• US@UO: Rachel Clark

    As the lead of our talented display team in Milwaukee, Rachel Clark knows her way around a hammer and nails. We visited her at home to talk about her design process and find out what it takes to bring her large scale installation pieces to life.
    Photos by Anna Zajac

    When did you first start working at UO? Were you doing the same thing then as you are now?
    I was hired as the Display Team Lead, so that means that I am training under head Display Artist Johnny Milwaukee. Starting at UO was a fun transition for me because while I was working on getting my BFA in sculpture, I had a large interest in furniture making as well. We didn’t have a furniture building class at my school, so I would set up “side projects” for myself whenever I needed a breather from my schoolwork. When I was hired, I was so excited to take my building to a different level and make environments instead of individual pieces of furniture.

    How did you get started doing such big installation pieces? Were they always something you were interested in?
    I have always been interested in the effect of the multiple, so my work naturally started to expand as individual pieces turned into multiples. The multiple emphasizes the individual by bringing attention to the whole system in which we function. So often we find ourselves as a singular element, forgetting that we are a part of a larger-scaled system that manipulates our surroundings to make up our “norm.” Through the use of the multiple, I create immersive environments that show people their presence in a system.

    Was this something you studied in school?
    A lot of my works have an environmental tone to them and that stems from my interest in environmental studies. When I was in school, my major was Sculpture but my minor was Conservation Environmental Studies. The two helped inform how I look at the world and naturally intertwined, creating environmentally driven works. Through my art I want to bring a conversation that would not normally be had. I am not interested in accusations because anyone who consumes is part of the system; I am more interested in questioning our social norms and systems to understand the individual’s role in societal conversations.

    What kind of pieces do you work on outside of UO? How do you use your sketchbook to inform your work?
    In preparation of creating my piece, I have found using my sketchbook an invaluable tool for brainstorming. When I was first given a sketchbook in school I was very intimidated by the white pages. I had seen beautiful sketchbooks online and I had it in my brain that my sketchbook needed to be on par with those beautifully illustrated sketchbooks. As I began to use my sketchbook freely and without judgment of what I felt it should look like, I began to see the benefits of writing and drawing. My biggest advice for people who are interested in a sketchbook practice is to write what you are thinking about and draw what you see. Those things are honest and will help you have a conversation with your environment and yourself.

    We know that you recently had some work up at a gallery and moved it to the store window. What is the process for something like that like?
    The piece that I currently have up in the UO store window is my most recent piece, Company. It is made up of 184 individually fabricated/assembled hexagonal pieces. The set-up for this piece can range from 8 hours to 12 hours depending on how many of my friends I can get to help me assemble it. In contrast, taking the piece down can take less than a half hour because all I am doing is snipping and packaging them away for later installment.

    With work like yours that’s so large scale, can you tell us what you do with the work once you take it down? Are you ever sad to be taking things down or is that just the nature of your type of work?
    Taking my piece down is always a bit sad if it is not up for very long, but so far I have not had it down for more than two weeks without it being reinstalled in a new home. It feels really rewarding to have it move homes so much because the more it moves, the larger audience it is reaching.

    What is your favorite aspect about working at UO?
    Working at UO has given me the ability to grow as an artist through learning new technical skills and problem solving. I am also lucky that I work with Johnny Milwaukee because he has proven to be an invaluable supply of knowledge. I love that every morning there is a new project for us to work on so we are always brainstorming different ways of expanding on ideas and making each display work for our store. It is really rewarding to walk through the store and witness the displays that I helped create. That artistic freedom and sense of accomplishment I gain from it is something unique to UO.

    Any upcoming projects that you’re excited about?
    Right now I am working on a piece in which I am sewing plastic six pack rings together. I am not sure what the final scale will be, but as I continue to work on it I want to make it larger than my original idea. I like the idea of sewing together things that were made purely for convenience of the consumer.

    To see more from Rachel, follow her on Instagram