– Spring/Summer 2005

The Stuff: Rachel Harrison's Sculpture

Catherine Wood

Rachel Harrison, 'Should be home windows or shutters...', mixed media, dimensions variable

Rachel Harrison, 'Should be home windows or shutters...', mixed media, dimensions variable

The fallen human soul, at its best, must be as a diminishing glass, and that a broken one, to the mighty truths of the universe round it; and the wider the scope of its glance, and the vaster the truths into which it obtains an insight, the more fantastic their distortion is likely to be.
- Ruskin on 'The Symbolical Grotesque', The Stones of Venice1

Rachel Harrison's sculptural concoctions butt into one's field of vision as literal and perceptual obstacles. Their awkwardness is symptomatic of Harrison's apparent anxiety about the status of sculpture in an excessively object-filled world. A knobbly blue piece titled What would it be like to be Imelda Marcos? (1996) is a wall-mounted form - or, more correctly, a form bulging-from-the-wall - made from styrofoam, papier-maché and paint, with a photograph embedded in it. Installed at Greene Naftali, New York, the lumpiness of its sculptural matter made sharp contrast with the pristine gallery walls. The implications of these two contrasting surfaces as supports for a photographic image could not be more different: the latter dissolving physical space to present the image as window-view; the former drawing attention to the photo and its support as assertively present matter.

Absurd-looking, inelegant, Harrison's works are mostly composed in this way: as curious conglomerate shapes that both foreground and overwhelm the display of found objects or images. Writing in Artforum, Saul Anton asserts that Harrison's work 'confounds attempts to understand it dialectically 2 The Imelda Marcos title is both typical and indicative of the complex way in which Harrison negotiates the relationship between fine art and consumer culture. The question posed by

  1. George P. Landow, The Aesthetic and Critical Theories of John Ruskin, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971, p.371

  2. Saul Anton, 'Shelf Life', Artforum, November 2002, p.163

  3. Benjamin Buchloh, 'Cargo and Cult: the displays of Thomas Hirschhorn', Artforum, November 2001, p.109

  4. Ibid.,

  5. Wait for me at the bottom of the pool: The writings of Jack Smith, London: Serpent's Tail, 1997, p.17

  6. Ibid., p.99

  7. S. Anton, op. cit., p.163. In this essay Anton describes Harrison's 'strategy of delay' as one which deals with 'the aesthetic lodestars of today ... the readymade and the minimal object'.

  8. Mike Kelley, Foul Perfection: Essays and Criticism, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003, p.142

  9. Ibid.