EAF15 Artist Profile: Leah Raintree
November 20, 2015 – In conceiving her works, Leah Raintree often considers the ambiguity surrounding objects that are natural, man-made, or some mixture of both. In her EAF15 project Another Land, Raintree not only fabricates the object, she also mediates the experience by staging its relationship with her audience. The piece presents a two-dimensional, black and white photograph of a manipulated stone, inlayed into the ground so that it appears to be archaeological finding that visitors can discover. Raintree’s Another Land alludes to Isamu Noguchi’s “landscape” tables from the late 1960s, the geological mark-making of glacial retreat, and the media’s imagery of otherworldly cosmic bodies.
Having been sourced from the park’s grounds, the original stone that Raintree manipulated exists in a state both embedded within and unmoored from the site. During her 2015 studio residency at Socrates, Raintree spent the summer manipulating the stone; her process of mark-making could be observed as she stood, hunched over a large piece of rock that continued to look more and more like a comet with every tap of the hammer. Using meticulous lighting techniques, she photographed the rock against black velvet, which gives the impression that it is not a rock but a body floating through space. However, the illusion is not mere trickery. The work, in order to get to its final state, has gone through many meaningful transformations, from sculpture to photography, and finally, to site-specific installation. With each transition in her process, Raintree pushes for viewers to recontextualize the experience of seeing.
In a way, she grants these mundane bodies a celestial life that they would not otherwise experience. When viewers encounter Another Land, one can’t help but believe it to be something that has fallen from space. However, at the back of our minds, we are reminded that it is an intentional and intricate process of carving and lighting. This constant oscillation between mundane and massive is inherent in Raintree’s work.
In 2013, during the mornings after Hurricane Sandy whipped its way through New York City and the surrounding suburbs, Raintree walked amongst the marks left in the storm’s wake. From these strolls she produced the photo series Rockaway (2013), an exploratory project which looked at the city’s efforts to remediate the damage in the aftermath of Sandy. The pictures capture domestic items that were excavated as bulldozers cleared out the beaches of Rockaway. Although they are mere household goods, the experience of finding them lying half-buried in the sand turns them into fossils from another time.
On one of these strolls, Raintree stumbled upon a granite doorknob, buried in the debris on Rockaway Beach. Fascinated by the slippage of reality which occurs through uncovering, Raintree set the door nob against a white wall without manipulating the found object, and lit it as though it were a planet or distant moon to Untitled Doorknob Rockaway (2013). In this work, the object becomes anything but mundane. Almost as if by instinct, she has continued this staging of celestial bodies by creating the objects, and applying the process of mark-making on rocks that, in reality, have never been removed from Earth.
On November 7th, Raintree gave an artist talk at The Noguchi Museum that examined Noguchi’s landscape tables in relationship to her own work. Earlier this fall, Raintree was in a two-person show called Edge Effects at Montgomery College.