The Heavy Stuff

In January 2013, curator Aaron Levi Garvey, CoRK art studios, and The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens inaugurated a new program: a month-long artist’s residency culminating in a solo show. The artist chosen for this new program is Rachel Rossin, a painter, video artist, and installation artist. Her show, entitled Holy See was a one-night interactive event designed to raise questions about the sacred in the everyday. Below, is a conversation between curator Aaron Levi Garvey and the artist.

ALG: My first question is what is your driving force in creating your work and at what point did you realize that this is what you wanted to do?
RR: There’s always been this underlying feeling and I think most creative people – I’m sure you feel this way too – that… complete drive. So, beyond that, what’s inspiring me or what is keeping me going or what feels like my purpose as hard as is it is to define has to do with spirituality or that feeling that’s analogous to a feeling of a type of transcendence or rapture that would be best described in a Gnostic way as just being in nature. It’s just experiencing the sublime, simply.

ALG: And you find that through your creation process?
RR: Yeah, creation process and also what I want to make.

ALG: And the message that you’re creating with your work comes from that spiritual side?
RR: Yeah, it’s not exclusive but it does have to do with what I was just saying: the sublime and how we experience that and I feel that for me it’s coming up more and more. I find myself constantly examining how we experience reality, like even drawing upon what dimension mean or what psychological tests like these Rorschach paintings are about like in that last series: the telltale myths: mythologies and dreams. The heavy stuff.

ALG: Lets go further back …Did you have a lot of mythology and religion in your upbringing? Was it a very stringent or strict household?
RR: There were a lot of things informing my spirituality…

ALG: Well your mother being Christian and your father being Buddhist.
RR: Yeah, they had me in Baptist school for 14 years with the uniform and the very straight-laced atmosphere but I never found it to be stifling really. Rather, I found religion to be a way of informing me in pointing to a type of mystery. The thing that was really hard was how far people took it and in the wrong ways but I found that there were very beautiful symbols in the rest of it.

ALG: So I see that you have these tarot cards on the table here and considering the New Age side of things: do you find it playful, uplifting or insightful?
RR: It’s just fun stuff… I feel the same way about the tarot cards as I do the crucifix.

ALG: It’s an icon?
RR: They are icons and whether or not the thing is self-perpetuating or how my personal beliefs relate or how that all seeps into my art… at the end of the day, it’s a bit of a shoulder shrug- even in the same way of asking why are we here and the fate of the universe and all of that… but it’s exciting and I think that when we are in that type of philosophical debate with ourselves there’s a pause that happens and I think that is the alchemy of something intangible and whole: like love. I’m enthralled at being suspended in the mystery of whether or not my rising sign is telling me something (laughs). Though, it does seem there are spooky facts to support that type of thing but I like to leave that up to someone’s personal beliefs.

ALG: Do you feel that while your creating your pieces you are formulating new thought processes and new ideas and casting aside old beliefs or finding new myths through this exploration?
RR: I think it’s all there, I find that I’m constantly watching myself and delving into ways to explore new approaches and just simply playing. I feel really free, I don’t feel pigeon holed ever and I try hard not to be and I think as artists there’s some temptation or pressure for that. As far as considering the idea of finding new myths while creating and all of that it’s amazing and I hope everyone feels this way: that your past comes back from when you learned something previously and reinforces itself and it’s truly incredible to see all of those layers there all at once, so, of course that’s all there and it goes into the work.

ALG: So touching on the work: You work with video, photography sculpture, painting, drawing, cut paper, textiles, – so that’s about seven different trades that I just named off the top of my head. Is that a part of the exploration process or do have a favorite method that you find that is most explorative and able to be relaxing at the same time, that you find most enjoyment with?
RR: No… they all inform themselves. If I had to choose, painting would be my first love but the other relationships are all really important too.

ALG: (laughs) Bringing in the whole, happy family. I agree with you that’s very important bringing them all together and using all of those different mediums… especially now.
RR: Yeah.

ALG: …And not pigeon holing yourself as you said before especially in your thought process. I like that. That’s excellent… So through your exploration and the message that you’re trying to convey and that you are conveying with your work do you feel that it’s reaching people the way you intended it to be? Do you feel your viewers are understanding the message behind the work?
RR: I’m never entirely sure what everyone’s gleaning of course and I’m sure with everything it all varies. At my last show there was a lot of feedback that people understood what I was trying to specifically convey but I don’t believe there has to be one message. I love the idea of making things for people.

ALG: In telling your message do you find a lot of pressure in clarifying it or do you just enjoy it that much to just constantly create without question?
RR: I don’t feel pressure, no. Things simply aren’t for everyone. I’m so pleased when someone gets the message the way I originally sent it out but I do believe art is like relating to people in a lot of ways: not everyone is for everyone and not everything is for everyone and I enjoy every response. Well… for the exclusion of a few I can think of (smiling) but just simply being in dialogue with someone is something I’m grateful for.

ALG: Just in simply provoking thought?
RR: Yeah, I feel like it’s similar to a nice hike and some people just don’t like to hike.

ALG: You works are small to medium…do you see yourself going larger? Do you see yourself going to something like 15 feet or 30 feet, say?
RR: Oh, I can’t wait

ALG: Would it be a mural or would you prefer canvas?
RR: I would love to work on linen.

ALG: This raw linen you’re working in is absolutely gorgeous.
RR: Thank you.
ALG: What’s your reason for working on the raw linen?
RR: Well, as dealing with reality. I love the work feeling self-realized… like, the idea: it starts to get really… okay. It’s the ancient and original philosophy of idealism, which means our thoughts are creating our own reality and it’s an intrinsic Hindu philosphy too… They call it the lila. It means “play” in Sanskrit. It’s as if God’s eyes were turned inwards on himself, like we are all God and I really like the idea of my work having its own life and so the idea of the exposed material is in the story of what I’m creating… So especially in the telltale series the idea was simply that the fabric forms were painted on fabric. They’re self-realized.

ALG: So it’s their roots and what they become on top of their roots.
RR: However, they don’t need a philosophy. It’s just meant to be beautiful too, I love work, for the most part, that’s just beautiful.

ALG: The other question that I find most entertaining: Do you believe in the longevity of contemporary art?
RR: I think art will be around as long as religion is around.

ALG: What about on a social realm? Do you believe in art for the masses or as a constant narrative of our time? Or of our history?
RR: Oh, definitely.

ALG: Or in addition to that, do you think art is for everyone and thus be affordable for everyone? We can address the commercial side of it… For example the sculpture that sold for hundreds of millions of dollars do you find that this sort of taints it?
RR: I don’t want to speak so much to the economics and politics of how money is handled in contemporary art. I would prefer if that money could have a bigger impact in more people’s lives, yes. But there’s always going to be Ferraris, aren’t there? I understand why it seems gratuitous but that type of debate or my opinion seems so much more futile than what, say reality is/ I’m just not so interested in debating capitalism. I do think that all of the arts act as mirrors in regards to our society and that we’re constantly telling ourselves what we are.

ALG: Lets go back to what you said about religion and the arts relating to the church. For example: look at the Renaissance’s huge influence on art and supporting artists livings… and you said art will be around for as long as religion is around. Say, hypothetically religion disappears, what would your art be without a spiritual connotation. What type of message would you be delivering? Do you think you would still be searching?
RR: I should clarify what religion means to me: I don’t see religion as a type of social structure, even though I understand that it is. I see it more as how we define spirituality or love.

ALG: Like connectivity?
RR: Exactly, its just connection. I say religion because when I say love it feels like a partnership because I find religion to be an expression of something singular. So, I’d rather say: as long as love exists art will exist, and I don’t think humans can live without love.

ALG: No…
RR: Yeah, religion has so many messy things attached to it, but the work goes beyond just spirituality, it really is more about (laughing) just how we are floating in this incredible spectacle, it’s so insane! What a crazy thing but we just go back into the motions, so yes, I would like to develop some arrestment in people.

ALG: So taking a step back and looking at our –
RR: Yeah the spectacle of the thing

ALG: ..and what we are in the context of the universe and solar systems and all of that…
RR: Yes, all of this nowness… Lovely.