Review: Mariner 9 @ The Spanish City Dome
By Adam Clery on August 9, 2012 in Art & Design
I’m not our usual art writer. Somewhere in between dropping the subject at GCSE in favour of Business Studies, and obliviously telling one of the Turner Prize nominees that I felt like a “dog looking at a lava lamp” while viewing her exhibition, it’s been decided that I’m best kept for other areas.
That said though, having recently interviewed local artist Kelly Richardson for NARC. Magazine, I was uniquely placed to attend the launch night of her long awaited Mariner 9 exhibition. We’d discussed it at some length when I’d interview her recently and, as someone who has spent almost every bout of man-flu curled with DVDs of assorted people flying through space, had my interested more than peaked.
Mariner 9 is, fundamentally, a video art instillation set on Mars. Depicting what the surface of our nearest neighbour could look like in a few hundred years if we continue to litter the place with redundant satellites, probes, and various other scientific miscellany. It’s been produced to movie-studio standards and with Hollywood levels of ambition and scope, and it’s absolutely bloody huge. No matter how far back you step from it, your peripherals won’t take it all in.
In that sense, it’s very easy to describe it as “immersive” and simply leave it at that, but the visual draw is only one part of what makes Mariner 9 so special. With the rest of room drained and deprived of natural light, you’re presented with no earthly context to view it in, your brain casually ignores what planet you’re actually standing on and allows you figuratively dive-bomb into the sight and sound of the instillation.
Much has been made, and indeed written, about the quality and breadth of the visual effects on offer here, but it’s important to put them into perspective. Those entering with the notion that they’re going to be treated to an hour long montage of spectacular lightshows and dramatic CGI story telling will be underwhelmed in the extreme. In a sense it’s wholly unspectacular, but in reality so is Mars. Space travel in 2012 is about millions and millions of tiny calculations and adjustments, boring on the surface, but mind bending in their detail and subtly.
Which is precisely why Mariner 9 is such a wonderful achievement. You stand and watch it, and there’s no one point that dominates your attention, instead there’s a living, breathing planet infront of you, as chaotically undisciplined as any corporeal landscape you’ll have experienced on this world.
I don’t know what it means, I can’t regale you with an impressive list of other artists whose work it either reflects or challenges. I don’t know what it says about Earth, I don’t even know what it says about Mars, and all it tells me about Kelly Richardson is that she’s and incredibly talented, and supremely patient human being.
I may never get the chance to visit the Red Planet, but if I do, I can honestly envisage my first words being “this is just like some art thing I went to once”. NASA, who graciously supplied Kelly with some of the landscape data used to create the project, have openly admitted she’s done a better job than they have with it.
Incidentally though, with the Curiosity rover touching down there this week you can’t help but wonder what’s going to get the necessary development first – Mars, or The Spanish City.
Photo courtesy of Colin Davison