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Discussion with Rachel Lachowicz

by Michael Cohen

Rachel Lachowicz is a Los Angeles-based artist well known for her recontextualization of classic works of art by famous male artists and for her sculptural use of unorthodox material such as eye shadow and face powder. For example, in one of her best known pieces she recast Yves Klein's Blue Venus in brillliant red lipstick. Lachowicz's use of apparently simple means to convey a broad range of issues has lead curators to associate her work with the pared-down minimalist impulse as well as the appropriative strategies of postmodern movements. Her work has appeared in many important venues including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and most recently in Santa Monica, Calif. at Shoshana Wayne Gallery. Michael Cohen caught up with Lachowicz at her studio in the Los Feliz Hills, where he interviewed her about her artistic methods and her work's ambiguous connections to feminism and patriarchal expression.

    How does the appropriation of classic art forms, combined with materials like lipstick operate in your earliest works' like Red David?

Red David (1991)
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In my earlier work, and perhaps in all the work I do, the material that I use and how I articulate with it creates or builds the work's meaning. My use of appropriation reflects, but isn't limited to, feminist art strategies. The materials I chose were references to women. Then whatever I built out of this lipstick layered on extra meanings.

For instance, there's a piece that I did titled Anagrams where I took a set of Donald Judd chairs. He was very stringent, in this Modernist way, about his art being separate from furniture production. I copied his chair and dipped it in lipstick and also made one out of rubber. So the work was an appropriation and deconstruction of both his and my own practice.
5 chairs (1995)
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Pink and Blue
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Do you ever feel dependent on these famous male artists?

In the beginning I did. Later I decided that I didn't want to be so attached to these male figures. Then I started analyzing my position--what it means to be a part of appropriation. Is it parody, homage or what? That made me think more about destabilizing the act of appropriation.

How did that idea play itself out?

Basically what I'm interested in now is the point where the appropriated work where it loses its history and the work strays into an area where it becomes its own form. So it's not stuck in an appropriative straight-jacket with the original producer.

In my last show at Shoshana Wayne Gallery I exhibited a work, Form into Uniform into Formlessness . For this piece I produced a video where I put on a tennis skirt, stood in front of a blue screen and danced around to make the skirt move. I took video stills from that. Then on the floor there was a blue grid, 36 squares by nine, with this frozen plastered skirt, which made you wind back to the photos and the video. You could make comparisons to Sol LeWitt and his five cubes moving within a possible grid. Or you could make a generalized minimalist reference ... it wasn't literal the way Red David was.

Form Into Uniform Into Formlessness
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Form Into Uniform Into Formlessness
Click to view the adaptation of this work.

So you're loosening your relationship to the original form?

Color Chart Flat #1 (1993)

Yeah. Like I said, its Form into Uniform into Formlessness (the title is hijacked from Ad Reinhardt). It was a sculpture, a skirt, this abstract thing--a lot of people didn't know what it was. The piece could move into thousands of different conceptual configurations.

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Is there an ambivalence in your desire to destabilize these art "heroes?"

I don't know, maybe I wanted to restabilize. Part of the reason I use makeup as an art lies in the fact that when people ask me what artists I'm interested, I realize I'm mostly attracted to male artists. I don't appropriate these "masters" because I think they are bad people - I am truly seduced by their role as artists and their innovative production. I mean given Carl Andre's history with Ana Mendieta, how do I deal with the fact that I idolize this person?

Homage to Carl Andre
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Agregate (Cast Excedrin AM, PM) (1996)
I landed on lipstick and cosmetics because they allow for that flipping back and forth -- between wanting to be a proper feminist and wanting to objectify myself in the same gesture.

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