The Now of Tasman Richardson

CHARGES MAY APPLY. On 2012-02-27,at 11:37 AM Murray Whyte ( Subject: *Pan*, *Necropolis* installation excerpt (edmund law, chief installer), photographed by Tasman Richardson
Pan, from Necropolis installation, photographed by Tasman Richardson

Catalogue Text for Necropolis

Multi-work Installation by Tasman Richardson

Summer 2015, Karsh Mason Gallery, City Hall, Ottawa

Galleries and museums are not places of the moment. They are, essentially, built for the past; they are houses for the artifacts of action. Contemporary artists are often challenged by this. They strategize to find a place for the present in spaces designed to organize and stabilize the past. They confront this past with a blooming and tumbling array of expressions of the now, but inevitably the representation of the present seems an impossible task. How can you hold on to the present for display? How do you represent the moment of now?

Tasman Richardson has not specifically set out to represent the present. He has instead set out to consider two key representational mediums of the past century, namely television and cinema or by another name video and film. It is actually difficult to decide which terms to use to describe his focus. If we say his concern is with television and cinema it does not immediately direct our attention to his detailed engagement with the technologies of these media. However, to say video and film emphasizes the technological elements of the media rather than his passionate consideration of their content. Perhaps it is best said that this work is about television and cinema and video and film. Together, for him, they are a compliment of ‘dead media’[1], manipulations of light and technology capturing and representing all manner of ghosts. Despite this preoccupation with the dead, Necropolis is not a museum within a museum housing the artifacts of twentieth century image making. Although Necropolis turns towards the past, a remarkable and undeniable experience of the present emerges.

What is the present, this ‘now’, you might experience in Necropolis?[2] This is a very complicated question.[3] At first it seems that Richardson has removed the narrative we often associate with moving images, and deployed an overwhelming level of stimulus to force you into the moment of now. You become unable to consider either past or future and there is only the sensation of the present, this now. However, the process of bringing you into the ‘now’ is much more carefully crafted (and therefore more likely to be more profound because of it). This representation of the ‘now’ begins with an understanding of our experience of time in cinema and television. The time of cinema and television is an abstraction we now barely recognize as an abstraction, and Richardson substitutes these accepted abstractions of time (jump cuts, zooms, time-lapse sequences and montages) with another set that rely on looping, spatializing and multi-channel composition. In other words Richardson destabilizes us by replacing the compression of time we are accustomed to with an elongation of the ‘now’. The experience of Necropolis is more than simply loud or bright; it is to be overwhelmed, layer upon layer, by the now of television, cinema, video and film.

Despite the assertion above, it appears equally true that Necropolis is not about the present. The remarkable experience of the ‘now’ in Necropolis is, at least partially, achieved by precisely this truth, that it is about the past. This is perhaps what is most successful about Richardson’s approach, through a focus on the past it reveals something essential about our experience of the present. The present is not a discrete flowing moment between the past and the future.[4] The present, the moment of now, is a very complex layering of time. It is overlapping moments of the immediate past and the imminent future into a fluid space of the present. It is this fluid space that is key to our understanding of many beautiful human expressions including melodies or even the simplest of sentences. Can we see how this space of the present emerges in Necropolis? Here, as in much of his practice, Richardson is at play in fragments of cinema and television. The title suggests he views these mediums as ghosts of the past, or as the title, Necropolis, more explicitly references, as a kind of elaborate tomb for the dead. He layers their ghosts around you. He narrows the focus of these images of the past. He manipulates them into fractions of seconds. He saturates our everyday experience of now until the fragments of cinema and television replace our immediate present with their ghosts.

It is not likely that this text will clarify what happens in Necropolis. This is because Richardson has set out to create an irreducible experience. We may find words to share with each other, helping to build common ground between our individual experiences, and after we have left Necropolis we will likely reflect upon the return of our ‘everyday now’ as it re-emerges into our field of perception. However, we will not really be able to photograph it or record this experience to share with others. We are in turn left with the challenge of speaking about the moment of now, and Richardson’s masterful representation of the present through an altered experience of it. He shifts the ground underneath us to make us keenly aware of our feet. This meticulous destabilization can be cathartic and it is most certainly stimulating. Necropolis, like any good haunted house, makes us feel more alive.

[1] Here I don’t believe Richardson to be referring to ‘dead media’ in the sense (originally conceived by Bruce Sterling in 1995) of a mass of perpetual obsolescence, but rather as a media of the dead, a kind of interaction with ghosts if you will. 

[2] An already complicated reading is made more complicated by the choice of verb tense. While the present tense is clearly not appropriate, are you experiencing the exhibit in the past or the future? In reading this do you conjure up images of the experience and bring it into the present? Is contemplation of the work part of the experience?

[3] There isn’t the space or time to consider completely this question here, but if we indulge ourselves for a few moments of bewildering and intoxicating complexity can we emerge into other moments of surprising clarity?

[4] For an in-depth consideration of time and the present as we experience it look to Edmund Husserl’s On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time (1893-1917) where he develops the concept of the living-present. Later other philosophers grappled with Husserl’s legacy of thinking with equally interesting results including Martin Heidegger, Hans Georg Gadamer, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Paul Ricœur.