Rachel de Joode: Doing stuff with things

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Dimensional flip-flopper does good tonight in Bushwick.

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Alaina Stamatis | February 16, 2013

"Human Bodies Covered In Clay Surface," humans, photoprint on textile, 2013.

"Human Bodies Covered In Clay Surface," humans, photoprint on textile, 2013.

While walking on Grattan St yesterday evening in the IBZ (Industrial Business Zone) of Morgantown, Bushwick, I pass a pick-up truck with the license plate: RELINQT. I decide not to Instagram it so as to save battery life on my phone for an interview with sculptural artist Rachel de Joode.

When I arrive at Interstate Projects, the gallery's owner Tom Weinrich escorts me in through the functional entrance, down a hallway of the gallery's immense workshops and studios that cannot be seen during public events. Interstate is Weinrich's incubator for emerging contemporary art, often offering established national and international artists their first New York solo show.

In an interview with Arts In Bushwick Weinrich said he was interested in laying roots in Bushwick partially because it reminds him of a Rust Belt city, as he is a native of Pittsburgh. At the time of that interview, Interstate was a modest suite in a loft building on Bogart St. The current location of Interstate Projects, 66 Knickerbocker Ave, is a converted steel factory.

We reach the grand white gallery space where de Joode, who is Dutch-born and based in Berlin, is preparing the site of her first NY solo show, “The Hole and the Lump,” which opens tonight. She sees that I have coffee and wearily suggests that we go for a walk to get her some. I take out my phone.

How do you chose the materials to work in?

In this show there is a lot of clay. I started to like clay because it's so maleable and it's like the perfect physical thing to work with, and it's so sculptural. When I was in Mexico, in a copy shop, this guy came up to me and he said he's a shaman – I don't know if that's true, it could be. We were chatting and he was like, “Oh, these are so beautiful, these hands with clay. You know that the human body came from clay,” which is what the Mayans believe. I really like that it's the ultimate earthly, raw, physical material. It's partly a gut-feeling and partly a choice that I work with clay.

And then I work with a lot of fake objects. So there's terracotta in there, but there's also plastic terracotta, and there's wood and then there's plastic wood. It's always about how those things are the same, just in different form. You could stay, “that's not wood,” but it's still atoms

And it's still doing the same job.

Exactly, it's the same. No judgments. I'm not saying that one is better than the other.

Unpretentious.

Exactly. Fake and real play a big role in my work, and in this exhibition, clay plays a big role.

Big Clay-Thing In Fleshiness-Color, 2013, to be installed on the floor of a small room, to be walked on by barefoot showgoers during the opening.

Were you always thorough at documenting work? And in what way does art documentation function as artwork for you?

I have always been very thorough at documenting it, but I think it started playing more of a role as I started to see and watch so much art online through Internet-circulated documentation. I mean, I'm kind of lazy sometimes with going to openings, so I just see it online, so it gets to be my experience with the work. I think everybody does that. When you look at Contemporary Art Daily, it's all so beautiful. And you start to think, “I need to have photos as beautiful as that!” You're kind of conforming to that.

Tony Conrad at Greene Naftali via Contemporary Art Daily

On the other hand, I've made a lot of still lifes. In a way that's just the documentation of work placed together or of an installment. So they go hand-in-hand even though they're coming from two point of views of making.

Clay Scrollbars And Several Rocks, 2012

There's an evolution in my work where I'm starting to get away from putting objects together and then photographing them – away from making something three-dimensional (into something) two-dimensional.

In this show I have a group of sculptures that are cut-out pieces. I thought, if you photograph something for documentation it doesn't need to have a back because you just photograph the front.

Various Qualities To Orbit The Mysterious Core, 2013. The pieces are leaning against the wall, yet to be installed.

Yeah, there aren't usually 3 angles of the same piece. There's just one shot of the piece.

Just one! So that's what I did. You put it down and you photograph it and that's it. It has to do with the fake or real, but it's not a justification. I don't mean it in an ironic sense, it's just more like, “Oh, I can do this.” It's more like an alienation.

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Everything in the show has more or less to do with sculpture, because it's the most three-dimensional art work that you can have. You can walk around it and it's heavy or it's light.

De Joode shows me her textiles printed with textured clay images. She has crowd-sourced 2 models to cop “Rodin poses” as part of a performance during the opening.

Human Bodies Covered In Clay Surface, 2013

It's about clay and physicality, but they all need a surface.

Encrusted Puddle Thing, 2013. The piece is on a podium of paper begrimed with aerosol stone spray, not shown here.

I was fooling around with this clay when it was wet, so I needed to photograph it to keep it because it was so ephemeral. I liked it as a painting or a photo, as a two-dimensional thing, so I printed it flat and then I resculpted it. These are on canvas and beneath it is plaster. So they're weird, resculpted puddles. To paint with a photograph, or sculpt with a photograph, or paint with clay, to jump between different ways of working and keeping on the process… They're funny.

Yeah it's fucking with my eyes. The print seems real to me.

It's looks to me very rock-ish and very landscape-y. It's abstract but then concrete again by crusting it. A photo is a thing because you can hang it on the wall, but it's not really a thing. But this is a thing.

I'm giving them a chance at being real objects.

She references this photo.

Sculpture in the Space Between the Blinds, 2012

I was thinking of how, without space, the object cannot exist. If there was no space to put it, the object would not be there. The one needs the other. I'm always thinking of the white cube, which is just a set, it's not a real space like the street. It's normal to display your works but it should be as normal to display your works in other places.

De Joode shows me an animation, or more accurately a “moving collage” that will be projected in the lower level of the gallery. It is titled, “A Study – Soft Wet Moist Moving,” and features the clay hands pictured in the beginning of this article as they slide and warp across a clay textural surface.

All the sculptures have a hand or fingers, but sometimes you don't recognize it. I photographed the hand and then I printed it out – and that's where I met the shaman – and then I cut it out. On these sculptures there are hands, fake wood, real wood, puff pastry, plastecine, debris, and some wet stuff. It makes more sense to photograph things that are ephemeral and not able to last. Like a sweating sculpture is awesome.

I studied film, or time-based arts, and I made a lot of movies-

That's what “time-based arts” means? Film?

It means things related to time. So it could be performance or film. I wasn't fixated on making films but I graduated making two. I never really made any films afterward because it's too hard with all of the production and people involved. I moved to photography because it was so fast and easy and solo.

Which is more powerful: gravity or time?

I guess time is more powerful, because you die. Without gravity you can live. In my work, I'm more responding to gravity, and in my life, it's definitely time. Time sucks. I never have enough time. Time is like an enemy.

But gravity can be your friend.

Yeah! I've never been in the spaces where you're without gravity. I want to apply to do a sculpture in a zero gravity chamber at NASA.

Do they have a residency program?

No! In an ideal world!

All you need is a plane, really. I think that's how they filmed Apollo 13. They would just fly really high in a plane and then drop the plane, and in that way everybody could float around.

That's how they filmed that film? That's so scary.

You could do it, though. It's very time-based.

That would have to be a very fast sculpture. Fast, sweating sculpture.

If there is a university course based around your work in 150 years, what do you think it will be titled?

“Doing Stuff with Things.” That's my email sign-off, and that's basically what I do. I do stuff with things. That's it.

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Rachel de Joode's The Hole and the Lump at Interstate Projects

66 Knickerbocker Ave at Grattan St

February 16 – March 17, 2013

Opening Reception February 16, 6-9 pm

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