In Conversation: Rachel Rose
Frieze Projects' curator Nicola Lees talks to the Artist Award-winner
Nicola Lees: Let’s begin with describing your project for Frieze in its physicality, and then we can relate it to previous works that you’ve made.
Rachel Rose: I’m making a scaled miniature version of the Frieze Art Fair tent, and if you go into the tent you will find theatre lights and large concert speakers. The lights are projecting specific colours and the speakers are playing music that you may recognise, or you may not recognise, but it’s being filtered through the frequency that another animal hears and the lights are expressing a light spectrum that the animal sees in. In making the tent smaller so that you can physically feel its edges, the hope is that you feel the limits of your own spectrum of communication and see that your’s is one mode of communication within this larger framework. That you might become aware of its physical limits. Seeing the lights, seeing the speakers, and feeling the edges of the tent are all components of that.
NL: The work is site specific in that it references the architecture of the fair, but also the location of the fair in terms of its placement in The Regent’s Park and specifically John Nash’s park design.
RR: Before it was The Regent’s Park, it was the Royal hunting ground preserve. When Nash was hired to basically turn those grounds into what in America we would call a gated community, he had this idea of including what was then a new class of person – the upper-middle class – into the experience of the countryside estates. He mimed the conventions of the estate and included aspects like the circuit; a garden path that moves around these episodic architectural features. This gives the walk an entertaining narrative – a Greek temple, a peasant farm hut and a Renaissance sculpture. Arguably, this is linked to the development of the novel, because you are on a path with an episodic structure. The first readership for the novel was the bourgeoisie housewife, so this park design develops in tandem with her readership. And narrative structures of film have developed from the novel. In A Minute Ago I worked with Poussin’s painting Burial of Phocion that depicts a pathway through a landscape. Poussin’s landscape is ultra-clear and filled with mini vignettes. Looking at it, it’s as though you’re watching freeze-frames of a narrative.
NL: How are you developing the particular visual and audio experiences?
RR: There are animals whose perceptive limits are at the lower end of our sensory spectrum, animals that are in the higher end of our spectrum, and also those that express the line right where human and animal perceptions meet. There are animals with sense frequencies that the human ear and eye cannot perceive at all, like the butterfly. It’s just not possible. One day of the fair, the tent will represent how the newts of The Regent’s Park see and hear; a newt doesn’t hear exactly, they feel sound through their bones. For that, we’re taking the playlist and recording it underwater with a transducer microphone, so you’ll hear the vibrations of the frequencies given off by music. On that day, the light will be a very simple colour spectrum. Each day is a different experiment with a different animal local to the park.
NL: In many of your videos, specifically Palisades in Palisades (2014), the sound has an incredibly close, sharp quality to it. The sound in the tent is going to be really interesting in terms of how the work at Frieze can shift people’s perception through sense and memory. You were thinking about how the soundtrack might also come from your own history.
RR: I was thinking about another limit, the limit of age. Sometimes it can feel like different stages in your life are like those sectioned-off episodes in the park circuit. When I was a kid, I felt a certain way and when I was a teenager I felt differently. The garden circuit is, in a sense, a metaphor for passing through time—aging. Music conjures different episodes or stages of a life. Strung together sequentially from morning to night, tracks can be a way to figuratively compress a lifetime into the lifespan of the tent. In the morning it will be music from when my generation were children. In the afternoon, it will be music from when we were teenagers and the night will use music from adulthood and now. I don’t know how readable that’s going to be for the visitor, but maybe certain people will feel a connection.
NL: And this connection is important.
RR: Yes, the work isn’t intended to be abstract. It is very literal, straightforward. And it’s important for it to be grounded in something that is real to your life, like the music you listen to. It wouldn’t mean anything to play the frequency an animal hears without filtering it through known music. You need a ground for your perspective, which can then extend out to something else.
NL: Do you feel this project is separate from other works you have made – works that have a historical, research-based framework? Is it more of a scientific proposition?
RR: The approach to this project is rooted in the science of how we see and hear. Working on this has been a way to be curious about how others see and hear, about the limit of our sensory perception, about light and sound.
Lighting Design: Lee Curran Sound Design: Tim Goalen Scientific Consultant: Dr. Martin Stevens, Associate Professor of Sensory and Evolutionary Ecology at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter. Thanks to the members of the Frieze Artist Award Jury: Bonnie Camplin, Raimundas Malašauskas, Nicola Lees and Hans Ulrich Obrist.
Frieze Projects is a non-profit programme of artists’ commissions realised annually at Frieze London. Frieze Projects and the Frieze Artist Award are supported by the LUMA Foundation.