Richard T. Walker's first survey exhibition in the UK brings together a selection of new and recent works, combining video, photography and installation. Photographs and multi-channel videos offer expansive and compelling views of landscapes, primarily of the American West, where Walker has lived for the last 6 years. While these rich, seductive images draw the viewer into them, Walker seeks to problematise this immediate attraction, an attraction clearly felt as much by the artist as by the viewer.
Since his first single channel videos made primarily in Wales, Walker has worried, debated, cajoled and declared unending devotion to the landscape which has remained steadfastly impassive. These almost comic scenarios in which the artist agonises over the intricacies of his feelings in the face of an emotionally detached natural world are Walker's attempt to reposition an idea of nature as essentially independent of human involvement. As his images so readily reference a classic romantic conception of the figure in a landscape, Walker's works reveal a landscape that is carrying on regardless.
There is a conversational directness and honesty in Walker's work that draws the spectator into his world. His narratives take the form of diary entries, letters or imagined dialogues: communication that allows the figure in the landscape to speak straight from the heart. The matter-of-factness of his tone is in direct contrast to the grandeur of the visual material, which seduces the viewer much as the artist wishes to be seduced by his unresponsive lover.
The format of Walker's videos are short, single or multi-channel installations in which the artist appears, back to camera, addressing the vista with his text and music. Indeed, both music and text are vital aspects of Walker's practice, weaving in and out of the videos as well as existing as independent works.
A recent film, let this be us, 2012, shot in the Anza Borrego desert in Southern California, is an elegantly composed narrative in which the artist is seen traversing the planes and ridges while carrying what appears to be a photograph of the same landscape mounted on a poster board. After some wandering, the board is erected on its camera tripod legs and the scene in the poster board photograph and the actual landscape fall into line. At this juncture, Walker begins a wordless song that, as the video progresses, gains layers of instruments and voices, both generated within the work and as an added sound track.
This dialogue between sound generated within the work, via voice, guitar and keyboard and that added later corresponds with the dialogue Walker engenders between the landscape and its own image. As the image of the landscape is reunited with its source, mixing up the world of the film and with the world outside, so the resonance between diegetic and non-diegetic sound similarly conflates these two worlds.
The final view of the film shows the artist partially obscured behind the poster board sign so that just legs and the back of the head are visible. As the music draws to a close, he walks away towards the horizon, swiftly vanishing entirely behind the sign and into the work/world. This act of disappearing is possibly the closest Walker has yet come to the entering into the landscape, of closing the gulf that stands between man and nature.
The exhibition is accompanied by a new publication with an essay by Jeffrey Kastner and an interview with the artist. The publication can be purchased from the gallery or via the online shop. The essay can be downloaded here and the interview here.
The exhibition guide can be downloaded here.
Read a review of the exhibition by Colin Perry published in Frieze, June 2013 here