie, hopeful, sublime.

The images seem initially familiar to the viewer in their resemblance to traditional landscapes, but they are dreamier, more lurid. One ponders on whether any of these scenes were intended to be beautiful – a flash of inspiration in a mire of mediocrity and formula – and come to the conclusion that Richardson has achieved what the filmmakers could not; turning empty atmospheric filler into things of twisted loveliness and staggering profundity. Works are seldom more aptly titled, while undoubtedly a sly nod at the tendency of the genre to release endless sequels of ever-reducing quality, the use of the word supernatural is no accident - the works simply do not conform to natural laws, they are hyper-real.

There is no harsh conceit in her work, no mere deception or cheap trick. While it may play with our expectations, ultimately it has an underlying tenderness, a wonderment that’s almost childlike. Richardson is holding a mirror up to slight, seemingly humdrum things, and showing us that while we may at first think that nothing at all is going on, we couldn’t be more wrong. The truth, plainly told, may provide the most immediate and unequivocal explanation, but it can never hope to be as evocative as the relentless tide of sensation that resides in the cracks of life. 

Beverly Shapiro