Rachel Rose: Everything and More

30 October – 7 February 2016 Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

By Iona Whittaker

Everything and More, 2015 (installation view). Photo: Ronald Amstutz. Courtesy Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Everything and More (2015) is a new 11-and-a-half-minute video by Rachel Rose. A plush black carpet laid in front of the screen is reverently avoided by most visitors, who choose instead to stand or perch on the bench along the back wall – perhaps better to bask in the gently enveloping imagery that Rose has put together to achieve something between collage and a ‘universal’ narrative.

Watching Everything and More entails a subtle cocktail of seduction and dread. It is a sumptuous piece of work, with footage of colourful liquids accompanying descriptions of space travel heard in the voiceover, which is taken from an interview with astronaut David Wolf, among whose recollections are the sensation of no up or down and colours he had never seen before. Wolf wonders, additionally, if he has ruined his life by leaving earth.

Rose’s imagery is not as remote as outer space seems to most of us. Much of it is rendered close up and viscous (she achieved many of the video’s effects by mixing different oils and pigments herself and then filming them). Also shown is footage of a neutral-buoyancy lab, which is used to train astronauts. We waver below and on the surface of its waters, and see a craft submerged at the bottom of the pool; bubbles rise through an intense blue environment of crisp hd colour. Back amid the equipment around the edge of the training pool the camera swoons up to a pure white spacesuit, the image of which begins to split into sliding prismatic fragments; we look out through its facial shield into the oily galaxies again. Later in the video come pop-sublime shots panning a rock-concert crowd, which is moving ecstatically in slow motion and tinted in red as if in a darkroom. Quivering, soulful strains of a female voice (Aretha Franklin’s, actually – manipulated – singing Amazing Grace) siphon up at times, lending spiritual lift and a sense of poetic abstraction to the visual sequence.

There is a degree of trust required to commit one’s eyes and attention to any video piece. Rose is a good researcher and adept at fusing direct, research-based footage with that which is more purely aesthetic – here there are facts, but there is also visual persuasion. To date her work has investigated life, death and purposefulness. Outer space represents a uniquely and universally compelling subject for human beings: a combination of mortality and the unknown, according to Mike Massimino, another astronaut who spoke recently in New York of his experiences. There is an undertone of mortality in Everything and More, as well as wonderment about whether any individual life is essentially important, or meaningless, like a rush of images that will be recalled by few and lost, just as Rose’s slipping marbled liquids are quickly wiped away.

Watching Everything and More is at once disorientating and soothing. In the intense work it must have taken to make this short piece, one senses a channelling of anxiety. Rose has found ways to make things vivid for herself and, in turn, for us. She matches the dark fascination of her subject matter with visual and aural analogues, conveying that fascination without being overbearing. The result is a work of memorable creative presence tied to the unending threat of human absence.

This article was first published in the January & February 2016 issue of ArtReview.