Rachel Harrison “House of the Dolphins”
[Image: © Rachel Harrison Courtesy the artist; Greene Naftali, New York; Regen Projects, Los Angeles; Rat Hole Gallery, Tokyo]
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Primarily known for her sculptural work but also working with performance art, drawing, and photography, Rachel Harrison (b. 1966) is an American visual artist whose work draws from a wide range of influences, combining art historical and pop cultural references through a diverse and witty assemblage of materials. For her exhibition at Rat Hole Gallery – the first time for the artist’s work to be shown in Japan – Harrison will present a suite of seven sculptures from her “Stud” series together with a new body of photographs.
Every piece of wood produced by a lumber mill is stamped with a string of letters, like “HD Prime,” that encodes the material’s quality. But like all matter, wood is difficult to control, and the products of every industrially managed forest often elude attempts at standardization, especially when they are destined to sit for long periods on a shelf in storage, where the material may ultimately expand, contract, twist, and bow.
Over the past several years, Rachel Harrison has gone shopping in lumber yards looking for warped pieces of wood. These deformed studs, nearly useless for their original purpose of building walls and structures in straight lines, become the foundations for painted sculptures that invite contemplative focus. Standing erect on constructed bases, the studs are coated in cement and dressed in colors that may suit or deny each form.
Accompanying these autonomous freestanding sculptures are photographs of Greek statuary Harrison shot at museums in Athens, Delphi, and the island of Delos. They depict twelve works of ancient sculpture, shot frontally as Harrison encountered them in various museums where they exist divorced from their original environments (outdoors or embedded in architecture).
Harrison’s work in this series evokes a photographic tradition associated with the origins of the medium, in which nineteenth-century photographers documented Greco-Roman busts, often in an artful state of partial desuetude. Indebted to this 19th Century history of tableaux, Harrison’s arrangement of twelve images creates a meeting ground of materiality and color that is neither completely documentary in nature nor willfully fantastic. The range of colored backgrounds in each photograph points to the displacement each ancient sculpture has undergone, their original brightly colored surfaces now lost. Several photographs crop or sever their full subjects into portraits that reveal how each has been permitted to age, the result of combined forces of intentional violence or the indifference of time.
Among this photographic cast of figures, a sculpture of a Roman empress shows off its collapsed face. This work, now at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, has been popularly imagined as an instance of damnatio memoriae—the Roman practice of erasing figures from history through defacement—though there is no historical evidence for it, revealing how ruins and reconstructions cater to fantasy and idealizations. Harrison has remarked: “We tend to project so much into the past when we try to decipher it; somehow these sculptures spoke to me about the present, too.”
These ancient sculptures, like the wooden studs they accompany, show matter yielding to time. At a moment when we seem to be drawn to alliances with apocalypse and ruin, Harrison has entered into a collaboration with fallen civilizations and deformed things. Posing and gesturing, her quiet photographs speak to orgiastic rites, fragmented bodies, and dismembered organs. They bear consideration alongside the vast vocabulary that exists to describe studs–framing members, erections, cripples. Perhaps they frame the studs as accidental pagans, failing to prop up anything at all, or a neolithic ring unearthed in a hardware store.
from June 01, 2018 to September 02, 2018
Events and exhibitions happening this month in Tokyo and beyond