Richard Killeen to be Auctioned in the Upcoming Fine Art Auction
It was 2005 and the majority of New Zealanders now had access to the world wide web in their homes. Cyberspace was growing larger and more complex every year, from a simple means of communication and access to information into a world of its own, distinct from the physical, tangible, “real” world which created it.
Social media was on the rise, with Facebook celebrating its first birthday that year. Second Life, an online multimedia platform which allowed users to create avatars and interact with others in a virtual reality was two years old. The Sims—a computer game in which users could create their own households and guide the characters through their complex, colourful lives—had just released its second iteration. Having this whole world accessible through a screen in our home offices or in the corner of our living rooms was still considered a spectacle.
It was in this year that artist Richard Killeen (b. 1946) departed from his spacious, minimalist compositions of botanical and entomological specimen silhouettes in favour of stuffing all the luxuries and novelties of the new millennium into a glass jar.
Bells below (2005) captures the bustle of the modern world in a transparent time capsule. The jar is simple, cartoonish and universally recognisable yet the scene inside is deeply convoluted. There are no rules of physics, no logic, no social norms. Human figures captured from above walk over a disproportionate digitally rendered cityscape, while avoiding each other’s gaze. Lines that appear to be road layouts in one area resemble something closer to electrical circuits in another. Gravity and perspective are meaningless, the giant, amorphous forms resembling bacteria float amongst the scene seemingly without perturbing this micro-ecosystem’s inhabitants. And the bells! The scene is full of bells of varying shapes and styles, some in ordinary silver and others in technicolour patterns. The visual noise of the scene is deafening and we’re all prisoners of the jar’s invisible but impenetrable walls.
The contents of Killeen’s jar seem more salient now than ever. With the recent launch of Facebook’s re-brand to Meta and the launch of their avatar-based virtual reality project, growing fears about the development of extremist communities online, and our heavy reliance on online para-social communication in the wake of a pandemic. Killeen makes not only the commentary of the new digital era a remarkable forewarning but the microbial forms looming around the composition of Bells Below (2005) are uncomfortably prophetic.
In a work as complex as this, there are myriad objects to discover, abstract lines and forms to interpret, and logic-defying puzzles to solve. All are invited to ponder the work for themselves—come visit us, and see what you’ll find in this intricate, provocative piece of New Zealand’s art history.