Rachel Debuque works with myriad subjects and forms. In her work, installation, performance, video, and sculpture collide with themes of domesticity, the still life, and the eccentricities of both individual personalities and physical spaces. Through all of this, her oeuvre coheres around a central concern: the visual re-codification and conveyance of memory through spatial sensitivity.
Debuque’s Cacti-Smash (2013) is an installation-based performance that features two swimsuit models, nearly identically dressed, as well as a series of small, color-coordinated cacti and logs. Two colorful and brightly patterned walls and a matching floor frame a space that reads simultaneously as an interior and exterior room. As the two models begin their performance, a looped vocal track plays and then fades out, and the two women don laboratory-style safety goggles and classic yellow rubber gloves. The performance continues as the two cut, smash, and place a cactus in a test tube—this process, repeated with each performance, enacts an alternative yet nonsensical type of housework. With its candy-striped colors, combination of faux and real objects, and deliberately confident choreography, Cacti-Smash reads as a scene borrowed from some music video or commercial studio set, combining incredibly bright colors in attention-grabbing graphic patterns.
Where Cacti-Smash reverberates with an upbeat visual tempo, another room-sized installation, Fancy Room (2013), issues a deeply melancholic air, like a room from a child’s imagination lost in time and space, faintly remembered only now. With a bright white light as the focal point and a reduced palette, Fancy Room is reminiscent of Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project (2003) in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.
As the artist delves into her subject matter, certain materials and themes reappear: a lintel fireplace, turquoise strips of peeling wall paint, and faux logs. Blue Fireplace (2012) is what Debuque calls an “investigation—small iterations or sketches for the larger work.” However, these trial runs do more than simply allow her to analyze materials and palette; they create robustly layered memories for her and, in turn, the viewer. They act as sculptural simulacra—repeated patterns, colors, and objects reinforce her presentation of re-codified memory, and are crafted with all the attention to detail one would expect of a finished artwork.
In Big Lady Small Things (2011), Debuque creates a common domestic leisure scene by situating a coffee table covered in small objects alongside an armchair and a lamp, while a digitally projected portrait of an older woman hangs on a freestanding wall. The woman is presumably the owner of all these objects. The work emulates a shrine in a way that imbues each of these normally kitschy objects with a sense of holiness and nostalgia. By assembling objects within a faux-domestic scene, Debuque humorously but pointedly critiques the market fetishization that art objects undergo once finished and exhibited. Big Lady Small Things acts as a recognizable, familiar version of a domestic setting, derived from a memory perhaps, and serves as a precursor to later works like Blue Fireplace and Fancy Room.
Love Chairs (2012) is part Tony Oursler and part David Lynch, an unlikely yet coherent combination of differing cinematic visions. The installation includes two heart-shaped chairs resting on a small downward-angled stage, like furniture displayed in a museum. The sloping floor, along with the background wall, features a red-and-white chevron pattern, and a looping two-channel video projects the head of a man on one chair and a woman onto the other. It is as if the two are flirting—her tossing her hair and glancing longingly as he blows her a kiss and sheepishly smiles. What might be assumed to be a love song plays and loops in reverse, creating an uncomfortable tension within this otherwise conventional courtship.
Rachel Debuque’s work engages memory, but with an often discomforting internal logic owing to its unfamiliarity and seeming nonsensical rules. While the internal motivations behind her works take engagement with and openness to alternative methods of thinking about space and the memory of space, what remains consistent is her dedication to exploring installation through many angles and incorporating digital theatricality at every turn.
Rachel Debuque is an American artist living and working in New Mexico. She received her MFA degree from the University of Georgia and holds a BFA from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She is currently an instructor in the BFA program at the University of New Mexico Highlands and previously taught at the Lamarr Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia. Her work has been shown in group and solo exhibitions in Zagreb, Croatia; Pittsburgh, PA; Taipei, Taiwan; Athens, GA; and Brooklyn, NY.