Artist Rachel Ritter on Exploring Our Relationship to the Body
Through my work, I seek to learn more about myself. I try to open up more corridors in my mind and allow myself to tap into things that are easier left unsaid. While these thoughts usually manifest themselves in abstract images or straightforward subjective imagery, for me they operate on another level. They are an effort to uncover and tap into myself—my feelings, my desires. The body in repetition is a particular interest of mine. The lines of a seemingly simple form constantly bring my hand back to the page; I’ve always been drawn to the gesture of a body, with its endless iterations and possibilities. My interest in and study of gender and the body has deeply influenced my art on the subject, especially the way the body interacts with space, the way it can move—taking up space, revealing or hiding itself through movement and body language.
In my most recent work I’ve been exploring the body through printmaking. I’ve always be attracted to printmaking and its ability to add physicality to two-dimensional work. Showcasing the body in this medium allows me to delve deeper into my subject matter. For my hand block printed underwear sets I created the “Lovers” print, the “Lady” print, and the “Form” print. All prints deal with the body in their own way: through the queer presentation in the “Lovers” print; the repetition of a single self-identifying female form in the “Lady” print; the representation of abstracted bodily gestures in the “Form” print.
My newest print, the “Lovers” print, is of particular significance to me. Sexuality has been, for most of my life, a subject rarely given much thought. For many years I felt as though I was assigned my sexuality, and assumed it dutifully as a rite of passage. Being straight was a given, a role I learned through both explicit and implicit rules about what it meant to be woman. Being given the privileged opportunity to learn and critique in an academic setting the ways in which we are taught to embody our gender or our sexuality allowed me to step back and reexamine the aspects of myself that I thought were innate. I began to question the ways in which I was taught by external forces to be a woman and to adopt the hegemonic characteristics of womanhood. It wasn’t until I was able to look at myself and my desires that I realized my sexuality was more than an attraction to a “male” form or to any particular gendered form. As a straight-passing person, my pansexuality often takes a backseat in my identity. Through exploring gestures of the body in my work, I’m constantly attempting to grapple with ideas of selfhood and identity. Working through the figures in the “Lovers” print allowed me to confront my desires in a way that I so often choose to ignore. The pansexual couples in the print are an attempt to better understand where I fit into the complex web of gender, sexuality, desire, and love.
The development of the “Form” print was also integral to a better understanding of myself outside of my art practice. The abstracted subjects in the “Form” print were inspired by a collection of sculptures that I made in an effort to explore subconscious visual images. The large scale sculptures were measured and cut to my body, fit with lumps and holes, areas waiting to be filled and moved through. The pieces mimic yonic and phallic forms and the sculptures themselves, and the future performance piece that will accompany them is meant to deal with an abstracted body in space: a body that attempts to blur lines of gender and sexuality. The forms in the sculpture series and the images in the “Form” print evoke gestures that explore desire through shape and movement.
When someone feels connected to the wearable pieces that I make, from my block printed underwear sets to my screen printed bags, I hope they feel connected to my intentions when creating them. I hope that they feel excited to showcase the body, to transgress the need to cover, change, or silence the bodily form. Venturing into wearable goods is a new experience for me, and I hope to continue to expand the ways in which my art communicates with garments. For the future of these pieces, I’m excited to develop the way I interact with my work and build on what I’ve already created. I’m currently using materials made by large corporations for my sewing blanks, companies with somewhat unknown sourcing and questionable manufacturing ethics, and I’m excited to begin to eliminate this unsavory element from my work. The next iteration of my wearable products will be handmade by me, sewn with ethically sourced fabrics and made in a wider and more realistic range of sizes. I’m eager to see how the pieces evolve, and how they continue to change the way I look at myself and my subject matter.