Rachael Starbuck is an artist currently living and working in Austin. Working primarily in sculpture and video, Starbuck deals with holding, distance, and touch. She was generous enough to speak about her relation to landscape, language, and place.
After recently spending time in the Caribbean, I noticed correlations between the landscape and flora of that region with particularities of your work. For instance, in Longing we say the yellow objects reminded me of the slope of a palm tree trunk and the taut plastic floor acts like the surface of water. Growing up in Florida, how do you think about the impact of that landscape on your work?
I grew up in Miami and spent most of my summers visiting extended family in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and that combination of landscapes has has a huge impact on my work. The experience of standing on the beach looking out at the horizon or the view from the top of a mountain instills a particularly acute awareness of space and scale and immensity. Much of my practice revolves around an inherently futile attempt to contain or reduce that feeling of enormity to a more human scale. I’m interested in the relationship between distance and nearness— the climate in South Florida is often heavily humid, sweaty and stifling, but you still have easy access to this vast open space when you go to the ocean. I want to make work that can combine those feelings of closeness and open space.
Your titles are poetic and often melancholic, feeling like excerpts from larger pieces of writing. Talk a little about your titling methodologies.
Most of my titles do come from larger pieces of writing. I read a lot of essays from writers like Rebecca Solnit, Annie Dillard and Italo Calvino many of which discuss experiences of longing or address landscape and distance. Often the only way to communicate the experience of something that is outside the realm of language or any easy scale of reference is through poetics and metaphor. Many these writers are doing through language what I hope to do through touch and material and by incorporating their words into my titles I hope to embody some of their language and metaphors.
How do you think about the divergence and connection between touch and distance in your work? Is the idea of escape present?
The relationship between distance and touch, or distance and proximity is something I think about often in my practice. I wouldn’t say I’ve thought about the work in relation to escape, maybe more the opposite direction— I think more about the idea of reaching, and many of the objects I make are stretching or reaching across space. The act of reaching implies a desire to span a distance that may be vast or only a few feet. I feel like there is a direct parallel between the desire to understand or possess an entity like the ocean and a longing to touch something close that is fragile or forbidden or just out of reach.
What is your perspective on the art scene in Austin? How would you describe it relative to the other cities, like Richmond and New Orleans, that you’ve lived in?
The art scenes in Austin, Richmond and New Orleans are actually all surprisingly similar. Richmond is maybe more tapped into the New York art scene and New Orleans is weird and wonderful and always doing its own thing, but all three cities have relatively small but incredibly enthusiastic and supportive arts communities. Being smaller and slightly further away from the pressures of larger cities like New York or L.A. I’ve found all three cities really accessible and encouraging for younger artists. In all three cities there’s space and opportunity to both make and show work as well as generous and challenging critical dialogue.
Please visit rachaelstarbuck.com to see more of her work.