Image Credit https://lvl3official.com/rachel-youn/
Ulrica: Hi Rachel, I’m Ulrica, I’m glad to meet you. So, first of all, do you mind telling us a little about your background, your role in Armour, and your art practice in general?
Rachel: Yeah so I lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico before I came to WashU for school starting from 2013 which feels like a million years ago now. I studied fine arts, specifically sculpture, and then I graduated in 2017. I did some stuff with Armour, mainly I did a photoshoot one time because there was this issue where they were having people embroider thread onto photos and so I just kinda did a photoshoot that somehow ended up being on the cover. I was like “oh my God I have so many stacks of Armour with like my face on them”, but I’m like embarrassed to give them away. But yeah I really love Armour it’s such an amazing robust publication and so professional. I love sharing that work with prospective students. So right now I work in admissions for the Sam Fox School, so I recruit art and architecture students, and I do tours to go and meet them. Also since I’ve graduated been sustaining an art practice with sculpture, so I have a studio in Ferguson where I go whenever I can, and I’m not too tired, where I make art. Then I show that mostly through St. Louis and also on a national scale.
Ulrica: So, I did a little research and I found it interesting how you said that you like to source materials and objects from home decor stores and second-hand shopping. So I’m curious how you started getting interested in using manufactured goods as media in creating artwork, and what do you find most appealing from that?
Rachel: Totally. I think I never thought I’d be a person who would use found objects, but I wanted to start making kinetic art and didn’t really know how to make motors because I studied Fine Arts and not Engineering. So I started picking up massagers from online shopping [retailers] like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. What I really like about that is that the objects I’m using– even though I’m taking them apart and changing their function– all have a story to them and a history. Especially massagers–which are the foundation for a lot of my art pieces–are meant to be really soothing to peoples’ bodies and you keep them in your home to massage your neck or your back or your feet. And then I think there’s this kind of sadness that they are eventually just discarded, and they’re not really built to last a long time like a lot of the appliances and objects and fashion that we have is meant to just be used a couple of times then thrown away. And so, I like to feel like I’m giving a new life to these objects that is different than just ending up in the dumpster.
Ulrica: That sounds kind of like how people will wear vintage clothes, and that the vintage clothes carry a part of the culture and memories of the previous person in them. And those who are really into vintage will get their clothes from a vintage store and give [the clothes] a second life.
Rachel: Yeah, I feel like it’s interesting seeing trends and stuff come back too because it’s like I’m sure sometimes the vintage clothing was not cool in the day that it was made, and it was worn and given away and then because of second-hand shopping you can find a new life for a piece of clothing. I’m certainly trying to shop more second-hand because there’s so much that’s wasteful about living as a person in the world. I’m trying to be a little bit more sustainable in general but I do like that my art practice is a little bit kind of like recycling in a way.
Ulrica: Yeah, so you’re trying to focus your art practice a little more on the sustainable side? Do you put that in your off-planning process when you’re thinking about making an art project?
Rachel: Sometimes. It’s not the first and foremost– I’m not someone who’s like “I make work from recycled stuff”. But the purpose of me using secondhand things is because again of that object’s history and story, because that also conceptually builds into the work. Because I think a lot of what I’m realizing coming into my work is feelings of loneliness and wanting to belong and not feeling like you belong, and I feel like that’s the story of these objects that I’m using. There are still things in my art practice that are wasteful. Usually, a lot of the fake flowers that I buy are brand new from the store, sometimes I get them second-hand too. So I don’t know. The cactuses are inherently wasteful, but it’s not the same as me buying tons of foam and throwing it in the trash. I don’t know, it’s like a happy accident.
Ulrica: Yeah, so can you share to us your art-making process. How do you usually plan it out and how do you find your inspirations?
Rachel: Yeah, often I am adapting to the space that I am given to install work in. And kind of this big body of work that I’m known for which was at the Contemporary Art Museum here started off with me going on Facebook Marketplace, looking at the things that people were selling, messaging them, driving out, you know, thirty to forty minutes to meet them, giving them cash, taking this thing back to my studio, taking it apart. So, I have lots of screwdrivers and things to open up these machines to kind of understand a bit about how they work and then finding ways to extend and exaggerate the movements that they make in order to create the sculptures that I do. And then in the case of the show in the Contemporary Art Museum, because they look like they are dancing in an ecstatic way I decided to make a giant installation of them where you walked in and were like overwhelmed by this, like I don’t know, forest of flowers just dancing.
Ulrica: Yeah I felt a lot of your artwork is very kinetic and dynamic it seems like they have life.
Rachel: Yeah, I like that because, it’s like, movement is a very easy way to think that something is alive. It’s also kind of weird when you see things move when you don’t expect them to. You’re like “what was that!” So, I like having that sort of surprising aspect to my work.
Ulrica: So how does your art-making process differ from when you are doing an art project with a group of people, say Armour, because when you’re making the artwork individually the planning process can be very free or random, very flexible. So, like, when you are making art with a group of people, it is involved with collaboration with a group of people. What draws you to Armour in that way?
Rachel: So, I think my art practice is very individualistic, it’s a lot of intuition that I’m working with in the studio. And, also I think what’s challenging about working on a team of people like Armour is that you have to be communicative and have to be able to voice what your vision is whether it be a photo shoot or some kind of more experimental thing or even what you’re writing or layout. You have to be able to make that understandable to other people. So I think that’s a nice challenge when I’ve had collaborative work. You also have to find the right people that you click with, who can understand what you’re talking about too. Like, I have a friend who can understand my weird crazy drawing and can try to plan out all this crazy woodworking stuff. Because she’s also handy in the shop it was easy to work with her versus sometimes working with designers because they work in such different programs I don’t even have the language to tell them how to do things. You have to really trust other people, and having a team you can trust is invaluable.
Ulrica: Yeah, so what draws you to Armour? How do you find you can click with the Armour team?
Rachel: I think what I think about with Armour, which I always kind of talk about with prospective students, is that it is made up of so many different kinds of people. Like there’s business-y people, there’s fashion people, there’s photographers, there’s writers, there’s illustrators, there’s designers. And to make a cohesive publication that looks nice is really hard. I’ve seen some really weird janky publications made because, you know, people are still kind of finding their rhythm. And, I don’t know how it works in the back end of Armour –I haven’t witnessed it myself. But the work that you all make is also really interesting and experimental, too. Things I see on the art Instagram, I’m like “Woah!” You know, y’all are pushing boundaries and that’s so cool.
Ulrica: Yeah it’s very surprising how creative the Armour projects can be. So, do you have expectations, or which part of Armour do you like the most as an advisor?
Rachel: I think what I like– beyond the very crisp production of course– I think what’s cool is when they feature local stuff from around St. Louis and interview people in the community. Because ultimately what we do in fashion, and you know beyond, is tied to where we are. And I think that there’s a tendency for people to come to WashU, study here, then leave, and not really get to know much about the city that they’re living in. So, I really like that. I think it’s interesting when they talk about sustainability or challenging issues around race and gender, because that’s always the kind of spicy stuff that I think right now is big in the fashion world. Like, thinking about how to be zero waste or how to be inclusive and it always hasn’t been like that, and so I think it’s cool that we do that.
Ulrica: Yeah, I feel like Armour isn’t just about trying to achieve an aesthetic project, but I remember when I attended pitchfest, I think they’re really trying to express their opinions through words and many meaningful topics and trying to incorporate that into their projects.
Rachel: Yeah, like the students’ passion and personality is present in the magazine, it’s not just like I’m picking up Vanity fair and seeing these really nice editorial shoot, it’s like there’s an opinion there, and there are some fights to it, and I think that’s exciting to see in Armour.
Ulrica: Yeah, especially when there are so many students from different kinds of majors coming together. There are a lot more opinions.
Rachel: And it’s so cool because there’s so many ways that people understand fashion through different lenses, too. Obviously, I believe that we all for the most part wear clothes, and have relationships to that. But also we’re all so tied to pop culture and the internet and social media and influencer and things like that, so bringing all opinions– not just fashion students– into it is important.
Ulrica: So, let’s end today’s interview with the last question: If you must choose to be an art element– like any art pieces, materials, whatever art-related thing– what would you choose to be?
Rachel: That’s a cool question. I would like to be the light or the sound. Or maybe I’ll just stick with lighting because I think lighting can change everything. At least in my installations, when I’ve used colored lighting it gives it so much more livelihood or I think about queer spaces. Or if you Google “Bisexual Lighting” there’s different lighting strategies people use in movies to indicate certain kinds of spaces for queer people. And lighting is everything in fashion shoots and runway shows. It can really dramatically change the way that you perceive something.
Ulrica: Lighting is definitely more related to the visual nature of things, but sound demands that you be in a certain environment to experience that sound.
Rachel: Yeah sound is limited. I think social media has a lot more allowance for video, which is really great because it was a lot more image-based before. But, I don’t know, I think about how awesome music videos are because they’re combinations of sound and lighting and music and fashion. And, I think music videos are a top-tier form of media. And they oftentimes have stories built into them, too, with narratives. But yeah, lighting can really make or break something.
Words Ulrica Wu, Rachel Youn
Armour Magazine Editorial Season 27 — S/S 2022