Sculptures You Can Feel: A Talk with Kate Raudenbush
[RS Gallery] • Kate Raudenbush is a self-taught interactive installation sculptor and photographer living in New York. Working within themes of social commentary and the expressive materials of fire-cut metal, wood, mirrors and light, her dynamic sculptures have been exhibited for the last four years at the Burning Man Festival.
MR: What is your personal mantra?
Create with intention. Remain open. Breathe.
What does the role of the Artist mean to you?
Artists are the conscience of our age reflected in physical form. The act of creation is enormously powerful; it is the ability to bring into being something that existed only in the mind, in potential energy, in the space between the atoms. What is created is their conscious thought manifested in physical form. This brings with it enormous responsibility.
Artists are the mirrors of our society. In a way they are also portals to the future. This sounds absurd at first. However, imagine our current civilization being unearthed in the future: it would be the art that would give these archeologists the most clues about what we revered, what we valued, and what reflected our identity.
Unfortunately, now is a time when the “art market” is being perverted by commercialism. What is seen as remarkable is the orgy of cash being spent on works of art and the vapid consuming spectacle around it – not the art itself. The archeologists of the future might say that this civilization puts money on a pedestal more than the art – that culture is merely an object that can be bought.
Thankfully, many artists not part of that circus are producing some amazing work for those of us with enough awareness to understand that art is not valued for its auction price. Its real value is discovered in its immediacy, by the experience and insight art creates. These visceral artists are the antidotes to what ails this society. They create art that feels alive because they are not merely creating an object – they are creating a living experience, a culture, a reflection of ourselves. Witness, for example, the work created at Burning Man in recent years. Imagine unearthing that in the future.
What is the driving force behind your creativity?
To communicate, as best I can, humanity's place in our world and to reflect us, with all our potential, back to ourselves. I am driven by the desire to create an interactive gathering space for community to connect with each other and together be inspired by their collective and individual experience. I seek to distill an idea down to its essential form, its essential question, its essential metaphor, and to build unity from opposites in the most harmonious and elegant way possible. My intention is to create a sculpture that you can feel, that possesses it's own energy, that is transporting.
What transformative experiences have influenced your life and how has that manifested in your work?
When I was a kid, I grew up moving every two to three years to a new place overseas, and then back to the States. The opportunity to start over and reinvent oneself in a new world was ingrained, so that throwing myself into various forms of artistic expression became natural and inevitable to me. My love of observing and reflecting the culture around me grew into my first passion and profession: photography.
Yet in 1999, almost 10 years ago, I first set foot on the Playa at Burning Man and discovered what seemed to be a world that defied capturing. It was a world where you did not define it; it defined you. I had the sense that I had been looking for this place all my life, but didn’t realize it until I got there. Over time, I found that photographing (observing) Burning Man pulled me away from participating in the visceral, multi-sensory, fleeting and liberating experience of it. In 2004, with my Vault of Heaven sculpture, I decided the best way to contribute creatively to that vast living culture was to invent my own little world inside that universe. The decision was a release and a turning point; instead of documenting the experience for myself, I chose to create one for others. That is how I came to teach myself how to build my sculptures. I have been making my yearly pilgrimage to the desert and contributing to that limitless tabula rasa ever since.
How long does it take you on average to complete a piece of work, and do you ever do several pieces simultaneously?
It really depends on the scope of the project. The Gear Chandeliers took about three months and I made them at the same time I built Duel Nature. From conception to reality, creating one of my Burning Man sculptures takes about nine months. It feels like you are creating a child. I simultaneously do photography work. I sell my fine art prints and I work on smaller long-term projects like building prototypes of my experimental furniture. I always have to be creating something. That is when I feel most alive.
Why should people check out your work?
My sculptures are made with intention yet open enough to be a set piece for your own experience. In my photographic work there is often a playful seriousness or formal dignity even in the most saturated image. I put enormous energy into imagining how people can connect through my creations.
When I conceived Guardian of Eden (the lotus flower) I thought about the different ways people would gather inside and underneath the sculpture and what allegorical experience it would create by our interaction with it. In Hindu creation myth, when a lotus flower opens it reveals the seat of the Creator, Brahman, who sets into motion the birth of the next cycle of existence. I wanted to build a living sculpture that would give us the opportunity to sit in that place of creation and contemplate the nature of our current world and imagine, if we were the Creator God, what kind of world would we invent if we had that kind of creative power. I wanted to create a surreal gathering space for perfect strangers to meet and cross-pollinate their energy and ideas inside a symbol for enlightenment.
How does your work affect consciousness, and what are your views on the evolution of consciousness?
Essentially, I create to communicate an idea. I create with a specific intention and hope that people intuitively resonate with it on that same frequency. Distilling it into a few rough themes, I have attempted to communicate ideas that reflect humanity, and our interconnected relation to Creation (Guardian of Eden), our own destructive and constructive nature (Duel Nature), our perceptions and judgments of ourselves (Stadium of the Self), our conception of linear time (Gear Chandelier), and our illusion of subjective observation (Observer/Observed). It is a privilege and a responsibility to be given the opportunity to create an environment that opens a window from which to view the world and see ourselves.
I think the world is heading toward greater consciousness, although when you read the newspapers, it’s hard to believe. There is an increasing amount of fanaticism because of clashing ideologies, nationalism and struggle for domination of natural resources for an economically imbalanced, overpopulated and over-consuming world. This is the reality on the ground. I feel that we are experiencing the push and pull of simultaneously connecting and disconnecting. And in many ways this chaos is because we are destroying our natural habitat, and therefore our humanity. Perhaps part of this expanding consciousness is born out of this crisis: we lose the physical world only to connect more in non-physical realm, for there is nothing that will awaken you more to the fragility and the interconnectedness of life than to realize that it’s all disappearing. We are blindly, foolishly participating in a planet-wide game of musical chairs, and there are fewer and fewer seats because we are paving and mining and chopping down all the wood in our home. What diabolical maniac is in charge of this game? We are. We may be resourceful living beings, but there is no virtual, technological substitute for a tree. Nor is there a replacement for visceral human connection, or a proxy for real experience.
Our relation to nature is symbiotic. We are beings that evolved out of this earth, and living in harmony with nature not only elevates our consciousness, it’s essential for our physical survival. If we lose our connection to our earth, if we modern humans fail to respect and reconnect to that Gaian mind, where will we find our own consciousness and ourselves? This is our task – the greatest challenge of our time. Our evolution and our hope lie in the fact that many people are realizing this. More and more people are growing conscious of our own interconnectivity. But let’s get real. Unless we act with this evolved consciousness and apply it boldly, globally and physically in our daily lives – unless this consciousness gets truly catalyzed- – our evolution will remain in the imagination.
This brings to mind words spoken by His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Radio City Music Hall this past fall. Pressing his palms together in front of his chest, he closed his speech saying, ”I don’t really believe in the power of prayer.” Making gentle fists of his hands, he continued, “I believe in the power of my own hands – working with my own honest effort.”
It’s up to us to create our own reality. We have work to do.Tweet