Rachel Rose was born in 1986. Their work is guided by research into topics as vast as 19th-century park design and cryogenics, to the American Revolutionary War, modernist architecture, and the sensory experience of walking in outer space. Rose’s videos pinpoint what it is that makes us human and how we seek to alter, enhance, and escape that designation. Recent solo exhibitions include: Kunsthaus Bregenz; Pilar Corrias Gallery, London; Museu Serralves, Porto; The Aspen Art Museum; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London.
In The Three Ecologies, Felix Guattari cites an experiment they saw on French television conducted by Alain Bombard, a French biologist, physician and politician. The experiment involves two tanks; one filled with polluted water – as one might draw from the port of Marseille – containing a healthy, thriving, almost dancing octopus; the other containing pure, unpolluted seawater. In the experiment, Bombard catches the octopus and transfers it to the ‘clean’ water; within seconds, the octopus curls up and sinks to the bottom, where it dies. Guattari mentions this experiment in order to prove that, even if we wanted to, nature can no longer be separated from culture (‘culture’ linked to ‘material culture’ and human development through economic growth). The cultural and natural ecologies are inseparable. If we are to understand the interactions between the ecosystems and the contemporary conditions of the objectives and methods of the movement of the social, we have to learn to think ‘transversally’. In Rachel Rose’s video A Minute Ago (2014) the thinking is very much transverse. This interdependence is brought about by collage, by way of layers of time through sound and images.
A collage of found and original video footage flicker between a beach and Philip Johnson’s influential modern architectural landmark Glass House. In the first sequence, we see an outlandish beach scene with a viaduct in the background. After a few seconds, the beachgoers are interrupted by a ferocious hailstorm. As the weather rages overhead, people take cover as Pink Floyd’s Echoes Part 1 plays out. Raw subtitles add an emotional narrative to the scene: ‘If we die – know that I love you’.
From this sequence, the video cuts to the Glass House, Steve Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood starts to play provokingly in the background, while the camera moves slowly from a pastoral scene to the interior of the house. A blurry, ghostlike Johnson emerges gesticulating, somehow explaining their design. Their movements are in sync with that of the camera, and have the effect of a silhouette cut and pasted into reality, consequently unifying two moments in time. Images of Nicolas Poussin’s distinguished The Funeral of Phocion (1648) interrupts the scene and the one and only painting in Johnson’s Glass House slowly appears. It depicts a rustic townscape and at the bottom of the canvas a body reveals itself, being taken to burial, yet, never being buried, always remaining on its way. The captive body on canvas almost evokes the portrayal of Johnson in the video, blurry ghosts stranded inside. The rain starts, a stuck antelope flickers to the sound of cheerful applause, which leads to screams of a hailstorm and in this moment of chaos the Glass House shatters in a pixelated storm of glass.
The tension of disaster within the preserve of modernity’s supposed harmony makes A Minute Ago more than a video work. It becomes a conviction about the vulnerabilities and absurdities of even the most esteemed and praised cultural symbols. Rose’s use of sounds and dispersal of history and narratives within the work shift the pendulum; the sense of becoming, evaporating, and succumbing to our bodies and the spaces in which they inhabit, both artificial and natural, alludes to our connection to time and nature. Nevertheless, when the video is over, we are left with one prominent thought – we are both the polluted water and the octopus from Marseille.