Born 1966 in New York, New York; lives in New York, New York
Rachel Harrison’s sculptures populate a space of interpretation that at one moment encourages critical discourse and at another draws on its own enigmatic, intuitive logic. With a deluge of cultural debris including canned goods, celebrity magazines, fake fruit, wigs, mannequins, soft drinks, and taxidermied animals placed on forms of often monolithic scale, Harrison conflates the art historically scripted media of painting, installation, sculpture, and photography. She recombines abstraction with the figurative, the biomorphic with the architectural, and the readymade with the handmade. The sculptures are often painted in a variety of ways ranging from monochromes to multicolored palettes that veer from Rococo painting to amusement park decor. Such surface detail at once informs and undermines their simultaneously flamboyant and totemic presence.
In the 2007 solo exhibition If I Did It at New York’s Greene Naftali, Harrison exhibited nine sculptures alongside fifty-seven portraits hung in a row. The Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin’s field journal from the survey expedition that led to his theory of evolution, is the source for the title of the eponymous photographic series. While Darwin’s explorations served as a radical new foundation on which the representation of the human subject could be formed, Harrison’s photographic “expedition” casts a wholly different base on which representation can be figured. These photographs show human and anthropomorphized animal forms in various cultural depictions, including Corsican menhirs dating from 3000 BCE, a public sculpture of Gertrude Stein, a stuffed porcupine, and a dragqueen mannequin.
The nine sculptures in the exhibition are titled after famous men: Alexander the Great, Johnny Depp, Fats Domino, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Al Gore, John Locke, Pasquale Paoli, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Amerigo Vespucci, and Tiger Woods. The two-part Claude Lévi- Strauss (2007), stacked on U.S. postal and fax machine boxes, comprises a pair of rectangular orange-red and green bases on which perch a stuffed hen and rooster facing each other, communicating through the viewer’s presence. A female mannequin dressed in aerobic exercise clothing, the Janus-like Rainer Werner Fassbinder (2007) sports voguish glasses and a backward-facing rubber Dick Cheney mask as a trail of packing peanuts covers the floor behind this sculptural she/he.
The sculptures and photographs function as “complexes,” combinations of seemingly incongruous formal or symbolic elements that obliquely mirror the human subject. These poses and masks, mannequins and menhirs that people Harrison’s sculptural universe garner their real power by revealing themselves as part of a conceptual system, one that catalogues this mirrored subjectivity as it walks upright through the morass of cultural and political history. TRINIE DALTON
Rachel Harrison, Installation view, If I Did It, Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich, 2007.