Rachal Bradley has a strong interest in systems as a “set of things working together as parts of an interconnecting network; a complex whole.” Her Gasworks show Interlocutor, on until 17 March and the result of her residency there, is an ambitious large-scale installation comprising of natural resin, herbal tonic, photography and ionizers. A “complex whole” indeed.
Bradley studied law before committing to visual arts – training in Fine Arts at Goldsmiths, at the California Institute of Arts, and later the Glasgow School of Art. It might have been her legal thinking that shaped Bradley’s curiosity towards structures: laws are made, applied, respected, augmented. Similarly, art can function as an infra-structure where rules can be set, coded, moved, and played with. Together, bringing very disparate elements in the show – the natural resin and the ionizers for instance – Bradley creates a network within a structure, the contemporary art gallery, and this complexity becomes a structure to be experienced. And so her work deals with paradoxes, enigmas and contradictions of the visual system.
Previously Rachal Bradley exhibited at Evelyn-Yard in London in the show Neo Pagan Bitch-Witch! curated by artists Lucy Stein and France-Lise McGurn. These two had brilliantly brought together other women artists whose work reflected on feminist investigations of mystics and rituals, violence and delicacy, the body and the spiritual. It was a bold show, rich in content and materials. Bradley exhibited drawings, which she does not exhibit very often and displayed a more intimate aspect of her practice.
The ritualistic element was a leitmotif amongst the works in Neo Pagan Bitch-Witch!, further investigated by Bradley at Gasworks. Here, the artist has collaborated with her sister, a trained herbalist who has been studying the use of plants in different parts of the world. The works indicate the importance of rituals and shamanic facilitators. And so, to visit the installation in the main gallery space, the visitor must take off their shoes. It is also a subtle way to ask the visitor for a different quality of concentration and attention: to ‘sense’ the show with the feet as well as the eye.
It was George Bataille who wrote about how the big toe distinguishes men from apes: “the function of the human foot consists in giving a firm foundation to the erection of which man is so proud (the big toe, ceasing to grasp branches, is applied to the ground on the same plane as the other toes).” Bradley asks the visitor to think with their feet, to include the sensory, the sensual and the sentient in the contemporary art experience.
While including the sensorial, Bradley has also conducted substantial interviews with Gasworks’s members of staff asking them about the institution and their roles within it. By doing so, the artist asks if it is still possible to critique an institution that works well. Rachel Bradley’s future projects will include working on a different version of the Gaswork show for the Kuntlershaus in Stuttgart in 2019, a larger new space, where the elements will be structured and experienced differently.