James Richards at the ICA: Requests and Antisongs

This exhibition was detrimental to the shift in my recent practice. Richard’s work at the ICA taught me pivotal lessons about editing, sound and found footage selection. Starting with the work on the ground floor ‘Crumb Mahogany’ I was confronted by a continuous onslaught of re-used and re-appropriated noises. I had never heard sound be used in such a material way before experiencing this work, it shifts from ambient tones of machinery to a sudden sample of folk music, to police sirens, to birdsong and then it will become so much louder and then quieter and there is no way of knowing or judging the duration of the experience because it is so queer and unsettling. These sound samples do not only trigger imagery but most importantly emotional reactions. It is this use of sound that I experimented with in my most recent work ‘I FEEL’, where I focused not only what was visually happening in the found YouTube videos but also the audio, what the film maker was saying, the tone of the voice and how the sounds of the environment were also captured. Of course sampling ‘unmusical’ sounds is something that has been commonly used by musical artists from Brian Eno (Appollo 1983) to Jamie T (Panic Prevention 2007), but Richards’ work is completely unmusical itself. It actually reverses this relationship by sampling short bursts of recognisable music scores into this textural body of familiar noise.

James Richards ‘Crumb Mahogany’

The only thing I could not enjoy about this work was the presentation; it felt very uncomfortable and forced to experience the work in this environment. The benches were unforgiving when all I wanted to do was lie down and close my eyes, I was bothered by other visitors entering the space and I felt very strongly that I wanted to be alone in the dark, to not be seen, whilst I was experiencing the work. This would also, in my opinion, heighten some of the dramatic shifts in the scale of the noises, because at times the sounds used could shock and startle, but being on edge already meant that the effect was not truly felt. This critique fed into my decision of how to present ‘I FEEL’, it became important to create a space of isolation where the viewer could be on their own to experience the work, so that moments of unexpected shift in volume were more unsettling, and the viewer was able to react freely, without the pressure of ego or anxiety whilst simultaneously being more vulnerable.

‘I FEEL’ – Installation view

Moving upstairs I was immediately drawn towards the main third of this solo show; ‘Radio at Night’. The use of found footage here fed directly into my own decision making with clips selected for ‘I FEEL’. For my work I had to find a way to get the separate clips to flow into one another, which I attempted to achieve with the continuous soundtrack and fading cuts. Richards’ on the other hand makes very direct cuts from one image into the next, but his sound track is also the way that these images are able to relate to one another, although this soundtrack is made up of mechanical noises and accompanies the video instead of being apart of it. One of the most striking things about this video work was the way in which Richards’ layers two clips, but instead of having them play simultaneously, one clip borders the other, or the clips move slowly and orderly across the screen creating visual narratives whilst never really letting any clip truly end. This makes for a really interesting moving collage and addresses the flatness of the screen whilst also playing with perception and movement which creates a disorientating vieweing experience.

James Richards – ‘Radio at Night’ Installation

Also worth noting is the repetition of clips and imagery, starting with a looping shot of woodland, then to a masquerade scene that are both repeated at the end, the film then moves on to imagery that is projected in the opposite room. This addresses a very important problem of using imagery in artwork, because psychologically images have much more importance to us if we see them multiple times. By repeating the content from the beginning at the end, Richards manages to create a work that feels circular, cyclical, that can continue indefinitely.


I think it is also important for me recognise the beautifully selected colour palette, which ranged from dark gold’s to ice blues, but mainly greys. This selection made often vulgar and repulsive images seductive and clinical. This is a quality that I shall hopefully be able to translate into my own work as currently my choice in footage and imagery is being led by its relationship to the ridiculous and viral which often means that the colours are crass and unconsidered. Although I have always preferred not having control over the aesthetic of my work, perhaps this is what is lacking to really create the subtle approach to my subject that I want in order to sophisticatedly effect my audience.