Studying from home took on many guises last year. For some it required clearing space for a laptop on the kitchen table. For Rachel Claire it meant completely transforming the living room of her Castlemaine home into a makeshift studio.
Here the Bachelor of Creative Arts student made a dozen sculptures which are steering the course of her career. Last month the work won her the La Trobe University Art History Alumni Chapter and La Trobe Art Institute Prize, which is awarded to a third-year or Honours Bendigo student as an acknowledgment of their achievements.
“It was just the best feeling ever,” Rachel says on receiving the award. “I study, study, study and I don’t really have a life outside of studying, so it was nice that I could say, see, this is what happens when you study hard.”
Rachel is making the most of her time at uni, having enrolled as a mature-age student three years ago in a quest to change her life. She’d been a practicing artist for many years, alongside working in hospitality.
“I thought I would go to uni and get a qualification that would allow me to get a job that wasn’t working in a bar until three o’clock in the morning,” she says on her plans to work in art therapy, but for now, an Honours year awaits.
Rachel says while studying from home during the past year of Covid-19 restrictions had its challenges, it’s also what got her through.
“I don’t know how I would have felt during this very strange experience without this community around me,” she says. “There’s an amazing confluence of teachers and students that I don’t take for granted. I feel really lucky to be in a place like this at the moment and that’s kept me feeling really positive.”
Rachel’s award-winning body of work also consumed her. The dozen sculptures are a departure from her usual medium of drawing and printmaking, and are a result of a trip she took to Japan, where she saw the hyper-real sex dolls marketed to Japanese society.
“There’s an implicit violence in these things that as a woman I respond to,” she says. “I empathise towards the actual objects. But I also feel another element of empathy towards the people who become attached to them and actually have a relationship with them, because we live in such a world where so many people are so alienated.”
The judges described the works as “exceptional and fascinating”. They’re Rachel’s emotional response to the dolls and a tangible example of the influence university has had on her practice.
“To be honest I thought I knew more than I knew,” she says about herself pre-uni. “I look back and I’m horrified at how ignorant I was. I’d been a practicing artist, I thought I knew my stuff. But I had a narrower view of what art was. I was far more self-involved and I thought that was appropriate for my art practice but now I don’t think like that.
“My teachers have definitely influenced my work. You don’t really learn technical skills so much as a broadening of your understanding of the world. It’s been a great growing experience.”
Rachel’s award includes a year-long mentorship with the La Trobe Art Institute and $1000 from the AHA Chapter. For 2021 she hopes to exhibit her sculptures and build on her new-found love of the medium.
See more of Rachel’s work at http://www.rachelclaire.com.au