Studio visit diaries #5 (feat Villa Lena): Rachel ...

Studio visit diaries #5 (feat Villa Lena): Rachel Monosov in conversation with Saverio Verini

I remember precisely the first meeting with Rachel Monosov, in her studio at the German Academy in Rome. While the pages of the portfolio scrolled on a computer – between entwined bodies in tension and sculptures that seemed to welcome those same bodies, or perhaps trap them, depending on the point of view – my sensation (my desire?) was that of finding myself there, the images were so vivid, hypnotic, even disturbing. A feeling that I only felt when faced with some of Anne Imhof’s works. Rachel Monosov’s practice has a decidedly performative edge. The relationship between bodies, environment and “props” (but which we could easily define them as “artworks”) makes her works particularly layered and complex, as well as intriguing. They are perfect yet fragile machines, supported on a calculated balance, where the slightest movement could compromise its miraculous. And sometimes this happens. Perhaps the strength of Rachel Monosov’s poetics lies precisely in this constant struggle between balance and fall, between perfection and rupture.

Rachel Monosov, “Self-Portrait”, credits Carlo Alberto Norzi, courtesy of the artist

Saverio Verini: Where does your interest in this type of practice in which different languages converge (performance, installation, video, sound) come from?
Rachel Monosov: My artistic journey began at age of twenty, when I enrolled in my first photography degree. My favourite subjects were those closest to me: friends, family and myself. I was captivated by staged photography, a medium that allowed me to create new realities and escape from the one I was living. This was my first foray into directing. Later on, as a result of my master’s degree in film and fine art, I combined the tools and knowledge I received to create live performances and video work. The form of my projects depends on how I want to open the conversation with the audience and the best media for the subject. My most recent project was composted from cement and glass sculptures, which took me over a year to create. Learning to handle completely new materials and ways of production is what keeps me going and excited.

Rachel Monosov, “Dead Earth, a place of no escape”, performance at /SAC, 2024, photo credits Tudor Cucu, courtesy of the artist courtesy and Catinca Tabacaru Gallery

In your works the use of the body – or rather, bodies – is constant. The performers who participate in your works seem to obey a kind of rule, a discipline, but this control is regularly questioned in performances, to the point that the bodies seem to want to rebel against this “order”. Is that so?
Yes, I often work on creating tension and limitation of movement in my performances. I am interested in using the conditions that create sensations such as being trapped, losing control, the inability to predict or control the actions of others, and not having a sense of place – in relation to body movement, mental states and our surroundings. Having been raised in an ongoing geopolitical conflict (the artist was born in 1987 in St. Petersburg, Russia ed.), I rely on my autobiographical background to explore some of these questions. Perhaps this all comes from my imbalance and phobias. Maybe all I have done in the past years is to address the topic of how the power mechanisms governing civilians and forcing them to stop and restart their movement make one lose balance.

Rachel Monosov, “Untitled, 2016”, inkjet print, 40 x 61 cm, edition of 6, 2/6, courtesy Villa Lena Foundation

You almost never take part in your own performances. I’d like to know more about the way you develop your projects, the need to involve other people and the difficulties this entails, from a practical point of view (time, costs and so on).
Every performance I create starts with a script I write and the stackers, photos and videos I gather for inspiration. Once this “package” is complete, I envision who could contribute, whether a dancer or a musician. Then, in the studio, we collectively shape the project. Naturally, there are adjustments along the way, but the essence of the original concept remains. It’s a long process and, unfortunately, not profitable for the artist since the cost of production is very high.

Rachel Monosov, “When All Is Still”, 2024, installation view at Art Basel, Hong Kong, courtesy of the artist and Catinca Tabacaru Gallery

The “control society” (as defined by Gilles Deleuze) and the human relationships that take place within it seem to me to be at the centre of your interests. How much is poetic and how much politics in what you do?
The intricate interplay between our bodies and our environments fascinates me and fuels my artistic exploration. I’m eager to discover new ways of creating space and interaction, reflecting on notions of social structures, surveillance, control and free will. My work unfolds around various forms of “training” and the notion of “the body as a machine” within the capitalist system and authoritarian regimes. It’s very political and hopefully poetic, too.

Rachel Monosov, “Transcultural protocol”, 2017, performance at Thalie Arts Foundation, ph. credits Cici Olsson, photo credits Cici Olsson, courtesy of the artist and Catinca Tabacaru Gallery

You have had the opportunity to attend many residency programs, especially in Italy. In 2016 you were at Villa Lena, can you tell us about the work you created in this context?
I have participated in many artist residencies, including one I co-established with my gallerist, Catinca Tabacaru. These residencies offer a unique opportunity for inspiration and time for production. For example, during the Triangle Arts residency in New York, Admire Kamudzengerere had the opportunity and space to create our performance Transcultural Protocol, which was shown at the Venice Biennale in 2017. In Villa Lena, I had the privilege of meeting and collaborating with exceptional artists, many of whom I still maintain contact with. During my residency, I was working on completing my short film Melodica, and we were working on the soundtrack under the shade of the olive trees.

Saverio Verini



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