“Human beings are human beings are human beings.” Collages with enemies excised to the point of embrace, and a conversation with Desmond Tutu.
In Rachel Owens’s sculptures, the materials cast off by people and expelled by industry acquire a new, ghostly aspect: a giant metallic bird perches on a branch made of nails, vines made of broken glass creep up a rusted chain-link fence, oil barrels lodged between the beams of a sidewalk oil derrick form a water fountain. A decade ago, the detritus that populates her work—bottles, cans, PVC pipe, sand bags, tires—might have been seen as a faint if fanciful reminder of what industrial processes create and then suppress; in a world where those materials are threatening to overwhelm what lies on the surface, such a view is no longer tenable. The irreducible substances that animate these sculptures are not mere trash, but the very stuff of our social and economic structures.
Those structures are, inevitably, imposed on some people by others. The resulting landscape is the true subject of Owens’s work. In 1988, when Owens was sixteen, she visited her father in South Africa, where he was a missionary. He helped arrange a conversation with Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Owens asked Tutu about religious strife and the nature of violence. His response, and twelve new collages drawing on images of putative enemies found on the Internet, constitute the second project in Triple Canopy’s Internet as Material series, which is intended to facilitate the creation of original work specific to an online space, by visual artists who have never done such work.
All collages are 13.5 x 11 inches. Courtesy of the artist and ZieherSmith.