Untitled #5, 2013, archival pigment print, 50x60cm
Untitled #1, 2013, 50x62cm
Untitled #3, 2013, 50x62cm
Untitled #2, 2013, 50x60cm
I’m interested in Clare Rae’s photographic series entitled Interact because it bridges the physical and ethereal, and talks about photography in both new and old ways.
As described on Beam Contemporary’s website, Rae’s “investigation [of the] subjectivity of gender constructs through the presence of the artist’s body, unearth[s] discussion around representation, femininity and identity.”
When I first saw the photographs at Beam’s booth, I was really taken by the spaces in which the artist was working — and the contrast of the empty austerity of their worn, overscale architecture with Rae’s soft, focused presence. I’ve been in older buildings like this one many times: monuments to institutional longevity, built to forever withstand outside influence, and meant to dwarf the body and impose order. There’s always a questionable comfort inferred by their aura of paternalism and authority. Still, to be in such space and overlook ideological baggage, is to experience broad swathes of clarifying light paired with older, more carefully crafted building materials — and surfaces rendered sublime by subsequent neglect and decay.
So it’s all the more wondrous that Rae launches her consideration of performative gesture within empty rooms that, to me, seem heavily weighted with associations of power and its ability to undermine self determination and expression.
The photos overturn expectations of narrative cause and effect by freezing movement within a framed present not given to explication. I felt thrown back on myself to confront her form (or her absence) within the thought bubble of the photograph’s edges. Interact does not give much information with regard to relationships. Instead, the series represents potential meaning through the placement of the corporeal inside the three-dimensional grid of the building’s empty rooms and windows, mediated by the construct of the photo. Even the empty chair and the flung scarf in the images below stress the body through its absence:
Untitled #4, 2013, 50x50cm
Untitled #6, 2013, 50x50cm
These photographs are sculptural in their drive to “preserve being by means of its representation” … and to “carry the past into the present.”… ”(1) Perhaps this is an older, more modernist way of understanding the photographic medium, but such a recidivist intention can be read here – and it will be free of nostalgia – because it forms the foundation for Rae’s primary engagement with developing signs to communicate without words or speech acts. For example, she mines the intersection of photography with performance to subvert gender indices by carefully selecting poses that reference neither ‘male’ nor ‘female.’
Indulge me please, but in my mind, this slightly kooky photograph of a youthful Piet Mondrian is connected to Interact:
Oddly enough, it was taken to document the size of his hands relative to the shape and size of his head for a phrenologist, to find out more about Mondrian’s personality and creative spirit.
I’m thinking of Mondrian’s quest for the sublime through his avoidance of narrative that led to unsparing formal purity in his paintings. I had immediately thought of him when viewing Interact. Looking at Rae’s carefully crafted compositions — the walls, windows and room dividers that anchor her body in space despite her anti-gravitational use of the medium — how can I help but enjoy the historical connection?
And then, of course, my monkey picture mind went straight to Vermeer simply because of the similarity of subject – a woman posed in an interior space in front of a window full of soft, glowing daylight:
Johannes Vermeer, Woman with a Pearl Necklace, ca. 1660
…and the contrast between Rae’s identity (because we feel she has positioned herself – she is artist and model) as charged and active, and Vermeer’s model under the artist’s gaze, passive in her monumental domesticity.
(1) My thoughts here are taken from ‘The Melancholy Image: Chris Marker’s Cine-essays and the Ontology of the Photographic Image,’ by Jon Kear in Telling Stories: Countering Narrative in Art, Theory and Film, edited by Jane Thormey and Gillian Whitely, pp. 187-188 (Cambridge, 2009).
For more information on Clare Rae’s work and Beam Contemporary: