Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Interview with Rachel Price

© Nicholas Bailey
I am pleased to interview Rachel Price an Independent Curator and Artist. In this interview I gain insight into the possibilities of sculpture, art’s political potential through contemporary curating and I find out about the highly anticipated exhibition ‘Sisyphus: The Absurd Hero’.  

Price draws together the work of 7 exciting UK artists presenting new sculpture and video responding to the Greek Myth of Sisyphus. The exhibiting artists all explore notions of the absurd, futility and circularity in their practice whilst simultaneously displaying an immersion in the process, be it material or conceptual.

Price’s sculptural practice examines the often frustrating relationship between image and form, working on the assumption that our physical experience of the world helps inform our conceptual formation of it.
Alongside her studio practice Price works as an independent curator providing opportunities for emerging and established artists to produce new works in response to challenging curatorial themes. Price graduated from the University of Reading in 2006 and has exhibited throughout the UK.

> > October 2010


Still from ‘Daedalus’ © Rodney Dee

CP: Can you tell us more about the forthcoming exhibition at Core Gallery ‘Sisyphus: The Absurd Hero’? 

RP: It was a case of a number of elements coming together at the same time and an attempt to articulate a general air of impotence and repetition in the art world. I was simultaneously researching the work of some absurdist writers, and revisited the works of Albert Camus and specifically 

'Chandelier' © Nicholas Bailey
‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ which seemed particularly apt. As a sculptor the intense physicality of Sisyphus’s unrelenting toil to absolutely no end was such a bittersweet image, I had to investigate it further. Most notably I recall the line: “[ ] …..his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him the unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing”. The sentence carries such a weight, something I wanted to try to embody. 

I had also just come across the work of Nick Bailey, a sculptor recently graduated from Wimbledon College of Art, whose work seemed to articulate this impotence and disappointment so well. From there I recruited the other artists, using the imagery of the Myth of Sisyphus as a springboard.

CP: Could you describe in detail how each of the artists respond to the Greek mythology of Sisyphus? 

RP: Pleasantly surprised by the breath of interpretation the artists presented in relation to the myth, I came to view the notion of the absurd in a new light. But also how relevant they all believed the myth to be at this point time, the commitment and depth each artist had invested in their works and research was evident.

Starting with Nick Bailey, who was already dealing with a realm of mild disappointment and temptation in his work. However I should highlight the distinction between the tension in works like ‘magic missile’ where we are presented with the promise of release and the utter impotence of works like ‘The End and the Finish’ which seemed more appropriate in this context. Bailey’s works presented me with the biggest challenge editorially.

‘Life Pencil’ © Alexander Bates
My interest in Alexander Bates’ practice was his recent investigations into what defines something as an artwork. Rooted in previous laborious and repetitive works (‘No chewing in class’) and his rebelling what he identifies as a ‘very human compulsion to create order out of disorder’. Interestingly Camus purports that the absurd lies in the conflict between what we want (meaning/reasons) and what we are supplied with (formless chaos). Bates’ work ‘The Life of a Pencil’ is a drawing of a pencil, made using a pencil until the pencil runs out: A succinctly pointless, labour intensive and humourous work to the tune of some 60 metres. 

Jim Bond’s kinetic work lends itself particularly well to the theme. The piece he is showing ‘Dust’ was made a couple of years ago and Bond presented it for Sisyphus. Bond uses the human condition as a springboard for his mechanical works, reductive and subtly humourous these works highlight the circular nature of the everyday. The disparity between the mechanical aesthetic and very human content of the work seems particularly relevant here.

‘Dust’ © Jim Bond
Rodney Dee‘s interest in Sisyphus lies in the perpetual nature of the act in relation to some higher purpose: “For wherein most rituals offer the allusion of transcendence; Sisyphus’ own efforts at pushing the rock are a testament to his absurdity – continually reinforced with every failed attempt. As a result his description as an ‘absurd hero’ is well deserved, for whilst he never reaches the apex of the hill, he is never fully released from the cycle either and therein lies the opportunity to try again”. Dee refers to the fabled architect Daedalus in his video work in which the story underpins mans innate desire to escape from the human condition whilst elevating himself to a celestial vantage point.  

 ‘Continuous Space’ © Joo Hee Hwang
Joo Hee Hwang’s questioning of the idea of territory results from personal experience of finding herself in unfamiliar surrounds. She explores what she terms as ‘subjectivity of space’ through her vast sculptural installations. Hwang’s specific interest in the myth lies in the notion of a world within a world, the realities we create for ourselves. For Sisyphus, the mountain became a world within itself, a new reality. 

Matthew Kay’s work ‘After This all has Passed’ was a result of Kay’s resistance to the idea of futility and nihilism in relation to the myth of Sisyphus. “What may appear to be a blank screen is in fact animated from hundreds of laboriously made black felt tip drawings. Challenging the notion of nihilism, that anything is futile, it questions the existence of impotent art objects or an empty gesture; are there really such things?

My personal interest in the myth lies in the physicality of the task without reward or meaning the action is for it’s own sake and Sisyphus his own master - this is an extension of my interest in the interplay between our physical and conceptual worlds, and that a work of art should strike a balance between the two.  The work ‘Labour the Point (Water Torture)’ is essentially tautologuous, going to unnecessary, repetitive lengths to little conceptual gain.  The work literally outweighs itself.

CP: What can we expect from Part 2 of Sisyphus: The Absurd Hero?

RP: Originally I split the works of the 12 artists into two parts as there was a huge distinction between:  ‘resistance’ (retained hope in face of absurd) and ‘acceptance’ (almost celebrated futility, labour intensive) works.  I later decided to present a more balanced view of these interpretations within both shows.  For example: presenting Matthew Kay’s resistance of the notion of nihilism alongside Nick Bailey’s casual acceptance of it.  I think in Part II this disparity is more pronounced.  I think there’s a humour about this show.  A device perhaps we employ in the face of the absurd.

'You’ve Carried Your Ashes Now Carry Your Fire’ © Matthew Kay

CP: Would you say that this exhibition is a response to the continual ‘circular’ nature of an artist’s practice?

RP: It’s part of it, but more so a feeling of lack of progress or inventiveness in general, that we are recycling ideas.  The circularity of art practice is inevitable, the more you work the more problems you face.  No line of enquiry is ever concluded, it’s about feeding your own curiosity.

CP: You recently had a solo show with ‘Squid and Tabernacle’ that was held in a shipping container. What were the considerations and challenges of working site specifically? And how will you and the other artists utilise the space at Core Gallery?

RP: Squid and Tabernacle approached me at a good time with the challenge of this space. As a nomadic gallery they select their artists in response to a site, an extremely novel approach to curatorial practice.  Artists should be able to contextualise their practice temporally, geographically and conceptually, this project forced me to do this.  The Hartwell site was literally a hole in the ground when I arrived in April, the sea container empty and ready for me to do as I pleased.  

‘Planning Permission’ Installation View, 2010 © Rachel Price
The final installation ‘Planning Permission’ utilised reclaimed materials from the immediate area to recreate ‘unfeasible architectural models’ by means of both reflecting; the state of flux of the area, but also the boundaries we should push when re-thinking our urban environment.  As part of the installation I tipped the container at an angle and filled a corner with concrete as to utilise the maximum potential of the space, something I never could have achieved in a gallery.  The work of projects like Squid & Tabernacle that get contemporary art out in the public realm are integral in rethinking the way we present and view art.

In terms of Core, there’s an energy which I think comes from being slap bang in the middle of two rows of studios.  The shows I’ve seen there so far have had a painting bias, but I relish a challenge to rethink the established conventions of a space.

CP: As an ‘artist working curatorially’ can you tell us how the collaborative process of working with the artists is enhanced? Do you feel that by working collectively in this way provides the artists with a greater autonomy?

RP: As an artist my concerns aren’t going to be that far detached from any other artist working now, so to provide a platform to voice those concerns is important.  For instance I was struck by the response I received for my call for artists for Sisyphus, what I believed to be a fairly specific line of enquiry within my own practice was actually reflecting the feeling of quite a few artists at this time.

I think I decided to approach other artists with opportunities to show in response to quite restrictive themes to force the reassessment of the relevance of our practice.  Something I think curators are failing to provide at the moment.  Moreover because of the dire economic climate, especially with the further cuts to arts funding, the stance of individual artists and institutions can go one of two ways: The individual artist tries to make their practice more financially viable and ‘plays it safe’ or will look for ways of independently funding curatorial projects, free of the constraints of funding applications will have uncensored reign over their content, and that’s quite exciting.

CP: Previously you curated an exhibition at Lewisham Arthouse titled ‘Skinflint’.  The artists deliberately used ‘lo-fi materials’ at a time where there was a ‘trend for an outlandish decadence in approaches to art-making’. This exhibition seemed to be a reaction to consumerism & the art market, but also highlighted a change in how we consider art-making.  Can you talk about arts political potential through exhibition making?

Installation View ‘Skinflint’ 2009 © Rachel Price
RP: For me it was completely reactionary, I do believe it was the revelation of Damien Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull in the middle of an economic downturn that did it for me.  To this day I still can’t understand where he was coming from with that work.  So it was not so much about the dire situation of the economy at large more so the role of the artist in reaction to it.  Hirst was case in point. 

For me the role of an artist is as an inventor, and when means are restricted we are forced to invent, to rethink.  The artists I included in this show were artists I admired for their unique utilisation of materials.

Exhibition View: SkinFlint, 2009 © Ralph Dorey

In addition I think the work of an artist is always inextricably linked to the environment it is being made in, either consciously or unconsciously.  The job of the curator is to pick up on these trends artist to artist and make them relevant to the now.  Individual artists tend to be so engrossed in their practice that they don’t see the immediate relevance or urgency of the work they are making.  Exhibition making, in turn, is an excellent platform for the ‘feel’ of a time to be projected back out into the public sphere.

CP: What are you currently working on within your practice? And what is important to you as sculptor?

‘Nervous Wreck 002’ 2010 © Rachel Price
RP: My work on Sisyphus has been very research heavy, and has lead me down some disparate lines of enquiry.  I continue to research the absurd but am also very interested in the nature of creativity itself in psychological enquiry, namely the work of Mendick who identified the creative object as ‘the union of two distinct and disparate nodes’.

In this respect the work of comedians like Stewert Lee and Mitch Hedberg are as important as any fine artist.  I am taking this idea quite literally in my studio investigations and applying it to my image/form studies. 

As a sculptor this element of experimentation is hugely important, both in material and conceptual investigations.  I’m concerned that sculpture is becoming too language dependent, that the role of instinct and material investigation is becoming obsolete. A balance between head and body is important.
I recently revisited the work of Hermann Obrist at the Leeds institute and remember thinking ‘this is scupture’. Obrist invented form, new ways of negotiating and viewing our physical world – that is what a sculptor should do.  The dance between abstraction and representation, somewhere between physical truth and subjective experience, but made with an empathy for the human condition.  

‘Delusions of Grandeur’ 2006 © Rachel Price

A sculptor should favour experience over representation, this is particularly relevant now in the digital age and presents all sculptors with a dilemma.  I myself am a self confessed luddite and worry about the implications of over over-reliance on images and digital reproduction and how it will effect learning and progress, especially at a developmental level in children.

CP: You reach new possibilities within your work by your liberal use of materials. Can you talk about how your choice of materials adds to the physicality of form and to the conceptual narrative?

‘Sweet Enough’ © Rachel Price
RP: I use a lot of reclaimed materials that tend to be laden with their own preconceptions and assumed uses.  I find it interesting how materials are often assigned a gender as a result of the above.  In addition I find images hugely seductive, but misleading, in pairing image with form I attempt to highlight the disparity between representation and the reality of the physical world.

There’s a lot of destruction in the process – bending, impaling, snapping, and this is hugely important in the way I approach and rethink the use of materials.  As I’ve mentioned before, the physical presence of the work should serve as a tool to affirm the conceptual narrative.  They should be interdependent. 

CP: Do you have any forthcoming projects / news to divulge?

RP: ‘Sisyphus: part deux’ is in the offing.  At the moment my curatorial projects are taking precedence over my own studio practice.  I’m also working on a research proposal for the upcoming residencies at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds.

CP: You are based at ASC studios in New Cross, situated within a growing community of artists. How important has this been to you in the development within your work as both a curator and an artist?

RP: The New Cross/ Deptford areas are a great place to be for an artist.  I find the freedom of the artist led studios and galleries highly conducive to an experimental and risk taking approach as an artist and curator, projects like Deptford X reflect the needs of the artist but are also sensitive to the area in which the art is shown.  Conversely I also think that it is important, in a growing community of artists, not to become isolated from movements in the rest of London and the UK, and indeed internationally - that a dialogue should be encouraged both within the community and with the wider sphere.

CP: Thank you Rachel Price!

For more information, please visit: www.rachelpricesculpture.co.uk

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