For her Artpace exhibition, Leviathan, Kelly Richardson created a high-definition, triple-channel video installation based on the cypress forest of Caddo Lake along the Texas-Louisiana border. She was drawn to the melancholic landscape of Uncertain, Texas, because of its iconic swamp, arguably one of the most foreboding natural settings in the state. Her works often feature unpopulated environments filmed on location, which she color grades or digitally “paints” using the most up-to-date computer software.
Richardson’s process is time intensive and requires a large amount of work to render-or generate-an image from a model using computer programs. Each two-minute clip of high-definition video requires nearly 12 hours of processing and output. With the popularity of computer-generated imagery (CGI) in Hollywood blockbuster movies and video games, viewers have grown accustomed to seeing special effects. Yet while production studios retain teams of individuals to accomplish the effects seen onscreen, Richardson works alone. Production demands her expert time management and diligence in keeping up with the newest programs and processes. For Leviathan she dedicated nearly six months to research and development before her actual residency, during which she spent two months filming and rendering.
Similar in format and concept to her 2010 installation, The Erudition, Leviathan blurs the line between fantasy and reality through the placement of eerie glowing elements in a realistic landscape. In this nearly monochromatic work, yellow veins of artificial light swirl independently from the ripples visible on the water’s surface, alluding to some creature or energy below. The name “Leviathan” has been given to infamous sea monsters throughout history: an underwater creature referred to in the Bible; great whales in Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick; and a 1989 science fiction horror film.
Richardson is a lover of movies-especially science fiction and horror-and her work relates to prevalent themes found throughout the past decade of cinema. Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic movies such as 28 Days Later, The Road, and Wall-E feature settings devastated by some form of natural or unnatural disaster. She links this destruction to the idea of the apocalyptic sublime, a subset of the 18th-century Romantic movement in British landscape painting that expressed the anxiety of society toward the onset of the Industrial Revolution. The Erudition and Leviathanexpress anxiousness that is grounded in dealing with the consequences of the continuing advancement of industry and technology on the natural world. The sinister and radioactive appearance of the light on the waters of Caddo Lake evokes recent environmental disasters where healthy aquatic environments are endangered through the mishaps of humans.
The murky water in Richardson’s installation pulsates with unnatural, undulating light that is mesmerizing. Much like the British sublime painters who marveled at the uncontrollable greatness of the open landscape, viewers can meditate in the ominous, manufactured setting of Leviathan.
-Alexander Freeman, Education Curator