“That’s for making me come to Mars”. POW – stamping kick to the groin. “You know how much I hate this f*&king planet!”
Say the word Mars and all I can see is a flickering kaleidoscope of unsettling images; Arnold Swarznegger hurtling across a red desert landscape on a fancy silver metro; Sharon Stone doing kung fu, DIY brain surgery and a triple-breasted woman. Although far from Hollywood, the same barren alien terrain is the inspiration behind artist Kelly Richardson’s current installation in the Whitley Bay Dome ‘Mariner 9’.
Richardson is said to have drawn inspiration for Mariner 9 from science-fiction cinema, literature and the history of landscape painting. Yet, for me, Mariner 9 is a still life, where instead of a bowl of fruit the artist has painted a still life of cinema. Imagining the Mars of the future, this giant video installation of the surface of the planet, beautiful and eerie in equal measure, is littered with the remains of the spacecrafts we insist on chucking out there. It’s like the set of a sci-fi film after the cameras have stopped rolling.
I often find myself hiding in the comfortable unreality of celluloid creations when the real world gets too scary and space-exploration is no exception. Richardson used NASA data to create her digital landscape, so while elements of the piece are imagined, the terrain itself is accurate. This scares me. Richardson’s technical proficiency is incredible and the hours she must have dedicated to a piece so epic, yet meticulous is mind-bending. I’m still scared. The thought that humans may at some point in the future actually land on Mars chills me to the bone. We’re not even sure what’s in the deepest parts of the sea yet, we’re pretty crappy at predicting extreme weather events, we’ve barely touched on curing cancer and then there’s all that ‘dark matter’ carry-on to worry about. As a writer featured on the gallery notes says, ‘sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.’ Carl Sagan.
The Mariner 9 installation is an inverted mirror of the work of Cyprien Gaillard, exhibited at mima last spring as part of the AV festival. Where Gaillard documents nature’s revenge and the ruin of society in his images of the ancient city of Cancun, Richardson represents the passive ruin of a place no human being has ever set foot. Where Gaillard give us an abandoned nightclub, whose walls are covered in living creepers sporadically lit by faulty disco lights, Richardson gives us an eternally uninhabited planet littered with broken machines. With no trace of life, it feels a bit too much like looking at death.
Speaking of eternally uninhabited, I’m thrilled the historic Spanish City dome is finally showing signs of life and being used to host exhibitions like this one. Mariner 9 runs until the 19th August so pop in if you can.