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Necropolis: The Rebirth of Video Art

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Tasman Richardson's immersive installation at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, is on until April 1st in Toronto and I recommend you see it.


Tasman Richardson, Memorial. All images courtesy the artist.

Conceived in collaboration with curator Rhonda Corvese, the exhibition may make you reconsider what you had previously assumed about video art. The works in the exhibition use his micro editing technique, Jawa whose name is taken from scavenging characters in Star Wars, who, according to Richardson "lived by stealing and rewiring old technology for personal use and for profit."

The installation is very dark and you move between screens, across what feel like bridges and into room after room. None of the pieces have a concrete narrative; rather it's about stopping in the presence of each one. There are six works in total: ANALOGUE TIDE, in which the viewer walks through a group of static-y televisions; FOREVER ENDEAVOUR, an installation between two screens, each showing a woman from a movie (Poltergeist and the Ring) staring at one another. The third work is PARASEC, where dots of light speed down a hallway, creating optical distortions.

MEMORIAL is an installation that looks like the rose window at Notre Dame cathedral, but each 'window' is made up of a video clip of a woman from a film (Joan of Arc) screaming, hissing, and crying. BLIND SPOT, a hole in one wall, is easy to miss but contains a spooky video of snow falling in a desolate forest. PAN, the final and most ambitious piece, is three films designed to be composited as one entirely in the mind of the viewer.


Tasman Richardson, Forever Endeavour.

I had a phone conversation with Richardson, whom I've known since about 1996 when I was impressed by his graduate work at OCAD.

VoCA: This exhibition is unusual in that it's about video but it's also about sound. It's also somewhat architectural in terms of where the viewer is in relation to the screens.

Tasman Richardson: Each room was designed specifically to control light, the angle of light. The order is very specific. It's about having control over something people can normally walk away from.

I'm trying to critique video but also the control of our gaze and our emotions. The best way to do that was to have a controlled environment. I had to construct something people would be forced to move through. The idea was to take time-based media to a more controlled level.

VoCA: What were you trying to achieve with this exhibition? What was the concept?

TR: It's hard to summarize...it's like you are making an argument...Necropolis -- it's about the relationship between video, all of the ways that it redirects your gaze backward, not forward...and how those stories become clichés. I wanted to take it toward an emotional truth.


Tasman Richardson, Parasec. 

VoCA: For the viewer/participant, the installation is like a journey -- middle, beginning, end. How much direction did Rhonda give you in terms of setting it up, how the video would be presented? How important is this to the work?

TR: Rhonda came to my studio, wanting to see what I was doing...she was urging me to think about scale, how to do more than just projecting the work. She saw this piece PARSEK when it was in its early stages and asked me to do others to go with it. Rhonda was asking me to investigate how far I could take it. I thought about it for six months, and then I had it down on paper. We worked on it for about two and a half years. She was like a timekeeper. She really kept me on track.

VoCA: I remember when you were working with the artist Jubal Brown, or that's how I first met you -- and even then you were doing micro edits. How did you come up with the idea of Jawa to begin with? How have the technique and your interests evolved since then?

TR: The early stuff was simple, basic rhythms, just straight cut. Originally it was very short pieces, since it was very painstaking, but over time, (our) endurance grew. Since then, software has improved... so the complexity on the part of the viewer has increased.

Originally people would ask why I was bothering with such tiny edits that people wouldn't even see, but I had faith that the audience would eventually catch up. I've tried to make things that are more complex... and there has always been an audience.

You can do to music what you can do with Jawa. You can treat sound like an instrument... I find that the most extreme examples are when it returns to its roots. The last piece in necropolis... PAN with the screens is the most basic form of Jawa at its most extreme.

VoCA: Can you tell me about this piece?

TR: It's three cuts, one frame at a time. You have three bars, each represents one of three films. You take a single frame from each film, one at a time, but in your eye it registers as one single, very complex image, but it's not muddy. Your brain processes it properly.

Because there is no compositing, each frame plays that frame alone. When viewers see it, they mix it in their eyes. The mixing is not in the piece. These sorts of tricks don't get used a lot. And it's a very tedious process; there are thousands of single frame edits. My wife edits with me -- it took a few weeks of working pretty full on for the both of us.

VoCA: How do you envision the future of video art? What's next for you?

TR: I hope people will continue to misuse technology. We have 3D technology that is more advanced than ever... I would love it if people would take these Hollywood escapes and misuse them. Technology is so exciting that it needs to be properly (or improperly) explored.

I think more people need to break technologies -- this will lead to a better type of immersion, so that people will be able to do more with it.

Check out more of Richardson's video work, and more about Jawa technique, at his website HERE.

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