Q&A with Rachael House
on the occasion of 3×3: An exhibition of nine women photographers
New Art Projects, London
11 January – 4 March 2018
Anna McNay: What are the key concerns or
themes running through your practice?
Collective joy, feminism, queer stuff, agency, ageing. There’s more, of course,
and these themes change over time. Plus a great love of materials and low tech
AMc: How much a part of your work does
RH: My practice
is performative and event based as well as much making and drawing, including
zines and comic strips. These zines and comics often feature (well, star)
drawings of me, and photographs of me are an essential part of documenting and
publicising my performative work.
AMc: As a woman looking at a woman (herself
– but perhaps also other women, if you also make portraits of others), how
aware are you of the conventions and load of the male
gaze? To what extent do you work with or subvert these?
RH: Ooh, how to
answer this? I don’t suppose that as a woman in a heteropatriarchal world one
can ever be totally unaware of the male gaze. But I don’t consciously consider
it. Heterosexual men are not an audience I target for my work, but I don’t
exclude them either. As one ages, a bonus is becoming invisible to many of
those wielding power, below the critical radar. It’s infuriating, of course,
but can be fiercely liberating too.
AMc: How – if at all – does your sexuality
influence or shape your work, especially your self-portraits?
RH: It certainly
informs my work, from Rachael House’s
Feminist Disco to giant Heteronormativity
piñatas. I don’t think of self-portraits as being a separate discrete part of
my practice, it’s all intertwined and all the same.
AMc: As a woman who likes women, looking at
women, do you feel your gaze is different from the gaze of a heterosexual woman
artist? In what way?
difficult question. I want to say ‘yes’, but it’s impossible to say for sure. I
reject many things that women are ‘supposed’ to be, including notions of what
is conventionally attractive. But I know heterosexual women who do this too,
and les/bi women who embrace ‘traditional’ notions of femininity. I love that
genderqueer/trans/non binary people are mixing all this up.
AMc: Can you say something about the work
you are submitting for this exhibition? How are you seeking to portray
yourself? What are the key aspects you’re drawing forth? Physical,
RH: I made this
work as part of Rachael House’s Feminist
Disco in 2011. It’s an homage to Peter Blake’s Self Portrait with Badges (1961), a painting I love, and have loved
since I saw it as a child. The badges I am wearing in this photograph are
feminist political badges and badges featuring punk women and bands. They are
from between 1976-83, formative years for me in terms of music, politics and
identity. I am holding a copy of Spare
Rib, a feminist magazine that was hugely important to me. If you have seen
the Peter Blake painting, it is clear that my self-portrait is a tribute to
his. My photograph is showing what I consider has shaped me, written on my body
in badges and T-shirt, and, less obviously, my childhood – dragged around art
galleries by my art teacher parents. They are gone now, but are part of me too,
and part of this work.
AMc: Do you seek to portray yourself as
object, subject, or both? How does this dynamic come through in your work?
RH: I don’t know.
A conduit maybe, for ideas.
AMc: Do you work in media other than
photography? If so, how does the gaze offered by the camera differ from the
viewpoint obtained through other media? How does the experience as artist
differ? Does it make the act of looking easier or more difficult? If you don’t
work with other media, what is it about the gaze of the camera that attracts
you to working with photography?
photography is something I usually use for documentation, but sometimes this
documentation becomes work in its own right. It is only within the last five
years that I feel confident in performance – that being watched and listened to
gives me quite a high sometimes. In doing this, I can become more than myself,
a larger, braver, stronger version of me. I hope that is what others see.
AMc: What one work of art, depicting a
woman as object – or subject, have you been most influenced/impressed by and
what is it about this work that captures you?
RH: Sheela na Gig
perhaps, especially the Kilpeck one, she’s such a honey. Her cheerful face as
she displays her cunt is immensely powerful.
Self Portrait with Badges, after Peter Blake
Also published here