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Rachel Park’s Temporary home.

Object’s current exhibition, New Weave: Contemporary Approaches to the Traditions of Weaving, is rapidly drawing to an end and, sadly, this will see the disposal of Rachel Park’s temporary site-specific installation, home. This gives extra incentive to race down to the Object Gallery to experience the work before its destruction 5pm Saturday 29th March!

I recently sat down with Rachel to discuss her work for New Weave and her art making in general.

After receiving her honours from SCA, Rachel has practiced as an emerging, Sydney based contemporary artist for almost five years. Inspired by minimal art and contemporary architecture, Rachel has developed and experimented with site-specific installations primarily made out of the unusual yet everyday medium of commercial toilet paper. Rachel’s interest in this everyday, discarded material is seemingly never-ending as she endeavors to fully explore its artistic potential in varied and exciting ways.

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For New Weave, over five long days Rachel meticulously installed almost five kilometers of single ply, non-perforated jumbo roll toilet paper that had been industrially cut down into strips a quarter of their original width. This saw Rachel undertake a long process of research that had her calling all kinds of Australian factories and manufacturers, all of which refused to cut the roll due to the difficulty and dangerous nature of the process. This took Rachel back to Korea where her family lives, finding herself convincing people otherwise uninterested in contemporary art why this work was important. Eventually, after calling on all of their contacts, her father and brother found a toilet paper factory willing to re-set their blades and cut the roll down to the artist’s specifications. Rachel had to continually justify her vision throughout.

This process of realising the work is part of the reason why Rachel titled her work home. However, Rachel is also pointing to the displacement or division between her geographical, and what she describes as her ‘mental and emotional’ homes of Australia and Korea. She explains that her internal world, or world of imagination, is where she feels most at home. But there is another layer to this title. Rachel is deeply interested in the discarded, the undervalued and the unheard, which is what originally drew her to working with discarded materials, such as toilet paper. She explains that when we think of weaving, we think of the work of women and the domestic home setting. She aims to make these stories, these quiet voices heard in some way. Throughout her practice, Rachel aims to validate the undervalued and create a feeling of being at home in both her imagination, art practice and place.

Given the curatorial premise of New Weave, to showcase artists and designers that re-appropriate the traditions of weaving through process or material, Rachel took a very conceptual approach. In her research phase, she not only interrogated the St Margaret’s site and its architectural properties, but also the process of weaving itself and its fundamental properties. She attended a flax basket-weaving workshop, observing the preparation of thin strips to create a shape. The repetitive process of weaving over and under, over and under, this meditative quality of the weaving process reflected Rachel’s consistent focus in her practice. home is not a complete or resolved woven structure. It does however have the foundations of weaving represented. Rachel’s thin strips of paper run down the wall with elements moving through the work with air and paper interacting to display a gentle process of weaving in space. The atmosphere and the imagination of the viewer complete the weaving process. As Rachel states:

“The air runs over and under the paper. It completes the weaving. It is a constant weaving process. Weaving process is visible when there’s moving of air. The weaving process is not complete but it is an ongoing process. It is like weaving into space, air through breeze. I could also see my work as emotional, psychological weaving in the mind. Gentle weaving of feelings, memories, relationships…The strands of paper are ready for you to weave in your imagination. You are free to weave them in any shape you like in your mind.”

Rachel approaches her work as a process for self-reflection and growth. Internal stories become the narrative that draw from self-biographical inspirations.

As an intern in a commercial gallery, Rachel was asked to change the commercial jumbo roll toilet paper at the end of each shift. Rachel was taken by the material as an abstract form, extracting it from its everyday banal function and transforming it into art. She states that she was struck by its beauty, its vulnerability. Although Rachel has worked in other ready-made, mass-produced materials throughout her artistic development, toilet paper has been her material of choice for the past few years and she still finds great inspiration in its unique properties. She folds, cuts, dyes, loops and wraps the paper to varying effects and with each new outcomes comes a new appreciation for the paper. Rachel feels like she is far from exhausting the material’s possibilities.

By re-contextualising this disposable material, Rachel feels as if she is giving value to what would otherwise be discarded. She treats the toilet paper with great empathy. Rachel sees herself as an activist in a way. She is constantly driven by what is voiceless in the world. She describes her work as being somewhat representative of the quiet voices, those that usually go unheard or undervalued, whether it be her own personal stories or those of others. She explains that she has to constantly trust herself that she does have a story to tell, and that it is important to encourage others to do the same. For Rachel, her work is about empowerment though self-affirmation.

Aesthetically, Rachel is inspired by nature. One could easily draw parallels between waterfalls or rivers and her work home. Rachel is drawn to the subtle movement found in nature and the impact of wind and light. In previous work, Rachel has incorporated artificial movement to emulate this, collaborating with robotics specialists and computer programmers to create kinetic installations. For New Weave, she created a thick layer of strips in order for the air conditioning to move the work subtly. What results are elegant, ephemeral shapes and patterns that appear as delicate and subtle as in nature. 

The tactile nature of the paper also impacts the viewer’s senses, which Rachel hopes will make a greater impression on memory for the temporary work. As much as her work is about creating a meditative value in her own process, Rachel also wants to give this meditative quality to the viewer. She would like to contribute something that’s peaceful and beautiful with the interpretation of meaning left intentionally open and unstated by the artist.

Rachel approaches the site as another important consideration in her practice. She sees herself as influencing, adding or speaking to the architect’s vision, of which she researches thoroughly. She has evolved a more holistic approach to space gained over the years, approaching each work through the specifics of the site. Rachel will next be featured in a group show Subject to Ruin at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre in May; the rich history of the industrial space will no doubt create a dramatic impact on the work.

You can also watch a video with Jenni Kemarre Martiniello, or listen to an in-conversation with Lorraine Connelly-Northey—both also featured in New Weave.

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