Love and Money Artist Profiles: Rachael Kess

Rachael Kess is a third year undergraduate Material Art & Design Fibre major / Wearable Technology minor at OCAD University. Prior to OCAD, Rachael spent almost two years at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec where she studied Theatre Performance and Theatre & Development. Rachael is currently working to merge her love of textiles, performance and technology to create interactive wearable fibre art that encourages both the wearer and the viewer to “think the body differently.” When Rachael is not spending all of her money paying for school and on materials for class projects, Rachael likes to spend her money on outdoor sporting equipment and books.

Can you talk a bit about the piece you will be showing in Love and Money?

The piece I will be showing in Love and Money is a commentary on my very new relationship with craft. This soft robot in particular speaks to my current negotiations between making, something that I feel very connected to personally, and the monetary value of what I make. I find soft robots to be particularly puzzling as I am creating characters that are meant for performances that I will be undertaking. Maybe, to ensure a balanced transaction, I would have to be included in the sale of this soft robot. If that’s the case I hope whomever buys this soft robot (and me by default) is quite wealthy and has a good working knowledge of the Arduino platform.

Outwardly, my soft robot is unassuming—my work is very simple, I prefer to let the materials do most of the talking so to speak—but this soft robot is anything but ordinary. I won’t give away too much as not to spoil my performance on Thursday, but this sweet little soft robot has a cheeky side too. Like soft robot, like artist I guess.

Your piece involves a combination of fibre and electronics. What originally inspired you to combine such (seemingly) disparate media?

Ironically, this combination of wonderfully disparate materials sprang from pure unadulterated hatred of technology. Last year I was very against using technology in any part of my craft and now all I want to do is embed all manner of electronics in my work. One of my professors always used to say that “the best use of [insert noun] is misuse” and I took that to heart this year when I started working with electronics. I’m not a fan of technology that is flashy and hard so I started making soft robots that bring us back to that which makes us human: our ability to show emotion and the need to reach out and make physical contact in the world. I used motors and LEDs to animate a form made entirely of felt, a material that is warm and invites touch. This work is material deviance at its softest.

You are currently a full-time OCAD student, so budgeting and saving are probably not far from your mind! Do you have any tips or tricks you've picked up as a student living and creating on a budget?

Budgeting is something I always mean to get around to doing. The problem is I fall in love with a material, my current affair is with merino wool fleece, and my budget flies out the window. In all seriousness, I really believe that it’s important to invest in good materials. It helps to buy directly from suppliers and splitting an order with peers is a great way to save money. Ironically, I’ve saved the most money just by loving what I do and talking to people about my work. Especially when you’re a student, people will go out of their way to help you out if they know your heart is in it. So even if that wealthy someone decides they don’t want my soft robot and I, I’ll still have a whole lot of love to keep this soft rebellion going.

Love and Money opens at the Ontario Crafts Council this Thursday night from 6-9 pm, and runs from December 16-31, 2010.

Image: Rachael Kess, Blush

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