Art Rachel Rose at Serpentine Sackler gallery

The video 'A Minute Ago' by the winner of the Frieze Artist Award, reminds the viewer that disaster can strike any minute.

Hearing the opening note at the beginning of a song can bring you into a different environment. When I hear the ‘ping’ sound in ‘Echoes’ by Pink Floyd, I’m transported into space. I associate this single sound with astronomy. It sparks my wanderlust, hunger for adventure and uplifts my mood.

RachelRoseAminuteAgo4The American artist, Rachel Rose, used ‘Echoes’ for the opening sequence of her video ‘A Minute Ago’. After watching her gripping work I will, from now on, associate ‘Echoes’ with catastrophe as well. Rose put the track under some real life footage she found on YouTube, of people on an idyllic bathing scene in Siberia. Out of nowhere they are hit by catastrophe, an apocalyptic hailstorm. People are running, in panic, from the water with lines imposed on the screen: “It was a perfect weather one minute ago”, and “If we die – know that I love you.” The scene is followed by footage shot by Rose of Philip Johnson’s Glass House in Connecticut, incorporated with archive footage of the architect giving a tour of the house. The scene is also struck by disaster as Rose shattered the glass of the house in post production.

The video is on display at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery and Rose has added another dimension to the work by making it part of a site-specific installation. The Sackler Building, a former gunpowder store, consists of two exhibition spaces; the South Powder room that shows ‘A Minute Ago’ and the North Powder room that shows ‘Palisades in Palisades’. Sounds and snippets from the latter video can be heard over the speakers standing on the perimeter and are they wrapped around the two videos.

RachelRoseSerpentineThe sounds move from one speaker to the other like a stadium wave. I detect a snippet of the free-jazz section in Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’, Sonny Bono’s ‘Bang Bang’ (My Baby Shot Me Down), a yawn, the ricochet of a bullet, the sound of an oar rowing in the water, the sound of wind or a bird singing. It transforms the Sackler space into an immersive multi-sensory environment.

rachelroseAminuteago1RachelRoseAminuteAgo2 I am, though, most drawn to ‘A Minute Ago’ as a singular work. One could say that the work is about climate change, about losing control, or how mankind seems to think that they rule the world. However, the forces of nature can overpower us in an instant. Disasters such as the tsunami in Thailand (2004) or Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana (2005) make us realise how vulnerable we actually are. The work seems like a warning that disaster can arrive out of nowhere, a feeling that is evoked when we hear the famous four opening notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.

At the opening of the exhibition, I asked Hans Ulrich Obrist, co-director of the Serpentine galleries, if Rose had already come up with the idea for the exhibition to create a multi-sensory environment when she visited the Sackler space for the first time:

HUO: “Yes, when Rachel saw the Sackler space she had an instinct to do a total work of art, with two films in the rooms and the sound wrapped around the two films. Sometimes the sound takes over, sometimes the film takes over and she really invented something amazing that I have never seen before. There is no hierarchy in the work, the sound is as important as the film – it is a new digital gesamtkunstwerk. From the very beginning she had this idea and the determination to produce it”.

200%: You experienced an incredible, driven artist.

HUO: “Yes, I already experienced that when I met her four, five years ago. It is very rare that one encounters an artist who has this determination to produce reality so early on. I had a flash back memory and it reminded me of the mid-1990s when I did the first museum show in France with Steve McQueen and he told me that ‘there were other worlds besides the art world that he wanted to explore too’. It was an early announcement from Steve that he was going into cinema and with great success – he won an Oscar. Rachel is definitely deeply rooted in the art world but she has amazing potential to go also into other worlds”.

200%: Last year, the video artist Ed Atkins had a solo exhibition at the Sackler Gallery. At the Transformation Marathon this year you are showing video works by Keren Cytter and Andrea Crespo. Is video art becoming in vogue?

HUO: I think we live in a situation where it is becoming less about video art or film. In this digital age we have artists who are working with the moving image in a more complex manner. Through the Internet the boundaries are coming down between disciplines. We have a new situation where all the disciplines ‘talk’ to each other again. We have a situation where someone like Rachel connects all of these media. She is not just a video artist, also not just a sound artist. She creates extraordinary experiences. Like I said it is a gesamtkunstwerk, but not an overpowering gesamtkunstwerk like a Wagnerian gesamtkunstwerk. The viewer does half of the work”.

Written by Thierry Somers
Still from A Minute Ago, 2014, HD video, 8’43”, Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias Gallery
Perimeter Photo ©