Rachel Zaretsky is a Los Angeles based artist who uses performance, video, and photography to challenge our relationship to the creation of memories. She studies the compulsion to collect and create personal archives of digital images and treats them as malleable material. Zaretsky’s inquiry-based art practice examines how modes of representation can portray absence, how we process loss, and our desire to preserve through memorialization. Zaretsky holds a BFA from The School of Visual Arts in New York and is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Southern California.
As far back as she can remember, Rachel recalls admiring the large wall shelving unit of framed photos in her grandmother’s apartment, in Queens, New York. Once while visiting, she was surprised to find these photos now sitting in a giant bowl placed on her grandmother’s coffee table: some old, some more contemporary, and some mere computer print-outs. Rachel’s grandmother admitted a friend had helped her scan her photo collection all into one digital picture frame, now featured on a slideshow.
At this moment, Rachel realized, “there’s such a different relationship between handling and sifting through photos. In a digital picture frame, you see one but then it goes away…and you see another, but it’s just singular.” She began questioning our relationship to the tactility of photos and a value system: how do people put value on personal, family photographs? Is there inherently a different value between digital and
Interested in the mundane to the monumental, Rachel is intrigued by what we choose to remember and how. When it comes to a personal, family photo, would there be a conversation about the value put on it? Is it public? Is it private? Does it have a price tag? Examining these questions, Rachel put an ad on Craigslist to purchase family photographs from people. She was transparent to sellers that she is an artist and would be using their family photos for an art project. Sellers could name their price and offer their photographs to her, which led to numerous conversations surrounding the reasons for choosing specific prices. Rachel received a number of personal photos, including photos from family albums, weddings, and even unprompted photos of family members, including children. “It’s a slippery slope of what you’re willing to offer someone,” Rachel concluded at the end of this transactional process. Now, while many of us find ourselves looking at past photographs in what feels like a bygone era of family and friendly gatherings, it feels timely to continue asking these questions: what is the inherent value of our material memories and does that value differ in the digital realm? – Allison Chaklos Hernandez
ABOUT THE CURATOR
Allison Chaklos Hernandez is currently an MA candidate in the USC Roski Curatorial Studies and the Public Sphere Program. Her practice is interdisciplinary at its core, stemming from her diverse background in music, performance, curatorial studies, and Holocaust monuments and memorials. she has also worked in programming at the Skirball Cultural Center, in the archival department at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and is currently interning at the Pacific Asia Museum, where she works in the Curatorial and Collections Department. Chaklos Hernandez earned her degree in Ethnomusicology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and has been studying and performing the Erhu (two-stringed Chinese fiddle) at various cultural institutions across America and China for the past decade.