Rachel Fein-Smolinski

Rachel Fein-Smolinski is an artist based in Syracuse, NY who works in photography, video, and installation. She was raised in Buffalo, NY and holds a B.F.A. in Studio Art from the San Francisco Art Institute (2014,) and an M.F.A. in Art Photography from Syracuse University (2017,) where she is currently a part-time faculty member. Her work uses sci-fi and adopts the authoritative aesthetics of biology and medicine to deal with neurosis and intellectualism. Fein-Smolinski has exhibited internationally and is the recipient of numerous awards, residencies, scholarships, and publications, including the John Chervinsky Memorial fellowship (2018,) Oranbeg Press (2017,) the Constance Saltonstall Fellowship in Ithaca, New York (2016,) and the Berlin Fall Semester Residency at Haubrok Foundation (2016.) She is currently the digital services coordinator at Light Work, an artist-run, non-profit organization that provides direct support through residencies, publications, exhibitions, a community-access digital lab facility, and other related projects to emerging and under-represented artists working in the media of photography and digital imaging. By day, Fein-Smolinski answers “quick questions” and by night she builds sets to explore the aesthetics of the a scientific fantasy world of infinite visibility and knowability. She has a forthcoming solo show at the Griffin Museum of Photography in September of 2018.

Sex Lives of Animals without Backbones

My work is about pleasure, neurosis, objectivity and subjectivity. It is about the visceral and visual satisfaction associated with the history of the documentation and depiction of bio-medical phenomena. I use a mixture of the visual indulgence of high commerce, the sacred and compulsive laboratory space, and the expansive mode of science fiction and its ability to appropriate the authority of knowledge to create speculative installation spaces in the visual field.

I use an alter-ego, a caricature of a neurotic, intellectual hero, constructed from cultural signifiers, as a Jewish woman, raised with a cultural identity that idealizes intellect to the point of fetishization. This is a stylized performance of a masculine archetype (yes, I am exploring what it means to be a woman through the usage of masculinity and its historical relationship to authority) used in science fiction, tv doctor dramas, and re-tellings of the histories of technological advancement. Intellectual inquiry is a socially acceptable form of obsessive, and scopophilic (visually indulgent) behavior. It is a space where unhealthy impulses are sublimated into the field of intellectual pursuit. All is forgiven if the hero’s brilliance outshines their character flaws.

Bio-medical exploration is a fantasy of constant visibility. To see is to know, and to know is to succeed. With techniques like dissections, bodies are eviscerated so that the spectator can incorporate the sight of the others’ internal organs into their own body of knowledge. Or microscopy, where an imaging apparatus is used to augment the viewer’s vision in order to look at, and infer new knowledge from, otherwise invisible mechanisms, ideally infinitely. However, as there is no such thing as a purely objective gaze—observation is always tied to a host of psychological associations. To see is to concurrently project and consume. Through this playacting of biological experiments and procedures, I tease out the role of visual pleasure in intellectual inquiry, resulting in installation spaces that reproduce the clinical, experimental, and educational. In this way, I explore what Foucault described in his 1963 book The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception, as "…that region of ‘subjective symptoms’ that—for the doctor—defines not the mode of knowledge, but the world of objects to be known.

To view more of Rachel’s work please visit her website.