Rachel Harrison: Caution Kneeling Bus
January 15 through February 20, 2022
By PETER FRANK, January 2022
The vein of bricolage running through recent American art has yielded some of the most emotionally and aesthetically potent work of the last several decades. The formal and contextual excitement offered by images and, especially, objects by such expansive artists as Cady Noland, Jessica Stockholder, Jason Rhoads, and Thomas Houseago has defined a level of anxiety and beauty that recapitulates the notion of the sublime in contemporary terms.
Few latter-day bricoleurs approach the conception and fabrication of ordered detritus – or, if you will, disordered signifiers – with greater vehemence or eloquence than Rachel Harrison. Her looming, free-standing sculptures lard near-architectural construction with garish color, at once subsuming and highlighting the comprising elements. Her two-dimensional work is doused in cascades of reference to art, popular culture, and related topics seemingly awaiting the coherency of scrapbooking – a coherency that never comes, leaving the myriad images adrift to find their own. (This despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that Harrison has employed – actually misemployed – a scanning app to capture and render the various images. Resultingly, the series is a veritable glitch parade.)
To be sure, this describes the dye-sublimation prints and wonky, obdurate assemblages currently at Regen Projects more than it does Harrison’s entire oeuvre. But for all its twists and turns, experiments and diversions, Harrison’s three-decade career has yielded a consistently intense, worried, fractured body of things and pictures. The focus has clearly been not on how artworks (or, for that matter, their components) look but how they feel, that is, how they take readings of the climate(s) of our times and reflect back at us how we react in our gut to – well, to the mounting and increasingly confusing threats to our well-being. Harrison’s approach to the piecemeal offers neither the comfort of an alternate order nor the assurance that the apparent chaos is in fact synergistic. Rather, she exposes the entropy to which the entire universe is subject as the governing factor of our awareness, in art as in life.
Things fall apart. Art puts them back together. But they fall apart again. More art is needed. This is perhaps the good news at the heart of Harrison’s wrenching critique of pure reason. Nature is eternal; art is as perishable as we are. Art, then, is our model for survival. WM
PETER FRANK is an art critic, curator, and editor based in Los Angeles, where he serves as Associate Editor of Fabrik Magazine. He began his career in his native New York, where he wrote for The Village Voice and The SoHo Weekly News and organized exhibitions for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Alternative Museum. He is former Senior Curator at the Riverside (CA) Art Museum and former editor of Visions Art Quarterly and THEmagazine Los Angeles, and was art critic for LA Weekly and Angeleno Magazine. He has worked curatorially for Documenta, the Venice Biennale, and many other national and international venues. (Photo: Eric Minh Swenson)
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