May 8, 2020
MANY THANKS to Pop Historian extraordinaire and exceptional Art New England Magazine writer Emily Rose Bass for this very thoughtful and insightful review of my 3S Artspace solo show “Life is Drag: Virtual Edition”:
I miss drag.
Miss performance, miss creativity, miss community, and maybe most of all, I miss costumes.
Life Is Drag—a virtual exhibition at 3S Artspace celebrating New England’s alt-drag scene—reminds me of the best of these things. And not in a way that feels hollow, like a desolate bedroom Zoom rave. The exhibition elicits an unexpected joy, like digging up a time capsule or running into a childhood best friend. A welcome reminder of the happiest moments from “before.”
Life Is Drag is the most recent project by multimedia artist (and absolute badass) Rachel Rampleman, whose profiles of female bodybuilders, burlesque dancers, latex maskers, and toddler pageant queens magnify the performative aspects of gender. Her subjects redefine spectacle, pushing presentation to the extreme, yet their portraits never venture into voyeurism. Rampleman graces each collaborator with a divinely empathetic eye, making her the perfect candidate to pull off an authentic, compelling exhibition about the people behind drag.
During a winter residency at Portsmouth, NH’s 3S Artspace, Rampleman collaborated with 21 of New England’s finest (and freakiest) performers to capture their fresh approaches to drag. While the physical exhibition of these videos, interviews, and photographs planned for April 10-May 31 was halted by the Coronavirus crisis, Rampleman is premiering these works in a digital version of the show at galleryat3s.org, now on view through June 4.
Serendipitously, the project is perfectly suited to live online. While some artworks lose something in the digital form, Rampleman’s videos somehow become stronger, more focused. Without the distraction of a gallery attendant looking over your shoulder or the time constraint of your nearing lunch plans, it’s easier to truly dive into the performances. Whether you choose to binge the whole lot in one sitting or savor a few each day, the ~3 minute routines feel sacred, special, like private concerts.
Be it opulent glamour or dark humor, spoken word or comedy skit, the exhibition covers every drag niche imaginable (and a few you’d never dare to imagine), from the grotesque horror of Zayn-X’s hair-raising body modification (Spoiler alert: There’s a staple gun involved.) to Bunny Wonderland’s banishing ritual likening drag shows to religious ceremonies, to Kitty Willow’s Us-themed dance set to Carly Rae’s “Cut To The Feeling,” complete with scissors and cut paper chain.
Life Is Drag masterfully counters the notion that drag is one-size-fits-all. Drag is not a monolith, although it’s often portrayed as one (Hey, RuPaul!)—a sentiment proven by Rampleman’s collaborators, diverse in nearly every aspect. The group includes an immunologist, a high school senior, an ex-Navy officer, a Two-Spirit Passamaquoddy activist, and a Boston-based father to 46 drag sons, to name just a few. And much to my delight, performers of all gender identities and presentations are represented—Yes, finally, an exhibition with drag kings!
Bender Bluefish, Courtesy of the artist and 3S Artspace
When I’d originally planned to review Life Is Drag back in February, all I could think about was how exciting it’d be to see a thoughtful exhibition about drag make it into a respected gallery. To see an art form so often pushed underground, relegated to the basement or the dive bar, presented to the larger public in a considerate (but still fun!) way. To bring drag performers across New England together, and to invite newcomers into their world. Rampleman and the team at 3S (including Bunny Wonderland, the aforementioned ritualist and 3S’s program manager) planned a holistic schedule of events to welcome 3S’s community into the drag world and the drag community to 3S—showcases, bootcamps, campy movie screenings, and more.
While mourning these events, I find myself even more grateful for the exhibition now because it gives something precious back to our community. We all need a little spectacle in our lives right now, and Life Is Drag delivers when it’s most needed. The exhibition is an invaluable reminder of queer joy, queer innovation, and queer adaptability.
At a time when there’s not much to look forward to (Dare I say it…Life is a drag.), I’m thankful we still have drag.
- Emily Rose Bass
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, PORTSMOUTH, N.H., MAY 1, 2020 — 3S Artspace announces a special online exhibit, Life is Drag: Virtual Edition, on view May 1 - June 4.
Brooklyn-based multimedia artist Rachel Rampleman creates bodies of work that explore subjects like gender, artifice, and spectacle. Utilizing processes ranging from directorial to curatorial to anthropological, she showcases exuberantly bold and irrepressible personalities who revel in challenging common clichés associated with masculinity and femininity. A sampling of subjects and collaborators include Girls Girls Girls (the world's first and only all-female Mötley Crüe tribute band) and Tazzie Colomb (the world's longest competing female bodybuilder and powerlifter).
In early 2019 she embarked upon Life is Drag, a new series in which she documents her collaborations with the most singular and innovative artists of the currently exploding international alt-drag scene. The eponymously titled exhibition was originally scheduled at 3S Artspace from April 10 - May 31. Although the gallery is temporarily closed, we are thrilled to bring you Life is Drag: Virtual Edition, which premieres her video portraits of New England's most unique, edgy, exciting, and inspiring drag royalty, created while in residency in January and February of 2020 at 3S Artspace.
During her residency, Rachel met with 21 New England-based drag artists, and captured compelling interviews, stunning photographs, and transcendent performances that have become a part of her growing Life is Drag archive. This was her first opportunity to create a large number of video portraits as part of a residency, and she found herself in awe of the wide range of talent she encountered at 3S, the unbridled creativity, boldness, and power of the performers, and the exuberant and liberating energy and feelings they inspired.
Some examples that illustrate the range of talented individuals she collaborated with include a local-to-Portsmouth high school senior, a Dutch doctor working in the field of infectious disease diagnostics at Harvard, a Passamaquoddy Two-Spirit, master basket maker, activist, storyteller, and educator from Indian Township, Maine, and an outdoor enthusiast who came to the US as a child of refugee immigrants fleeing Communist Vietnam, who is now the proud father of 46 drag sons in Boston and proudly states that drag literally saved his life.
Auxiliary Projects, 212R Norman Ave, Brooklyn, NY
I'm very happy to share that my piece "LACTIC Incorporated: Times Square Shoot" is being featured in a 48 hour streaming video exhibition presented by Auxiliary Projects titled "TIME LAPSE", from 5pm May 1st - 5pm May 3rd, 2020. Please see the expo description here:
Remember when we were so busy we had to tape a banana to the wall and call it art? Brisk and efficient cultural consumption–I mean really, what were we thinking?–was always dubious at best. From the vantage point of New York City in lockdown at the epicenter of a global pandemic, many of us strangely find ourselves with time to burn. Why open a can when you can soak beans for 14 hours? Why do anything at all today, when you can do it tomorrow? Of course, to be in this situation is to be among the lucky who are even able to hunker, locked in battle with our stupid refrigerators, our stupid cohabitants, and our stupid bills.
Together with the grinding specificity of the minute to minute (how long has it been since I last washed my hands???) all of us endure a new blindness to the expansive future: who among us knows what June will look like, or whether we will be here to see it? In this moment of forging new relationships to time, we are inspired to present TIME LAPSE, a 48-hour exhibition of streaming video art to soothe, irritate, and entertain you in your anxious confinement. We are sorry we can’t provide our usual vintage of “gallery white,” but we also know that whatever you BYO of will be superior. What we will provide is an amazing array of video art in its original format that can replace your news feed on the screen of your choice. We recommend letting it play the whole time, allowing your attention to drift and to refocus, just as it did when the “old you” was out in the world where new stimulus was constant, unexpected, and compelling.
Featuring work by: David Opdyke, Anthony Discenza, Marie Guex, Rachel Rampleman Salvador Munoz, Adam Douglas Thompson, Valery Estabrook, Vanessa Albury, Sarada Rauch, Mitch Patrick, Chanan Ben Simone and Inkyoung Bae, LoVid, Azikiwe Mohammed, Jennifer Dalton Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, and Faith Holland.
THE FUNGUS AND THE FUTURE
601 Artspace, 88 Eldridge St., NYC, NY 10002
April - May, 2020
I'm pleased to announce that my portrait of Just JP Performing "Happy Face" (Destiny's Child) from my new Life is Drag series is being featured in an online exhibition presented by 601 Artspace titled "The Fungus and the Future", as a part of their series "It's the End of the World as We Know It and I Feel Fine / Not Fine". Please see the expo description here:
Our thoughts flip and flop at lightning speed between the contents of our refrigerators and the fate of the world. We now live in a whiplash-inducing push and pull between the personal and the global, the concrete and the unknown. The artists in this exhibition look beyond the immediate concerns at hand to focus their micro and macro lenses on the Earth itself. They meditate on the oft-overlooked minutiae of the natural world, and prophesize about the planet's imperiled future. And, lest it all become too much, one work offers a little unbridled optimism, by way of (who else) Beyoncé.
Featuring work by: Yura Adams, Antonia Dias Leite, Daniel Fernandes, Ghost of a Dream, Sylwia Gorak, Catarina Lopes Vicente, Rachel Rampleman, Jill Sigman, Jess Willa Wheaton.
NEW ENGLAND DRAG SHOWCASE IN PARTNERSHIP WITH LIFE IS DRAG
3S Artspace, 319 Vaughan St., Portsmouth, NH 03801April 25, 2020
3S Artspace & Bunny and the Fox Present:
The New England Drag Showcase
Hosted by Bunny Wonderland & Joslyn Fox
Doors 7pm / Show 8pm
On April 25th, #joinus for a raucously fun night of illusion, spectacle, and subversive gender! The Performance Space at 3S will feature a lineup chock full of drag royalty unlike New England has ever seen before! Get ready for an outstanding night of drag with 19 back-to-back performances by kings and queens from Portland, Portsmouth, Boston, Dover, Worcester, and beyond!
3S Artspace and Bunny and the Fox are proud to partner with multimedia artist Rachel Rampleman. Rachel's exhibit Life is Drag in the Gallery at 3S is a collaboration with all of the performers you'll see in The New England Drag Showcase. Life is Drag explores subjects like gender, artifice, and spectacle. A "showcase" in its own right, Rachel's work captures the exuberantly bold and irrepressible personalities who revel in challenging common clichés associated with masculinity and femininity. Make sure to visit this incredible exhibit while you're here at 3S.
The New England Drag Showcase features performances by: Regan White - Agatha Crusty - Cherry Lemonade - Rita Fluxx - Zayn-X - Arabella LaDessé - Mike Hawk - Sham Payne - Harlow Havoc - Just JP - Secret Queen - Nüqueer Power - Bender Bluefish - Geo Neptune - Veronica T - Kitty Willow - Jayden Jamison - Bunny Wonderland - Joslyn Fox
About Bunny and the Fox: Everyone's favorite drag duo, Joslyn Fox (RuPaul's Drag Race Season 6) and Bunny Wonderland are back for the 2020 season of Bunny and the Fox! This box office smash and critically acclaimed drag show has become a staple in the Seacoast arts community. Regularly featuring 7+ drag queens and kings, Bunny and the Fox fully immerses the audience with interactive props, video, and audio with a rotating theme for every performance!
No guests under 18 will be admitted.
Please show your support and get up and tip your performers!
Promotional image by artist Rachel Rampleman
LIFE IS DRAG
3S Artspace, 319 Vaughan St., Portsmouth, NH 03801
April 10 - May 31, 2020
Artist Opening Reception: Friday, April 10. 5-8pm.
A brief intro of the artist will occur at 7pm.
Free and open to the public.
Born and raised in the suburbs of the Midwest, Brooklyn-based multimedia artist Rachel Rampleman creates bodies of work that explore subjects like gender, artifice, and spectacle. Utilizing techniques and processes ranging from directorial to curatorial to anthropological, she showcases exuberantly bold and irrepressible personalities who revel in challenging common clichés associated with masculinity and femininity.
A sampling of subjects, muses, and collaborators include Girls Girls Girls (the world's first and only all-female Mötley Crüe tribute band), Tazzie Colomb (the world's longest competing female bodybuilder/powerlifter), and LACTIC Incorporated (an avant-garde clothing brand that takes the detritus of corporate life and reinterprets it into one-of-a-kind structural garments that challenge the polarization of gender and critique existing power structures).
In early 2019 she embarked upon Life is Drag, a new series in which she documents her collaborations with the most singular and innovative artists of the currently exploding international alt-drag scene. The eponymously titled exhibition at 3S Artspace will feature work produced while in residency in early 2020 at 3S, and premiere her portraits of New England's most unique, edgy, exciting, and inspiring drag royalty.
SATELLITE ART SHOW
Pfizer Building, 630 Flushing Ave. Brooklyn, NY
October 6, 2019
Many thanks to Performance is Alive curator Quinn Dukes for screening and hosting a discussion of my new series of video portraits - "Life is Drag" - at SATELLITE ART SHOW NYC.
Thank you to Sarah Cascone at artnet for the personal shout out within her inclusion of SATELLITE ART SHOW NYC as an NYC art world must-see pick of the week.
SATELLITE ART SHOW
Pfizer Building, 630 Flushing Ave. Brooklyn, NY
October 3 - 6, 2019
I was featured in the SATELLITE ART SHOW NYC edition as both an exhibitor AND a participant in the PERFORMANCE IS ALIVE program. I presented multiple channels (screened and as an installation) from my new and ongoing "Life is Drag" video series, in which I am creating video portraits of the most singular and innovative emerging artists from alt-drag scenes all across the US!
At SATELLITE ART SHOW NYC, I showcased my collaborations with:
* Untitled Queen (NYC-based) - Brooklyn Nightlife Awards 2019 winner of Best Visual Artist and Community Vanguard (Best Drag Queen in previous years)
* Stixen Stones (Cincinnati-based) - winner of Louisville's 2019 "Drag Me To Hell" competition, and co-founder of ODD Presents draghaus (pictured above)
* Aura Tannen (Cincinnati-based) - co-founder of ODD Presents draghaus
* Barbie Crash (Louisville-based) - finalist in Louisville's 2019 "Drag Me To Hell" competition, and co-founder of Haus of Dicks (pictured below)
* Kiara Chimera (Dayton-based) - winner of Miss Kentucky Bearded Queen 2019
338 W 23rd St New York, NY 10011
September - November, 2018
Enter the whimsical, irreverent, and epic world of artist Mikel Glass as the cell launches its first ever immersive theatrical experience, Found, an explosion of art, found and transitional objects, mysterious cocktails, and the endless wonders of our imaginations. Found is a revolutionary new way to consume the arts.
I was invited to showcase selections from my various bodies of work exploring the worlds of female bodybuilding, alt-drag, makeup tutorials, and child beauty pageants in a historic brownstone in the heart of Chelsea in NYC, in collaboration with Mason Holdings and featuring the artwork of Mikel Glass. The production team included Kristjan Thor (Director) Daniel Baltzer (Collaborator) Rob Paustian (Sound Composition) Chaney Trotter (Outside Installation Artist) Rachel Rampleman (Video Art) Ronan Day-Lewis (Video Art) Frank Hartley (Audio Engineering, Lighting Design) Fiona Kiernan-Molloy (Fabrication) Daniel Quinn (Fabrication) Tracy Weller (Founding Artistic Director of Mason Holdings / Mama) Zoe Watkins (Shelley) Caroline DeCastiglioni (Sparrow) Tyler DeLeo (Sparrow) Ekin Naz (Sparrow) Laura Arias (Dancer) Jenna Lazar (Production Stage Manager) Reed Ridgley (Producing Director).
315 N Main St, Davidson, NC 28036
September - October, 2019
For 6 weeks in September and October of 2019, the large scale (9’ x 16’) video wall at the E. Craig Wall, Jr. Academic Center has presented my piece "Bodybuilder Vignettes", selected by a jury panel including members of the Art Collection Advisory Committee and Davidson College faculty and staff. The Van Every / Smith Galleries play a fundamental role in the life of Davidson College. The Galleries provide a challenging forum for the presentation, interpretation, and discussion of primarily contemporary artworks in all media for students and members of the Davidson community, as well as for national and international visitors to the campus.
CINCINNATI, OH—REBEL REVEL came to the Cincinnati Arts Association’s Alice F. and Harris K. Weston Art Gallery in the atrium of the Aronoff Center for the Arts on Saturday, June 8th, to celebrate the closing of Oh! You Pretty Things—a nearly twenty year survey exhibition of the incomparable documentary and experimental video work of Cincinnati native and Brooklyn-based multimedia artist Rachel Rampleman. Oh! You Pretty Things was a kaleidoscopic array of many of the artist’s single- and multi-channel videos from her extensive creative catalogue, along with brand new works from the Life is Drag series out of New York City.
Oh! You Pretty Things opened at the Weston Art Gallery April 19 and continued through June 16 throughout both levels of the Weston—creating an unforgettable immersive gallery experience.
REBEL REVEL was a one-night-only festival celebrating those who truly and boldly push the limits of gender expression by combining drag, burlesque, avant-garde fashions, and radical makeup with subversive and often political performances. Inspired by Rampleman’s vivid video explorations of identity and set amongst a dazzlingly tall Mylar curtain backdrop, suspended disco ball, and accent stage lighting, the performing artists and models activated the Weston’s voluminous street-level space with their visually stunning creativity, featuring:
• A drag extravaganza including performances by ODD Presents, the new Cincinnati-based alternative drag haus committed to presenting queer-centric entertainment in all its forms;
• Draglesque by nationally renowned and legendary local male illusionist Alexander Cameron;
• Burlesque by Ginger LeSnapps, head mistress of the award-winning Cin City Burlesque and RAW Artists Cincinnati Performing Artist of the Year; plus Cincinnati’s brand new Smoke & Queers—a queer coed amateur burlesque troupe that encourages all expressions of self, gender, identity, and sexuality;
• Runway shows with gender-bending looks from Northside's NVISION and NYC's LACTIC Incorporated;
• The premiere of the latest fantastical art-couture stylings by costume and wig designer Stacey Vest of Sweet Hayseed’s Wearable Wonders.
On the day I visited Weston Art Gallery in Cincinnati, OH, to see Rachel Rampleman’s mid-career survey, Oh! You Pretty Things, news came that Caster Semenya, a South African runner and Olympic gold medalist, would be barred from competing in certain races by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) because her body naturally produces a high level of testosterone, and that she would be forced to suppress the hormone through medical means to continue in her sport, a decision which has since been, at least temporarily, suspended. As I’m writing this, Alabama has become the latest in a rash of states in the US to pass measures that, if put into effect, would make it nearly impossible to gain access to an abortion or perform one within its jurisdiction. Between then and now, the “Camp” themed Met Gala—which, if nothing else, encouraged some to read or reread Susan Sontag’s seminal essay on the topic—took place.
It has been instructive to confront events that reinforce the state and society’s imposition on the bodies and minds of women and femmes while stewing over the work in this exhibition. In nearly all of her video works on view, Rampleman studies women, girls, and others who perform femininity in one way or another. All her subjects take their gender performances to extremes, either by exaggerating traits generally associated with femininity, sometimes to the point of being absurd, or by presenting themselves directly in conflict with those traits to similar effect. Many of the subjects, regardless of whether their presentation is conscious as such, read as campy in their hewing to exaggeration, artifice, and stylization and their joyful disregard of the borders that attempt to contain them. Rampleman’s editing of the source material—she often cuts video into short, gif-like, repeating loops—further emphasizes the gender performances in which her subjects engage.
Rachel Rampleman, Bodybuilder Portrait (Tazzie Colomb), 2011 [courtesy of artist and Weston Art Gallery, Cincinnati]
Take for example Bodybuilder Portrait (Tazzie Colomb). On the left side of the two-channel video, Colomb, a veteran female bodybuilder who is active on the professional circuit, speaks about the difficulties and rewards of her extreme lifestyle. She cautions young women who might consider competitive bodybuilding against pursuing the sport because of its harmful effects upon her health, while maintaining that her extraordinary size and strength allow her to feel safe and capable, especially in public. She expresses frustration that she draws positive and negative attention wherever she goes, and she dispels the myth that men aren’t attracted to muscular women. In the right channel of the video, she silently works her way through a choreographed set of competition poses while wearing a bedazzled string bikini. The multichannel Bodybuilder Vignettes (Bodybuilder Series) offers further insight into the aesthetic performance of bodybuilding competitions. All nine competitors featured in the video are oiled up and outfitted in bikinis similar to the one Colomb wears in Bodybuilder Portrait. Each also wears heavy, dramatic makeup and long false fingernails. Many are spray-tanned to a deep orange. Contrary to Bodybuilder Portrait , the vignettes—many of which have the camera trained on the subjects’ backs—show Rampleman’s subjects repeatedly performing isolated movements meant to showcase different muscle groups. The performers, abstracted through repetition, become disembodied, boiled-down signifiers of the sport in which they compete.
Rachel Rampleman, Bodybuilder Vignette 01 & 05, (stills), 2016 [courtesy of artist and Weston Art Gallery, Cincinnati]
Sexy Baby Studies (Sexy Baby Series) and Red Room Studies (Burlesque Dancer Series) explore other instances of performed femininity. Sexy Baby Studies is a dizzying 28-channel video installation that shows wildly outfitted young girls made up to look remarkably like adult women for child beauty pageants. In the looped video fragments they dance, walk, and occasionally throw tantrums. Red Room Studies compiles snippets of burlesque routines filmed over the course of four years at The Slipper Room in New York. The performers enact similar gestures, without the tantrums. Both pieces put performances of hyperfemininity on display, but to different ends. Sexy Baby Studies documents a cultural phenomenon that Bruce LaBruce might categorize in his Notes on Camp/Anti-Camp manifesto as Conservative Camp. Beauty Pageants in general, and especially ones for young girls, use performance of gender to reinforce expectations of women already entrenched in Western society—specifically that women and girls should be simultaneously attractive and virginal. Burlesque, on the other hand, frequently maintains a hyperfeminine aesthetic while allowing performers to claim agency over their bodies and sexuality. Burlesque performers choose what, when, and how much of their clothing they remove.
Rachel Rampleman, Sexy Baby Study 09, (still) & installation image, 2018 [courtesy of artist and Weston Art Gallery, Cincinnati]
In Rampleman’s Female Masking Studies (Female Maskers Series), a nine-channel video installation, the artist collects videos from YouTube of female maskers, a subculture made up primarily of cisgendered heterosexual men who wear full-body latex suits to make themselves resemble female dolls or mannequins. Most participants in the subculture see this masking as a safe, semi-private way to access their femininity. There are also numerous works made from found YouTube videos that explore the wildly popular phenomenon of online makeup tutorials. Not unlike videos posted by female maskers, many of the more inventive makeup looks are meant not for public, everyday wear but for an audience on the other side of a phone or computer screen. In Faceless Portrait (Makeup Artist Series) the performer applies a skin-tone mask to flatten and erase her features, creating a smooth beige surface where her nose, mouth, and eyes should appear, interrupted only by two small slits, one for breathing and one for seeing. A related work, The Power of Makeup 2.0 (Makeup Artists Series) shows 12 YouTube makeup artists, each with half the face made up and the other half left bare, a gesture that reinforces how even the aesthetic choices we make for daily wear are performative in nature.
Paul Michael Brown is a writer and curator based in Lexington, KY. He currently serves as the Director of Institute 193, also based in Lexington.
April 30th, 2019
A shallow stage, dramatic floor to ceiling curtain of silver mylar, pink lights, and disco ball have recently transformed the ground floor of Weston Art Gallery. Alluding to the settings of over-the-top performances of artifice, this open space literally sets the stage for Rachel Rampleman’s labyrinthine exploration of drag subcultures, body builders, make-up artists, and child beauty queens found in the lower floor in “Oh! You Pretty Things,” a survey of the Brooklyn-based, Cincinnati-native’s video work. Alternately alluring, humorous, and terrifying, the personalities and subcultures examined in Rampleman’s videos demonstrate the range of ways gender is explored through performance and spectacle under capitalism.
“Oh! You Pretty Things” spans over half a dozen of the artist’s series. Each body of work explores a particular subculture or means of performing identity in ways that bend, smash, or amplify gender binaries. Rampleman’s videos, fixating on performance, blend the ethnographic documentary gaze with spectacle and artifice. Installed on flatscreen and CRT monitors in a darkened gallery rather than through projection, the space becomes mysterious. Light pours out of the screens and into the gallery space and onto viewers as they strain their eyes to adjust to each light-emitting device and still navigate the dark space. Many of the multiscreen works also have their cords exposed, foregrounding the mechanisms of illusion in much the same way Rampleman’s videos foreground the production of artifice in the subcultures she explores.
In the most straightforwardly documentary entries, Rampleman’s often hand-held camera follows her subjects in their preferred environments. Two entries from the Rock ‘n Roll Series, for example, feature members of New York City’s Girls Girls Girls, an all-female Mötley Crüe tribute band, coming together from various walks of life to tailgate at a concert and later cover the band’s misogynistic anthems. Another set of documentaries follows LACTIC Incorporated, a fashion brand that repurposes corporate logos and throw-away objects from commodity culture into gender-bending garments. The camera follows a group of gender-fluid models as they sashay down the streets and stage a fashion shoot in Times Square or perform in a former pharmaceutical factory in Brooklyn. These documentaries are like backstage exposés of moments of performance that Rampleman’s other video installations isolate and explore through both single and multi-channel means. Paradise Binary (Ego Sensation, White Hills)(2013), for example, features a split-screen study of female bassist Ego Sensation of the psychedelic rock band White Hills in performance, and Hell Bent Binary (Gyda Gash, Judas Priestess) (2013) studies a performer of another all-female cover band through two-channel installation, to name two from the Rock ‘n Roll series.
The vacillation between documentary and performance for the camera similarly informs Bodybuilder Portrait (Tazzie Colomb) (2011), part of Rampleman’s much celebrated exploration of female body builders. On the left screen Colomb sits inside a generically feminine hotel room telling stories about her career as a body builder and dealing with how both men and women perceive her body in a confessional mode common in documentary forms. On the right, she poses for the camera in the same room, flexing her massive muscles in a sparkly black and pink string bikini. With daylight streaming into the room at odd angles, doors ajar, and an opened suitcase sneaking into the right side of the frame as she poses, this setting feels both intimate and pathetic, contrasting the self-possessed performance of Colomb’s body with the cheap, lonely textures of bland conformity and placelessness.
The newest work in the show from the Life is Drag series are presented as collaborations between the artist and Brooklyn’s alt-drag scene. These works feature performers shifting between speaking about and preparing their character and embodying them through lip-synced performance. The two-channel piece God Complex (Ziggy Stardust) (2019) visualizes this transition in diptych form. The same performer appears in in a backstage dressing room on two vertical flat screens: on one side he puts on makeup and prepares to become David Bowie over the course of a two hour loop, on the other screen he lip-syncs a Bowie song in the same room in a twelve minute loop. The allusion to labor alluded to in the contrasting temporalities between channels in God Complex also informs a single-channel work in the series, Untitled Queen Performing “Untitled Clarinet” (2019). Again featuring a single performer on a vertical screen (only this time sitting on a chair on a shallow stage with a silver curtain that complements the one upstairs), the gender fluid performer begins by speaking in their deep voice about an impromptu clarinet performance at a staff meeting that lead to a larger discussion of the joys and struggles of being an artist in a capitalist world. The six-minute video culminates in a lip-synced rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “For Free,” a song about a clarinet street performer who performs beautifully, though without compensation.
Contrasting these more ethnographic studies, which I argue generate a sense of empathy with their subjects, are works where Rampleman appropriates footage from television and the internet. The Female Maskers Series (2018), excerpted from YouTube, features clips of videos from an online subculture of men who wear a latex mask and bodysuit to take on a feminine identity for the camera. Less a literalization of pioneering psychoanalyst Joan Rivere’s 1929 proclamation of womanliness as masquerade than a manifestation of fetish and kink, these works sit uncomfortably next to some of Rampleman’s other works. Unlike the drag performers that grace a number of Rampleman’s screens and use artifice as a means of expression for living subject, these works (to me at least) reveal a subculture that performs femininity as profoundly passive and dehumanized, magnifying not performative artifice but restrictive social norms that objectify women and confine them to the home. Rampleman’s multiplication of these appropriated internet performances through multiscreen installation amplifies their uncanniness and recreates the YouTube environment in the gallery space. Not only are the images utterly terrifying (to me at least) in their animation of blow-up sex doll fantasies of women, but if the plastic women are doing anything at all in in these vignettes it’s vainly looking at themselves or performing chores of domestic labor.
Even more unsettling than the female maskers, however is another appropriation work Sexy Baby Studies (2018), a 28-channel installation on 6” tablets. Each tiny screen isolates a movement of a child beauty queen from a televised broadcast. These moments are often overtly sexual hip gyrations or coy glances and winks that are then played in reverse at the same speed and looped. Combined with the tacky costumes, excessive makeup, and cheesy stage settings, each screen isolates a moment of horror in this farce of femininity. Unlike the performances of LACTIC, female bodybuilders, or the alt-drag community with which Rampleman has most recently collaborated, the exaggerated, looped movements of these child performers deny them agency and instead imprison these children within biologically-determined gender roles.
Rampleman’s documentary research and isolation of moments of artifice and performance illuminate both the liberating and terrifying sides of the performance of gender under spectacular capitalism. The coexistence of these works within the gallery space does not suggest an ambivalence about their subjects but rather a deeper consideration of the concept of fluidity with regard to how gender intersects with other structures of power, mirroring the disorienting experience in the dark gallery space. Untitled queen’s frank discussion of the relationship between performance, identity, labor, and capital through the confessional monologue and lip-synced appropriation of Mitchell’s song (and hopefully the upcoming live performance on June 8th Rebel Revel) not only subvert stereotypes and gender binaries, but also potentially point to new possibilities.
(Revised press release):
CINCINNATI, OH—On Friday, April 19, from 6 to 8 p.m., the Cincinnati Arts Association’s Alice F. and Harris K. Weston Art Gallery in the Aronoff Center for the Arts premieres Oh! You Pretty Things, celebrating almost twenty years of the incomparable documentary and experimental video work by Cincinnati native and Brooklyn-based multimedia artist Rachel Rampleman. Oh! You Pretty Things features a kaleidoscopic array of many of the artist’s single- and multi-channel video installations from her extensive creative catalogue along with brand new works from the Life is Drag series out of New York City in an unforgettable immersive gallery experience.
Best known for bodies of work exploring subjects such as gender, artifice, and spectacle, Rampleman showcases exuberantly bold and irrepressible personalities who revel in challenging common clichés associated with masculinity and femininity. The exhibition stretches across both levels of the Weston starting with the creation of a “lowbrow meets highbrow” “divey”/DIY-inspired performance space installation in the atrium gallery including spectacular but low-budget Mylar curtains to set the mood for the aestheticized performances of identity portrayed in her video sculptures and displays screened across multiple electronic platforms including CRT monitors, tablets, and flat screen TVs seen in the lower-level.
A sampling of subjects, muses, and collaborators represented in the survey includes Girls Girls Girls (the world's first and only all-female Mötley Crüe tribute band), Tazzie Colomb (the world's longest competing female bodybuilder/powerlifter), and LACTIC Incorporated (an avant-garde clothing brand that takes the detritus of corporate life and reinterprets it into one-of-a-kind structural garments that challenge the polarization of gender and critique existing power structures). In addition, Rampleman will premiere a new series of work, Life is Drag, in which she documents her collaborations with the most singular and innovative emerging artists of the flourishing Brooklyn alt-drag scene.
The Weston’s street-level exhibition space will feature a dazzling Mylar curtain backdrop and suspended disco ball and accent stage lighting that also serve as the site for Rebel Revel, “an alt-drag-queer-burlesque-pop-punk-fashion-performance-gothic-cabaret-metal-disco-festival on Saturday, June 8. This one-night-only festival celebrating those who truly and boldly push the limits of gender expression combines drag, burlesque, avant-garde fashions, and radical makeup with subversive and often political performances. It will feature a drag extravaganza including performances by ODD Presents, the new Cincinnati-based alternative drag haus committed to presenting queer-centric entertainment in all its forms; draglesque by nationally renowned and legendary local male illusionist Alexander Cameron; burlesque by Ginger Lesnapps—head mistress of the award-winning Cin City Burlesque and winner of RAW Artists Cincinnati Performing Artist of the Year; and also more burlesque by Cincinnati’s brand new Smoke & Queers—a co-ed amateur burlesque troupe that encourages all expressions of self, gender, identity, and sexuality; a runway show with gender bending looks from Northside's NVISION and NYC's LACTIC Incorporated; and the premiere of the latest fantastical art-couture stylings by costume and wig designer/former vaudeville and burlesque performer Stacey Vest of Sweet Hayseed. Admission to the event is free. Capacity is limited.
In conjunction with Oh! You Pretty Things, Rampleman herself will present a video program she curated in 2013 at The Mini Microcinema on Tuesday, April 23 at 7:30 p.m. entitled “Hyper-muscularity & Femininity on Film: A Screening of Media Portrayals of Women Bodybuilders from the 1980s and the 1990s aka ‘The Most Awesome Female Muscle Celebration in the World.’” This program takes the latter part of its title from an event by the same name held in New York City in 1995 which showcased top-name women bodybuilders of that time displaying their physiques by doing different individually choreographed performances (as warriors, queens, pop stars) as opposed to the normal mandated posing routines they performed for professional competitions. Running time is 01:20:00. No charge. Donations are accepted. The Mini Microcinema is located at 1329 Main Street, downtown, Cincinnati. www.mini-cinema.org.
The Mini Micro Cinema
1329 Main St, Cincinnati, OH, 45202
Tuesday April 23. Doors are at 7, screening 7:30.
Rachel Rampleman presents Hyper-muscularity & Femininity on Film; A Screening of Media Portrayals of Women Bodybuilders from the 1980s and 1990s aka The Most Awesome Female Muscle Celebration In The World. This program takes the latter part of its title from an event by the same name held in NYC in 1995, which showcased top-name women bodybuilders of that time displaying their physiques by doing different individually choreographed performances (as warriors, queens, pop stars) - as opposed to the normal mandated posing routines they performed for professional competitions. This selection of obscure and riveting clips was culled from Women's Physique World's extensive documentary archive of 80s-90s women's bodybuilding competitions and post-competition interviews (as well as curious staged encounters with the women in hotel rooms wearing only wigs, bikinis, and pumps - and clips from the afore mentioned 1995 NYC celebration), and the movie Pumping Iron II: The Women, a 1985 "documentary" about female bodybuilding which focuses on several women as they prepare for and compete in the 1983 Caesars World Cup, and addresses the (still ongoing in 2019) argument of how much muscle is too much muscle when it comes to judging professional women bodybuilders - which has never been an issue in the men's competitions.
Curated by Peter Clough
Organized by Re: Art Show (Erin Davis / Max C Lee)
630 Flushing Ave, Brooklyn, NY, 11206
September 22 - October 21, 2018
Erin Davis / Max C Lee are pleased to announce The Unspeakable, the twenty-third iteration of Re: Art Show, curated by Peter Clough. The Unspeakable is a large group show in a defunct portion of the former Pfizer Pharmaceutical factory in Bedstuy, Brooklyn, opening on September 22. The space is wild and strange, and not at all like a traditional gallery. Old industrial equipment has been left behind, disused debris scattered across the floor, in a labyrinthine layout of strange rooms and spaces. Works are installed inside industrial freezers, mounted directly to stainless steel mixing vats, and projected inside disused sanitation booths. The show is presented in total darkness, and viewers are invited to explore this massive exhibition by way of flashlight.
The Unspeakable features works by more than 40 artists focusing on taboo, transgression, desire, and the body—and on experiences of the body that fall outside our collective capacity for communication, comprehension, and language. These topics are linked closely to our current political moment and the works that emerge here are urgent, angry, gooey, messy, divulgent, sexy, and maybe a little embarrassing. Durational performance is a focus, as strange creatures carry out their obsessive fantasies in this dark and brooding space. Sound, smell, video, sculpture, installation, drawing, painting, and photography are all included as well.
In Samuel R. Delany’s incredible On the Unspeakable, a theory text set in a porn theater written as a mobius strip, Delany characterizes the unspeakable like this: “[It] is always in the column you are not reading. At any given moment it is what is on the opposite side of the Mobius text at the spot your own eyes are fixed on. The unspeakable is mobile; it flows; it is displaced as much by language and experience as it is by desire.” The artworks in The Unspeakable function according to this logic: they flow; they “recede before us as a limit of mists, and vapor.”
The Unspeakable is the twenty-third iteration of Re: Art Show, an ever-evolving, recurrent, curatorial project spearheaded by Erin Davis and Max C Lee. Roving within sections of the former Pfizer Pharmaceutical factory in Brooklyn, Re: Art Show brings together an abnormally wide breadth of artists in an abnormal environment. Existing mostly outside of established art institutions and embracing a DIY aesthetic, this space can be a platform to present works that might not be possible to present within mainstream museums and galleries. DIY is a form of resistance to dominant norms and conventions. Through the embrace of chance, ad-hoc adaptation, and experimental collaboration (both with the environment and the artists themselves), each iteration acts as a fluid network of ideas whose connections are, at once, coincidental and directed. For every iteration, another Re: is added to the show’s title.
VAN EVERY / SMITH GALLERIES AT DAVIDSON COLLEGE
INAUGURAL VIDEO WALL EXHIBITION PROJECT
Davidson College, E. Craig Wall, Jr. Academic Center
325 Concord Road, Davidson, North Carolina, 28036
September 15, 2018 through October 31, 2019
Over the next year, the large scale (approximately 9 feet tall x 16 feet wide) video wall at the E. Craig Wall, Jr. Academic Center will present my piece "Bodybuilder Vignettes", selected by a jury panel including members of the Art Collection Advisory Committee and Davidson College faculty and staff. The Van Every / Smith Galleries play a fundamental role in the life of Davidson College. The Galleries provide a challenging forum for the presentation, interpretation, and discussion of primarily contemporary artworks in all media for students and members of the Davidson community, as well as for national and international visitors to the campus. An ongoing series of exhibitions and lectures by visiting artists and scholars nurture individual thinking, develop visual literacy, and inspire a lifelong commitment to the arts. Video wall: The Galleries manage a video wall comprised of 16 screens at the E. Craig Wall Jr. Academic Center, showing the work of professional artists at this hub for transdisciplinary learning on the campus of Davidson College.
NO TIME FOR UTOPIA
Curated by Jan Van Woensel
Zbrojnická 7 vchod přes kavárnu Emily Plzeň,326 00 Plzeň, Czechia
August 29, 2018
The international group exhibition NO TIME FOR UTOPIA brought together art & music video, animation film and documentary work that each in their own way relates to the absence, failure or collapse of the utopian concept. While most of the selected art works resonated feelings of irreversible loss and post-apocalyptic grief, the undercurrents in other videos downheartedly carried ideas of escapism, nostalgia and hope.
By Ekin Erkan
Published in ÆQAI August 26th, 2018
Excerpt only below, to read the full review,
please click here: Link to full article
... Rachel Rampleman’s “Bodybuilder Vignettes” (2016) and “Red Room Studies” (2017) operatively conciliate auteurism with theory. Both works are ten-channel video installations displayed on a tower of kindle tablets. “Bodybuilder Vignettes” showcases female bodybuilders while “Red Room Studies” contends burlesque performers. As with “Dancing Backwards in High Heels” (2017) and “Times Square” (2016), the multimedia artist continues to mend acerbic video art that challenges gender stereotypes and femme identity via documentary-viewership. However, these two works also contemplate the hypnotic poetry of voyeurism, a theme less recognized by commentators. As the oiled bodybuilders flex their muscle groups, turning away from the camera, they divide space and format a dance, belying traditional signification systems. Similarly, the burlesque performers coyly reveal illuminated body parts while blanketed by the illustrious reflective hues of crimson curtains and reflective satin garments.
A closed and surface level reading might underscore Rampleman’s obvious feminist considerations – she aestheticizes, extols, and celebrates non-conforming female bodies; these bodies deconstruct gender and, hence, the male gaze. However, such readings simplistically identify Rampleman’s work with her case studies, as critics have lauded her “subjects…often exuberantly bold and irrepressible female/femme personalities who revel in challenging outdated expressions of identity” (Seda-Reeder) and the “marginalized populations who take on a powerful stance repossessing language” (Albury). This is a reductive disservice to Rampleman’s operational faculties and her camera/editing choices. Rampleman’s camera posits viewers as inherent voyeurs, inviting existential qualms, therewith.
In Being and Nothingness, Jean-Paul Sartre describes the story of a man who gazes through a keyhole, absorbed by the scene (56). Sartre’s voyeur, immersed in the pleasure of looking, is suddenly startled by a sound – a nearby and unidentifiable clammer in the hallway or the rustle of leaves; suddenly, the voyeur believes he (too) is being watched. Sartre posits that the sound makes the voyeur aware of his own voyeur-ship and that it is precisely this realization—that someone else has been looking at him—which allows him to enter into Being. As Sartre identifies human relations by this battle of voyeur-ship and concealment, Rampleman’s cinematic lens allots us the perturbed poetry of prying. In both works, it appears as if the spectators are not aware of their voyeurs: although the bodybuilders are performing poses, their backs are often turned away from the spectator and the burlesque performers never make eye contact with the camera. The videos are devoid of audience or sound. Requisite and compact, Rampleman’s Kindles serve as voyeur-windows to observe spectacle, replete with the meditative pleasure of observing the performers’ dancerly loops. There subsists an uncanny peaceful quality to Rampleman’s works, as the screens are looking-glasses.
Rampleman’s “moment of interruption” (read: Sartre’s voyeur as he hears the hallway clammer) is sly and comic – a product of Rampleman’s sculptural concerns. Her towering stack of ten kindles – or ten keyholes – before an appropriated open ballroom space fit with art installations’ functions as a constant reminder that we are not alone when engaging in the spectator/spectacle relationship. Furthermore, the sinuous, impenetrable snake pit of coils below the tablet towers adds an affective tinge to Rampleman’s multi-channel video piece, disruptively inviting tangible dimensionality within the relatively enshrined and quiet privilege of video-viewership. Rampleman’s pieces are keen and clever, carefully balancing theory with personal aesthetics.
1225 Elm Street, Cincinnati, OH, 45202
July 27 - August 24, 2018
Video Art by Cynthia Greig, Rachel Rampleman, Alan Rath
Organized by Michael Solway
Carl Solway Gallery’s director Michael Solway organized the first installation of video art and kinetic sculptures at Cincinnati’s newly and ornately restored Memorial Hall ballrooms. The intermedia exhibition, titled Body Language, featured a myriad of carnal moving images and works by Detroit artist Cynthia Greig and Cincinnati natives Rachel Rampleman and Alan Rath. The experiential and observational new media installations, shown in seamless conjunction, featured aural soundscapes of droning electronic melancholia with video projections and moving sculptures. Patrons were provided with glimpses into each artist’s thematic take on framing the human body with digital referents. Greig invited “visual mistakes” into the ballroom halls, exploring the nuances between phenomenology and perception, drawing on the artist’s background in photography and print-media alongside art historical surveys. While Greig’s wall-sized projections set the foreground for Body Language, Rampleman’s multi-channel vignettes and layered subject-studies of femme personalities boldly negotiated activism with voyeurism. Alan Rath’s biomechanical kinetic sculptures fragmented the human body in computer-animated still images, thus linking theoretical considerations (read: commodity fetishism and organizational control).
ALTERED VIEWS: EXPERIENCING
THE CONTEMPORARY LANDSCAPE
LEXINGTON ART LEAGUE AT THE LOUDOUN HOUSE
209 Castlewood Drive, Lexington, KY 40505
June 25 - July 27, 2018
SINGLE CHANNEL: VIDEO ART FESTIVAL
ANTHOLOGY FILM ARCHIVES
Anthology Film Archives
32 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003
May 12 - 13, 2018
A NON-ZERO-SUM GAME: SPORTS, ART AND THE MOVING IMAGE AT OTHER CINEMA
AT ARTISTS' TELEVISION ACCESS
992 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110
March 3, 2018
The newest issue of Incite Journal of Experimental Media launches with a series of events in San Francisco - including screenings, exhibitions, and discussions at Kadist, YBCA, Adobe Books, and Other Cinema. The 344-page double-issue examines the intersections of sports, politics, popular culture, experimental media, and performance in the context of residual and contemporary media practices – the first volume of its kind. Contributors include 41 up-and-coming and established artists, writers, critics, scholars, historians, and athletes.
INCITE: Journal of Experimental Media
Editors: Astria Suparak and Brett Kashmere
Layout and Design: Stripe SF / Jon Sueda
Incite Journal of Experimental Media is an artist-run publication dedicated to the culture, community, and discourse of experimental video, film, and new media. Since 2008, INCITE has produced yearly thematic print issues containing artists’ writings, interviews, original artwork, manifestos, scholarly articles, and photo and comics dossiers; as well as an online interview series, artist multiples, a DVD compilation, and public events.
Other Cinema is a long-standing bastion of experimental film, video, and performance in San Francisco's Mission District. Curating legendary programs at Artists' Televison Access for 25 years!
20/92 VIDEO FESTIVAL
ICEBOX PROJECT SPACE AT CRANE ARTS
400 N American Street, Philadelphia, PA 19122
March 9, 2018
The 20/92 Video Festival was a rare opportunity to exhibit my work in a contemporary gallery environment, at unique scale and format. The Icebox Project Space is one of the largest exhibition spaces in the city at nearly 3,500 sq.ft. and has a dedicated projection system which allows for a continuous image to be cast upon its eastern and northern walls, at a maximum size of 20’ x 92’ with a resolution of 3646 x 768. Submissions were juried by Icebox directors Timothy Belknap and Ryan McCartney.
PAUL ROBESON GALLERIES
350 Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard
Newark, NJ, 07102
February 15 - March 28, 2018
Each year Women In Media – Newark presents a thematic exhibition of works by visual artists that coincides with their annual film festival. This year’s theme is Women in Transition. On view at the Paul Robeson Campus Center Gallery from February 15 to March 28, Transitions features work from 20 artists in a range of media, curated by Adrienne Wheeler and Gladys Grauer. The exhibition attempts to examine the ways in which transitions or the state of transitioning impacts the works of women artists. These transitions are inclusive of, but not limited to gender identity transition, transition to motherhood, transition in aging, transition in work, transition through loss, transition in grief, transition in death.
SHOESTRING PRESS ART GALLERY
633 Classon Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238
February 16 - March 16, 2018
(Still) Life presents work that draws on the many ways in which the stillness of the photographic image can bring the viewer into contemplation of a frozen moment of life. Whether through the traditional vocabulary of the still life as a reflection on mortality, the documentary impulse to make life hold still for the eye, or the essential message that we are still here, still alive, the wider senses of the still life are deeply embedded in the practice of photography. For (Still) Life, Shoestring Press showcases photographs that explore the many ways in which the photograph works to hold life’s ceaseless motion still for the eye.
HARD: SUBVERSIVE REPRESENTATION
UNIVERSITY HALL GALLERY
UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS BOSTON
100 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA 02125
January 22 - April 19, 2018
Curated by Samuel Toabe
HARD is a group exhibition that brings together artworks from self-identified female artists who take different approaches to representing female subjects, often through subversive frameworks. With artworks spanning 1923–2018, it argues that Contemporary, Post-Modernist, Modernist, and Feminist artistic approaches have and continue to expand the dynamism of the feminine image, pushing beyond stereotypical, reductive, and unrealistic visions of women.
This exhibition contextualizes artists from Boston within a cast of national and international artists of the past and present. Artworks focus on gender politics, identity, and intersectional feminism through figurative and abstract representations. Complex and compelling images and sculptures present depictions of transgender, cisgender, and non-gender normative female subjects to expand upon our view of the female experience.