Rebecca Arp - Artist Statement
Rebecca Arp is an interdisciplinary artist concerned with emotion, memory, ritual, and religion seen through the lens of her queer experience. She saturates quotidian objects and practices with meaning, using emotionally and historically charged materials and processes to speak about her family, relationships, and identity. Arp is distinctly interested in where art meets life and the exchange between one’s self and one’s proximate environment. She works in various media including sculpture, video, performance, and collaborative projects, recently completing a collaboration that only allowed communication by letter. This correspondence questioned the impact of technology on the intentions and speed with which we communicate daily, and the effects of digital communication en masse on interpersonal relationships.
In how could I ever explain to you—, Arp brings together disparate concepts of absence and presence, delicacy and weight, despair and faith. The title of her thesis, an excerpt from “summer somewhere” by queer poet Danez Smith1, conveys the difficulty of expressing Arp’s split selves, her straight guise and queer truth. Arp’s collection of work examines the liminal space of being closeted in one’s family; the site between false safety and omnipresent tension and secrecy. Her dining table, piled with concrete tableware, portrays multiple ideas simultaneously. It is a personification of the perceived burden of queerness on the fragile foundation of heteropatriarchal, Christian, belief systems. The whittled legs assume the poise that one must embody to perform straightness, normalness, holiness. The dining table is traditionally a place of community in Arp’s family, a place to share food or gather for holidays. She communicates the withholding of her sexuality in opposition to the natural capacity of the table to be a space of sharing, as seen through stripping the object of its functionality.
Arp contrasts the table with sculptural and video work that is forward-looking and hopeful, seeking to investigate and exalt the multitude of futures she has access to as a queer woman. The artist and curator Nayland Blake writes: “Queer people must literally construct the houses they will be born into, and adopt their own parents.” 2 This quote became a starting point for Arp’s thesis; she not only examines the environment she was born into but examines the one she is constructing, asking which materials, schemas, and spiritualities she would adopt and reclaim for this reality. Ultimately, Arp decides to use the rich ceremonial symbolism of the Christian season of preparation, Advent; reclaiming for herself the four virtues traditionally meditated on during this season: hope, faith, joy, and love. In her video Hope, Faith, Joy, Love, she turns to contemporary queer poets to exemplify the possibilities of queer futures, seeing it as a way of preparation.
Arp’s changing working conditions due to the Covid-19 pandemic have influenced her practice, and she acknowledges these limits through various changes to her exhibition. She adapts what she originally envisioned as a poetry reading performance that would have taken place in the gallery into a video format that can be experienced digitally. She chose to memorialize the few tools she has access to—a hammer, chisel, screwdriver, and palette knife—and celebrate their enduring ability to create artworks by casting them in the wax from Advent candles. An Advent wreath is composed of four candles, three purple and one pink, each representing a distinct virtue of hope, faith, joy, or love. These wax tools symbolize art-making, world-making, and future-making; and they give Arp the ability to create a future that reclaims these virtues.