Artist Talk: Rachel Garfield

Rachel Garfield is an artist that has travelled through mediums to portray their ideas surrounding racial based criticism, racial history and identity, specifically in the Jewish culture. This has grown from their personal experience of racial based criticism throughout childhood and adulthood.

As a new artist, Garfield hung around with those who made art-based film, but did not understand how the films translated between one and another. Through the lack of understanding of this, Garfield created text-based paintings. These reflected the racist history in Europe, in which historical texts contained obvious racism. It was often found that people who were valued in society were to write some of the more horrible items. Garfield painted contemporary leaflets and historical texts in layers and layers of translucent colours with deep underlays. This technique pushed the layers out into the viewer to create a confrontation.

Through the investigation of their own work, Garfield read a lot about sociology and the construction of society. They wanted to make work about Jewish identity and was annoyed about those who concentrated on nostalgia and the Holocaust. This is where Garfield related to Ali G, someone who was unidentifiable from their skin colour or the way in which they presented themselves. Identity is often portrayed as skin colour, but it can be about so much more. Both Ali G and Garfield are English, but are not, and are white, but are not.

At this point through their identity investigation, Garfield was also trying to make videos. What was evident was that the way we are is also shown in how we talk about the storied of ourselves, and how we are entrenched in the ways about ourselves. If you look as someone, we define them as one or the other, but they might not consider themselves as that at all, unravelling the idea of a stable identity. This is something Garfield wanted to contest this, with racism at the root.

Garfield then becomes interested in portraiture and people, both in painting and film. The Portrait of Jason by Shirley Clarke (1967) is a prime example of what Garfield wanted to achieve. Clarke interviewed Jason all night, where he performs for her, however you do not know when he is or is not performing. ‘The camera never lies’ falls apart, destabilising the idea of a stable identity and questioning whether we are powerful or powerless. Filmed in an amateur way, in a bedroom with a small crew allows the films authenticity to shine through. Garfield was interested in the ability to be authentic.

Garfield is interested in art from the day-to-day basis, telling the same story in different ways as a play on the self, hierarchies of victim-hood, and the development of identity.

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