Rachel Kaster: The Shape of Memory Fused into Sculpture
Los Angeles Art Association/Gallery 825
through November 30th
By Genie Davis
Rachel Kaster’s solo exhibition, Anamnesis, now showing at Los Angeles Art Association/Gallery 825 is an intricate installation of pendants, photographs, transparencies, and heirlooms. It glows and fascinates, mesmerizing viewers with her large-scale recreation of charm bracelet construction. Kaster has created a captivating installation that is visually dramatic and emotionally perceptive.
“Sculpture is my medium; space itself is the material,” the artist says. Regardless of the specific art she creates, she essentially shifts viewers’ perceptions.
Kaster’s goal is to capture the viewer’s train of thought, creating what she terms “moments of paradigm shift” that are the “true instances of communication and creativity.” She wants her work to provide as many of these moments as possible, making the viewer integral to her sculpture itself and “activating it through perception.” She adds that physicists have concluded perception affects physical reality by doing experiments on the motion of subatomic particles. In turn, she experiments to see how the physical reality of her work is affected by viewers’ perception.
“When I call objects into existence, there’s a simultaneous and parallel creation of negative space around that object. This new dimension is, of course, the exact inverse of the physical footprint of my work. I want viewers to know that this physical process also happens on a metaphorical level. In my work, I use contrast poetically to create subliminal meaning.”
Kaster’s body of work has evolved over the years, shaping the reality of her work as she grows and changes both as a human being and an artist, she explains. “Initially, I was drawn into a dialog with glass and steel, or glass and wood. I liked the way that the materials were very different and behaved differently in my hand and studio. As I interacted with the materials, the poetry of their dissonance began to sing inside my heart, and I noticed that the way I used the materials was changing accordingly.”
Her materials became a metaphor for her, and her sculptural creation in turn became the physical realization of her philosophical development as an artist. “Even as the materials I use stayed the same, my work has become a very different thing. I used to create sculptures. Now, I create ideas and concepts, and the physical sculpture exists as an artifact of my thought process.”
There is a glow, both literal and internal to her current work, one that evokes the burnished sunsets and golden sun of California itself. She says that the artifacts she shapes are connected for her, both geographically and intellectually, to Los Angeles culture. “People move to LA to follow their dreams. I’m no exception.” Of her work at Gallery 825, she remarks “This sculpture in particular is both about the process of following dreams, and about the physical and metaphysical artifacts that are left behind along the way.”
She moved from New York to California as a kind of pilgrimage, following the journeys of other contemporary artists she admired, and finding a “dynamic community of ideas and artistic expression in Los Angeles.” When over time she took on a “California frame of mind,” she began to notice a change in her work.
“I noticed that the feminist and political aspects of my work became more dimensional and fluent – more central. I am now a woman artist from Los Angeles, California. This is a polymorph identity that exists in parallel with everything I was before I moved here; the process of becoming will continue to be both a driving force and a context for my work in the future.”
In short, she herself is memory in the making.
While her work is often perceived as lovely, Kaster says that’s rooted more in viewers’ perceptions than a driving aesthetic, based on first, rather than lasting impressions. Once a viewer begins to truly take in the context as well as the look of her work, she says he or she will go “beyond the deliberately feminine associations created by the charm bracelet motif to realize that the charm bracelet is actually made of chains; each decorative charm is a weight. The padlock and handcuffs that adorn each chain segment are actually as much a part of feminine reality as is the historical identification of gender with adornment.” She calls the contrast between the philosophical darkness of her work and its prettiness her true medium.
That rich dichotomy adds to a deliberate and overall dream-like and even ephemeral quality to her work. It is a quality that exists in part through her relationship — and her artwork’s relationship — to memory, which she says exists largely on a subconscious level.
“Jewelry is one tangible item that people keep and pass down. It is the thing people grab when they flee their countries. I’ve been working on this series of larger-than-life charm bracelets to give family heirlooms a sense of place,” she attests. “I want to highlight our attachment and/or guilt that’s handed down along with the objects.”
The fact that we hold our heirlooms and history close even as their relevance diminishes in our lives is key to Kaster. “Heirlooms become baggage that we move from house to house and rarely unpack. My piece presents these concepts in the dreamy light of memory, using totemic objects to transform the charm bracelet into a sort of spider’s web of light and shadow, history and obligation.”
Her idea for Anamnesis originated with the idea that charm bracelets are an extension of the feminine tradition of both adornment and maintaining family history. “Originally, the charm bracelet was a way carrying fetishes of loved ones – each charm was a story of love and relationship. Later, the format expanded; people began collecting charms to represent experiences, favorite activities, hobbies and travel. Charm bracelets were precious family objects, representing both the value of the metal and the life-long narrative of the person who had collected and accumulated the charms,” she says
Kaster has a long-held interest in jewelry, including silver-smithing as a teenager. As her jewelry became more sculptural, she transitioned from intimate body adornments to the creation of installation art. With her current work, she chose the model of a Victorian necklace as her format, with “its weighted cobweb of tiers.”
As an artist, she is inspired by everything, including seeing how raw materials are transformed into objects; the value of ordinary objects, and of craftsmanship.
“When I had my first studio, I learned to do a lot of things by hand that aren’t generally taught to women. I chopped wood for the stove and mastered the basics of wiring, sheetrock and building a house…These are enduring values that continue to inform my work and the way that I see myself as an artist.”
Describing memory as a vast topic, she believes she’ll never likely feel she’s finished exploring it in her art.
“Yesterday is already a memory. Technology is changing our culture so rapidly. I’m interested in exploring this transition, and comparing and contrasting from the time before,” she relates. She finds herself fascinated by the ways in which technology affects our relationships with memories and images, noting that it has changed the way in which we collect and pass down stories in our lives. “We all have so many images in storage that family photos have actually become devalued.”
With this shift in mind, Kaster says she would like to investigate the impact of technology on language, as well.
“From the handwritten letter, to the advancement of the typewriter, to the ability to over edit in an email, to the truncated communication through emoji and txt, there’s been a communication revolution. Along with the abbreviation of thought and sentiment, there’s the possibility that there’s been a systemic deterioration of language itself.”
Like memory itself, these shifts represent areas which Kaster is driven to explore. While cultural mores and approaches to narrative have and will continue to change, Kaster’s work is something lasting: a beautiful and freighted look at stories from our past, and how we cling to them today even as they shape our future.
Los Angeles Art Association/Gallery 825
Gallery Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10-5pm
Artist Talk November 28th 7-9pm