Rachel Livedalen's solo exhibition 'read somewhere' at Ivester Contemporary, photo by Scott David Gordon
Rachel Livedalen is a multidisciplinary artist based in Fort Worth, Texas. She holds a BA from the University of Virginia and an MFA in Printmaking from the University of Iowa. She is currently an Associate Professor at TCU where she heads the printmaking department. Her work occupies the Mulvane Art Museum, Bradbury Art Museum, and SOHO House Austin collections. Livedalen is represented by Erin Cluley Gallery in Dallas, Texas, and Ivester Contemporary in Austin, Texas where her second solo show, read somewhere, is on view until May 27th.
In her work, Livedalen fuses printmaking, drawing, and painting to examine representations of femininity spanning the art historical canon and into contemporary visual culture. By pairing Greco-Roman artwork with present-day cultural ephemera associated with “girl culture,” Livedalen collapses timelines to study the intersection where Western beauty standards and consumer culture converge. The resulting composition is playful in its process and coy in its commentary on conditioned gender norms and stereotypes.
Livedalen tracks how value is accumulated through the dissemination of knowledge via publishing. read somewhere features compositional motifs mimicking the design layout of art history textbooks. Works like Refers to Lower Illustration reduce the source page to its essentials: text block, image block, and figure info box. Fragmented sentences and random index numbers float by, too disjointed to create context. In Faustina, Faustina, Lucilla the blocks make a reprise – though this time too gestural than would be deemed worthy of academic publication – concealing images of the Greco-Roman busts and their corresponding captions. Livedalen is teasing the brevity of history textbooks for simplifying mankind’s evolution into select photographs and a couple of paragraphs, highlighting that such material is more complex than the page design presents it to be. She’s teasing us, too; The exhibition’s title nods to the passive credibility we claim in using the phrase “I read somewhere…” By appropriating textbook imagery and design, read somewhere ponders how reproduction contributes to an object’s value; how does the reproduction of an object increase its value whereas the mass production of an object decreases its value? The marble sculptures take their place in the former camp, while the Y2k stickers fall into the latter.
However, in viewing imagery that is separated by thousands of years side-by-side, the hierarchy is nullified. Livedalen assigns Greco-Roman imagery as the origin point for Western art history, a prototype that’s continuously molded dominant ideas of beauty, then offsets these canonized masterpieces with capitalistic refuse; In Blue Velvet, hand-drawn stars, clouds, and squiggly lines ornament the aged bust of a woman. The sticker arrangements appear thoughtless and random like a child would take to a scrapbook page, but Livedalen’s process of creating them is as tedious and intentional as a traditional Roman mosaic. For example, one single cherry sticker is made from three different stencil layers, then hand painted. Of the nearly 40 total works, all are made from a variety of printmaking techniques, painting, and drawing. Livedalen employs monotypes to achieve a blended graphic finish, plotter drawings to render precise text, and intaglios to experiment with textural finishes. As a mixed media series, read somewhere refers to publishing in both its conceptual scope and its procedure.
read somewhere is witty. Livedalen enriches the academic with the vernacular, making the scholarly subject more accessible and relatable. The work evokes a sense of nostalgia, a yearning to play with trinkets like we once did as children, but looking beyond the eye candy reveals a much more complex message. In Aphrodite (Heart), six bubbly heart stickers partially obscure the text beneath it describing a sculpture of Aphrodite; “shown poised...leg raised…garment has slipped…breast by the right arm…tall, slender.” Removed from its original academic context, the description seems lewd. With this, the bows, cherries, and hearts also appear exploitative, like material evidence of commodified gender constructs and kinks projected onto young women. Do we feel nostalgic for these objects because they touch on something intrinsic to us, or because we’re fooled into identifying with them by consumerist manipulation? read somewhere doesn’t resolve this for its viewers, but it does plant a visual of what our artifacts will look like when this empire falls, like the Greeks and the Romans we regard so highly: a wasteland of commercialized identities.
Rachel Livedalen, Faustina, Faustina, Lucilla, Acrylic on Poly Cotton, 2023 photo by Scott David Gordon
Rachel Livedalen, Refers to Lower Illustration, Acrylic on Poly Cotton, 2023 photo by Scott David Gordon
Rachel Livedalen, Aphrodite(Hearts), Pencil & Gouache on Paper, 2023