Rachel Kneebone’s intricate works address and question the human condition: renewal, transformation, life cycles and the experience of inhabiting the body. Kneebone’s sculptures operate in a near-subliminal space, oscillating and blurring the boundaries between the conscious and the subconscious, the real and the imagined, everything and nothing. Working in porcelain, the material properties of her work further heighten and convey an awareness of opposing states, appearing to be not only heavy, solid and strong but also light, fragmentary and soft. This fluid movement between states is reflective of the wide range of art historical and literary sources that inform the artist’s practice. As Ali Smith has written, in Kneebone’s work ‘Michelangelo meets Angela Carter, the renaissance meets the contemporary, while the future simultaneously meets, melts, alters and fuses with the renaissance.’
In the work fragments of the human body multiply, merge and cascade down, unfurling around a complex tableau of organic and geometric forms. Again, to quote Ali Smith; ‘How do we make forms and simultaneously unmake them?’ The eye registers the multitude of twisting dissolving forms as ever-changing configurations. This creates a sense of constant flux that, as Elizabeth Neilson has commented, prompts the viewer’s focus to ‘swap between macro and micro in order to decode the action’, and undoes any notion of a singular narrative.
This sense of shifting modes of perception is amplified in both The Descent (2009) and 399 Days (2012-13), the two largest and most ambitious sculptures the artist has yet made. The works adopt a composite approach whereby sculpted ‘units’ combine to form large architectonic structures. In this transformative process, detail becomes ever more magnified and visceral. In The Descent forms spill and tumble into an abyss creating a sense of unease, even fear. 399 Days uses its own immense size to enact a dissolve of meaning and, simultaneously, its own complex form to express formlessness. As Darian Leader said:
‘The force field of 399 Days is built on this complex and contradictory directionality, and on the tension between form and fracture. Spherical shapes are distorted, cracked and collapsed by bodily sinews, torsos and limbs, as if the offer of a whole, complete form was being continually undermined.’
Rachel Kneebone was born in 1973 in Oxfordshire and lives and works in London. Recent solo exhibitions include '399 Days', Victoria & Albert Museum, London (2017), White Cube at Glyndebourne, Lewes (2017), 'Ovid in Exile', White Cube Hong Kong (2017), 'Raft of the Medusa', The Foundling Museum, London (2017), '399 Days', White Cube Bermondsey (2014), 'Regarding Rodin' at the Brooklyn Museum, New York (2012) and 'Lamentations', White Cube Hoxton Square, London (2010). Group exhibitions include 'Dreamers Awake', White Cube Bermondsey, London (2017), 'Sculpture in the Close 2017', University of Cambridge (2017), 'From Here to Eternity', Maison Particulière, Brussels (2016), 'Flesh', York Art Gallery (2016), 'Lust for Life', Galleri Anderson Sandstrom, Stockholm (2015), 'Ceramix' at Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht (2015), 'Freud und Eros: Love, Lust and Longing', Freud Museum, London (2014), '3am: Wonder, Paranoia and the Restless Night', The Bluecoat, Liverpool and Chapter, Cardiff (2013-14), 'The Best of Times, The Worst of Times. Rebirth and Apocalypse in Contemporary Art', 1st Kiev Biennale Arsenale, Ukraine (2012), 'The Passions: A Drama in Five Acts', Deutsches-Hygienes Museum, Dresden (2012), 'Living in Evolution', Busan Biennale, South Korea, 'The Surreal House', Barbican Centre, London, 'The Beauty of Distance', 17th Biennale of Sydney (all 2010), 'Summer Exhibition', Royal Academy of Arts, London (2008), 'Mario Testino at home', Yvon Lambert, New York (2007) and 'The Way We Work', Camden Arts Centre, London (2005). In 2005, Kneebone was nominated for the MaxMara Art Prize. '399 Days' will be on view at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London until January 2021.