RACHEL LIBESKIND STUDIO VISIT

Rachel Libeskind’s studio (which she shares with fellow artist Daniel Horowitz) in DUMBO, Brooklyn is one of the most inviting art environments you can immerse yourself in. Rachel’s work is an eye-popping mix of large paintings, sculptures, collages, and assemblages on everything from found paper to bathroom sinks. It’s the kind of work that sits with you for a while, it’s personal, it speaks to the present while channeling the past. In Rachel’s young career she has already shown in New York, Rome, Paris, and a gamut of other enviable locations. Her oeuvre expands beyond the traditional gallery scene and circle, this last summer she did a performance installation in Italy, in December she co-hosted a talk on nipple censorship on Instagram at Art Basel, and currently is undertaking a site-specific installation for the La Voix Humaine Opera in Miami. Rachel took time to talk with RE:DEFINE about the motifs she’s exploring, how her work is evolving and what’s on the horizon in 2015.

1. Tell us about your current body of work, what motifs are you exploring?

Girlhood, womanhood, modes of gender performance, construction of nationhood, the magic of chaos. 

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2. Censorship is a theme prevalent in your work. You paint over eyes, genitalia, etc. is there a message you’re trying to get across?

Less a message and more of an exploration of anonymity. If you disembody the eyes, or mouth or genitalia of a printed image of a human being, what can their bodies come to mean? I’m interested in the perception of bodies, of faces, and how excising crucial visual moments can bring new meaning to personhood.  

3. A lot of your work uses old images from Life Magazines, photo albums, etc., can you explain the thought process behind re-appropriation in your work?

Richard Prince defined his own method of re-appropriation in the most, succinct and brilliant way— by simply using the example of “sampling” in music as a metaphor for what he is doing in his work. I think this is the best way to think about it— re-appropriating pre-existing images in the world allows you, with immediacy, to imbue the work with aura, with the past, with the strangeness of the forgotten-and then reified-image. 

4. What did you takeaway from the experience of your Traveling Bag performance that you did in Spoleto, Italy this last summer? 

My biggest takeaway from doing my first performance installation was that performing and making art “live” for an audience employs a totally different kind of creative energy than, for example, making paintings in the studio and showing them in a gallery setting. It’s a lot scarier, but the reward of success during a performance is astronomically bigger than anything you feel from seeing your work on the wall, the adrenaline and pressure is incomparable to anything I have ever done, “off-stage”. It’s exciting for me to think about the prospects this kind of newfound performance energy. 

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5. Talk to us about the last year, you’ve participated in shows all over the world, what have been some of the highlights?

The performance installation I did this past summer was probably the highlight. Another great moment this year was when my work was included in the National Lithuanian Arts Festival (that’s my work’s eastern most point to-date)— definitely a surprise, albeit a very positive one. The most recent highlight was hosting a discussion on nipple censorship with friend, artist Ally Marzella at Miami Beach during Art Basel (orchestrated by the amazing BHFQU). 

6. Any other performance pieces on the horizon? If so, what and where? 

I will definitely be doing The Traveling Bag again, in NYC this year. I have a cooking show performance piece in the works at the moment. 

7. This February you’re going to be working on the La Voix Humaine Opera in Miami, what is your role in that project?

In May of 2014, I did the production design on a very small-scale French opera, La Voix Humaine alongside the brilliant direction of my friend and collaborator, James Danner (of Amanda+James company). Through hard work and good luck, the production was tapped by the Knight Foundation to be brought to Miami for 2015. I will be doing a site-specific installation, which will be the set for the opera at the Bas-Fisher Invitational space in Wynwood. It’s a truly interesting project, particularly merging contemporary art with opera in a city like Miami. 

8. You recently moved into this studio space in Dumbo, how did you and Daniel meet and decide to become studio partners?

Daniel and I met through a mutual friend who was curating Daniel’s closing show at Pioneer Works. As soon as I stepped into his studio, I felt an affinity to his work and imagery. Little did I know that he and I share a very similar biography (we both have Jewish fathers who grew up in anti-semitic post-war Poland, both of whom immigrated to New York and went on to be artists in their own right). Somehow the coalescence of meeting and seeing each other’s work just worked— I was moving out of my space and he needed a partner to split the rent. 

9. Since becoming studio partners how has your practice evolved? What is the dynamic like as opposed to previous work environments?

I have only ever worked alone or alongside artists who work in a totally different medium. Daniel is the first studio partner who is a painter and also uses found objects/imagery to employ in the work. Although our work is totally related, we couldn’t be more opposite in the way we work. Daniel is careful, precise, and works in an incredibly efficient way. I am a mess— my studio motto is “nothing is precious”— paint flying, things being destroyed as quickly as they are made. In many ways, this studio partnership is totally symbiotic, since we both need what the other has too much of. 

10. The studio is called the Department of Signs and Symbols, what does that mean to you?

Our experience in this world is largely visual – the way we interact with news, with memories, with consumption. Signs & Symbols is a reference to the illusory inventory we all keep of the signs and symbols we recognize, we hold as our own, we hate, we love, we discourage, we illuminate. McDonalds, Ghostbusters, Chanel, the Holy Cross, SOS, Apple – we live in a time where logos are symbols of consumption and images are signs charged with complex layers of meaning. It’s only fitting that artists dedicate themselves to the reification and simultaneous deconstruction of signs and symbols. 

11. What are you most looking forward to in 2015?

2015 is exciting. I have a solo show in New York at Hansel & Gretel Pocket Utopia coming up. I will be showing my work in Austria for the first time, and I will have my first show in my hometown, Berlin. Also: I’m doing a residency in Iceland which is definitely a life goal fulfilled.

12. Song(s) that you currently can’t get enough of? 

I rediscovered MF Doom in 2014, definitely can’t get enough of all of his brilliant music. Currently binging on Phil Spektor, bands like the Crystals, the Ronettes etc. as good studio music. Hate Katy Perry, Love Lana del Rey.  

Follow Rachel on Instagram.  

Visit Rachel’s website.