AIPAD REVIEW: RACHEL PHILLIPS AT CATHERINE COUTURIER GALLER
Rachel Phillips: From Time to Time
through February 14, 2015
Any artist who operates in the plural must make interesting work. Indeed, Rachel Phillips, who also makes work as her alter-egos Madge Cameron and Frances Pane, is interested in layers- of identity, personality, time, and existence. Her work asks us to reinvent and imagine the past as a landscape of invention and wonder as rich as the future.
The work asks us to consider not only tomorrow, but yesterday, and the day before that, and the years before that, and so on. Phillips engages pictures from the past and conjure their stories. Her foundational materials are albumen portraits called Cabinet Cards from the late 1800’s. In Phillips’ own words she states that “we think of the future as unknown and the past as known- as history in a heavy book. But mostly the past, and the people who lived before us, are as obscure and unknowable to us as the future is- we need a crystal ball to see back in time, too” (Catherine Courtier Gallery).
We look over Phillips’ Cabinet Cards and find her engagements with them add to the mystery, as if she was indeed conjuring the past. Transfer prints outline forms that overlay, enhance, or obscure the sitter; these visual interventions spark inventive story-lines. Watches swirl around the face of a young woman with sharp features and curly up-done hair. We may wonder about the temporality of life and feel the weight of a moment, compression of a minute, and find time cruel even punishing, but as worthy of cherishment as ever. In another piece we feel loosely held and painfully fragile looking at the visage of a clean-shaven man in high-buttoned jacket, his likeness hinged by three unfastened safety pins. Other undefined narratives unfold in pairings of sitters and dance steps, stars maps, umbrellas, hand puppet shadow-bunnies, clouds, botanicals, handprints, and more. The pairings are poetic and elemental; we are certain not only to recognize the added layer, but to relate to a memory of our own because of it.
Phillips’ interventions are our entry into the past, our connection to stories lost to time. Each card invites us to imagine identity, personal history, dreams and destinies of these unknown sitters whose stories were forgotten by the families descendent of them, if any remain. We are invited to reinvent the past, and we find it has as much possibility as the future.
Other works in the show are as fascinating: Pane’s frames in frames and Cameron’s photo-driven encaustics harmonize nicely with this Cabinet Card series. Pane’s work allows the frame itself to echo panicle moments in personal history thereby universalizing our lives to some degree. Cameron’s images are mystical and more individualized. They speak to moments, yet seem to unlock the secrets of time, bending it just enough to let us all in.
Rachel Phillips, By Sharp Object