‘Would you not too hunt the god who killed your child for no reason?’ asks a vagabond, playing the role of prophet by predicting future misfortunes in a pre-capitalist society. In her newest film, ‘Enclosure’ (2019), on view at Luma Foundation, Arles, New-York based artist Rachel Rose (b. 1986) continues to expand on her notions of land, ownership, and violence against women in the context of early seventeenth-century rural England. The work attests to the artist’s fluency in cinematic conventions even as she pushes their boundaries.
In early 2019, Rachel Rose was presenting her first filmic work with featured actors at Pilar Corrias (London), ‘Wil-o-Wisp’, shedding light on women’s shifting role within society and their relations to magic on the threshold of the Industrial Revolution. In the space, three egg-shaped glass objects were lying on a white carpet, distorting images of the film and evoking the alchemical practices of the time. With ‘Enclosure’, Rose has created a far darker atmosphere. Spectators can sit upon a large brown dune in the massive nave of Luma’s industrial cathedral, a former rail yard transformed in 2007 into a cultural space dedicated to multimedia artworks. Here, a holographic screen will alter your vision, and your experience will vary according to your spatial relation to the screen. While such a complex technological apparatus could easily be overwhelming, the installation immerses its audience in a virtual space and becomes an extension of the story unfolding in ‘Enclosure’.
The title of the work refers to the process of dividing common land with fences or barriers, often for the purpose of making it more productive. Raised by Karl Marx in ‘Das Capital’ (1867), the issue of enclosure has established the roots of capitalism and resulted in a massive displacement of populations, transforming the way humans live.
This historic economic and environmental upheaval serves as the backstory for a scam set in an eerie, yet deeply rational world. In Rose’s film, humans seem to live in harmony with their environment, which appears magical, mystical and threatening. In the first scene, an unstable sky turning from deep blue to blood orange and the menacing presence of a large smoking black orb herald no good fortunes. Throughout the film, nature is pictured wounded and disoriented; reimagined as two ‘hungry’ bears, a bird’s carcass, a fish decomposing, and mushrooms growing and glowing.
A group of vagabonds travels around England trying to convince local peasants to sell their land rights in exchange for a new currency called ‘paper cash’. Jaccko, an alchemist and leader of a group called the ‘Famlee’, orders young orphans to spy on families to better manipulate them in order to take over their land. Recent is a young woman with magical powers on whom Jaccko holds a tight psychological grip. But the manipulated also manipulate as we witness Recent tricking a new victim, the mother of a ‘cursed’ child who refuses measures of enclosure in name of the Brotherhood of the Holy Spirit. Because of her political beliefs, the cursed child, named Marla, is tied up and hidden. As she shouts, her words resonate strongly beyond the context of the film. Women will have the most to lose from land dispossession, becoming gradually confined to reproductive labour. In ‘Enclosure’, everything is a matter of power relations: between men and women, nobles and peasants, parents and children, humans and animals, persecutors and victims.
Integral to the poetic force of Rose’s art are her rich, seductive and painterly cinematic images, her use of non-diegetic sound, precise camera pans, and her shots breaking any editing continuity. All these contribute to the depiction of a world in which nonlinear time and unstable spatial cues blur the boundary between the occult and the rational. The artist intertwines different time streams, immersing the spectator in the past in order to shed light on the fragilities of the present and the unpredictability and instability of the future.