Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, 127th Street, New York, 15 September – 28 October
The four-legged protagonist of Rachel Rose’s animated video Lake Valley (2016) calls to mind any number of the roly-poly characters that populate children’s books, and the work’s narrative is as hazy as the creature’s provenance. Making its US debut after a run at the Venice Biennale, Lake Valley follows a scruffy, vaguely feline/canine/vulpine animal as it passes through a vibrant but sinister dreamscape. At the Harlem space, the eight-minute video is projected on a five-by-nine-metre screen accessed through a massive rolling freight entrance that exposes the floor-level gallery to the street, where it plays nightly on a loop from 6pm to 6am.
Lake Valley’s landscapes and characters are constructed using eighteenth- and nineteenth-century clippings from a vast range of illustrated children’s books, which are animated by hand and collaged using postproduction software. The exquisite composite renderings have elicited comparisons to the illustrated interior worlds of children’s literature classics, such as the Moomin series (1945–70) and Winnie the Pooh (1926), but a resemblance might also be drawn to the less known 1940 board book Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt, whose titular rabbit bears a likeness to Lake Valley’s creature. Similarly to Kunhardt’s groundbreaking sensory children’s book – the first to embed tactile surfaces, such as a bunny’s fuzzy tail and a father’s scratchy beard, within its pages – Rose’s latest work does not so much upend narrative convention as unmoor it. Lake Valley’s narrative arc is as expansive as it is inconclusive. Rose previously transformed her fascination with the dislocating sensory effects of space travel into the 2015 video Everything and More, but Lake Valley takes as its subject the psychological toll of indeterminacy – one’s lack of clarity regarding the story in which one features – as it considers the loneliness of pre- and nascent verbal childhood.
this very indeterminacy allows for intimacy; viewers pull from their own experiences in their assessments of the work
The work’s unspeaking, unnamed subject – a pet, or perhaps an extension of the child shown sleeping near the video’s beginning – awakens with the child, observes her day omnisciently and finally ventures out at nightfall as the girl returns to sleep, either through the front door or into a framed abstract landscape within the house. There, the animal discovers a lush, foreboding wilderness composed of densely interlaid swatches sampled from (in Rose’s estimate) thousands of scanned vintage illustrations. A subsequent, visually arresting strobelike scene evokes the hallucinatory, somatic 1960s films of Paul Sharits. Like Sharits, Rose ties physical sensation to emotional register. As the disoriented and forlorn creature curls up to sleep in a copse, an aerial shot zooms ever farther out to reveal the endlessly sprawling suburban landscape surrounding the green space, and the child once more awakens.
Rose is interested in the aspects of experience that evade mimetic and diegetic expression, and her art’s broad focal range has been accused of using a breathless poetic indeterminacy to obscure a lack of meat. Yet this very indeterminacy allows for intimacy; viewers pull from their own experiences in their assessments of the work. Gavin Brown’s unusual presentation, a departure from the frenetic Biennale mounting – where the video was sandwiched between adjacent installations and the Central Pavilion’s food hall, its stillness subsequently denuded – facilitates an experience both communal and intimate in the near empty gallery, with nary a gallerist or art aficionado in sight. One hopes that at least a few passersby happen upon it by chance in the early hours, their guard perhaps enough softened by alcohol and incongruity to read into it what they would.
From the December 2017 issue of ArtReview