Some exhibitions help us recognize prejudices, then dispel them. This was the case during my first visit to the Rooms, where I viewed the curator Bruce Johnson’s group exhibition “New Romantics,” featuring the work of Philippa Jones, Anthony Redpath and Kelly Richardson.
My dislike for interactive video work (to which I was inured by 1990s installations, and their bastardized offspring in mall advertising displays) saw a turnaround. Mounted in the Rooms’ superb third-floor gallery spaces, Richardson’s The Erudition (2010) and Jones’s Drawn (2012) and Umbra (2012) play with subtle resolution differences, while Redpath’s chromogenic colour prints (2009–11) are so intensely detailed that a pleasant fluctuation in visual-information levels is created as you circulate through the works.
In Jones’s Drawn, video-projected moths respond to a viewer’s hand when it is passed over a small reflecting pool some metres from the projection area. The moths—which appear lifelike from afar, and upon closer inspection are delicately animated—cluster around the motion, as displaced onto the projection, allowing you to direct them, or perhaps them to beset you. It is quietly magical. In Umbra, the viewer’s physicality again comes pleasingly into play, creating a blurred, silhouette-shaped window in an otherwise black projection: your body reveals a video view of the St. John’s harbour, and as you move, motion trails expand the area of the harbour visible. Simultaneously, swarms of animated crows are summoned by your action. As in Drawn, Jones creates feelings of physical displacement and wizard-like communion with animals.
I couldn’t shake the hovering presence of Jeff Wall and the Vancouver photoconceptualists when looking at Anthony Redpath’s works. While the medium and detail of his light-jet chromogenic prints provided pleasing counterpoints to the other works in the exhibition, Redpath’s beach scene (Long Beach 07/25/09, 2009), staged trailer-park montage (Trailer Park Party, 2009), and images of postindustrial sublime (Free Store, 2009, and others) feel locked in a un-nuanced dialogue with both his predecessors and commercial photography.
“New Romantics”—which also included an excellent and roomy iteration of Richardson’s video installation The Erudition (2010), where near-wireframe trees zap in and out of a spectral nightscape—was a satisfying exhibition that demonstrated the Rooms’ ability to incite richly exciting visual conversations.