Goosebumps on cold skin… Fag ash from a burning cigarette… The glare from a light bouncing off the glossy pages of a magazine. New York-based artist Rachel Rose scrutinizes the textures and materials of her immediate surroundings. Her films incorporate abrupt shifts in pace and scale, creating dream-like narratives. For the artist, looking is a haptic experience, and her films push our eyeballs up against the surface of things. Her roving HD camera zooms in on such imperceptible details as an eyelash caked in mascara, cutting from crumpled bed sheets to a detail from the reproduction of an old painting.
In her film Palisades in Palisades (2014), we frequently see a young woman sat on the edge of a river. The motion of the camera buzzes around the landscape, getting up close and personal to the actor’s face. As the action cuts from one scene to the next, the image frequently appears out of focus as the camera lens struggles to adjust. Much of the film’s peculiar charm is in the idiosyncrasy of the camera angles: you often feel like you are embodying the first-person view of an insect or agile drone. At times the camera meanders and stutters as it pans out, while at other points it zooms in on particular details with efficiency. This persistent tension between proximity and distance estranges commonplace details, combining an overt pleasure in looking with something more anxious. A typical Rose film conflates these varying registers to rapturous effect. The artist accompanies these cinematic montages with a soundtrack that incorporates snippets of classical and pop music alongside brief fractured monologues. The image and the audio frequently fall out of sync, providing a further dissonance.
Looking is a haptic experience, and her films push our eyeballs up against the surface of things.
In A Minute Ago, also from 2014, Rose presents found footage of an idyllic beach scene interrupted by an apocalyptic hailstorm. As the freak weather rages overhead, people take shelter as a voice intones, “If we die, know that I love you.” The image is laden with further menace by a soundtrack consisting of a funerary march of a guitar song. The footage shifts to the blurry figure of the architect Philip Johnson giving a tour of his famous home, the Glass House, built in 1945. For the film, Rose re-shot the house exactly as it appeared in the interview, superimposing Johnson’s rotoscoped figure back over the top. As the artist has previously stated in interviews, this gesture creates two parallel states and the elderly architect occupies the building as a ghost. The scene is interrupted with images of Nicholas Poussin’s The Funeral of Phocion (1648), which Johnson famously bought in 1945 on the recommendation of Alfred H. Barr. A Minute Ago seems to hint at an ecological anxiety, contrasting the architectural urge to regulate against nature’s continual aberrancy. As the film progresses, the house begins to dissolve. Accompanied by a percussive backbeat, we move from a glacial to a more accelerated pace, the film’s rich iconography becoming abstracted and musical. Rose’s practice is often described as painterly and her ruminations on mortality, ecology and art history are married to her attuned formal sensibilities.
Rachel Rose (American, b. 1986) is an artist who lives and works in New York. She is represented by Pilar Corrias, London. The recent recipient of the 2015 Frieze Artist Award, her upcoming projects for the fall include solo exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Castello di Rivoli, Turin; Aspen Art Museum; and Serpentine Galleries, London.
George Vasey is a writer and a curator at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Sunderland.
Images: Palisades in Palisades, 2014, Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London