Part way through the second verse in that Jenny Hval track, we hear her declare to a partner in a very matter-of-fact way: "My heartbreak is too sentimental for you" and as she does her voice soars upward and at once, we are in the middle of her cry. She brings us in the middle of a cascading end of what sounds like a relationship or her actual life or perhaps both. "I'm high, high on madness/These are my combined failures/I understand infatuation, rejection/ They can connect and become everything, everything that's torn up in your life." In different contexts these same exertions Hval makes can sound needlessly grandiose if not hifalutin. And yet, it seems like the only way to utter what is being felt in that moment. Winnipeg based artist Rachael Thorleifson can almost identify with this heightened out pouring of one's emotions "I think heartbreak is really melodramatic, but it can also be genuinely and insanely emotional. It is somehow twisted to look insignificant through media." Thorleifson does something really smart in presenting her ideas that speak to grand sometimes abstract concepts like death, heaven, and yes, romance through the shiny shimmering gloss finish of retail display so we can move in closer to look what these big ideas even mean...or if there's any meaning at all worth looking for.
Though we met up with Thorleifson to have this conversation late last summer, and her work is evolving, the sentiments on her work still rings true in her current work. Please check out what she shared with us below.
Luther Konadu: You were trying to describe what you'd been work on the last time we met, but I couldn’t quite picture what you were describing then. Can you show me?
Rachael Thorleifson: Oh yeah, it’s kind of hard to picture it, but it’s this piece here. [She points to the work] A guy I’m pretty sure I’ve never spoken to who I went to high school with DM’ed me trying to figure out what exactly it was made from so he could build a rave jellyfish, but I never messaged him back. I feel like I need to keep it my secret.
Robyn Adams: It reminds me of something you’d see at Forever 21 behind their cash desk or something
RT: Yes, that’s the same stuff! It is typically seen in retail or on billboards for Broadway musicals. That’s where I first saw it, for some sort of Rolling Stones themed musical in London.
LK: Where did you find the sequined material?
RT: On the internet. I googled 'retail display glitter' and eventually tracked it down. Everyone’s going to know now. I doubt rave-jellyfish guy will read this interview though.
LK: You initially wanted to install this during meteor showers?
RT: I liked the drama of connecting it to a meteor shower as if it is was monumental, maybe more like melodrama. I was attracted to the ridiculous display of emotions. It reminded me of horoscopes and fate or cosmic energy. It also dictated a start and end point, since the work won't exist within a gallery. The duration the piece was up became based on an external event, as a means to frame it. Unfortunately I missed the meteor shower I was going to dedicate it to. I’ll have to come up with another astrological phenomenon.
LK: Is this work connected to your previous works?
RT: I don't think I make work that disconnects from previous works. My work is always changing but it’s probably impossible for me to start a new project that disconnects from everything else I've done before.
Looking back on when I was in my undergrad, I was making projects that didn’t seem like they were my own. They seemed arbitrary. I was obsessed with Catholic imagery. I started collecting religious knick-knacks. I became obsessed with dressing my friends and myself up in Mary costumes and taking photos. I really liked Mary as a character. It feels super hokey now, but contrasting religious imagery and contemporary culture felt interesting to me in that moment.
Some of my work still has elements of that same interest where I was still thinking objects and their relationship to holiness. I wasn't interested in Jesus as a character, rather Mary as a person; her potential angst, and being a shuttle for this holy baby. Eventually that interest translated into thinking a lot about life after death.
“Romance is cheesy and goofy and overdone, but it is my favorite thing to think about right now. The dynamics at play are funny and fun. It can be the most important thing but at the same time not important at all.”
LK: How do you know what you are looking for in a material? It seems like even your other works have particular materials which come together to form the piece. How do you know where and how to source materials?
RT: I’ve worked in retail and merchandising for over six years and that’s a big influence on a lot of my work. Sometimes I see a material and I know, “that stuff!” Then I’ll go searching for it, usually online. I made a big, chrome balloon as part of my solo show last February at Flux gallery. I started looking for the material before even having the idea for the piece. I knew I wanted something that resembled the inside of a bag of chips, like a silver foil, so I spent a lot of time searching for this material and ended with silver safety blankets made from Mylar, a type a plastic that is used for a variety of different applications.
RA: Are you planning on having these new pieces in a show?
RT: Not as of right now. I don’t want to make work specifically for a gallery setting. I’m planning on installing it on the fire escape outside of my studio so that people can see it from the street. But I’m considering putting it up at other locations as well.
LK: Does that affect the way you work because the work is not presented in a formal gallery setting?
RT: It takes the pressure off a bit. I also don’t see it as 'public art', because it's not made in that context. The fact that it is accessible to anyone walking by is nice. People can see it and not necessarily know what it’s for.
I hope you see this, 2016 Installation View
I like to use retail materials because they are designed to discourage the separation of retail spaces from the customers and their lives. Art spaces are often seen as places to disconnect from one's own lived experience. But retail spaces are aesthetically curated with a specific goal. There is a lot behind how a retail space is presented in order to manipulate its viewers, in a way art often fails.