Future Visions: An Interview with Artist Kelly Richardson

Multimedia artist Kelly Richardson is by now a household name in the visual art world. Her hyper-real landscapes created with digital technology have garnered international recognition. Her work has been called “otherworldly,” “absorbingly apocalyptic” and has been shown in over 90 group and solo exhibitions. Born in Burlington, Ontario, Richardson now resides in the U.K. and lectures in fine arts at Newcastle University. Richardson was also one of the notable artists who showcased their works at this year’s Power Ball XIX: Stereo Vision, a major fundraiser for public exhibitions and programs and an immersive contemporary art exhibition/party.

I had the chance to ask Richardson a few questions about selling caricatures, exploring technology, and the Apocalyptic Sublime.

Natasha Grodzinski: You are such a widely known artist and have shown works internationally. Does it feel the same to show in Canada or do you feel differently about showing your work in the country you were born in?

Kelly Richardson: I have lived in England for the past 14 years and during this time I have been fortunate enough to establish my practice internationally, which I’m incredibly grateful for. However, it has meant a great deal to me personally and professionally to maintain a presence in Canada, so it’s always a pleasure to return to exhibit my work. In fact, very shortly I will be returning permanently to teach at UVic (University of Victoria) which I am extremely excited about.

NG: Have you always been an artistic person? Or is there an “Aha” moment where you realized this was a way to express your passion and ideas?

KR: I have been a maker for as long as I can remember. Instead of setting up a lemonade stand as a kid, I set up a curb-side caricature stand. Portraits were 25 cents each. A bargain, even if they were awful!

NG: You’re described as an artist working in digital technologies. You work with film, but can you go deeper into what kind of digital technologies you’re engaging with?

KR: The kinds of technologies used is very much determined by what is needed to produce each work. I always start with an idea from which lengthy research and development is undertaken to produce it.

In terms of production, this usually means involving various specialist software packages typically used in the film and gaming industries. I’ve also employed sophisticated digital installation methods to challenge established moving image formats to produce seamless panoramic vistas three times the width of high definition and more recently, a 10-screen synced 4k installation.

Currently I am researching how I might employ real-time video for one particular work and for another, I’m simply trying to force available software to make a series of works possible. The technical challenges are always significant, but I need to stress that they are always used as a means to an end. The work is first and foremost about the ideas.

The Erudition by Kelly Richardson. Source.

NG: The landscapes you create are a mix of the natural and unnatural, the organic and technologic. What made you want to explore these contradictions?

KR: That’s a difficult question to answer really, as I think my initial interest in those contradictions came by way of numerous angles in my thinking. Much of this work came out of an interest in the Apocalyptic Sublime, a sub-genre of Romanticism where artists, poets and writers shared a preoccupation with notions of the apocalypse in the 18th and 19th centuries. There is a great deal of speculation as to what the influences of the genre were exactly but one significant one was the birth of the Industrial Revolution which played heavily on the minds of creative practitioners at the time. Roughly 200 years on, the natural world (ourselves included of course) is now facing severe consequences from relentless industrialization. In short, I’m interested in that relationship, which is evident in many ways in the work.

Leviathan by Kelly Richardson. Source.

NG: For example, you digitally created a hypothetical landscape in Mariner 9, but then show footage of a very real one in Leviathan. What is it that draws you to these landscapes?

KR: The landscapes chosen for each work, whether digitally created or filmed and then manipulated, are quite specific. Mariner 9 presents Mars as littered with the rusting remains from various missions to the planet. Despite its suggested abandoned state, several of the spacecraft continue to partially function, looking for signs of life and possibly transmitting the data back to no one. That search for life—to know that we’re not alone in the universe—is fascinating on many levels, but it’s also a beautiful, endearing endeavour, particularly for us as a species. We are destroying much of life as we know it, literally consuming our planet at a truly alarming rate. I’m interested in that contradiction at this critical time in history when current predictions for our future are not just unsettling, but terrifying.

I produced Leviathan during a residency at Artpace in San Antonio. Prior to arriving the BP oil spill (Deepwater Horizon) had just occurred in the Gulf. Taking that environmental disaster as a starting point of interest/concern, through research I discovered Caddo Lake on the east side of Texas on the Louisiana border, which has the dubious claim of being the first site for underwater oil extraction in human history. The location, therefore, could not have been more suitable from which to make work that is concerned with the repercussions of large-scale, unchecked industry. Caddo Lake is a significant landscape from which the modern world was forged.

A still from Mariner 9 by Kelly Richardson. Photo by Colin Davison. Source.

NG: Would Mariner 9 be considered a cautionary tale?

KR: It depends on the viewer’s interpretation. On the one hand, yes, absolutely. I am deeply concerned about where we are heading as a species. But I’m also hopeful. In Mariner 9, whatever interest we had in the planet has long ceased, but it’s not clear why. We might be witnessing machines attempting in their own futile, semi-functioning way to communicate with a planet where no one is left to receive the data. Or perhaps our focus has shifted elsewhere.

Over the last few years, I’ve been increasingly interested in the way science fiction allows us to experience what life might be like in the coming century. Scientists and futurologists can speculate on what the future might look like, but artists are capable of visualising those futures, making them tangible. If hindsight is always 20/20, experiencing these potential futures offers us a window through which we can view our present time and the direction we are headed in with some measure of clarity.

NG: Now that you’re lecturing at Newcastle University, has your experience as a teacher changed your perspective on visual art?

KR: I wouldn’t say that it has changed my perspective on visual art, but I do find that it’s an enriching experience to teach. Arguably (and this sounds like a cliché) I get as much from it as the students do.

NG: If you had to describe your work to someone who knew absolutely nothing about art and had no interest in it, how would you do it?

KR: Most people have an interest in TV and film, so when faced with someone who isn’t interested in art I tend to talk about it in relation to that. The works act as immersive “set extensions” (to borrow a term from film) into another time and place within which the viewer becomes the main character. However, we frame it, it is that experience and what happens internally within the viewer which is important.

You can find out more about Kelly Richardson’s work here. And continue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Cold and Amazing: Recent Events to Celebrate Surfing in Toronto

Antonio Lennert says his company Surf the Greats partners with some local exclusive brands for their new surf shop in Leslieville that will open on June 29th. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Even though many Torontonians think they have to travel far to surf, the local community of wave riders is growing in popularity. More and more people are popping up on the boards in the midst of lakes Ontario, Huron, and Erie.

The adventure and lifestyle company Surf the Greats is going to increase the excitement for the new obsession even more with a couple of big surf events. The screening of Under An Arctic Sky at The Royal (608 College Street) welcomes its renowned adventure photographer Chris Burkard this Thursday. The other — opening of a surf shop/cafe in Leslieville next month — will get surfers everything they need for their soul and body.

Over the past three years, Surf the Greats has been fostering the local surfing community through film screenings, art exhibitions, beach cleanups, surf lessons on the Great Lakes, and surf camps in Nicaragua, Mexico, and Costa Rica. This year the company partnered with Chris Burkard Studio to present the documentary Under An Arctic Sky by Burkard and filmmaker Ben Weiland. The film follows six surfers in the most remote corner of Iceland.

Surf the Greats’s CEO Antonio Lennert said he’s excited to meet Burkard in person for the first time“[Burkard]’s been a big inspiration for us to get outside, explore the nature and take beautiful photographs,” he said.

In order to spread the world about surfing in Toronto, the event will also screen two local short films: On Days Like These You Must Surf by Jake Kovnat and Sweet Water by Andrew Wyton“They were the best short films on Great Lakes surfing we’ve seen so far,” said Lennert. “I thought it would be a great opportunity for local filmmakers to show their work to the big name surf-photographer and filmmaker.”

Kovnat and Wyton were each going to their surf spots over the course of Novella’s interview with them: to Hawaii and to Lake Erie, respectively.

“I feel so amazing! I feel high every time I come in from the surfing on the lake,” said Kovnat. “No matter what else is going on in my life, it feels incredible.”

His black and white documentary tells the story of Larry Cavero, who, together with Lennert, introduced Kovnat to surfing on the Great Lakes. Every time Kovnat shares his surfing experience, the excitement grows in his voice: “I heard about surfing in Toronto around 2013, 2014…And in 2015 I met Antonio and Larry. That was the first time that I went to surf by myself. In the process, Larry actually sold me my first wetsuit and he let me borrow a surfboard just for free. So, I went out on lake Erie and I did horribly, but it was so cool to be out there in the water. And water is really cold. You were always told to be careful and safe in the water, and then you are out there, you feel amazing.”

Kovnat said, as his film was self-funded and all the participants donated their time, the most difficult part for him was the production and getting everyone together:

“When you do a ‘passion project’ like this with basically no money but a really great story, you have to work around the schedule of your crew and schedule of the waves, which is completely unpredictable.” The best part for him was getting shots of Larry and his daughters in Larry’s house and seeing Larry “living his life outside of the water.”

For Wyton, who has shot videos about surfing before, the weather was always one of the most challenging things. “You can never shoot in the wind because your lens will be drowned in the water,” he said. “It’s frustrating just keeping your lens clear all the time.”

Wyton said he enjoyed observing nature and capturing its mystery, which inspired him to do even bigger projects in the future. “I’m happy, but I’m never satisfied,” he said. “I’d like to make another one [film], but I’d like to get more professional surfers.”

The screenings of the three films will be followed by a Q&A with Burkard and a 20-minute presentation about the documentary. The guests will be able to talk to Burkard and purchase his new book. 

Lennert added that they wanted to organize a similar event in 2014 when Weiland and Burkard released their film The Cradle Of Storms. However, it took them a long time to build the network with the Californian producers. “We just opened our company, so we didn’t have enough connections to make it happen,” Lennert said. “We’ve been in touch with him [Burkard] since then. And when we saw he’s releasing his new film, we reached out to him and his producers in California… It took us a while to find the right venue in Toronto that could accommodate 350+ people at an affordable rate. It was a big risk.”

During the event, Surf the Greats will also announce the grand opening of their new shop in Leslieville on June 29th. Lennert said his shop will have everything surfers need: boards, wetsuits, and exclusive clothing brands from Tofino, Montreal, California, and New Jersey. It will be a kind of surfers’ hub with a small cafeteria and space for workshops, yoga classes, and live screenings of surf competitions like the World Surf League (WSL).

“Now we have only one surf shop in Toronto,” Lennert said. “And we don’t actually have the space where the community can hang out outside of waves. So this is going to be a kind of a community’s home.”

VIP-tickets are sold out. Click here to find a last-minute GA ticket. 

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Q&A With Cody Campanale, director and writer of Jackie Boy

Edward Charette, left, as Kal and Alino Giraldi, right, as Jack in Jackie Boy

Jackie Boy is a recently-released Canadian drama written and directed by Cody Campanale, starring Alino Giraldi and Shannon Coulter. It tells the story of Jack (Giraldi), a self-destructive womanizer in a working-class Canadian town, who tries to change his life when he meets and falls for Jasmine (Coulter). Unknown to Jack, however, Jasmine has a hidden agenda.

Cody Campanale is an Ottawa-based director, writer, producer, and filmmaker. Jackie Boy is his first feature film.

Adina: There seems to be an implication that Kal is attracted to Jack, but it is never confirmed or fully articulated. Was Kal trying to keep Jack from changing, or trying to keep Jack for himself? Or is that implication simply not true?

Cody Campanale: I think Kal’s in love with Jack, but he’s too confused and frustrated by his own distorted notions of masculinity to comprehend that his admiration of Jack’s ‘manliness’ is actually a closeted love he feels for his best friend. With this in mind, many of Kal’s actions in the later part of the film can be seen as those of a jealous lover. A lover completely rejected by someone they never saw themselves living without.

A: Throughout the film, I noticed that the men tend to deny the severity of the violence the women face. Jack and Kal excuse Jack posting photos of Sasha without her consent, Jack tries to dismiss Jasmine’s fear after Kal chases her, and so on. Was there a deliberate point you were trying to make about this?

C: I would define the characters in this film as emotionally disconnected youth living in an emotionally disconnected landscape. This emotional disconnect allows all the characters to act in ways that are insensitive, violently destructive and just plain nasty. I chose to focus our lens on the men because I wanted to further explore the dangers that living in this emotionally disconnected landscape can have on ‘conditioned’ male notions of masculinity when left unaddressed.
Also, one could probably argue that throughout human history, great destruction and harm has come from the actions of men. This is a pretty scary thought and something I think influences my work as a filmmaker to some degree.

A: Were you afraid that the brutality and explicit nature of the ending would turn any viewers off? If so, why keep it in the movie?

C: We always knew the ending would be polarizing. And to be honest, I rather enjoy films that tend to have polarizing endings. It’s important to note, as difficult as the ending was for people to watch, it was just as difficult for us to shoot. The actors were emotionally drained and destroyed after each take (and there were very few takes). The crew members who were on set when the cameras rolled, left the set in tears. It was one of the most difficult things I ever had to create. While writing it, I kept asking myself if the scene in question was needed to articulate the film’s ideas and I kept concluding that it was. I could have written another ending, one that was less violent perhaps, or possibly more optimistic, but it wouldn’t have captured the ideas I wanted to get across with this story. I believe the destructive nature of these characters is a big concern, and by witnessing the full extent of their behaviour and the lack of awareness they have, an audience can understand how dangerous this emotional disconnect really is.

A: Would you consider the movie a feminist piece, or at least a film with a “message” of some kind? Are you okay with others making those assertions? What might that “message” be?

C: I wouldn’t consider the film a feminist piece, and I don’t suspect a lot of people will. However, I do consider it a critical view of conditioned masculinity in modern times. I think the film examines the conflicting and destructive ways that men cope with insecurities surrounding their own male identity. Beyond this examination, I think the film explores many other thematic ideas, such as: man’s inability to change, the removal of personal agency, and the using of others for pleasure or personal gain.
A well-made film should ask lots of questions and demand that the audience draw their own conclusions to those questions. I’m very happy if audiences see different things or ‘messages’ in my film. It means I’ve made you work, and good art should make you work a bit.

Shannon Coulter as Jasmine in Jackie Boy

A: In the film, Liz and Tony are the only ones who seem to have even a semi-healthy relationship, however this also breaks apart. Are the problems of these characters individual issues, or was this a commentary on the state of modern relationships in general?

C: I think the tragedy in Liz and Tony’s relationship comes from Tony’s self-defeatist attitude. He’s incredibly self-loathing and blames all his own problems on his surroundings, rather than attempting to change his environment or his attitude. Instead, he lives in that feeling of being ‘wronged’. In his mind, he did nothing to deserve what he got from life. It makes me sad, actually. Of all the male characters, Tony probably had the greatest chance of escaping his personal hell. He was so loved and supported by Liz, but didn’t know how to reciprocate that love. It truly is tragic.
I’m not sure I would consider this relationship a commentary on the state of modern relationships. It’s definitely a commentary on a particular type of relationship.

A: Jack undergoes a serious change in the film, at least from the audience perspective. However, he never makes an effort to make amends to Sasha or any of the other women he has presumably also hurt over the years. Does this mean that his general attitude toward women hasn’t really changed at all?

C: Interesting point you bring up here. If the film didn’t take the nasty turn it does in the last act, perhaps Jack would have shown more growth and decided to right his wrongs. Or, perhaps, he would not have had the courage to…that’s really for the audience to decided. Having said this, in the film I presented, I don’t think enough time passes for Jack to grow to the point that he would want to correct those wrongs.

A: Was any part of the film based on your own life or experiences?

C: Not exactly. I mean, I knew people with similar attitudes and patterns of behaviours, but not to the same extent or to the level of meanness portrayed in my film. Also, while writing the film, I was close to the age of these characters so I was living in a similar landscape, or in a ‘hookup culture’ if you’d prefer to call it that. I think a lot of the film came from my interest in exploring masculinity or the challenges with understanding your own masculinity.

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Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival at TIFF

 

A man and his son track down a band of outlaws who has kidnapped his wife and daughter across the Arctic in Zacharias Kunuk’s Maliglutit (Searchers). Its plot takes inspiration from John Ford’s seminal 1956 western, The Searchers, but the similarities soon fizzle away to the aesthetics and elements of the genre. Kunuk’s long shots of the Arctic — the film was shot in Nunavut — are certainly reminiscent in their magnificence of Ford’s famed landscapes of Arizona; and the environment is itself a character, a violent and all encompassing force that shapes the story. However, the searchers of the original are by no means precursors of Kuanana (Benjamin Kunuk) and his son who share none of John Wayne’s Ethan Edward’s violence and racism.

Kunuk transposes the western to the Arctic landscape and gives it meaningful twists; Animals and their spirits — the loon’s in particular — replace Christianity; the chase is pointedly outside the colonial narrative; and, perhaps most importantly, violence is at best a questionable means to an end. With sometimes frustratingly claustrophobic close ups to the action, Kunuk refuses to give the satisfaction of watching simple — and frankly often entertaining — displays of violence on screen. At others, as in the shooting of a caribou or the rape of Kuanana’s wife and daughter, the violence occurs off screen. What we do see leave us thinking about lives led parallel to the continual presence of violence and its many faces.; the moral implications of abduction, rape, and retribution.

There are many beautiful pauses in the movie to help you mediate on them.

Maliglutit (Searchers) is now playing at TIFF Bell Lightbox as a part of the 16th annual Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival. The festival presents feature films, shorts, and student films to celebrate Canada’s diverse cinema. As Adam Cook has noted in the New York Times, the festival this year features a more independent and fresh roster of filmmakers. Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s Angry Inuka documentary on seal-hunting, Johnny Ma’s Old Stone, a drama about a cabdriver in the middle of a bureaucratic nightmare, and Kevan Funk’s Hello Destroyer (debut), about a minor-league hockey player, are among the A-list. Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World, starring Léa Seydoux, Marion Cotillard, and Vicent Cassel, is also on the list if you’re looking for more familiar names.

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ICYMI: Fall/Winter 2016 Fashion Films Round Up

Edited By Hoon Ji

Of all the ways to experience fashion — from the runway to the pages of a magazine and the street — fashion films are one of the more interdisciplinary mediums. They transpose fashion into a visual world with characters, narratives, and music. As such, they convey not just the beauty and details of the season’s pieces, but also the creative sentiment behind the brand and its designer. We rounded up some of the standouts from this year’s Fall/Winter season — whether they are funny, sentimental, or surreal, they all speak to a larger vision contained within the collections.

Kenzo

Nobody does a fashion video quite like Kenzo. Having tapped into the creative worlds of directors like Greg Araki, Sean Baker, and Spike Jonze for previous projects, they’ve set the bar high. Their latest was written and directed by Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein, who explores the ridiculousness of social media by turning it literal.

The film follows actress Laura Harrier on a bizarre adventure that begins in the shady ‘Institute of the Real and Really Real.’ We first see Harrier greeted at the establishment by a group of her ‘followers’ and an authoritarian Rowan Blanchard. As two of Harrier’s followers walk away, Blanchard explains the rules of the institute and social media.

Since Harrier once called Natasha Lyonne the social media jargon, “mom,” on Instagram, the institute makes Lyonne Harrier’s actual mom. It spirals into a hot mess and Lyonne gets into a fight with Harrier’s birth mom. The short also has cameos from Kim Gordon and Mahershala Ali.

McQueen

Alexander McQueen’s creative director Sarah Burton and photographer Jamie Hawkesworth look to the brand’s original vision of dialectical oppositions for its fall/winter 2016 video campaign: shots taken in both back and white and color, the night theme of the clothing vs. the bright sunny day, the quick rolling shots of road juxtaposed with long shots of calm nature, and the delicateness of the garments paired against the rugged backdrop of the Shetland Islands. The film stars Mica Arganaraz, who is joined by three Scottish sisters, Daisy, Emily, and Lily Brodie.

The girls playing in the remains of a house and car bring us to focus. One of the sister’s voice floats over the video, talking about school and meeting Mica, “I just go into a dwam, and like block out all sound, basically. So, someone will say my name in maths and be like, ‘What’s the answer to this,’ and I’ll be like, ‘I didn’t listen to any of that.'” Their voices compete when they talk about Mica, “She’s got brown curly hair with a fringe, and she’s got an amazing tan, amazing eyebrows. I thought she wouldn’t talk to us, but she did actually talk to us.” The film ends with the sisters and Mica walking to who knows where in beautiful,gothic dresses, as a folk song sung by them drifts in the background.

Marc Jacobs

Anyone remember Marc Jacob’s iconic spring 1993 grunge collection at Perry Ellis, featured in the Sonic Youth’s video, Sugar Kane? It pissed off just about everyone and got him fired (shout out to Chloe Sevigny and Kim Gordon). From his earliest years designing, Marc Jacobs has pushed buttons with panache and has had a very special relationship with music. His fall campaign video, Beautiful Freaks, is a testament to that.

Set to Man Friday’s thumping “Love Honey, Love Heartache” and directed by legendary music video director, Hype Williams, Beautiful Freaks is a glorious showcase of Marc Jacobs gothic fall collection. Jacobs has the best cast and has brought in Missy Elliot, Susan Sarandon, Sissy Spacek, Anna Clevland, and Marilyn Manson (just to name a few). He even sneaks a cameo in there.

Gucci

Gucci’s fall/winter 2016 film campaign feels like Lost in Translation. Creative director Alessandro Michele continues the work with Glen Luchford on visuals. The video stars Petra Collins and a gaggle of models, driving around Tokyo in a Japanese light truck until they get to a pachinko, which is surreal AF. “The ongoing dialogue between the traditional and the modern – between calm and chaos – that characterizes this vibrant place creates a psychedelic assault on the senses that is echoed beautifully in the vivacity of creative director Alessandro Michele’s creations,” states the house.

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