“It’s very important to me that I be the change that I want to see in the world,” says Rachel Lord, quoting Mahatma Gandhi, as she explains her views on weed. The multi-discliplinary LA artist is full of surprises. This is why her recent debut solo show, Documental, closed with a lecture on marijuana laws by Professor of Public Policy Mark A. R. Kleiman (who has also unexpectedly joined in on our Skype call) and probably why she’s quoting Gandhi’s now-endlessly-re-blogged words to explain why pot is essential to her install process.
Lord is passionate about extending the art conversation beyond the confines of the art world and Kleiman’s speech on the benefits of a moderate societal approach to marijuana at her exhibition is an example of this. At the event, he started off pretending to be an art critic, before faux-overhearing an audience member mention weed, and booming in a pantomime voice, “oh, you want to talk about cannabis? Okay!”
This is all telling of an artist responsible for her Angry Birds painting series, inspired by the iPhone app animations flying over Bob Ross landscapes. Birthed by an act of boredom at NYC artist Ryder Ripps’ house, using “some leftover nail polish that some girl had probably left there,” the series quickly evolved into what Lord envisioned selling at the mall: “I just wanted to make something people could like regardless of their understanding of art.”
Naturally, Lord is now developing retail deals for the paintings, including a range of pots. There’ve been a couple of spin-offs, including the ‘feminine’ side of Angry Birds, featured at Sydney’s The Angry Show exhibition in March this year – ‘Stella with flowers’ (2013) –and the Angry Birds Paintings for Stefan Simchowitz, a series that carries a specific clause on the certificates of authenticity: they may never be sold to their human namesake. The latter born from a prickly issue by which the known art flipper originally proposed he buy the entire series for $100 a piece, an offer he curtly retracted in an email exchange published in full on Lord’s Facebook. More on that later.
When we catch up via video, Lord is at LA gallery Dem Passwords, where Documental has just ended. The show was made up of four paintings, mounted on walls painted in CMYK, representing a ‘Missing’ poster, a stock certificate, a palimpsest and a blueprint. Originally commissioned as a tie-in with an upcoming Ryan Trecartin film, they each represent moments of harmony and discord between the conceptual and the actual, as well as between the present computerised data and a past of loaded scrolls. The resulting conversation is a sprawling conversation touching on how cannabis, The Da Vinci Code and Law & Order played a role in the development of Documental, before winding back to keeping control and making change, in terms of avoiding the market conversation and, hopefully, flippers.
The Documental paintings focus respectively on culture, currency, language and reason. Where did you get your inspiration?
RL: I’m very inspired by procedural television, and television depictions of crime and the justice system. That actually played a very heavy role in the creation of the ‘Palimpsest’ painting, because I was searching for the third document type and I was watching one of my favourite TV shows Law and Order: Criminal Intent, the Jeff Goldblum episodes. I was watching Season 9, Episode 14 called ‘Palimpsest’, and the entire murder was solved by exposing that this one unsub was Opus Dei because he was trying to destroy this Bible that turned out to be a palimpsest of the Roman account of the crucifixion of Christ. So I took a screen grab from the last five minutes of that episode.
A palimpsest is –you know, back when paper was scarce, and the Church had a heavy role in things, people would re-write over used parchments or papyrus or scrolls or whatnot. They would do it because it was a scarce and rare material, but also mostly in the middle ages, cleansing heretical texts. I’d never heard of that before, but I used a screen grab of this episode of Criminal Intent as the basis of the painting, which is a global etymology of empire through definition of Other: because they’re all different languages’ and countries’ versions of the idiom “It’s all Greek to me” –the reference point for ‘Greek’ kind of shifts throughout.
How did they relate to the lecture Mark gave at the close?
RL: Crime is always on my mind. Drugs, marijuana specifically, also has some place in conversation about my work. Not directly with this content, but in install and its relation to the gallery space.
I was made aware of Mark and his work through Sebastian [Demian], who is the director and owner of the gallery. It’s really exciting to be showing in a space that is interested in having a conversation outside of the art conversation. Sometimes we lose track of the fact that art doesn’t have to just talk about itself, and LA isn’t the most intellectually rigorous town…I think it’s important to not operate in a vacuum.
Mark Kleinman: That probably the worst way to deal with cannabis is the way we deal with it now, keeping it illegal. Probably the second worst way to deal with it is the way we’re going to deal with it, which is making it into an ordinary commodity of sale, relentlessly promoting it the way we do alcohol. So I was arguing for, but not expecting to see, a temperate cannabis policy, making it available to adults who want to use it in moderation, while discouraging minors and discouraging drug abuse.
RL: Which is a nice perspective to hear, for me. Particularly in the American political spectrum where the only voices I have coming in are the far left and the far right. I have my mom sending me all this ‘weed is going to make you schizophrenic’ bullshit from the New York Times that I can completely write off, and then people around me –well actually, I don’t have that many people around me who are as excited about smoking weed as I am. But people who are like “weed is legal, fuck yeah!”…Here’s a way of being practical in between.
I love the layers to these paintings –the way they exist as objects, as documents. They’re also made to be documented. I feel the ‘Palimpsest’ painting is where this all really hangs, especially because this is such an ancient and physical idea, and yet it feels really relevant now because that idea of wiping and re-writing data and re-forming documents is something that’s really prevalent in a digital culture. Was that something you thought about at all? Do you feel like you have a digitised self and an actualised self?
The basis of my working process, in a lot of ways is, is like imagine a super intelligent superior alien race came to Earth and re-organised our entire working structure, our entire labour structure. Imagine they said, “Okay, justify us painting.” And I had to prove to them why there was a point to things being painted by hand, rather than the more efficient click-to-print digital canvas printing that is so prevalent today.
And so, because I do a lot of emulation of computer techniques, I use that as a way to say, “yes, there is a value to doing this by hand, there’s something that happens in the translation process from source image, through the paint onto the canvas, that has its own separate decision-making process, that informs the content of the painting as well.” It’s not just like, ‘oh, I painted these flowers, so now it’s a painting of flowers’. You can control, through the way you paint and the way you control the conversation through the way the paint’s working, to access new directions in the work itself.
You mentioned to Dazed Digital a while ago that you feel that anger is your medium; does that still apply?
RL: You know, I found out from my horoscope for June that I am coming out of a 10, 12 year retrograde where basically everything has been working against me. So this means that since I’ve been a freshman, or since I’ve been in high school, all the way through college, all the way through this month, I’ve basically been going against the flow. And what that’s kind of instilled in me is this idea that everyone is the man, and I hate the man.
So, it’s not something I intend to do –but, because I feel like I’ve been working against the flow, I feel like it’s become my identity in a lot of ways. I don’t always come from a place of anger, but I generally, my biggest inspiration is seeing what I want to change, and trying to think of a way I can be that change. I consider anger to be the most valuable tool that somebody has. There’s a difference between anger and negativity. You can be mad at something and use that to take action and do something positive; you can be angry about something and then you can dwell on it. But I don’t think that anger in and of itself is a negative thing…
When I say I want to be the change that I want to see, I’m thinking specifically of making art that I call double negative art. Which is, ‘I hate the market so much that I’m going to make art about the market, as a way of showing how stupid it is’, or, ‘I don’t like what people are doing in this one direction, so I’m going to take it in that direction to the nth degree to show how stupid that direction is.’ Because I’ve found the law of attraction to be a very powerful tool for myself, so I’m of the belief that if I don’t want the only conversation that art can have to be about the market then I’m not going to make the primary conversation in my work about the market.
That doesn’t mean that I can’t have an opinion towards it, I can’t be maybe angry about the way things are operating, but then I can use that anger to fuel the new direction I want to go in, instead of using that as my topic, because there’s a difference between anger as a topic and anger as a tool.
Speaking of which –how do you feel about the way the art market operates today, specifically with regards to flipping? Do you think new artists ever benefit from that treatment?
RL: The only people that benefit from the flip are the people doing the flip themselves. The artist doesn’t really make any profit, and I think that their pay-off from a career perspective is very low for the input. For some people’s work, it makes sense. If your work is participating in a conversation about the market and it’s about market economy, for you to be flipped, it probably makes sense in your art. Whether or not it’s good or bad, it’s hard to say, because people make great things out of bad. Really interesting work comes out of people getting fucked over.
I will say that with my work, it’s very important to me that I safeguard against it. Because there’s really no gain that I can get currently, unless I’m very aggressively out there as somebody who does not intend to be flipped. With the exception of the Angry Birds paintings, which have a very quick turnaround time. I paint all of my paintings by hand, nobody else touches the paintings…nobody else touches this work, it’s a lot of painting, it takes a lot of time. Because of my turnaround time, and because of the way that I make work and think about each individual piece, something is always more important to me on the wall of my studio than it is in some flipper’s basement waiting to get flipped…I feel like there is a way to come up and come over in this art world without dealing with flippers; without seeing their prices skyrocket and plummet; without really just being taken advantage of by a system. **