Olivia McManus interviews Jacob Raeder

Interview with Jacob Raeder

Conducted 4.09.14

Olivia McManus:

Hey everyone this is Olivia with FLAT Space Chicago and I’m sitting here with Jacob Raeder a first year MFA Candidate in SAIC’s Ceramics department. Jacob is one of two artists featured in our upcoming show Perverted Living: A Summer Social, opening on May 2nd. Join us for a private view from 7:00 – 10:00 pm. The exhibition runs through the first of June.

Thanks Jacob for taking time out of your day to come meet with me and talk a bit about your work!

Jacob Raeder: No problem.

OM: We are currently sitting in Jacob’s studio and just by looking around you seem to be working on a lot of different projects within a multitude of media. Could you give an introduction to your practice for those who aren’t familiar?

JR: Right now my practice is fairly object based. I’m coming at it from an out-chemical Dr. Frankenstein approach, which is born out of my inability to focus on any one individual project at a time. So, I have a series of replica/functional fox traps that are all steel constructions. I have a series of laminated publications and books, mostly focusing at the moment on vintage Playboys and Tarzan novels. And, my main features are my crystal radio sets, which, as a ceramic grad, the nice moment are the ceramic inducer coils. A kind of reference to vintage porcelain hardware, knife switches, and light sockets at a time when porcelain was the height of technological advancement.

OM:  Can you give us a description about your background, for example, what you were doing before SAIC? And how you ended up here?

JR: Sure. Prior to SAIC, I was working mostly in Europe. I had received a Fulbright to go to Amsterdam, specifically to study at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie, also in their ceramics department and to study contemporary Dutch design. I was there for one year. I liked it a lot. They liked me. I got invited to stay and I actually received a bachelor’s degree after concluding two years of study there. I was fortunate enough to get a residency and which, more or less, made me a working artist in Amsterdam for about 6 months, showing bodies of work in the Netherlands, in Denmark, and in Russia. But, I wanted to come back to the states to see how this burgeoning practice of mine fit into a contemporary arts scene back here and see it develop with a bit of Chicago flare.

OM: Awesome. So, my next question has to do with critical frameworks. Where would you situate your work and is there a specific framework that you identify with or concepts that you’re trying to examine?

JR: I would say that my work is definitely situated in and coming from what was a craft based discourse. My continuing studio practice revolves around the object, ideals, and the meaning behind handwork. I’ve been contextualizing about notions of boyhood circa turn of the century 1900s, prior to WWI, and an American ideal of what it was and what it is to make with ones hands. I’m kind of working on the hypothesis: to be a good worker was virtuous and how that was then taught to young men, maybe underneath the guise of some kind of deceitful capitalism to make the new generation of good or complacent workers. So, there’s that intersection of craft. There’s also just the sexy and humorous, definitely contaminated by the graphic design I saw in the Netherlands, with the vibrancy of color. That’s somewhat of a trite thing to say, but its pretty important for my work, that acknowledges a particular character towards formal qualities of sculpture. Although, I’m not as of yet making 2D work, that’s potentially on the horizon.

OM: You mention color too and something that I’m seeing emerge with this show is this weird kitsch/campy sensibility, and I don’t know if that’s necessarily your intention, but how do you think that choice of color and perversion plays into your work.

JR: That’s something I would think about. I think that kitsch or an allegiance of color to kitsch or with kitsch, as well as something that’s campy, that’s a bit loaded. There’s something about the idea of plastic or the color that is in plastic as some kind of signifier to cheapness and cheapness goes along with kitsch. But, I don’t know where the color comes from, that’s what’s always interesting to me. I think that a lot of it is formal relationships that I notice and I use the example of shoes. The breaking up of the object in the special relationships of bottom/top or laces/tongue or inside/outside, and that these are the right moments to have juxtaposition, a contrast of blandness of colors or an exploring of surface and form. But, I don’t think I have any kind of focus on Kitsch.

The perversion part: I’m surrounded by these Playboy covers in my studio at the moment and it’s quite exciting to see the typography of them and the use of color for its scintillating properties.  Who doesn’t want to be enchanted? Who doesn’t want to be aroused by the vibrancy of red? In a simple way, I’d like to start treating it as the garnish, as the cherry on top.

OM: On a similar vein, there is an obvious connection between materiality and objects. How do you play, transgress, or “fuck” the traditional role of the object, re-appropriating it to be something else?

JR: Fucking with the object is something that I can kind of bring into my practice, where I feel that there is this need for a reinvigoration or a reinvestment with tactility and touch. To think of the object outside or separate from the human experience, is an interesting proposition, but ultimately I’m more concerned with how do I make objects that are physically alluring? How do you make an object that you want to put in your mouth, roll around, explore with your tongue, explore with your fingertips, and have it against you? Or, potentially that moment of physical danger that’s present in the fox traps for instance. To make a designer fox trap, what that is, this kind of thing that you could walk up to, that is set and is loaded and is a pregnant moment that you can only understand corporeally. That’s what I’m always fascinated by with objects. They have an unlimited potential to cause us to feel, to have a very singular moment of the now.

OM: I wanted to talk a little bit about the works that you want to put in the show and I figured we could start with the crystal-powered radios. Can you discuss where that idea came from and how they fit into the rest of your practice?

JR: The crystal powered radios. I was just mentioning the idea of sensuality or even broader senses. Leaving the Netherlands I was focused on tactility and now I’m quite interested in the holistic experience. So, on a base level: sound. How is sound used going in, I was looking at a lot of old “How to” manuals, also turn of the century. Crystal radios are one of the beginning radio technologies, super simplistic. Very simply, there is an antenna, a ground, attached both to a reducer coil and a crystal. Through this simple non-powered apparatus, it pulls a specific AM station out of the air. The crystal radios definitely represent the component of my practice that has to do with something magical. A concern with the physical and the non-physical, the idea that these radio waves are surrounding us, penetrating us all the time and I can create this simple apparatus that works off a freaking crystal. Working of a crystal, we like to think that the crystal powers it, but the crystal ends up being a filter. That has a particular appeal to me, because it is the moment where we think we can understand and we are confronted with our own ignorance, in a very abrupt and graphic and explicit way.

OM: I feel like when I interact with it or look at it, I’m dumfounded by how I don’t understand how it works. I think that’s such an interesting thing, because it works but I can’t quite get there. That’s something that I sense with a lot of different things here. Especially, with the “Pornographic Sitting-Room”, as we have thought to call it, There is a barrier that you attempt to cross, but you can’t, or at least that’s how I’m interacting with it. This aspect of human sensuality is super interesting in connection with that, because there is almost that forbidden knowledge or that forbidden need to get closer.

Going off of that, the most common and more downloaded forms of pornography are Internet short clip-sites and what strikes me most about these Playboy magazines that you’ve found, they’re kind of an obsolete form of pornography. How does the vintage Playboy become both a site of temptation and frustration, similar to the crystal radios?

JR: I would say that they work on an interesting spectrum, with the radios there is a frustration or a confounding that happens in the trying to mentally puzzle out, but where as with the Playboys that confounding occurs in the denial of access, on a strictly material level. As far as the Playboys, I would totally agree, there is an attraction to them as almost this obsolete, I don’t want to call it yet technology, but surely an obsolete form of pornography. That now having looked through the playboys…I grew up at that cusp of turning over from printed pornography to the digitized pornography. You realize in the Playboys that a tenth, a twentieth, of the content is nude women, and that titillation that exists in the cover with the pursed lips and the exposure somehow is always implicitly unfulfilled. There is a denial of gratification that happens even within the promise of the Playboy.

OM: And that’s even further exacerbated by the fact that you cannot physically open the Playboy.

JR: They become rendered as material and that is a curiosity to me, especially reflecting on it as how I am relating to it, how I’ve related to it, and how I’m continuing to relate to it. From my body and from the sitting or seating area, to sit with others and have these kind of bricks, these naked bricks in front of us that are the laminated Playboy.

OM: These are essentially going to be sitting with your video piece. Could you talk a little bit more about that, because I’m not really sure what it’s going to look like yet.

JR: When I install work I have, slightly in the back of my mind, this notion of Gesamtkunstwerk, which is the total work. I don’t really ascribe to the belief that my work is an installation and I think that gives my work too much credit. It’s kind of an appeal to architecture of a space. Although I’m aware of it, I’m not always necessarily responding directly to it. Instead, I think of the work as responding to the inhabited room or space. What I mean by that is: I like the work to respond to itself, to respond to Stevie’s work, that will respond to a tea kettle, that will respond to the floor tile, and that it is in the space knowingly. The video will be autonomous; it’s going to be itself, as well as creating a proposition and creating a relationship just off of proximity. The video is also part of the series of my own dealing with craft. As I’ve provided, I had a video that was riffing off of Marina Abramović’s An artist is beautiful, an artist must be beautiful, more of kind of pricking my hand in a methodical manner of “An artist is a craftsman, an artist is a craftsman”, this kind of thing.

This video is of me literally having sex with ceramics. Like, throwing pots with my dick. The explicit nature, the confrontational nature of it, the idea to….I don’t know. How is clay, as we understand the thing in an American society, a sensual act? Just the act of making, as its defined by throwing pots on the wheel… just going to the total end of that spectrum. You can’t really get more overt. I would hope that the video (there wont be any sound with it), this repetitive action, this in and out, to see it set up in a way with the kind of inert Playboys on the table and have it be the kind of corner of the eye. That sense of movement of repetition that at one time we can ignore, and then of course it being this glaring beacon for our eyes.

OM: Well I guess to continue, how do you navigate this distinction between an interest in the sexual capacities of objects and sexual interactions with objects? Could you talk about this boundary and if you think it exists and how you navigate that?

JR: That’s brilliant. I don’t know. I mean, I think that’s a great question and I like to think of it that it’s almost like falling outside of myself. What I mean by that is, when can we become less human? And I think this is an issue that happens and can often happen in the focus of the loins. I think there’s something about it, with plants and our sexualization of plants, with the kind of pornification. To use a term offered by my girlfriend, this pornification of food lets say. Were not going to have sex with that glazed donut, but those are the words were going to be using to describe it. It’s of desire and does that donut desire us? Probably not, but it’s a different anthropomorphization that happens where objects… maybe they do want to have sex with us. For a guy, come on. The world is full of holes that I guess were supposed to fill? I’m not sure.

OM: The opportunity is there!

JR: Yes. So, what is it about the vessel? The vessel as woman or as human. What is for me to be fucked by something? The clay can be both empty and solid. I can fuck it or be fucked by it. I think that has its own particular appeal, for your question to ask, what is the objects desire and that’s something that I will keep in my practice.

OM: Well that ties into my last question. What are thinking about next and what do you have on the horizon?

JR: I’m quite curious to see how these pieces are going to interact with each other and that’s a bit how my practice evolves. I have another body of work, these porcelain dice that are of course are extremely evocative of tactility of the hand and I want to let the grouping of these different bodies of work start providing different signage for me. Whether or not I stay with the radios, I’m not sure, but I certainly feel like it’s a technology that I’m just brushing up against. I feel like there is a lot more intentionality placed within the radios, as what it is to be a transmitter or a receiver and working with that idea of something that is more. Right now I feel like they are a bit too passive and I want to see a bit more intentionality put into them, in the next iteration. Moving forward to distill a formal language of how they look as well as trying to figure out what they are saying.

OM: Thank you so much. I appreciate you spending time with me talking about this and I think were going to have a really awesome show!

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