POSTMATTER | 27 March 2015

POSTMatter has reviewed Rachel de Joode’s latest exhibition at Kansas Gallery, New York.

Rachel de Joode’s ‘Soft Inquiry’

By Louise Benson

Rachel de Joode takes a naive approach to organic materials in her latest exhibition at Kansas Gallery, flattening them into newly artificial forms.

Soft flesh tones, cool, clean greys, creamy earthen textures and an expanse of white come together within the Kansas gallery. Filled with the pliant, textured surfaces of stone, skin, clay and algae, the viewer is enveloped in the comforting familiarity of the organic world. There is a curious flatness to be found however, upon closer inspection. Playing with perspective, cushiony curves are revealed to be lined by sharp, straight edges. 3-D becomes 2-D, and nothing is as it first appears.

Instead, Rachel de Joode’s new exhibition presents an inquiry almost into what else these familiar objects could be. Her materials, once soft and submissive, become rigid and uncompromising in their new artificial forms. Photographs at once trap and liberate the forms that they represent. Two-dimensional images of skin are abstracted to create sculptural compositions, presenting smooth, almost deflated ­– surfaces. Here, the real and its abstracted sculptural and photographic representations are placed on equal footing. Flickering between the fleshy reality of the body and its flattened onscreen representation, the two begin to blur under de Joode’s direction.

POSTMatter: Your exhibition takes up natural materials such as skin, clay, rock and algae, but plays with their textures through newly flattened representations. What drew you to this fluctuating line between the organic and the artificial, and the 2D and the 3D? 

Rachel de Joode: My work oscillates between the ‘in-real-life-ness’ of the artwork presented in the white cube format, and its web-based installation-documentation. Is the gallery a mere set? Is the purpose of the artwork documentation? In that case we don’t need three-dimensionality, but just the illusion of three-dimensionality. The real and its photographic representation, the organic and the artificial, the thing and its mere surface… all are equal, all are matter, all have power, all exist side by side and are in constant interaction – this is the core of my practice.

PM: Could you describe your process of working with, and ultimately abstracting, your materials? 

RDJ: With a deliberate naiveté, I observe materials, matter. I mainly use art-supplies or art-ish materials – things with an art aura. I use these as products. For example, I observe clay and ‘handle’ it without knowing how to handle it properly. Instead, I just know that it’s an important asset when you make a sculpture. Most of the materials I use are fragmented; I point them out, I use a tiny detail, I isolate. Sometimes I photograph these materials and work (sculpt) with them in Photoshop, or else I don’t photograph them and just sculpt them. It depends.

PM: The resulting images move across boundaries, alternating between the physical, digital and then the physical again. How do you feel about the overlap of two in art today?

RDJ: The play between the physical and the virtual world is relevant. I explore the relationship between the three dimensional object and its two dimensional counterpart (the screen thing). My work is a constant play between surface and materiality. I see this happening in a lot of contemporary art, but it seems fluid to me: I almost don’t even think about it. I see art online and I accept it as art, not as a representation of an artwork or art-show. And so it’s almost not overlapping, meaning two separate things that might overlap, but one could also argue it’s almost getting to be one thing.

PM: You play in the show with the expected order of things: physical textures and sizes don’t correspond with the visuals they represent. Skin and rock are made to feel the same, while body parts are isolated to become something else. What is it about this play on forms that interests you?

RDJ: My work plays with the idea of the static art-object as an actor in the theatre of the gallery or museum-space. I let the art-object perform by using elements such as ephemerality, weird dimensions or a play with art-display. By doing so, I touch upon the socio-material root that lies in the art-object itself.

PM: How do these various ambiguities tie into the exhibition’s title? What does ‘inquiry’ represent for you?  

RDJ: I like to investigate, and this was an investigation into softness: surfaces, and a soft inquiry. Parallel Soft Inquiry also refers to a kind of inquiry that can occur on your credit report, and I thought that the idea of art being closely linked to the monetary system was suiting somehow.

Link to the interview →