Tasman Richardson’s graveyard at Mocca summons up the ghosts lurking in the ubiquitous technology that surrounds certain ‘developed’ cultures. Perhaps the spectre of Marshall McLuhan is at the séance, reiterating his famous slogan “The medium is the message” (or massage). For Richardson, it seems that televised reality has subsumed our temporal experience and become our ‘mind’s eye’. Thus he speaks of ‘death culture’ meaning this reduced sense of reality, as if living culture has suffered some kind of loss.

His primary medium is video and he has developed a technique called Jawa, which unifies sound and image within a strict framing convention edited with cut and paste methods, using no automation. A previous manifestation at Mocca with the group FAMEFAME, demonstrated this onslaught of sound and image, designed to overwhelm the viewer. Imagery is appropriated from the vast reserves that have proliferated over the years.

So, Necropolis sprang from testosterone driven ‘machinegun’ violence and sexuality but mercifully, it is altogether a more meditative and considered installation. A walkway leads the viewer down darkened passages to experience the six segments, each of which is puzzling and challenging on both a technological and philosophical level.

At first, one stumbles past some old tube television sets bearing the last gasp of a sea wave trickling into the sand. The image rapidly degenerates into static as it flickers between clusters of TV ‘s. Only after traversing the entire installation and reading about it does the viewer get an inkling of what it’s about (obfuscation is probably intentional). The wave is being re-recorded continuously until it loses form. It is being broadcast to the TV’s thus generating radio waves through which the viewer walks, obliviously.

Next, one strides up the ramp to two opposing TV sets. A girl, Carol-Anne from ‘Poltergeist’ and an older woman, Rachel, from ‘The Ring’ gaze at each other, faces flecked with light from the television screens. Then they trade places. A mirror on the floor and above the viewer multiplies the reflection to infinity. In both films, the female is the archetypal channel for unleashing ‘the ghosts’; a frightening reminder of the prejudice and rancour in our patriarchal society.

An accelerating bass sound draws the viewer down a veiled passage. As the sound increases in pitch and speed the projection of sequential light dots changes form until it becomes one elongated shape. Sound and image are synchronous.

One stumbles into a quieter area dominated by a mandala shape derived from Notre Dame Cathedral rose window. The centre has monochromatic flames burning in it. Vignettes of Joan of Arc taken from four chronological films encircle the flames. The images are just of the heads and they perform minute movements within the overall video loop. The sounds combine into an inchoate low rumble. Joan of Arc is also a female archetype who overcomes the masculine principle to lead. The submerged theme of the feminine principle gave a resonance to my overall experience that might have been overlooked in the deluge of technology.

Moving again to a hole in the wall, one looks through to see a wintry scene with wind howling. Blink and you are thwarted as the video goes to black and the sound ceases. Richardson seems to delight in denying the viewer the gross pleasures of aesthetic self-gratification.

The final moment before expulsion from the dark is ‘Oblivion’. This is a rear projection onto a screened passage using excerpts from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Altered States and Enter the Void. Richardson describes using three different methods; classical animation cells with complex lighting effects, manipulation of liquids and highly detailed computer graphics. Then he laboriously edits the segments and fuses the films. The viewer walks through the maelstrom of converging imagery and sound into a darkened doorway, which synchronizes perceptively with the imagery, suggesting a vortex or exit point.

In sum, Necropolis offers pause for thought and is a valiant effort in new media presentation. Philosophically, I felt less engaged. Consciousness to me exists outside the brain in concert with environmental stimuli. Perception is an active process in which we continually recreate ‘reality’. I find it hard to see humanity as passive victims under siege from technology and losing touch with reality. We were never in touch from the start.

The Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art
952 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON
Tel.: 416 395-0067
February 4 to April 1, 2012