Some objects are almost nothing and we cannot see how strange they are. These works are delicate offshoots, adjustments to the things we know. I want to complicate mundane structure in all its starkness, exposing a deep hilarity that was already there.
Photos of work by PD Rearick.
Interview with Christine Rebhuhn
Questions by Sidney Mullis
Hi Christine. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what lead you to sculpture?
I apprenticed with a local potter as a child, and learned a lot from her in the studio. She was very diligent and serious about craft, and we shared that. I moved through a number of ceramics studios thereafter, largely because of the language that surrounded the field. I enjoyed the tactile aspects of working with clay, but really hung on for the metaphors. I felt satiated by the way a lot of ceramicists talked about form, with bodies and containers at the conceptual bottom line.
I carry that sincerity with me, but its layered under other elements like images, ready-mades, and fabricated parts. I like sculpture’s capacity to include all of these things, to conflate physical reality with mysterious possibility.
One thing that stuck out in our correspondence was your description of your day jobs as “all human-focused,” including your work as an elderly caregiver. As someone who spends most of her day job on the computer (regularly inventing new rules to make email more fun), could you talk about this decision to work directly with people?
I am finding that this kind of work softens my expectations for a day. I didn’t approach my employment prospects knowing that I would be caring for other people so directly, but when it came up as an option, a few times over, I didn’t hesitate. While becoming attuned to someone else’s daily patterns, I look for ways to perspective shift or alter the routine. My assumptions are often questioned too, especially when there’s a sense of urgency that overrides what I had planned.
My schedule is pretty arrhythmic, which has become an operative part of my studio practice. I find time between things to subconsciously arrange objects – sometimes, inadvertently, against the backdrop of other people’s lives.
In your statement you share how “some objects are almost nothing and we cannot see how strange they are.” As I look at the moving boxes and packing tape across from me while writing this question, your observations strike true. When did mundane objects begin to appear as strange to you? What sparked this questioning of their strangeness?
I think strangeness is a quality that’s linked with perception, but it took me a long time to see how concrete objects can also be considered in perceptual flux. Around the time I started graduate school, I became more aware of how physical proximity can shift the narrative dramatically. I made a ridiculous sculpture with a foam Hulk fist, an upside-down ladder, and a plaster rock that looked like crumpled paper. Although the piece never quite landed squarely, it hinged on an association with “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” I was so excited by the idea that this splayed V-shaped ladder could so easily be the imaginary scissoring fingers.
Yes, I know the piece you’re mentioning! It is interesting how even though all the information is provided to tell the viewer that this object is, still, a ladder, we indulge in the illusion fully.
You’ve become quite the master trickster in creating these circumstances that give objects legroom to slip away from their set definitions and functions. How do you toe this line? Has it become easier over time? How long can you spend organizing and re-organizing to get to that sweet spot?
I really enjoy offsetting function, nudging an object toward a secondary quality that’s already within it. Sometimes it takes a moment of forgetting, to see an object for what it looks like over what it does. The brief suspension makes room for another layer.
I usually front-load the imagination process, and I could easily live in my head forever if it weren’t for deadlines. Arrangements go through a lot of transformation at the beginning, mentally, and then I’ll lock into a decision. Things always change again by the end, but it is becoming easier to anticipate how a sculpture will end up. A good maturation takes a couple of months, more if other people are involved.
And on top of this, you seamlessly slip between found and fabricated objects doubling up (shoot, tripling up) on the illusion set forth. This is where the sculptures become seriously funny for me. They are starkly deadpan despite such sincerity in their build. Is this where the humor comes in for you?
I make objects myself or have them fabricated only when the specificity of their design is essential, which turns out to be most of the time. Occasionally I make mistakes, and become more aware of how important these decisions are.
I recently built a piece with a trombone that holds open a sliding window. The initial structure was pretty generic, and something wasn’t quite right about it. It took constructing it first to see that the austerity and elegance of the readymade instrument exceeded the make of the window. In the meantime I saw a townhouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan with the perfect tall black window, and then completely rebuilt the piece. Even if it’s ultimately for something ridiculous, these details can’t be skipped.
Could you speak about some of the objects you regularly return to in your work, and what keeps you coming back to them?
Windows have become a stage for other things to happen. Their structure is basic and exists everywhere, so it’s easy for me to mentally graft other things onto them, even when just looking around.
Musical instruments are both graceful and funny, a combination that is hard to resist. I also appreciate the way that the suggestion of sound can expand a visual piece into something more.
The taxidermy animals add a sense of majesty to an arrangement, they’re inherently serious and beautifully complicated. I like working against these qualities with some sort of absurd partnership.
Industrial rods and chrome surfaces breathe in the cold air, straight-faced to the core.
Are the certain influential artists that you regularly return to?
Mark Manders, Isa Genzken, Robert Gober, Rosemarie Trockel, Michael E. Smith
You recently moved to NYC. How has that transition been?
I went through a lot of hard things toward the beginning, but now living in New York feels infinitely easier. I broke my hip last summer while running, which coincided with the two months leading up to a solo exhibition in Minneapolis. Being on crutches in the city was really challenging, large in part because I needed to go to work and use the subway, and be in the studio. It was an exercise in commitment for me.
Do you have any other news, shows, residencies or projects coming up?
I’m at the Vermont Studio Center right now, and I am really happy to be back here for a second residency three years later.
Thanks so much for sharing your work and talking with us!
To find out more about Christine and her work, check out her website.