showing their hand

curatorial statement by katherine behar

to exhibition

The New Media Artspace is proud to present Sarada Rauch: If All Things Were Equal, You’d Only Be the Sequel, a solo exhibition of eight single-channel moving image works by the New York-based artist. Rauch’s projects are frequently set at intimate scales of personal engagement —a tabletop, a tablet, a domestic tableau, a neighborhood. At a time when the world’s problems often seem inconceivably large, Rauch scales everything down into a framework where intervention becomes possible. With deceptively modest means, they craftily manipulate things in the troubled present to arrive at impoverished but hopeful images of how the world might be otherwise. Even while Rauch dares to imagine “If All Things Were Equal,” their works unflinchingly acknowledge a present reality in which that is far from being the case.

A homespun aesthetic runs throughout Rauch’s work. As an interdisciplinary artist, Rauch has a practice that seems to swallow whole whatever media lie in their path. They employ animation, video, performance, photography, poetry, music, and sculpture, overflowing these categories freely. Several of the video works in If All Things Were Equal derive from an art album, In the Realm of a Dying Star: Side A, featuring Rauch’s own music. Like their animation style, the music makes self-aware reference to Rauch as a one-person band, remixing themself and filling every role. Endearingly underproduced, the songs at first seem to deliver anti-capitalist un- slickness, flying in the face of mass-production norms. This could be interpreted as an anarchist commitment to self-sufficiency, but while the work operates this way, it is more complex, too. Rauch is aware that even their restrained production values nevertheless rely on technologies that are themselves the spoils of war and products of human suffering. They voice this critique in Second Law of Thermodynamics, which pans through a domestic interior across a countertop littered with everyday items that in Rauch’s words, “hold a history of exploitation [... including] merchandise made on the backs of human rights abuses, oil and gas, and the militarization of the police.”1 Even Rauch’s homemade works unfurl tentacles outward into networks of allyship and complicity.

Perhaps for this reason, Rauch constantly reminds their audience that they participate in every element seen or heard in their work. Rauch leans heavily on “tricks” of the eye, literally reframing what we see. Yet, Rauch is continually showing their hand, exposing their methods and undoing their magic, while nevertheless keeping us captivated. In the title of one work, Rauch baldly admits “I’ve Got a Hand in It.” They imply that they—and by extension we—are culpable for suffering on the other side of the world, as distant as it may seem from their comfortable life. At the same time, this phrase also means that their hand is literally in their work, touching their images, and pointing to themself as creator in their role as an artist.

What is the role of an artist? For Rauch, it seems to be in experimentation, in messing around sometimes playfully but with serious intent. It is also in dogged introspection, speaking hard truths to themself, and—crucially—with this information crafting political consciousness. Against the odds, the handmade imagery and self-styled soundtracks in Rauch’s works, coupled with their coyly outspoken political awakening, leads to enfranchisement, and their preoccupation with apocalyptic end times retains optimistic opportunity. The exploit at the heart of Rauch’s practice seems to be this lesson: Political identity becomes a matter of craft, of self- fashioning, and of pragmatic agentic intervention. Politics is in the craft of making do and making better by whatever means are available at hand. If this is so, an artist’s role is to take things as they are quite at hand, making them available to manual manipulations, and making the present (even the doomed present) malleable.

Rauch shows their hand again and again, with examples of their manipulative technique (or anti- technique) that undercut the investment in illusion that undergirds media consumption habits. The opposite of keeping one’s cards close to one’s chest, showing your hand gives away for free the value media purport to hold (over us). For instance, Rauch’s life-size index finger interrupts the collage-based animation Middles. Pointing to the center of the work, the finger disrupts its illusion, and points out a lesson in perspective that applies equally to philosophy, physics, and optics. Meanwhile, in the video work Gravity, a jokey premise—children’s make-believe and obvious greenscreen—manages to generate real joy and potential by liberating kids to fly away and soar above it all. The joy is as real as the manipulation is obvious; the children’s knowing participation in faking it results in genuine smiles. In both cases, Rauch leverages a medium at the precise point where it is conventionally most manipulative—that is, where it convinces us to buy in to its seamlessness. Rauch has discovered that that is also exactly where the medium is most available to manipulation. The apparent seamless of images is really a seam that can be opened onto another world.

In the first work in the exhibition, Topple, the political relevance of Rauch’s anti-technique is at the fore. Rauch recreates monuments of patriarchal and racist oppressors at miniature scale and shoots them against diorama-like backgrounds of the public spaces where they were installed. Then, with their full-scale hand and a bit of string, they topple them one by one. Showing their hand, they seem to say, “It can be as easy as that.”

1Sarada Rauch, “Second Law of Thermodynamics.” Accessed September 1, 2022.

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This exhibition is generously sponsored by the Sandra Kahn Wasserman Jewish Studies Center under the directorship of Dean Jessica Lang.

Sarada Rauch: If All Things Were Equal, You’d Only Be the Sequel is curated by Katherine Behar, Associate Professor in the Fine and Performing Arts Department in the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, Baruch College, CUNY and is produced by the New Media Artspace Student Docent Team. The exhibition is made possible further by support from the Baruch Computing and Technology Center (BCTC), the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, and the Newman Library. All images appear courtesy of the artist.

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