Freeze frame

amer­i­can video artist rachel rose on a lib­er­at­ing com­mis­sion

Wallpaper - - Contents - ‘Rachel Rose: Wil-o-wisp’ is at the Fon­dazione San­dretto Re Re­bau­dengo, Turin, from 2 Novem­ber 2018-3 Feb­ru­ary 2019, fsrr.org

Amer­i­can video artist Rachel Rose con­jures up magic and may­hem in 16th-cen­tury Eng­land

Tak­ing in video, per­for­mance and sound, of­ten all at once, time-based me­dia can be thrillingly en­gag­ing or be­yond test­ing. The young New York-based artist Rachel Rose – who lay­ers an­i­ma­tion, sound, orig­i­nal footage and found ma­te­rial in her video com­po­si­tions – thrills and en­gages. At 32, her achieve­ments al­ready in­clude solo ex­hi­bi­tions at the Whit­ney in New York and the Ser­pen­tine Sack­ler Gallery in Lon­don, as well as mem­o­rable ap­pear­ances at Frieze Art Fair (she won the Frieze Artist Award in 2015) and the 57th Venice Bi­en­nale in 2017.

It’s a strato­spheric as­cent for Rose, who aban­doned paint­ing, her orig­i­nal medium of choice, while study­ing for an MFA at Columbia Uni­ver­sity. She found new in­spi­ra­tion in doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ing and moved at pace from there. ‘I felt that paint­ing didn’t re­ally of­fer me the tools to think about the ques­tions that felt per­ti­nent to me,’ Rose says. ‘In fact, I thought I didn’t want to be an artist, be­cause I didn’t know how to think about what I wanted to think about through art. The process of learn­ing how to shoot [video] and edit, and about sound, led me back to art. I wanted to touch the real world and touch dif­fer­ent mo­ments in time.’

Rose cap­tures a va­ri­ety of emo­tional and sub­lim­i­nal states in each of her video pieces. Per­cep­tion be­comes dis­torted, re­al­ity twists and your aware­ness and un­der­stand­ing of what is ob­served shifts. In Lake Val­ley, 2016, an an­i­mated work that was first shown at the Cen­tral Pavil­ion of the 2017 Venice Bi­en­nale, Rose uses the fig­ure of a pet to ex­plore the shift from child­hood to adult­hood. Set in a fa­mil­iar sub­ur­ban land­scape, the piece is made up of thou­sands of im­ages ex­tracted from dif­fer­ent chil­dren’s sto­ry­books that Rose then cut up and col­laged into lay­ers on a cel an­i­ma­tion plate.

A Minute Ago, 2014, mixed Pink Floyd, Steve Re­ich and Philip John­son’s Glass House to look at how the in­te­rior and ex­te­rior can col­lapse in on them­selves. ‘I made the work af­ter Hur­ri­cane Sandy hit New York. There was this per­me­at­ing sense of un­ease in the months that fol­lowed. One day I was in a cof­fee shop and a gust of wind and hail came in past the glass win­dow. Ev­ery­one in the shop went silent and stopped what they were do­ing – ob­vi­ously scared. I started think­ing about the bar­ri­ers we cre­ate be­tween our­selves and the out­side. In a mod­ernist tra­jec­tory, that’s been glass, and the con­struc­tion of glass build­ings. I looked at the his­tory of glass in ar­chi­tec­ture. The

‘I’m in­ter­ested in how we have ac­cess to sub­lime states through the ev­ery­day’

In­ter­na­tional Style was the cen­tral mo­ment for steel and glass. Its sym­bol, the Glass House, [is seen in] the sky­scrapers that de­fine the land­scape around us. So I wanted to go there and re­ally look at what that was.’

In Ev­ery­thing and More, 2015, the film she pre­sented in her solo ex­hi­bi­tion at the Whit­ney in 2016, a slew of mov­ing im­ages is set to as­tro­naut David Wolf ’s nar­ra­tion of what it feels like to be in space. ‘That work was about the feel­ing of this sub­lime state that just hap­pens in an ev­ery­day sense,’ re­calls Rose. ‘And that some­thing as sim­ple as light and sound wave­lengths pro­duces all that.’

Rose is now the in­au­gu­ral re­cip­i­ent of the Fu­ture Fields Com­mis­sion – an award ded­i­cated to sup­port­ing the cre­ation and pro­duc­tion of time-based me­dia art. Es­tab­lished in 2016 by the Philadel­phia Mu­seum of Art and Turin’s Fon­dazione San­dretto Re Re­bau­dengo, the com­mis­sion is awarded every two years. ‘The Fu­ture Fields Com­mis­sion’s vi­sion is fo­cused on the idea of new, un­charted ter­ri­to­ries,’ says the foun­da­tion’s Pa­trizia San­dretto Re Re­bau­dengo, who has been on the Philadel­phia Mu­seum of Art’s con­tem­po­rary art ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee since 2008. ‘We want to sup­port artists who are at a turn­ing point in their ca­reer to re­alise am­bi­tious projects. Rachel epit­o­mises this.’

Al­most two years of de­vel­op­ment, Rose’s new work – a ten-minute video piece en­ti­tled

Wil-o-wisp – is be­ing shown in Novem­ber at the Fon­dazione San­dretto Re Re­bau­dengo, fol­low­ing a suc­cess­ful de­but in Philadel­phia over the sum­mer. Set in 16th-cen­tury agrar­ian Eng­land, the live-ac­tion video piece (Rose’s first) cen­tres on El­speth, per­se­cuted for dab­bling in folk­loric healing prac­tices and magic. Her story is set against vi­gnettes of ru­ral life at a time when en­clo­sure, the pri­vati­sa­tion of shared farm­land, was stir­ring up tu­mult and protest. ‘When I was of­fered this com­mis­sion, I thought it was such an ex­cit­ing way for me to ac­tu­ally go to a place and film it with ac­tors,’ ex­plains Rose. ‘I had been re­search­ing this time pe­riod and think­ing a lot about an­i­mism and magic and women, and the de­struc­tion of the land­scape, and the end of one world and the be­gin­ning of an­other. I felt like the most suc­cinct way to [ad­dress that] would be to write a story and film it.’ Work­ing with a 24-strong crew and a key cast of 13 ac­tors, Rose filmed the piece over the course of a week at Plimoth Plan­ta­tion, a liv­ing his­tory mu­seum in Mas­sachusetts based on de­tailed re­search into the 1600s.

‘I’ve long been in­ter­ested in how we have ac­cess to sub­lime states through ev­ery­day ex­pe­ri­ence; how the ev­ery­day can morph into some­thing be­yond. I was in­ter­ested in a time and a place where there was more flu­id­ity and trans­fer­ence be­tween ev­ery­day re­al­ity and this oth­er­worldly state,’ she says. ‘Six­teenth cen­tury agrar­ian Eng­land was one of those places, where peo­ple felt that forests were alive, ghosts were real and the cos­mic or­der and the hu­man or­der were con­nected.’

It was al­most six months be­fore Rose was ready to present her ideas. ‘There was [then] a pe­riod of writ­ing the story, which came from the amal­ga­ma­tion of dif­fer­ent real sto­ries, and then a pe­riod of cast­ing the project, work­ing with a cos­tume de­signer [and] pro­duc­tion de­signer to flush it out, and then shoot­ing it and edit­ing it.’

Edit­ing is a Rose sig­na­ture. In all her works, she twists view­ers’ per­cep­tion with dis­ori­ent­ing vi­su­als and his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ences. In Wil-o-wisp, she pushes the en­ve­lope fur­ther by adding tem­po­ral shifts and care­fully se­lected vis­ual ef­fects to the live ac­tion footage, along with a dis­cor­dant score.

‘In this case, the edit­ing in­cluded writ­ing a voiceover in iambic pen­tame­ter [a kind of verse], which be­came a song with mu­sic writ­ten by com­poser Isaac Jones,’ says Rose, who worked with her stu­dio man­ager and two pro­duc­ers to pull ev­ery­thing to­gether. ‘The post-pro­duc­tion took a year.’

Con­sid­er­a­tion was also given to how the work is in­stalled and shown – Wil-o-wisp is pro­jected on a trans­par­ent screen, which echoes a scene in the film that fea­tures a rear pro­jec­tion screen. ‘This state that peo­ple were in at this time and place was so dis­ori­ent­ing, al­most close to psy­che­delic, so in the gallery I wanted to cre­ate a feel­ing of that, with light,’ Rose says. ‘We also dou­bled scrim, hang­ing floor to ceil­ing, to cre­ate a moiré ef­fect, so that when you’re in the gallery watch­ing, the room is il­lu­mi­nated with this shim­mer­ing and shift­ing light, which felt like an ex­ten­sion of Wil-o-wisp.’ The film it­self also fea­tures lay­ers of moiré vis­ual ef­fects, so that at times, the work and the edges of the room al­most blend into one.

Rose now has an­other ma­jor work in pro­duc­tion, again craft­ing a com­plex nar­ra­tive and util­is­ing ac­tors, set dur­ing the same time pe­riod. ‘The ideas in Wil-o-wisp crys­talised what I’ve been think­ing about for a long time. Work­ing so closely with an in­sti­tu­tion to cre­ate some­thing [has also] al­lowed me to feel open and ready to move in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion,’ she adds. ‘It re­ally made me feel much more ex­pan­sive in where I can go. It wasn’t just about the fund­ing, but also the sup­port around it. It’s def­i­nitely been life-chang­ing for me.’∂

rose, whose new filmWil-o-wisp was in­spired by be­liefs and life in 16th cen­tury agrar­ian eng­land

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