Christopher Richmond

My artistic work challenges the aesthetic of traditional story telling by inviting viewers to engage more with the interpretation of narrative (discourse) than the narrative itself (story). Through film, video, and photography, I explore the rhetorical dimension of story, or the manner in which it positions, manipulates, and influences the viewer. My work is inspired by philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, who noted that we are rarely conscious of why we act or think in certain ways; it is only when there are “breakdowns” and our actions fail that we fully analyze a situation.

In my films and videos, I use various strategies to subvert dominant narrative conventions. I intentionally create breakdowns by disrupting plot lines, stranding characters, and failing to wrap up random events. Yet clues remain between the story’s partly knowable past and unknowable future, forcing viewers to consider different possibilities for interpreting the narrative’s structure and action. My works experiment with compression and expansion of standard narrative lengths. Through compression, I squeeze out interconnecting events that show how actions come together and achieve resolution. By expanding narratives through repetition of simple acts, I introduce viewers to the interplay of image and sound, gesture and rhythm, and impassivity and emotion.

One of my short films, Chasing the Horizon, presents a performance suggestive of a Sisyphean task. In one long tracking shot, the character chases the horizon, as if he is trying to stop the sunset and prevent the day’s end. In another piece, Available Light, an operator whose face is mostly obscured by a colorful, spinning pinwheel repeatedly presses, twists and turns a series of knobs, appearing to control the action of machinery invisible to the viewer. Variations in the quickness of finger movements, whirling of the pinwheel and mechanical sounds send the eye searching for places that cannot be found, and create tension as viewers struggle to glimpse more of the operator’s face. The work is held together by gesture: the repetitive, fluid movements of the operator’s hands over the course of the action. In still another piece, Tomayto Tomahto, a solitary cowboy at a campfire tells a strange tale about an ancient typewriter and a sliced tomato against a backdrop of percussive noises. This piece disrupts the structure of traditional narratives where music is subjugated to the background. My audience experiences how musical instruments can induce layers of meaning within and behind the story.

I also create works where characters exhibit strong and often competing motives and desires, challenging the standard arc of character development. Viewers must decipher what my characters are thinking and feeling, and rely on their own experiences to deduce their unconscious motives. In A Stop at Willoughby, a man staggers through a forest in a howling thunderstorm and viewers are left to intuit the cause of his growing apprehension. My film, Panthalassa, follows a crew of sailors on a surreal journey over a clairvoyant sea. The film explores conflicting primal impulses, such as the tension between longing for freedom and the attraction to security, and the clash between the will to survive and its polar opposite, the death wish.

In my most ambitious hour-long piece, The Milky Way, viewers encounter a giant, unnamed humanoid figure (I call Gideon) who interacts with a diverse group of characters living on the margins of society. I spent eight months fabricating this seven-foot figure, whose round, placid face and deep-set eyes suggest innate intelligence. Characters are drawn to Gideon and confide personal thoughts and feelings to him, just as individuals may obtain a level of intimacy with total strangers on a bus or plane. They engage in random monologues and conversations as they travel through rural and urban landscapes, recounting childhood experiences, aches and pains, and theories about the evolution of man and the universe. However, Gideon never speaks on camera so there is no access to his inner thoughts or point of view. I compress narrative film time in this work, eliminating the interconnecting events that explain why this odd group was brought together and for what purpose. The film juxtaposes images of the simplicity of nature with the complications of modern society, as well as the conflicting motives of characters seemingly torn between materialism and a desire for spiritual enlightenment. Viewers are left to wonder how Gideon joined this group and why he is here. To provide comfort or redemption? Create a more caring society? Or, is he just an accidental traveler from another galaxy?

My artwork also includes photographic series that address themes such as identity and belonging, and that invite viewers to ascribe meaning to my visual images. The series of self-portraits, Radical Acceptance, excludes my face in order to explore gesture in a non-narrative context.

As an artist, I strive to liberate traditional storytelling modes and structures. Watching my films is not a passive experience – I ask viewers to become my collaborators, and to evaluate and re-evaluate my works. My goal is to create, nurture and celebrate art that explores alternative ways of understanding the human experience.