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From the Archives | Exploring the Landscapes of the CAG

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From the Archives | Exploring the Landscapes of the CAG

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As you may have noticed, the CAG is currently closed in preparation for Kelly Richardson’sLegion, exciting new installations which open next Thursday. I have really been looking forward to this one! Flipping through Richardson’s recent publication The Last Frontier, I’ve begun to get an idea of what this exhibition has in store. For her projection and photographic works, Richardson digitally alters her own photographs and video to create environments which raise questions about our relationship with the natural world. As an art history student, I have definitely studied my fair share of landscape-themed pieces, mainly traditional oil paintings from earlier centuries. Looking through past exhibitions and CAG publications, I have found it interesting how this theme of “landscape” has been tackled in other exhibitions here at the CAG in very unique and innovative ways.

In 2000, the CAG published Quick aging pivoting city to accompany artist Eleanor Bond’s exhibition. Bond’s paintings approached a different type of environment; the urban landscape. These large-scale paintings were not meant to represent existing and specific places, rather, they incorporated both actual and imaginary forms. Exploring Vancouver for ten days, the artist took photographs and made videos, and used these as the source to create her own constructed environments on canvas. For me, the knowledge of this process creates uncertainty when looking at these pieces about what is “actual” and what is not.

Cai Guo Qiang’s Performing Chinese Ink Painting was a performance made at the CAG in 2001 involving three different artists, each rendering their own versions of the same site in the same medium. Not only did this bring together the Eastern tradition of ink drawing with the more recent rise of Western performance art, it also posed questions about the “reality” of landscape painting. Although the artists were using the same specific landscape as inspiration, they each constructed their own distinct interpretations. Like Richardson’s installations which feature modified landscapes, the artists used this single landscape as a starting point to create works with augmented and altered meaning.

Sentimental Journey at the CAG in 2009 invited a group of artists from British Columbia to engage with ideas of the personal journey based on eighteenth and nineteenth century Romanticism. In this exhibition, it was not necessarily “landscapes” that were put on view. Instead, the artists went on their own expeditions, gathering information from the spaces they experienced to create their own individual pieces. The resulting works did not necessarily picture the landscapes themselves. While much of the work produced would be seen by many as completely different to the traditional idea of landscape in art history, when you think about it, both these and more conventional styles of landscape painting are based on an artist’s own experience looking at, or journeying through, a specific space.

The CAG’s LANDSCAPE publication examines even more of this subject and is available in our bookshop. Come check out Kelly Richardson’s Legion next week to experience for yourself her awesome and immersive pieces—the opening is on Thursday July 10 from 7-10pm and the exhibition is on until August 31!

- Kelli Sturkenboom

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The Contemporary Art Gallery presents a survey exhibition of work by Canadian artist Kelly Richardson, best known for her immersive projection works which create environments prompting a questioning of our relationship to the natural world.

The universe Richardson constructs can seem somewhat bleak, devoid of all but the strangest forms of life, and notionally touching upon issues within ecological discussion and environmental debate. Yet if we consider nature not as omniscient, but mediated, appropriated, subjugated and vulnerable, then by examining any simple concept of the “natural”, Richardson actually makes the interrogation even more urgent. Immense and unsettling projections show animated scenes of primordial swamps or forests, desolate moonscapes or eerie holographic trees flickering in and out of view. And yet the videos are open-ended, drawing us in to develop our own narratives for these unsettling scenes, which could be humanity’s last attempt at caring for a ruined planet. Even though she leaves the questions unanswered, it’s clear that she is suggesting we should project farther into the future than we’re comfortable doing, a quality enhanced in understanding how these works are made. A particular quality in Richardson’s videos– in addition to technical facility and her embrace of beauty as a way to prime us about the disturbing undercurrents snaking through her otherwise seductive work – is the way she seems to look back from the future.

The exhibition comprises a selection of recent major projections and photographs. In the large-scale, multi-screen installation of Leviathan (2011) we are confronted with an all-encompassing projection. Through the image and its reflections on walls and floors, it occupies or rather infiltrates the space, implicating us as audience as we simultaneously behold and are contained within the image. It asserts itself, with its Biblical title, as suggestive of some kind of apocalyptic flood, the swirling water appearing to almost envelop and swallow up the viewer. The works too are in many other ways absorbing; they elicit a terrible beauty through the seduction of surface.  And yet this slow, churning motion becomes almost hypnotic, a narcotic mesmerizing image, an illusion perhaps not at odds with the evocation of a notional poisonous or toxic liquid; a substance that is at once of our world but at the same time transforming, of becoming somewhere else.

Richardson’s work touches also on the notion of the sublime, that mixture of awe, hope and fear that reveals something uncomfortable about the depth and darkness of human desire.  While technically pristine, in part through the process of computer manipulation and invention of form, her work has precedents in sources as seemingly disparate as the romantic landscape paintings of the late 18th century or the B-horror and science-fiction films of the 1970s and 80s. She has stated: “I’m interested in that contradiction at this critical time in human history when current predictions for our future are not just unsettling, but terrifying.”

The notion of the artificial is brought to bear in contemplation of what might be considered natural, in part reinforced by the visual polish of the moving images, which reach the point where most viewers are unable to distinguish between what is real and what is computer-generated. In Orion Tide, (2013) we see rocks and foliage littering the ground, convincing us of some form of scrub land. Then an eerie, distant sound warns us of that which follows, the slow eruption of a lit pod from the surface. Trails of flame and smoke lead the eye up through the dark sky and then out of sight, followed by another and another and another. Are they escape pods —final humans abandoning all hope— or are they a death rattle of a dying planet? Richardson deftly avoids simplistic environmental and sci-fi cliché with a painterly sense of narrative mystery.

The exhibition is developed in collaboration with the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, UK; Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool, UK; Towner, Eastbourne, UK and Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo. An extensive monograph accompanies the exhibition.

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Kelly Richardson - Legion


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CJSF interns Ana Costa + Anh Dang interview New York visual and video artist Maryam Jafri about her work AVALON (2011), which is Contemporary Art Gallery’s June 2014 exhibition The Act Of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes.

Jafri weaves themes of production, representation and role playing throughout her work.

Aired originally on CJSF’s Spoken Word Surprise July 1st (Tuesday 4pm)

Includes notes from CAG curator and excerpts from the June 26th artist talk.

www.maryamjafri.net/

Talk info + audio: www.contemporaryartgallery.ca/learning/a…yam-jafri/

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In CAG Shop

$40.00

Published:
160 pages

UK based artist Kelly Richardson has won international acclaim for her large scale, multi-channel video installations. This superbly illustrated retrospective of audiovisual installations works is the first retrospective publication featuring an extensive look at the UK-based Canadian born artist's audiovisual installation works of the last fifteen years. The Last Frontier is a comprehensive survey of Richardson’s artistic output, features four beautiful cover options to choose from, and includes essays by Alistair Robinson, Holly E. Hughes and Kelly Gordon and an introduction by Ryan Doherty and Louis Grachos. Designed by Three Legged Dog Design.

This publication is available in a choice of three covers, Orion Tide, Leviathan and Mariner.

*Special exhibition price of $40, only during the exhibition.

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Kelly Richardson - The Last Frontier


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