Rachel de Joode: Signifiers + Surface

Interview by Topical Cream

Dutch-born, Berlin-­based multi-­media artist Rachel de Joode sat down with Topical Cream to talk about what to call the as of yet nameless combination of photography and sculpture; as well as her up coming collaboration with Kate Steciw at Neumeister Bar-­Am in May.


‘Artist in her solo-exhibition ‘The Molten Inner Core’ at gallery Neumeister Bar-Am

Topical Cream: Rachel, for your exhibition at Museo Apparente in Naples, “Bronzeware and Ceramics” you are working with loose concepts of classical mediums like drawing, sketching and bronze sculpture. Where did this idea originate?

Rachel De Joode: The nature of Museo Apparente’s space; a Henry David Thoreau-ish, small, self-built wooden garden house, led me to show ‘sketches’.

The space is simply quite small (about 12 sq. ft.) and I found it a space that invites showing smaller accidents, sketches, drawings, ideas, fragments, assumptions. It’s like a little house, it feels intimate and so I felt I could show some of my research, unfinished works (sketches) and material explorations. I’ve been exploring the media bronze and ceramic: as a thing, in its photographic form, in it’s ‘in real life’ form, as a metaphor. Also I worked with the idea of an art-exhibition and the things (agency) involved in a ‘gallery-show’.


‘Bronzeware & Ceramics’ at Museo Apparente, 2014

You mentioned them gallery in Naples is a sort of garden house. Did this give you the freedom to take critically the idea of the artist at play in a gallery space?

Yes, it gave me freedom, because it’s a little ‘playhouse’, so, I definitely felt there was room to play. I brought a suitcase full of works and installed everything in 1-2 days.

In many of my recent works I explore the role and signifiers of the contemporary gallery space and this bottomless pit of contemporary art-documentation circulation on the internet. In this show I took into account some of these ideas as well. I showed fragments of a contemporary art-exhibition: images of a grey gallery floor, a white pedestal with a human handprint and a corner of a framed artwork. I installed this group of works (photographs) hanging (from the ceiling) in front of an free-hanging white wall. Questioning the white wall in-itself. Outside in the garden, I hanged a partially framed photograph in a lemon-tree; the image of wet terra cotta is only half-framed, the bottom half is dancing in the wind. I balanced framed photographs (the bronze-works) on unstable sticks, hand-printing the installation with white wall-paint. I used signifiers that define a generic art-exhibition in a gallery and appropriated them to my installation. Everything in the show is partial, fragmented, an illusion, a sketch.


Has a word been developed for this type of work? Photo-sculpture? Duchamp was a marketing genius and came up with the easy to understand term “ready made.” Has criticism caught up to this kind for cross-pollination or photography and sculpture? If you were to create word or term for it what do you think it would be?

Such a great question! I read the terms ‘lens-based-sculpture’ and ‘photo-sculpture’ in relation to my work; both are good, but not pinning it down 100%. I was thinking about this, but haven’t figured it out. These works have more to do with two-dimensional vs three-dimensional, with surface, with the ‘in real life’ and documentation of a sculpture (because in the end, a work only has to be two dimensional to be documented, depth is not a necessity anymore, to be documented the work only needs ‘one face’).

Maybe: ‘In real life lens-based surface-sculpture in two and three dimensions’

No! that’s no good: I call everyone to mail me with suggestions: rachel@racheldejoode.com


The negative holding time has always been a critical issue for photography relevance in art criticism in past. Does the idea of time and photography come into play in your practice?

Yes, time plays a huge role, cause, the things I photograph are mostly ephemeral. They need to be eternalized by cameras because otherwise it transforms, falls apart, decays etc. I see photography as something practical to preserve time.

Your work makes strong reference to surface, with the repeated use of skin and more literal body parts like a fingers etc. Where is the connection for you with comparing the human surface and surface of the photograph.

I see skin as, what I like to call, ‘the thing body’. Skin is the surface of a human, it’s the human-thing. Fingers and hands I like to use because they are our main tools, I like the term ‘hand-made’: is an email ‘hand-made’? In a way; yes, it’s typed by hand. Fingers and hands are the doing-things of our human bodies, they signify labor.


A photograph is a fantastic tool to flatten a thing: to turn something into mere surface. The photographed thing is still existing, it’s still there, it’s just flat (in a different state).

A photo and the human skin are two separate things though, incomparable, because a photo itself is nothing, a photo is metamorphic, it can take on everything, in a flat version. Skin is solid.


But, I do like to photograph skin, I see it as sculpting, I sculpt the human skin using the images of skin as raw materials and Photoshop as a sculpting tool.

You just wrapped your exhibition The Molten Inter Core. What was your entry point to this exhibition?

I was addressing ‘me’ ‘the artist’ making an art-exhibition. So I investigated my skin (me) and the agency, the assembly of things that are involved in the process of making art and exhibiting art in contemporary times.

You are a co-founder Meta-Magazine. How did you first begin this project?

It was 2008, I believe, it’s me and a group of friends sitting together and wanting to make a magazine that we would like to read ourselves. Not something that is ‘cool’, or, fashionable. The other three involved have different backgrounds, but we have a common interest in theory, nature, art, future, etc. So we just started to write, report things we are interested in, things we like to research.

At the moment we are all very busy with many other things and we now only bring 1 story a month maximum, so we’re a bit slow, but, that is also the nature of the project, we do it because we like to do it, not because we have to do it.

The archive is online and reads like an index, you can jump through the articles associatively through visuals or keywords.

You mentioned that you and Kate Steciw, have another collaborative show coming up this summer. What are you guys planning?

We are doing are third ‘Open For Business’! This time in Berlin (previously in New York and Mexico City). It’ll be the 4th of May during Berlin Gallery Weekend. I am a little less mobile with my big belly, but, we plan to combine our forces and generate a series of 25 photographic works that will be sculpturally installed. We will be working in the attic of Neumeister Bar-Am gallery. Kate and I have a different practice but many common grounds and mutual interests. One of those interests is the ‘de-mystification’ of the art-making process and that is what we pursue with this one-day performance. Open For Business is showing ‘us working’ : making mistakes, glueing our fingers together, things falling over, having coffee breaks, etc. It’s all part of it. We show labor as art.


Relief, 2014  + Reclining Wet Clay on Greek Marble, 2013

We noticed you are about to have a baby! Do you have any names picked out?

Yes! We have a name, but, are not telling any names – only 5 more weeks to go!

What’s coming up in May?

Upcoming shows are: A groupshow at Elaine Levy gallery in Brussels (with Alisa Baremboym, Bea Fremderman, Valerian Goalec, Sean Raspet, Hugo Scibetta).

And ‘Open For Business III’, a performance-like one-day-project I do together with Kate Steciw. It’ll be held at gallery Neumeister Bar-Am during Berlin’s gallery weekend (Sunday, May 4th).