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To conform or not: a chat with conceptual artist Rachel Ara

STIR @ LDF19
British artist Rachel Ara gives a peek into her mind during a casual chat by her work This Much I’m Worth at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the hub for London Design Festival 2019.

by Samta Nadeem Oct 07, 2019

Waiting by her work at the crowded tunnel entrance of V&A at 3:30pm sharp, I see a friendly face approaching and looking for eyes that could be looking for her. Can’t say who spotted who first, but smitten by her wit, sensitivity and insight over the course of our chat that followed, I’d say it was Rachel Ara. 

Having worked as a computer systems designer and cabinet maker for nearly 30 years, Ara ventured into full-fledged artistic works barely five years ago. A multi-disciplinary artist with a Fine Art degree from Goldsmiths, and a diverse set of skills across materials and technology, she uses art as a medium to share her explorations of the relationship between gender, technology and systems of power.

This Much I'm Worth (The self-evaluating artwork), Rachel Ara’s neon installation for the London Design Festival 2019 | Rachel Ara | STIRworld
This Much I'm Worth (The self-evaluating artwork), Rachel Ara’s neon installation for the London Design Festival 2019 Image Credit: Samta Nadeem

A keen observer of the world around her, Ara likes to investigate subjects with a socio-political edge, especially the ones that are intentionally avoided by the society at large. Most times, instead of expressing personal views, her art puts a spotlight on these topics and places it in the public eye as fuel to spark debates. Many of her recent works incorporate humour and irony with feminist and queer concerns.

In 2016, she won the Aesthetica Art Prize 2016 for This Much I’m Worth (the self-evaluating artwork), which also happens to be the backdrop of our conversation.

This digital art piece, made solely by women, displays its sale value through a series of complex algorithms, called endorsers | This Much I'm Worth | Rachel Ara | STIRworld
This digital art piece, made solely by women, displays its sale value through a series of complex algorithms, called endorsers Image Credit: Samta Nadeem

This Much I’m Worth,” explains the artist herself, “is a digital art piece that continually displays its sale value through a series of complex algorithms called ‘the endorsers’. It is constructed with materials that have a history loaded with association. Implicated in the history of neon is its use in the sex trade, its cultural significance today is more commonly a troupe of contemporary art. It is both a functional object and spectacle seeking to question values, worth and algorithmic bias.”

A former artist in residence at the V&A Research Institute (VARI), Ara has previously exhibited an intriguing body of work at the LDF 2018 titled, The Transubstantiation of Knowledge. Interestingly, she always only works with a women-led team on her art pieces.

Ara currently lives and works in London, and enjoys to poke, probe and provoke.

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About Author

Samta Nadeem

Samta Nadeem

A product designer by training and lighting designer by profession, Nadeem has been leading creatives and communication for various ventures. She heads brand management, communication and curatorial programming for STIR. Keenly interested in art, architecture and everything design, beyond work Nadeem makes time for activism around subjects of social and environmental concerns.

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