ARTIST in CON.TEXT: Rachel Wilberforce


Sobriety #2, 2013

Rachel Wilberforce (b. 1975) was awarded a Distinction in MA Fine Art from Chelsea College of Arts. She has exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally including Standpoint Gallery, Tate Modern, UpDown Gallery, Freud Museum, Open Eye Gallery, Courtauld Institute of Art, Leeds Art Gallery, Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), Limbo Substation Project Space, BFI Southbank, Stanley Picker Gallery, Van Abbemuseum and Ron Mandos Gallery. She was awarded the Rector’s Scholarship MA Fine Art, Chelsea College of Arts (2014), shortlisted for WW Solo Award (2013) and The Salon Photography Prize (2011). Her work is part of Museum of Contemporary Art Belgrade, Chaos Gallery and National Museums Liverpool collections. She is Creative Director of Re-Cog, Post Artists and Resort Studios Member and AIR (Artists Interaction and Representation) Councillor for a-n The Artists Information Company.

Where are you based?

I’ve relocated from London and now live in Ramsgate with my studio at Resort Studios in Margate.

How would you describe your work?

My work explores sites with uncertain borders, on the edge, fleeting and precarious, hovering between different histories, uses and meanings. I would describe my work as performative and spatial in its relationship with the viewer. It is simultaneously contained and disruptive. It is largely narrative and conceptually based and involves a period of extensive research about the subject. The context provides both a framework and rigour for the research and the making, which is distilled in a reciprocal relationship with the question(s) at hand. In examining a site’s historical and contemporary status, I am drawn to the transitions and overlaps in its identity, purpose and fabric and the human experience therein. By investigating the ways an image mutates, breaks or becomes material and working with 2 and 3D realms, my work further explores the potential for our mind to dissociate space or reveal the transcendental.

What types of media do you work with?

My work is predominantly photographic and installation based. I like to work with the still and moving image across a range of substrates.  I’m increasingly drawn to the idea of building spaces within spaces such as corridors and 1-way mirror rooms, and working with perspex and found objects. I like to challenge myself to work with new materials where appropriate. Recently I worked with a lot of brittle glass neons in different gases, many were more than 40 years old, alongside the heavy transformers and circuitry needed to drive them, all configured in a perspex sculpture with transparency prints.

What is your artistic background?

I grew up in Cape Town and moved to the UK when I was 12. During the 70s and 80s my father was a forensic medical photographer and head of the Audio-Visual Department at Groote Schuur (part of the early research photography on heart transplants), and later at Tygerberg Hospital. Before these posts, he was a Meteorologist and a wildlife and travel photographer. Some of my earliest memories are from the time I spent in the studio and dark room with dad developing images at the hospital. Alongside Occupational Therapy, Mum has always been artistic; whether its painting, drawing and batik-making. I think having grown up around film and art, and in a strikingly beautiful yet complex landscape, these experiences stayed with me and influenced my later life choices. I studied film and television production in California as part of my degree and worked for a bit in the industry in London. However, I ultimately decided to go it alone and pursue my art practice. I began showing professionally in 2004 with my first show at Raid Projects in Los Angeles. As art school came later, it was a mostly self-taught approach to the arts and so learning took place on the job. On being awarded the Rectors Scholarship, I completed a masters in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Arts last year (2014) and graduate in the summer. I’m currently enjoying being a part of the vibrant artistic communities in Kent and continue to work with my London networks including my previous London studio through exhibitions, events and projects, and as a University of the Arts alumni.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am excited to be working on my first public realm sculpture for Dreamland Margate which opens in a month. The work will be the first thing visitors see as they enter the site. The piece will be surrounded by rows of original mirrored columns (from the old site) that span a large arched hall with a hybrid of new and old arcade games. The work takes the resurrected site as its starting point and juxtaposes the historical and contemporary aspects of Dreamland. I’m currently in the installation planning stages with a bespoke perspex and steel plinth configured and ready for fabrication. This will house the piece on site. I’m also working on a book launch for ‘The Path That Runs Across’ in association with Chelsea Salon, University of the Arts London. The limited edition Riso book documents three artists’ processes (Michaela Nettell, Nicholas Cheeseman and myself) and our dialogue in the lead up to the making of our work and show at Bond House Project Space (2014). The launch marks the anniversary of the show, accompanied by select Riso limited edition prints. My group show Club Banger 1 has just opened at UpDown Gallery in collaboration with Jealous Print Studio, curated by Cedric Christie and Pascal Rousson and runs until 31st May. The exhibition presents my double-floated photographic work from Perceptual [Apparatus].

What environment do you like to work in?

I love working in a site responsive way with all the challenges that can bring: a case of thinking on your feet and adapting ideas or working processes. I like it mostly quiet as I like to listen to the ambient sounds from people and things. If I’m in my studio, I like it to be light, parred-down and roomy so I can spread my things about. When I’m developing ideas and work, the space can resemble a giant sketch book with prints, sketches and references stuck to pretty much anything!

What influences your work?

Socio-political factors that affect the individual and communities, such as the sense of dilapidation and outsider hood in The Resort (image below), increasing corporatisation of hospitals and threat of closure in favour of luxury housing developments, or the old factory with its reduced and dissipating industry due to cheaper manufacturing in China, as explored in the Perceptual Apparatus series (image below). Aside from my immediate environment and changing landscapes, I think my childhood in South Africa, the politics, and life experiences all mark my psyche and have had an affect on work. Foucault’s notion of heterotopia influences my work to the largest degree. My space related influences are broad however and include Defert, Lefebvre, Marin, Auge, Hallam, Faubion, Bachelard, Baudrillard, Caillois, de Certeau, Dehaene, Deleuze, Guattari, de Cauter, Eco, Derrida, Van Gennep, Genocchio, Stallybrass and Soja, to name a few. Books and essays influence my thinking and making, specific examples are Freud’s ‘A Note Upon a Mystic Writing Pad’ (1925), Vidler’s Warped Space; Art. Architecture, and Anxiety in Modern Culture. (2001), Brook’s ‘The Empty Space (1995), Marin’s Frontiers of Utopia: Past and Present (1993), Defert’s ‘Foucault, Space, and the Architects’ (1997) and Faubion’s ‘Heterotopia: an ecology’ (2008).

Do you listen to music while working?

Yes if I’m working on something that I’ve already given a lot of thought to and can get on with the process. If it involves working through the night this is especially important! Music can range from jazz and classical to techno and drum and bass, depending on my mood and work. If I’m reading or writing, it has to be silent. Otherwise I enjoy listening to Radio 2 and Radio 4. Having recently taken up drumming however, I might be found listening to bands like The White Stripes or anything David Bowie.

“Climax” is the theme of our third print issue. What does the word “Climax” mean to you?

Climax in terms of my work, is the moment of culmination and tension in a work where it reaches a height of intensity or turning point and starts to deliver a meaning or solution. Climax exists in the making when an idea gets resolved in my mind, as well as existing in the work for the viewer.


The Resort I, 2014


Perceptual [Apparatus] I, (Installation view, detail), 2014


Perceptual [Apparatus] II, (Installation view, detail), 2015

1RW3Perceptual [Apparatus] #5, 2015

Photos courtesy of the artist.

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1 Response to ARTIST in CON.TEXT: Rachel Wilberforce

  1. I am really enjoying watching you further distill and crystallise what you are about. Your work is always beautifully executed and thought provoking. I can’t wait to see your Drealand work in situ.

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