Q & A WITH CHRISTINE REBHUHN

Your assemblages read a bit like visual riddles. Are you concerned with how one solves them or are solutions as evasive as the ‘fixed nature’ of the objects that you call into question?

I’ve been involved lately with the reorganization of objects that already have a defined place in the world and possibly a function. I’m most interested in the brief moment when objects are pulled from where they belong, into the physical space of something else. But in my mind, they don’t have to stay there. I’m just initiating a break from the way that we tend to organize things, and suggest another possibility – often in a ridiculous way. I’m not too concerned with prescribing a singular approach solve a puzzle, but rather I hope to open possible meaning in a few different directions.

Meaning is so inextricably linked to language – without words and definitions, we experience the world on a more emotional, visceral level. How important are words in your process? 

Language has become a structural element in my work, but also a textural one. That is, it comes into play in the formation of initial ideas and also throughout the execution. Some of my pieces perform like homonyms, or in other cases like visual jokes. I like the way that physical forms can slip over one another, or intersect unexpectedly on a purely visual level. I find this to be very related to the way that one word can sound similar to another but have very different meanings. I am always circulating through a mental catalogue of words and images until something seems to overlap. The best pieces for me operate on both levels: play on words and a play on form.

Sound, or rather the suggestion of sound, is a reoccurring theme in your work. What role does it play in an otherwise visual experience?

I’m starting out with a belief that images have a huge capacity to impact our bodies and produce real affects. I use visual triggers for sound, but never actual noise. This is part of a larger premise in my work, where the element that makes a system function is exactly the things is absent. I am interested in eliciting a multi-sensory experience, without actually calling on those senses directly.

You’re comfortable using a variety materials in your work including found objects, plaster, wood, PlastiDip, acrylic, etc. How do you decide when to fabricate an object and when to simply use the real thing?

I’ll often use a real object when it is possible, because it is simple and direct. That being said, I have also gone to great lengths to craft an object myself if my idea requires a particular design, and the thing doesn’t happen to already exist in that way. I work as if creating an image of an object, and sometimes the materiality of a piece gets convoluted in the process. I made a series of works that incorporated stage equipment (e.g., microphones, speakers) all made out of wood and coated in rubber. The image of these objects was very close to the real thing, but their material performed in a way that almost negated the function of the equipment itself. Sometimes a piece can afford to be a bit messier than it appears, and perhaps more difficult to pin down.


I am always circulating through a mental catalogue of words and images until something seems to overlap. The best pieces for me operate on both levels: play on words and a play on form.
— Rebhuhn, on the importance of words in her work

Despite your interest in universal themes and everyday objects, I can’t help but project a very personal story in a work like, ‘A Couple Teeth To Spit Out’ (feat. top left). Is your work autobiographical?

I think the particular work you’re referring to has a certain emotive quality, but isn’t connected to personal narrative for me. When generating the piece, I was drawing from the visual language of boxing – a sport that I really have no experience with. I am most interested in the activity of building up a network of associations through objects that are in some way tied to human physicality. I enjoy complicating this visual network by layering in different levels of reality: a photo, a readymade, a replica, a blob. We might be able to have a visceral experience with very basic things and then find avenues for meaning, but it is also mediated by real materiality.

How does your interest and education in Psychology inform your work?

This could be distilled to a very basic interest in perception and human processing. My practice seems to be heavily concerned with objects, but I think it actually preferences the way that we organize and try to understand things. 

When I look at your work, I feel like I’m being asked to not think of a Zebra - an impossible task, if I know what a Zebra is. Are you asking us to recall/reinforce certain ideas or are you challenging us to forget them?

There’s a layer of implicit information in some of the work. I will often use the physical format of something we are already familiar with, but elements are swapped out for other objects. The result is often that it still feels familiar, but there’s something strange about its presentation. I think this serves to renew a type of freshness we no longer have when we look at peripheral things. Recalling and forgetting are both the process.

 

Posted on November 17, 2015 and filed under Q & A.