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These Beautiful Sci-Fi Landscapes Are Actually Unsettling Predictions About Our Future

Kelly Richardson’s HD video installations are ethereal-yet-unsettling narratives about planetary doom.

Orion Tide (2013-2014)

Encountering one of Kelly Richardson’s HD video installations in person might make you wonder if Hollywood finally co-opted the art gallery. But even though the Canadian artist relies on panoramic widescreens and advanced scenery generation softwares, these technical vessels drift out of focus once her sci-fi landscapes lull you into their ethereal-yet-unsettling narratives.

Orion Tide (2013-2014) and The Last Frontier (2013). Dual/Single channel HD video installation, 32′ x 9′/16′ x 9′ (variable) with audio; HD video installation, 16′ x 9′ (variable) with audio.

Urgency disguises itself as calmness throughout Richardson’s portfolio, and by dressing her installations in a theatrical setting she cultures a tier of sensory deprivation that’s paramount to the viewer’s experience—just like in a theater. But whether it’s balding forests of icey blue hologram trees glitching in the wind in The Erudition (2010), or the series of rocket-like projectiles piercing a desert night sky as they thrust out of the earth in Orion Tide (2013-2014), silence becomes the key takeaway from each performance. After all, it’s the muteness, not the brilliance, of her future terrains that criticizes our contemporary disregard of Mother Nature.

(2010). 3 screen, HD video installation, 48′ x 9′ (variable) with audio

The Erudition

Mariner 9 (2012) still.

But why so much sci-fi speculation? Why not just focus on today’s tragedies, like oil spills or deforestation?

“Over the last few years I've been increasingly interested in the function of science fiction in that it allows us to experience possible futures,” Richardson said, in an email exchange with The Creators Project. “With the serious issues we face around environmental breakdown, there has arguably never been a more important time to imagine our collective future and in doing so, see our current path, our priorities, etc. with some measure of clarity.”

Concerns for the planet which bleed through in most of her videos, to be sure, but there’s one installation that feels like an outlier to the concept of global stewardship. It’s called Mariner 9, and it takes place on Mars.

But if you consider Mariner 9’s entire focus—satellite-esque units and random metal detritus peppering the red planet’s rocky fields—you’ll articulate just where the gap gets bridged. Why is it that these machines have all failed? Were they crippled by alien environmental conditions? Are they the first examples of some future initiative to turn Mars into our planet’s junkyard? Or is it because there’s no one left to command their movements, back on the planet they came from?

Mariner 9 3-channel HD video installation, 43′ x 9′ (variable) with 5.1 audio

“With Mariner 9, I was particularly interested in the search for life beyond our planet whilst simultaneously destroying life on Earth at a terrifying rate,” said Richardson. “It's not an anti-space exploration piece by any stretch. It's about that paradox of who we are.”

It’s also a theatrical accomplishment that’s beautiful, engrossing, and, in a way, based on fact. Richardson culled imagery and technical data of Mars’ landscape from NASA studies, and brought it to life using Terragen—a photorealistic scenery rendering software that’s often used in the film and gaming industries.

When the piece first debuted at the Spanish City Dome in Whitley Bay, UK back in 2012, it attracted more than 10,000 viewers. Shortly after, it traveled the world, appearing at the Toronto International Film Festival, Vienna’s Natural History Museum, and other international venues. 

Even though it's debut a few years back coincided with the Mars landing of NASA’s Curiosity Rover, there’s enough forest degradation, war, pollution, etc. going on today to make it still seem like a plausible result of our long-term stupidity.

Mariner 9 (2012). 

And on May 10th, it’s getting revived at the Laing Art Gallery in the UK, where it’ll run until September 7th of this year. Check out the Laing Art Gallery’s website for updates and more information.

Keep up to date with Kelly Richardson over at her website here.

All images courtesy of Kelly Richardson. 

Follow Johnny Magdaleno on Twitter: @johnny_mgdlno