Rachel de Joode

Some of your works exist solely as photos, while others also exist in the form of an installation in an art space or public space. Do you work differently if you are only using the medium of photography? Can you tell us something about the process of constructing your works?

Working towards a 3-dimensional or a 2-dimensional piece is a different process. Most of the time, I make sculptures or installations with the intention of photographing them in the studio and the photograph being the end result. This is a different starting point compared to making a sculpture or installation that is to be presented in a three-dimensional space, in the ‘real world’.

Working in the studio is simply more convenient compared to letting the 3-dimensional art piece ‘be’. There are many reasons why this is easier, for example I can use things that only have to last for the duration of the shoot, such as food, wet things etc. Furthermore, a real benefit is that I am able to decide all aspects of how the work is seen (angle, light, environment etc.). Also, what’s really good about photographing a sculpture is that the work becomes easier to handle: it’s easy to ship and to exhibit. Plus, you can put it online, which is the simplest form for an art piece: it’s cheap (free), doesn’t take up space, and the work receives an instant and broader (global) audience. The internet is a very important platform for me to publish my work, and since this is a 2-dimensional space, a virtual space, only a photograph can be shown faithfully, only a representation can be shown, not a ‘real’ object. We live in a ‘desert of the real’ (Baudrillard), a cultural space where images are more ‘real’ to us than the non-media physical reality that surrounds us. The internet has become a global network that creates a metaphysical world in which we conduct our lives.

The pieces I make in the ‘real world’, in 3-dimensional space, have a different impact, texture, scale; a different fragility that attracts me. Recently, I’ve been making more and more ‘real’ pieces in art spaces and in public spaces, mainly because I like the oddity of the real. In the real world, things tend to look more estranged, more absurd; this is a huge benefit of the real world! Seeing a human-sized sculpture of 60 frozen pizzas slowly getting soft and weak is totally different from seeing a photograph or a clip of this sculpture. The photograph turns the human-sized frozen pizza sculpture into something like a movie star, something that is untouchable, almost glamorous. Whereas when one sees it in ‘real’ life: the work smells a little, it looks kind of sad, the pizzas just hanging there, weak and melancholic, you experience earth’s gravity; it looks sort of misplaced and silly standing on a pedestal and all these things make it really, really great. The real is more banal and, I think especially with my work, which is inspired by the banality of the human condition, by the absurdity of everyday objects, showing pieces ‘live’ communicates these existential feelings of banality, of absurdity. Furthermore, the audience becomes part of the work; the serious glances of the viewers definitely contribute, in the same way the visitors in a zoo contribute to the zoo experience.

And so I am planning to make more installations in the real world. Nevertheless, it is very funny what is happening in art nowadays: I actually made some sculptures that were shown as 3-dimensional objects, but with very few people seeing them in person, not even myself! Yet, these works exists as well! They exist as online images made by the galleries. A lot of people don’t go to shows at all, they just look at the gallery images online, and actually I often find that these online images are so good and so nice to look at that I think, or even tell people, that I went to a certain show, when I actually only saw it in virtual reality. A good example is the art blog ‘Contemporary Art Daily’, these pictures are really good! It makes you wonder whether the artists didn’t just produce the works for the blog photographer, so he could take them into another level of art, of art history actually.

These thoughts are definitely keeping me busy these days, I am thinking of doing something with the idea of (art) space (real and virtual)……

How important is the photographic reproduction of your outdoor installations after you have finished them.

Very important. Basically, without the image, there is no proof! Sometimes it’s hard to capture the work though. I was actually thinking recently that I need to invest more time and money and energy in this in the future, because the documentation is all that will be left of the work in the end.

You play with a feel of beauty, artificiality, kitsch and stereotypes. Where do you gather the inspiration for your installations?

I like the stereotypes that pop up when I Google-image keywords. It’s always a surprise, but actually at the same time not a surprise, it’s almost a speculation! It gives a good idea of what humans think certain things will look like. I also love catalogues and shopping malls and especially one-euro stores (which are almost like contemporary Wunderkammers). This, and art history, or history in general, inspire me a lot.

How are the reactions to your works in public space? Do people recognise them as art?

Actually, I haven’t really made any art in public space. Even though the altars series was taken in the public space, it’s an installation which I was photographing, and so passers-by saw me photographing a cluster of objects and may have wondered what I was doing and walked on. The idea behind the work was to make a graffiti of things. I left the things on the street, but I don’t really know what happened to them or how people reacted. I’m actually not very interested in this. The other works were set up in art spaces or galleries, the audience knows what to expect there.

Why are you so interested in food? Is this your rebellion against the people who told us not to play with our food? Can you tell us a little more about your pizza installation? Why pizzas, and what is the brown powder surrounding the pizzas?

True, I am fascinated with food, because we humans are dependent on it in order to survive; food is basic, it’s primitive, it’s actually something banal in a way. I mean, we humans eat the weirdest things every day, like machines, we can just put almost anything in our mouths, filling our bellies, we humans are fuelled by food. Animals, plants, fish, birds, insects, pizzas, gummibears, red bull, seaweed; you know, humans can handle a lot. It’s kind of ridiculous and strange! Especially meat, dead animals I find really strange and also all this processed or mechanically made food, food that looks like something else, or imitation food, you know, like analogue cheese or the like. I’m not against any type of food at all, I’m a food-liberal, people should eat what they want. I am more excited about all the banal possibilities and the semiotics of food. Food has been a traditional topic in semiotic theory because it is extremely accessible and easily relatable to the average individual. Whether food be mechanically produced, picked from a dumpster, plucked, devoured, or even consumed by a wild animal, meaning can always be extracted from the way a certain food has been prepared and the context in which it is served.

Regarding the pizzas in ‘Life Is Very Long’: I really like pizza for many reasons. The form is funny (round and thin, basically the shape and size of a plate) and the colours are really, really great! Especially mechanically produced pizzas (and pizza factories) are a great mystery. So many pizzas are made all around the world, and they are all perfect and cheap! It’s like this perfect invention, almost close to nature, like some sort of vegetable (in fact, in the US, pizza is officially listed as a vegetable!). And the frozenness is the most fantastic thing about it! The way the life of the pizza is extended or preserved, and on this mass and global scale. It’s really miraculous and bewildering! A pizza is simply iconic for our global age; its production is infinite, repeated billions of times, every day, everywhere in the world.

The red structure that holds the pizzas together is tennis gravel.

Like almost every piece of art your works are based on optical and aesthetical cultural conventions. Do people in other cultural areas react differently to your works, as for example in Berlin?

I guess one needs a bit of knowledge of contemporary art (as with almost all art made nowadays!). One needs a kind of framework into which to place the works I make. And I think it’s important that one has a sense of humour, or a feeling for the absurdness, of existentialism, of nihilism, of the banality of existence. I think up until now, even though I’ve showed my works in very different places, such as China, Guatemala, Estonia, Norway, Germany and the US, the audiences’ reactions haven’t been so different. I mean, it was always shown in art institutions or galleries and I guess the reactions are kind of similar. Okay, some people laugh more here, or take it more serious there, and some people are shyer or may be more easily intimidated, but those are really slight differences. I guess in the art scene there are not so many noticeable cultural differences; the art scene is globalized.

You often combine things that don’t really belong together. You create new causal connections. What meaning does this newly created causal space have for you and is it important for you to break the optical harmony with contrasting objects?

It’s not as much about making new connections as it is about letting go of old ones. I really love the metaphor of the alien who lands on Earth and has literally NO idea of what anything is. A human or a pizza can be the same thing to the alien, maybe hard to distinguish, or a coffee mug and a piece of hair is ‘the same’. Things can be grouped via form, shape, colour, but these are even cultural characteristics of things. You can categorize far beyond this. I simply play with things and I mostly try to let go of everything I know, which of course is impossible, but even just trying is already sufficient in this process. It’s a bit like automatic writing; it’s the automatic placing of objects!

Do you love gradients?

YES! I like them because they are so contemporary -looking, they are very iconographic. Gradients are among the most used backgrounds in contemporary studio photography and in contemporary aesthetics (computer screens). One of the most important signifiers of our age. The gradient is related to the pizza; both are perfect examples of our current times!

Can you tell us something about your use of artificial or fake surfaces, such as fake marble, granite plastic, and vinyl flooring with the look of wood?

Oh yes, I love things that pretend to be other things, like faux marble or granite. It’s this human desire of wanting things that are out of reach and then making a kind of grotesque plastic look-alike.

What are your plans for 2012?

I have two shows coming up this month: one at ‘Extra Extra Gallery’ in Philadelphia and one at ‘Interstate’ in NYC. Then the Panama-based gallery ‘Diablo Rosso’ will be publishing an Edition of a series of mine, which will be presented on the MACO, the Mexico City art fair. I will be going to NYC in May and then I am going to ‘Sculpture Space’ in Utica, where I will be artist in residency for two months. There I will be making a series of sculptures, which I am going to show in Dallas at the ‘Oliver Francis Gallery’, where I’m having a solo show in August.

At the moment (before I go off on this big trip) I am working on a short movie with dancers Jared Gradinger and Angela Schubot. I hope to finish this in about one month or so!

Rachel, thank you for this interview.