Boo Ritson is best known for the instant iconicity of her photographic and performative portraits in which she uses people as canvases to explore notions of identity. In moving forward with her work she has found that ‘new technologies present new opportunities to experiment’ and the ‘virtual space of the computer’ offers new ways of working.
‘On the Way to the Ocean’, her solo show at Poppy Sebire, is its own video game, in which we are guided by visual stimuli through a landscape which is unsettling for its hyperreality and universality. Ritson explains that the Plasticine Avatar ‘stands in for the viewer when they’re not there’, ‘is a companion avatar when they are,’ and a continual reminder of ‘the virtual characteristics of the experience.’ This small, back-packed, character is a projection of the youthful, adventurous spirit within us who has the imaginative power to follow Ritsons’ journey.
Ritson’s photographic and mixed media American landscapes are collaged from pictures originally taken at her home in Chesham in an attempt ‘to set up the right awkwardness and disjointedness’ between notions of fiction and reality. The queasiness of the choppy, jigsawed sea, our final destination in Ocean, is evidence of the work’s affective power and ability to draw us into the surreal digital world of Ritson’s creation. It is appropriate then, that Ritson is the first artist I interview via the virtual process of email. I send my interviewer avatar out, and wait patiently for her to return.
The exhibition’s focus is a series of digitally collaged landscapes that reference a long-standing tradition of the American sublime but distort it through new technologies.
Can you explain to me what your new ‘techno sublime’ is?
In conversations leading up to the show, someone described the work as seeming to be a kind of “techno sublime”, and I liked that description of the work because it referenced some of the thoughts I was having at the time. I’ve been really interested in Burke’s writings on the sublime and ideas about perfection in his “A philosophical enquiry into the sublime and the beautiful”, it offers up a kind of constructors’ tool-kit for visual and physical experience.
These works, Foothills and Fire in particular, feel like theatrical sets, was this a conscious decision? In what ways does this sense of the ‘false’ challenge the clichés of American culture?
If you’re been to the States, then you’ve probably had more than one moment of deja vu – the cultural references are so ubiquitous that separating what you are actually experiencing of a place from the fiction can be difficult. All the work in the show seeks to put the viewer in the position of experiencing a fiction instead, and leaving them to imagine the facts.
There are many layers to the mixed media pieces, can you explain by what process you put them together?
The aim was to produce an artificial environment that was constructed with reference to the visual languages of video-gaming, photography, collage and landscape painting. It had to have the appearance of reality in order for the places to be identifiable as places that might exist, but it also needed the appearance of fragmentation that we associate with virtual imagery, and the shifting presence of environments found in videogames.
Do you feel you have a particular, personal relationship to the notion of the American Dream?
Yes I do, in so much that the dream of a new world and the possibilities for change that might be found in it is a compelling one; I’m most interested in understanding our relationship to unoccupied, uncharted territory, and what we would do with it if it existed.
In taking photographs in Chesham and using these to create your American landscape did you feel your own sense of longing for a place that was far away?
Yes, but probably most in the way that I did when I was a child going on a journey – when you don’t know where you’re going, how long it will take to get there, and what it will look like when you do, and your head is full of imagining. If you climbed a tree as a child you’ll remember the achievement you felt when you got where you wanted to be, and the disappointment when you realised that it wasn’t the tallest tree, with the furthest view, and that there was always another place in the distance that you wanted to reach; that’s definitely part of what I hope people will identify with – the aspirations that we can feel when we’re in a particular type of landscape, and the ideas that we leave behind when we go home. The advantage of dreaming in a virtual landscape is that nothing is real, so dreaming doesn’t feel so out of place, and you can re-visit any time that you want.
Boo Ritson’s solo show ‘On the Way to the Ocean’ will be at the Poppy Sebire Gallery until the 5 May 2012.
1) Boo Ritson, Kite, 2012, Digital C-Type print
2) Boo Ritson, Rock, 2012, Digital C-type print
Images courtesy of Poppy Sebire Gallery & Boo Ritson.