The Chinatown studio where Rachel Rose works is tidy and stark, with the exception of the bright-blue painter’s tape holding storyboards to the wall. These drawings map out a project that the 30-year-old video artist will debut early next year at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and at Turin’s Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo. It explores a piece of history, with Plymouth, Massachusetts, standing in for 16th-century agrarian England, and it marks Rose’s first time using live actors.
But first, her already career-defining work, Lake Valley, was unveiled to New York audiences at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise this fall. The short video transfixed crowds at this past summer at the Venice Biennale. To make the hypnotic, anime-esque story of a rabbit-like creature searching for a friend, Rose eschewed 3-D computer animation, opting instead to painstakingly draw each frame in the roughly eight-and-a-half-minute video by hand. “It pushed me to think more specifically and more fully about what I was trying to do,” she says. Rose brought to life the narrative’s imaginary suburban landscape by scanning thousands of illustrations from vintage children’s books, and then layering them with her hand-drawn animation cels. An image of boiling pasta, for example, was rendered from what was originally various textures of hair. The same creative transformation happened with the sound edit: a repurposed recording of someone taking off a sweater was altered to become the rustling of a critter rubbing its belly against carpet.
Originally from northern Westchester, Rose studied painting and humanities as an undergraduate at Yale before earning a masters degree in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London and her MFA from Columbia University. But ultimately, she says, “I just couldn’t figure out how to use painting as a tool to extend outside of myself.” In 2012, she turned to documentary filmmaking and began interviewing people in three distinct fields—cryogenics, zoology, and robotics—the footage from which was used to create her first video, Sitting Feeding Sleeping.
Rose now produces one video a year, each about ten minutes in length and accompanied by site-specific installations she builds to reflect the video’s central feeling. When asked to describe the source of her curious passions, she mentions The Rings of Saturn, a meandering book by W.G. Sebald, which blends fact and fiction. “I’m into his trompe l’oeil-ing through time,” she says. “You feel the transition fully, one thing morphs into another.”
RACHEL ROSE IS ON VIEW THROUGH OCTOBER 28, 2017 AT GAVIN BROWN’S ENTERPRISE. HAIR: ROLANDO BEAUCHAMP USING BUMBLE AND BUMBLE/THE WALL GROUP. MAKEUP: LAURA STIASSNI/THE WALL GROUP.