The disturbing video art of Rachel Rose
Sometimes going to the movies can feel like a process of dismantling and putting back together, not in a lofty, philosophical sense, but in a fundamental, physical sense, as if the instruments your body uses to recognize the world have been remade. Artist Rachel Rose had this experience in 2014, when she saw the movie “Gravity”, and, leaving the theater, felt “a very confusing feeling of the earth moving”. Her subsequent video work, “Everything and More”, was born out of a desire to deconstruct how that feeling could be produced simply by encountering the sound emitted by loudspeakers and light particles. projected onto a flat surface. The piece, which was the subject of a solo exhibition at the Whitney which opened in 2015, overlays the voice of an astronaut recounting what he felt when he returned from space (the smells are stronger ; his wristwatch is heavy, “like a bowling ball”) with images of researchers in a neutrally buoyant laboratory and shimmering liquids merging and separating. The work suggests that you might think of your body as a sort of sensory strainer, your mind as a wisp of consciousness surrounded by a permeable membrane.
Each of Rose’s films explored how the perceptual experiences of human beings are shaped by the physical, social, economic and technological structures that are particular to a certain time. In “A Minute Ago” (2014), a play Rose made after Hurricane Sandy, she combined a clip of a sudden summer day’s hailstorm on a Siberian beach with footage of the Philip Johnson’s Glass House, a landmark of modernist architecture. Rose’s cuts impose the beach on the idyll surrounding Johnson’s home in a way reminiscent of how the unusual weather seems to turn an eerie reality into a familiar one. The juxtaposition of glass, the material that so defines the contemporary built environment, with the panic of seaside revelers evokes the unique terror unleashed by dwelling in structures that seem both fragile and futuristic.
“Enclosure”, Rose’s last work, is set in a slightly fictionalized version of rural England in the year 1699. The film follows a young woman named Recent, an alchemist who belongs to a group of con artists called the Famlee , who roam the countryside cheating. peasants off their land. In exchange for deeds, the Famlee offers counterfeit versions of a new store of value known as cash. They succeed through a combination of seduction and threat, presenting their offerings to their brands as the last chance to avoid eviction and scarcity. It’s a plausible fate: At this time, the enclosure movement, in which lords and nobles surrounded and fenced off once-common lands, has been going on for more than a century.
At the Gladstone Gallery, where “Enclosure” was recently screened, the thirty-minute film was shown on a semi-transparent screen of multiplex-like proportions suspended in the center of the room. The film’s visual scheme, comprised of flashes of the landscape, villagers, animals, and plants, suggests the enchantment of a world ruled not by physics but by a force that stretches across the realms of the human, animal, tree and spiritual… a world where people felt that, as Rose told me, “one thing can become another, change into another, with a kind of malleability that perhaps seems magical to us”.
When I visited Rose in her studio – two small, white-walled, brightly lit rooms in Manhattan’s Chinatown – she explained to me that she had been interested in thinking about how the transformations of Modern Europe and how the landscape was warped back then Rose, 35, wore black jeans patched with old tears, a white T-shirt and leather hiking boots. Her hands drifted in their air in a relaxed, slightly professorial way as she enumerated these transformations, which seemed to cross the material and the metaphysical. “The landscape is literally deforested, set on fire, cut up, reorganized; and literally, at that time, the widespread use of cash began; and literally, at that moment, it is also the transition from a kind of magical thinking to a new form of rational thinking. The film, which features a black orb in the sky and a story within a story about the intertwining of bear and human life, dramatizes the shifts in the contours of human consciousness that these transformations have precipitated, and evokes a sense of what it would be like to exist in a world where people are immersed in the landscape, and where time is “connected to this celestial, seasonal, daily movement of light – and contained in this way by these things”.
Historians have viewed the fence movement in various ways as the precursor to marvelous economic growth and as theft. EP Thompson, author of “The formation of the English working classcalled it “class theft, played by the rules of property and law laid down by a Parliament of landlords and lawyers.” Prior to the fence, most rural peasants could support themselves from the land, to which they had a right of access. The first enclosures not only removed this right, necessitating the adoption of wage labor, but they also set in motion a process by which this land, worthless because it could not belong to anyone, became a source of prodigious wealth. for a small slice of society. By presenting the agents of disenfranchisement as alchemists, Rose invites us to see the film as an allegory: both alchemy and confinement depend on opaque processes practiced by a restricted group of initiates; both take matter which is base and transfigure it into something precious; often both are part of a scam. The film invites to marvel at how such a scam can nevertheless reconfigure the world, ushering in a market economy that fuels the adoption of cash, that cuts people off from nature and from each other, and in doing so drives to the decline of an animism, and the rise of a rational and mechanical worldview.