Artist Kelly Richardson stands in front of Mariner, one of her visual installations. Photo by Colin Davison

Tall trees draw renowned artist to Saanich

UVic prof focuses on Avatar Grove for IMAX’s 50th anniversary

The tall trees of Vancouver Island have drawn renowned visual artist Kelly Richardson to relocate from England.

Richardson was a lecturer at New Castle University the last 14 years, and came here to speak at the University of Victoria last year. During that trip she was brought to Avatar Grove, as she always visits the most unique and surreal natural landscapes whenever she travels.

Richardson’s known for hyper-real digital films and has been shown in North America, Asia and Europe, including the National Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario, and Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal in Canada.

“I was overwhelmed by the fact [Avatar Grove] exists at all,” Richardson said. “When I learned there was a position coming up at UVic, I groaned, because I was very happy in England, but I was so overwhelmed by [the visit] I had to put my name in for the job, and now we’re here.”

Richardson’s now settled in Saanichton and teaches a full schedule of courses as an associate professor of visual arts courses at UVic.

She’s also wasted little time in pairing her move to the South Island with a visual arts project on the tall trees. Richardson is one of five artists commissioned to produce a large-format digital film short for the 50th anniversary of the invention of IMAX. For that, Richardson will partner with cinematographer Christian Kroitor (grandson of IMAX inventor Roman Kroitor). They’ll focus on the Island’s famed old-growth and ancient forests near Port Renfrew.

It is also Kroitor who is commissioning the IMAX project, called XL-Outer Worlds, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the invention of IMAX, set to tour IMAX theatres in 2019. The tall trees keep with the larger-than-life imagery of IMAX.

Richardson’s multimedia work generally starts with her visiting a natural landscape that stands out and shooting it with her camera.

From there she creates video installations for museum or gallery scenarios on three big screens, big enough that viewers can immerse themselves in it. XL-Outer Worlds is her first time creating something for the massive IMAX screen. She’ll also bring the works into a gallery or museum scenario, but this time it’ll be even bigger, with five screens, she said.

What marks Richardson’s work is the addition of other works that turn the images into something else, always keeping with an environmental theme, such as a proposed future landscape.

“There’s always multiple ways to read it, so sometimes it’s terrifying, and sometimes it’s positive,” Richardson said. “In this case, I’ll focus on implications of [human consumption on ancient forests], and what’s too much in terms of nature conversation. We’re still cutting 10,000 hectares of old growth every year, which is quite disturbing because it’s non-renewable.”


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