Artist Kelly Richardson brings a taste of Mars to Whitley Bay
A beautiful but horribly scarred Martian landscape, perhaps 100 or 200 years in the future, dominates the interior of a seaside fun palace whose fun days have long gone.
The unlikely pairing of futuristic art and faded historic grandeur is in Whitley Bay, once the liveliest and most exciting seaside town in north east England.
A detail from the Mars-inspired installation Mariner 9, by the north east-based Canadian artist Kelly Richardson, which is showing at Spanish City in Whitley Bay.
The Canadian artist Kelly Richardson – who moved to the area about 10 years ago and stayed – has installed a work called Mariner 9 in Spanish City, part of a wider retrospective being given to an artist making a name for herself internationally, but perhaps less so in the UK.
“Kelly is able to do things that no-one else has done in her field,” said the NGCA’s programme director Alistair Robinson. “She has been based in this region for nearly 10 years but no-one even in this region has seen her work. She’s been showing around the world but in this country she is, as yet, an unknown quantity. She is definitely going to go very far, she already has – just not here but that will change, and quite soon I believe.”
Richardson is part of a new generation of digital artists using technology to create hyper-real landscapes.
More often than not she films real places, whether it is a Texas swamp or an idyllic Lake District wood, and transforms them into something completely and disconcertedly unreal.
With Mariner 9, an enormous 12-metre wide video work commissioned by Newcastle’s Tyneside Cinema, it was always going to be much trickier.
“Obviously I couldn’t film on Mars,” Richardson said. “But I found out Nasa knows how Mars is constructed and had all the digital data for that so I was able to take all the data, put it in a 3D programme and recreate the lay of the land faithfully.”
It is a remarkable film, showing Mars littered with real and imagined space crafts and rovers; some of which are forlornly continuing to find signs of life. Its premiere coincides with the landing of Nasa’s Curiosity rover on Monday.
As with the works on display in Sunderland, viewers can spend time finding out the stories or imagining their own. It does not feel as if you are simply looking at a screen with something on it, it feels like you are in the environment on screen.
Robinson said the artist is “an astonishing perfectionist” with an attention to detail that sometimes verged on the lunatic.
For Mariner 9 Richardson had to learn an entirely new software programme, investigate the texture of Mars and all the missions to it, and then speculate on what future Mars rovers and space craft would look like. “It has been a lot of research – a lot of geeking out basically,” she said. “It has been a real challenge and [there were] various points where I didn’t think it was possible. Even people in the industry were telling me I wouldn’t be able to do some things.”
One of the biggest challenges was creating a 3D dust storm that goes on for 20 minutes. Richardson was repeatedly told it was not possible. “I was like, ‘no I can do that – I will.’”
Mariner 9 is in a memorable building. When Spanish City was built in 1910 it had, it is said, the largest dome in the UK after St Paul’s cathedral. For most of its life it was a fairground before it fell into neglect and disrepair. It closed in 2000 but was restored in 2010.
This installation fits perfectly into the raw interior of a building about to embark on a new phase of life, with redevelopment plans to create a hotel, residential accommodation and an entertainment centre in the dome itself.
After Sunderland, the Richardson show will go on tour to Blackpool, Eastbourne and Buffalo in the US.
• Legion is at the NGCA until 29 September. Mariner 9 is at Spanish City, Whitley Bay, from 3-19 August
Category: What's On