The bodies appear to reach out of the wall in front of you, Technicolor creations emerging from another dimension. The backdrop of a 16 mm projection screen, with its soft, flickering light, harks to the Golden Age of early cinema, of the magic of entering alternate worlds. Yet these figures, in their perfect 3D rendering, are frozen in place. They are brittle, otherworldly busts, gently rotating and revolving with the perpetual motion of a meteor floating through space. Two figures (a man and boy), sometimes alone, sometimes bound together, stare straight ahead, their fixed expressions avoiding eye contact, excluding the viewer from a further intimacy, yet all the while tempting us with the familiarity of inner spaces. Richardson’s oeuvre is the result of “the accrual of events that co-operate organically in contingency.” It is a singular exploration of existence as the result of the places, people and interactions he has known. “I feel it relevant to try to explore this accumulated-information and present it to others,” he explains. “That is where my focus stems from; listening/watching, interacting and absorbing the immediate experiences in my life. I like to work with agency that excites or perturbs me, provoked by my existing – and existing with others – in the everyday.”
In Rehearsal After Dark (9 – 31 January 2015), Richardson creates new work as a continuation of Rehearsal, the video installation which won him the 2014 New Sensations Prize by Saatchi Art. In the original work, Richardson created self-portraits using the everyday detritus of his studio, appended and merged to his head to create strange, fantastical personas. At times, this, with the combination of the artist’s still, frozen image, had the effect of a waxy mask, as if he himself were not real. At others, the shapes conjured by the litany of plastic bags, coffee cups, Post-Its, Extra chewing gum packets and more served to generate creatures – here he appeared like a wolf, there, he channeled Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man. His own features, buried beneath layers of objects, were obscured and distorted by reams and reams of masking tape. The 3D rendering was hollow, viewers able to see ‘inside’ Richardson as he rotated slowly away from the viewer, accompanied by various rehearsals of classical music, from the swelling strains of Bach to shimmering piano passages. The combined effect, alongside the flickering background, was of an almost Surreal, absurd Dadaism, a merging and crashing of different visual and audio stimuli to create an immersive and mesmerizing parade of characters.
Rehearsal, like much of Richardson’s work, was an exploration of male identity, popular culture and historicity, and the intersection between the three. ”I hope to express the more fragile and absurd sides of masculinity,” he explains. “Masculinity [as a concept] can be quite clownish at times, and anything that takes itself too seriously can be easily tipped into the absurd or comic.” It is within this realm that Richardson manages to distil his subject – himself, a man – and in doing so, examine notions of sentimentality, pride and the failure of masculinity. Indeed, what does ‘masculinity’ mean? How masculine is Richardson, staring nobly forth to heroic music, with rubbish taped to his head? In turn, the materials he uses are a nod to popular culture, as recognisable brand names and logos jump to the fore. “The images become almost icons, or propaganda-type images,” he explains. In Rehearsal, this was evident in the juxtaposition of classical music rehearsals with state-of-the-art 3D animated objects, poses taken from Renaissance painting and modern day refuse, the plastics and poor materials from a contemporary age. “I am attracted by sharp contrasts in image and sound, the anachronistic nature of modern materials and technologies juxtaposed by classical poses and instrumental goings-on,” he says.
In Rehearsal After Dark, he further probes this virtual space, using both himself and another subject this time, expanding from simply a focus on the head to encompass the torso and arms, with gesture playing a stronger role. This, like Rehearsal before it, marks a vital point of departure from earlier work in its foray into the virtual. Where previous film work was documentary in nature, “I am no longer playing with reality and fiction, as I had done before in my docu-fiction type films, rather now I am exploring reality and the virtual (for me the virtual remains a form of reality not a fictional space),” he says. “I find the realm of the real taken into a virtual space a very interesting proposition, rather than the limits of images and forms created solely in the virtual or solely in the real.”