‘It Was Like Making Homes’: Watch Artist Rachel Rossin Build Entire Worlds in Her Hybrid Digital Artwork

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21 "New York Close Up" film, "Rachel Rossin's Digital Homes." © Art21, Inc. 2021.

Growing up in West Palm Beach, Florida, artist Rachel Rossin was often desperate to escape. Since that’s not particularly easy when you’re a kid, Rossin, like so many others, found escapism through the internet.

As a kid, Rossin taught herself the basics of computer programming, and soon moved on to hacking, losing herself in multiplayer video games like Call of Duty. Those early formative experiences set the groundwork for what would become her mature artistic practice blending computer imagery and new technology with analog painting methods.

“The way I was making art before I knew it was art, it was like making homes,” Rossin says in a new video as part of Art21’s New York Close Up series.

In her pursuit of always “trying to find a home,” Rossin found a sense of safety and care within Call of Duty, adopting a male avatar “to sort of live inside.” The neutral anonymity of her avatar stood in contrast to the male-dominated gaming culture she was in, acting as a sort of shield from threats of harassment.

Production still from the Art21 "New York Close Up" film, "Rachel Rossin's Digital Homes." © Art21, Inc. 2021.

Production still from the Art21 “New York Close Up” film, “Rachel Rossin’s Digital Homes.” © Art21, Inc. 2021.

In the video, which is part of Art21’s participation in the collaborative Feminist Art Coalition Initiative, Rossin is at work in her Brooklyn studio preparing for a group exhibition called “World on a Wire that is organized by Rhizome and the Hyundai Motor Company.

In Rossin’s work I’m my loving memory, Plexiglas sculptures with virtual imagery printed on them are melted into humanoid figures distorted by color and shadow. The futuristic images represent the dual aspects of Rossin’s process, combining virtual iconography with a personal touch. 

One of the avatars Rossin keeps to herself is a creature she calls a “harpy,” which is half human, half bird. “She speaks to a reality that most people feel,” Rossin tells Art21, “which is so much of our emotional and cognitive space lived in virtual spaces, but still… tethered to a mortal coil.”

More of Rossin’s works are on view at Magenta Plains in the solo exhibition “Boohoo Stamina” (on view through May 22). The show continues the artist’s pursuit to answer questions about how technology and alternate realities can extend, enhance, or limit the nature of being human.

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s New York Close Up series, below. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org

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