Rachel Rossin

Is technology nothing more than an extension of our body? Digital artist Rachel Rossin questions the difference between organic and virtual using AI, holograms and deep fakes.

Sarah Roberts  |  Ed Peter Traynor  | 22 January 2021

Artist's Profile: Rachel Rossin by Sarah Roberts for Agora Digital Art

Rachel Rossin (b.1987), is a New Media artist living and working in New York. Her practice is a hybrid of traditional image-making through oil painting and charcoal, blended with programming techniques, video, installation and animation. Exploring the themes of physical embodiment and the uncanny, she shows the fluidity between real and virtual lives. After receiving the Fellowship in Virtual Reality Research and Development from New York’s New Museum in 2015, Rossin has exhibited works globally, including in Shanghai, London and Berlin.

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Rachel Rossin, excerpt The Maw Of (2021) © Courtesy of the artist.

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Rossin’s introduction to New Media arts was somewhat accidental. In a video demo with Pioneer Works, she describes inheriting old computer equipment from her grandfather, a former IBM employee. From the age of eight, Rossin taught herself programming, spending her childhood hacking video games, creating web-cam pieces and coding humorous web pages. Despite her ambition to become an artist- it wasn’t until studying Net Art at University that she realised Digital Art could be channelled into her career.

Featured Projects

Sentinel (Tears, Tears) (2020)

Rachel Rossin, Sentinel (Tears, Tears) (2020)  © Courtesy of the artist.

Rossin’s latest exhibition is a multi-room installation at Hamburg gallery, 14a Connection. The work combines traditional and New Media techniques, and questions how we differentiate technology and our bodies. In ecology, a sentinel is an animal or plant whose natural abilities are used to indicate danger. Rossin is deeply concerned about the environment and sees herself, and her work, serving as a warning of trouble ahead. You may have heard the phrase ‘sing like a canary’ when somebody reveals details of a crime. This cliché comes from the now obsolete practice of sending canaries into mines to detect toxic gases. In a tongue-in-cheek twist, Rossin taught canary birds to mimic dubstep, a modern and complex form of dance music, registering danger through syncopated beats.

The birds trill out the music of popular DJ Skrillex, mimicking a phone-based ‘tutor’ that is set up in the installation. The repetition of dubstep sounds is apparently similar to the register of bird-song. Rossin tutors the birds with the repetition of electronic music, simulating the natural learning experience, in a sense, ‘programming’ the birds to call out the danger to the audience, with electronic mimesis that echoes across the two floors of the exhibition.

Rose petals are strewn all over the floor, another sentinel, referring to the use of roses as a tester crop to test the PH of soil. Roses are sacrificed to our advantage, Rossin portrays this treatment by throw-away attitude by haphazardly scattering them throughout the exhibition.

Throughout the gallery’s four walls, Rossin hangs her Hologram Combines. These are abstract oil expressions of organic forms that recall feminine bodies, semi-covered with translucent holographic images. The embodied self is painted onto the canvas, in instinctive, rapid brushstrokes. Meanwhile, holograms of chains, hands clutching one another and animal spirits or ‘daemons’ float over the top, digitally rendered with an airbrush.

Speaking with Caleb Mathern of Chicago Journal, The Seen, Rossin refers to a fascination with the uncanny, which she conjures using portraiture and doubling, two techniques favoured by the surrealists a century ago. The ethereal digital images glow in ghostly purple and blue and form an uncomfortable juxtaposition with the painted abstract figures below. The disjuncture between technical and tradition gives the impression of some unintended revelation from the artist’s inner psyche.

Rossin created these works during the lockdown in Berlin and deliberately reminds us of the biological threat that overwhelms our everyday life. In an interview with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Rossin explains that she sees herself as a sentinel, sounding a catastrophic alarm to the public. Biological organisms are used as a technology to augment our lives but this relationship is precarious as they threaten to destroy us.

Rachel Rossin, Recursive Truth, 2019, HD Video, Commissioned by Phillips x Daata Collections. © Courtesy of the artist.

Recursive Truth (2019)

Using a wicked sense of humour, deep fakes and holographic arts, Rossin created this video work as a commission for the Philips x Daata project. A blend of clipped surveillance footage edits created by the artist of video footage of political figures, and command prompt the work takes on a retroactive feel as if showing us low-tech computing. The images are played in dream-like, incongruous sequences. Digital Art is used as a way to highlight the fragility of the memories we record. Rossin exposes our reliance on extending human cognitive abilities within digital space.

To create a sense of instability, Rossin deliberately places bugs inside the work, some merely causing visual gags to appear with others threatening to disrupt and destroy the narrative. The artist creates an uncomfortable reversal of viewership, appearing on screen as if hacking our webcams. The work puts us ill-at-ease, reminding us of our conflicted relationship with surveillance technologies.

Rachel Rossin, Stalking the Trace, 2019, HD Video and Installation, Commissioned by Zabludowicz Collection. © Photo courtesy of the artist.

Stalking the Trace (2019)

Rossin’s first UK solo exhibition, Stalking the Trace, comprised a vast VR installation spanning six rooms at London’s Zabludowicz Collection. The gallery welcomed visitors into a VR experience that used digital art to trap viewers between two realities, questioning the reliability of perception. The work was an expanded digital version of Rossin’s The Sky is a Gap (2017), previously displayed at Sundance International Film Festival.

Designed to be physically and virtually immersive for viewers, a multi-sensory overload envelops the user with digital projection mapping, light manipulation and surround sound. The work tracks physical movement in the galleries, altering the visuals accordingly, constantly communicating between corporeal and virtual bodies. Rossin’s work plays with the concepts of space and time that we take for granted in our everyday existence. Questioning our desire to control our surroundings, the notion of time is manipulated, as Hollywood style explosions and disasters play out in slow-mo on the video screen, reminding us of the fragility of our experiences.

Rossin uses contemporary techniques but takes inspiration from some of the earliest animation technologies, Zoetropes. In the days before cinema, these devices would delight users by allowing them to peek through an arch-shaped gap to witness the illusion of movement as images span rapidly past the eye. In the installation, narrow arches in the walls reference these spinning animated discs, revealing our long history with digital imagery. Like early animation devices, Rossin uses visual trickery. Whilst in the VR realm, the afterimage of other participants appears to users in flashes. These act like ghostly traces on the optical lens, reminding viewers of the unreliability of our memories.

Key achievements

After graduating with a BFA from the University of Florida in 2009, Rossin was named as one of Forbes Magazines “30 under 30” in 2016 , as well as Culture Magazine’s “30 under 35 young artists” in 2017. She is the recipient of the Peter S Reed Grant and the Fellowship in Virtual Reality Research and Development from the New Museum, New York.

Rossin recently produced commissions in collaboration with Philips x Daata Editions, and Akron Galleries in Ohio as part of the Open World Programme. Her New Media works have been exhibited in galleries and festivals worldwide, including Sundance International Film Festival, FRIEZE, New York, Rhizome Museum, New York, Cleveland Institute of Art and HEK Museum of Art, Basel.

Recent shows

Solo Shows

2020, Rachel Rossin, The Journal Gallery, New York

2020, Stalking the Trace, Zabludowicz Collection, London

2020, Greasy Light, 14a Collection, Hamburg

2019, Recursive Truth, Philips x Daata Collections, New York

2019, Skinsuits, Akron Art Museum, Akron OH

Group shows / Festivals

2020, Good Pictures, Jeffrey Deitch Gallery, New York.

2019, Open World: Video Games and Contemporary Art, Akron Art Museum, Akron

2018, Chaos and Awe: Painting for the 21st Century, The Frist Art Museum, Nashville

2018, Portals_Thresholds, Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland

2018, Suspended Time Extended Space, Casino Luxembourg Forum d’Art Contemporain, Luxembourg City

Museums or Fairs

2019, Electric, Frieze Art Fair, New York

2017, Jo Shane and Maripol, SPRING/BREAK, New York

2017, New Frontiers, Sundance International Film Festival, Salt Lake City

2016, Zeiher Smith, Untitled Miami Beach, Miami

2016, Artsy, ART BASEL Miami Beach, Miami

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