Kelly Richardson's Deserted Landscapes of the Future

Where science fiction meets climate change headlines.

The video installations of Kelly Richardson beckon the viewer into a digital future façade through large-scale landscapes made up of science fiction collages, climate change catastrophes, and mesmerizing otherworldliness. Her videos speak of our imaginative past glorification of space and science and justly critique our futuristic obsessions with an apocalypse.

Richardson currently has a show titled Tales on the Horizon at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art where her Mariner 9 (2012) installation stands at 55' by 12'. The piece anchors the show a panoramic view of a Martian landscape set hundreds of years into the future. The piece was created using NASA data and scenery-generating software to imagine a spacecraft at the center of a dust storm. Also on display is a dual channel version of Orion Tide, an eerie desert sequence with smoke and light projections under the case of night and four new prints titled Pillars of Dawn.

The Creators Project posed a few questions to Richardson around her inspirations and influences. She says that her next video project is about "looking to the past rather than the future":

The Creators Project: Your work hints at the future, but there are no humans in sight. Why is that?

Kelly Richardson: Sometimes the lack of human presence is integral to the narrative or ideas within the works but with all of them, I want the viewer to see themselves in these plausible futures. The video installations act as set extensions (to borrow a term from film) into another time and place which the viewer becomes the main character within, so to speak. 

How long does it take you to craft a piece like Mariner 9? Can you tell us about the process?

With every work there is an intense learning curve during research and development. It's rare that the skills that I've acquired from previous projects enable the production of subsequent works, simply because the engineering of the effects needed for each piece demands varying approaches. Because of that, new software or aspects of software are needed to be learned at the start of each project. There is also a fairly lengthy period studying scientific research.

For Mariner 9, Mars topographical data was used as a starting point to create a realistic interpretation of a Mars landscape. Within the terrain, various spacecraft from previous, current, and future missions lay in ruins amongst a dust storm. Whatever interest we had in Mars seems to have ceased. However, some of the spacecraft still partially function, attempting to search for signs of life whilst transmitting that data back to a planet where no one is listening. 

To produce the terrain, I worked with Mars topographical data from HiRISE at the University of Arizona and NASA within a software program called Terragen. The dust storm and spacecraft were created within Lightwave, using photographs and video documentation as a reference point. The Planetary Society were also helpful when researching audio samples of the planet's surface, of which it turns out there are none as all previous attempts to record audio have failed. The 5.1 audio within the work therefore takes some artistic liberties.

From start to finish the work took 11 months working seven days a week. 

Which artists inspire you?

Artists who inspired me early in my career include Tony Oursler, Bill Viola, Gregory Crewdson, and Gary Hill. In the last few years I've been looking at historical artists such as John Martin and contemporary artists whose work inspires affect such as Olafur Eliasson.

How do you decide on the landscapes you depict?

Specific ideas are often triggered by a combination of news stories, scenes within films, scientific data, etc. The timeliness I choose to produce particular works is often deliberate as well, as it either references a previous work or coincides with and alludes to something happening in the real world. 

Many of your images display "the quiet before the storm."

And/or the quiet after the storm. They are almost a classic representation of the sublime, referencing a future where environmental breakdown seems all but unavoidable given our current path. 

Is space still the final frontier?

Having just met with some researchers at ASU who described space exploration as the equivalent to being in a tiny rowboat attempting to cross the Pacific, maybe so. Though it's impossible to grapple with any notion of "final" when thinking about how vast the universe is. 

Tales on the Horizon is on view at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art through January 2016. 


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