The staged world of Ghent-based artist Rachel Gruijters

Rachel Gruijters (1992) is a Dutch-born, Ghent-based KASK School of Arts graduate whose been staying with us for the past three months as part of our residency project for emerging Belgian artists, Dusangneuf Osangsett. To mark her stay slowly coming to an end, we sat down with the soft-spoken artist to talk ideas, intentions and influences.

What were your original ideas and intentions at the start of working on this new series?

There were no clear intentions in the beginning; I just got very intrigued by the act of cleaning, and how by doing so, you’re wiping away traces that could remind you of memories made. It’s not that I thought of that as a bad thing, it was just a thought that kept lingering in my head.

What would you say was its starting point?

That would be during the preparations for my master’s degree jury in June 2015, when I was cleaning and setting up in the space. I felt that it was important for the work to be shown in a space that to me felt like home, without it being a replica of my home, and without too many frills. After thinking about what “home” was to me, and what made my home as recognizable as mine, I started cleaning the exhibition space, as if to strip it of its history — erasing all traces of past memories. The moment I became fully aware of this thought, was when the seed for my current project was planted.

2. RACHEL GRUIJTERS - Roodververs - 2013
5. RACHEL GRUIJTERS - Frida - 2013

Is there something very specific you’re hoping the series will express/communicate?

Not really. Above I explained what my original ideas and intentions were, but everyone is free to interpret it however they want to. I think everyone relates in different ways to certain art works or themes, that’s what makes it interesting.

Can you talk to us about your approach in general?

New works always start as concepts that interest me. These concepts are then researched and slowly but steadily take over my life for a while. It’s only after a while that I decide on a technique or on the shape it should take. When it’s finished I mourn for a while before history repeats itself…

13. RACHEL GRUIJTERS - BD-04052016 (wardrobe) - 2016
15. RACHEL GRUIJTERS - MD-13052016_3 (wardrobe) - 2016

How would you say this series fits in with your wider body of work?

My work is always based on things in the past, but up to now it was always divided into two different “camps”: on the one hand the focus on my family history, on the other hand projects that were dealing with very public historical figures, usually from pop culture or more specifically film. This is the first time this contrast of private vs. public is being combined into one work. In this project I’m juxtaposing the personal home and the home in film, which obviously is very public.

Can you talk to us about how you see your own work? How would you describe it?

If I had to label my work, I would probably — with the danger of sounding snobbish — say it’s artistic research. The final product is never my initial goal, but more the apotheosis. As a short description of my work I would say my work is mainly in photography and film with a special interest in personal history/memories and the performative aspects of embodying historically-informed characters.

9. RACHEL GRUIJTERS - Hysterectomy, 1992 - 2014
16. RACHEL GRUIJTERS - Set no. 1 v.2 (The Dying Scene) - 2016

What is your preferred medium for exhibiting your work? Book? Solo show? Group exhibition?

It all has its benefits, but generally speaking I really like to create total experience exhibitions. By that I mean that I don’t regard the works on show as separate works, but they all come together and form one big work, or one big installation, which is the exhibition. Solo shows are best suited for this, but I like doing group shows too. One of the best things about showing with others is the fact that you meet new people, which can challenge you in ways that showing solo simply cannot.

1. RACHEL GRUIJTERS - Overdue (installation view) - 2013
3. RACHEL GRUIJTERS - Bonnie - 2013

Who would you say was instrumental in shaping your work?

Of course without my family (or my entire bloodline), my work would not exist, so they come first.

Artist-wise I don’t have one or two that really were key in shaping my work. There are so many artists, and they influence me in different ways. Also, the project that I’m working on at a specific moment, dictates my frame of reference. Obviously Classical Hollywood filmmakers inspire me, but also artists like Pierre Bismuth, Rachel Whiteread, Larry Sultan, Lucy McKenzie, Stan Douglas, Elmgreen & Dragset, Philippe Parreno, and many, many others.

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