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Rachel Harrison
by Geraldine Postel

Rachel Harrison, "Should Home Windows" (detail) 1996

The jabberwocky art of Rachel Harrison, often seen in group shows has finally asserted itself in her first solo exhibition at Arena. In the Cobble Hill Victorian brownstone of Renée Riccardo, Harrison was inspired to create her own world through an installation involving certain issues of the 90s: home decorating, consumerism, and security.

After the infamous and disasterous Hurricane Andrew, a New York Times article on housing improvement ran a photo with the following subtitle: "Should home windows or shutters be required to withstand a direct hit from an eight-foot-long two-by-four shot from a canon at 34 miles an hour, without creating a hole big enough to let through a three inch sphere?" As the appropriated title of the show, this subtitle laid out the scientific and random parallels involved in Harrison's installation. How do you secure your house from a hurricane, much less society as a whole. In the front parlor, the storm seems to be about Harrison's own sense of interior design, based on the Home Depot and Bob Vila do it yourselfers of the 90s, but equally reminiscent of the70s "Bonus Room" quirkiness of cul-de-sac America. By redefining the architecture of Arena, Harrison constructed a wall which bisected the main space of the pre-war parlor and created two new rooms. This wall, stood as the "spine" of the installation and both literally and figuratively held all the essential decorative and functional elements involved: built with two-by-fours, clamps, and various scraps of wood paneling and different patterned formica--all nailed, screwed, or leaning on each other--the spine and gallery walls are hung with a series of framed color photos, and among these photos, cans of greens are displayed on bright colorful blob shelves.

These framed pictures--part of a photographic documentation of a pile of trash bags on a London sidewalk with pedestrians passing by--focused on the trash pile and framed only the legs, ankles, and shoes of the pedestrians. The identity of the characters involved is revealed only through their gait, but could represent any human being, symbolizing the great variety of people in society. As randomly a hurricane hits, Harrison captured the detritus of society's consumerism and desensitvity towards it. Without coincidence, all the framed photos in the installation are related to two rolls of prints on a single contact sheet, which, again as a random fact, linearly features a fictional interruption in its own time line, as the two rolls have been printed invertedly reversed: in the midst of the trash bag scenario, one finds a trip in the countryside with a photo of a yellow field, shots of a gothic church and one, of mummies at the London Natural History Museum. This random treatment is further played out with the placement of the cans of greens, which are sporadically displayed throughout the installation, on colorful shaped blobs--humorous derivitives of the putrification of the garbage or relevant of industrial waste. Harrison defines these blobs as "pedestals" as if the cans standing on these bright growths could represent icons, signifying the essence and the result of consuming and disposal signified by the garbage bags. Lined up on shelves and inserted in the spinal wall, a variety of these cans of greens--of different origins, brands, and sizes--are displayed, rather, almost showcased, as a collector might have installed art, further reiterating can iconization.

Rachel Harrison tagged this installation with its elaborate title, and literally illustrated its implicit absurdity by installing a piece of wood panelling, almost as a sash over the front panel of the window. This horizontal element was pierced with the three inch hole, and its visual effect was mirrored by the seemingly projectiled can of greens--three, three inches in diameter--and strategically implanted as a main compositional element in the spinal wall. The smart, and absurd art of Rachel Harrison has truly arisen here in the small society parlor of Arena, and comfortable with a space on her own, Harrison certainly deserves the ascendency.

Geraldine Postel

New York, New York
1996

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