What ideas and concepts do you explore in your work?
I am interested in non-conformist potential. How can humanity expand beyond false boundaries and limitations set forth by narrow perspectives that have long since framed our world? My practice is about challenging these beliefs, and how we’ve come to accept certain norms as norms and how that has impacted our society.
I think it’s of value to investigate how we translate, derive, and explain knowledge that forms the behaviors deemed “normal.” For instance assembled beliefs based on categories like ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, and religion are often formed without our input or our consent.
Your work is materially complex. What’s the importance of this in your work?
Materials that I choose already have a language of their own. Ice, porcelain, sugar, plaster, water, twine, or wood are embedded and coded with meaning. This significance adds layers of complexity to the work and conveys what words cannot. This unspoken suggestion allows the viewer to engage in and move towards a more introspective and reflective observation.
Some of your work employs loaded iconography—a book resembling a bible, a cross, and a flag. Tell us about that.
I wanted to bring the conversation closer to home with these loaded objects. The book, cross, and flag represent something larger than an individual, and therefore they must be called into question when we stand behind them as shields or justifications for our actions.
Book can be seen as a bible—religion needs to be in the conversation—but in a larger sense, I am interested in the codification of beliefs and it’s relationship to power. Authorship has long been a platform of righteousness, and when we discount any other form of knowledge, like dancing or story telling, we negate a people’s legitimacy and their significance. Making the book out of ice is commentary on the ephemerality and transparency of source knowledge, which is relocated, rewritten, and reinterpreted over time.
As for the Flag, it is a powerful symbol especially in the United States. I wanted to explore the patriotism that so many follow with a blind eye. At some point we’re no longer going to be able to sit in a place of moral correctness—we can see the damage already done to other countries and people.
I was born and raised in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., and as young adults we openly talked about world affairs and politics, often disagreeing but resolutely debating. Today I feel like conversations end when perspectives differ or disagreements happen, even if the moral objective is similar.
I wanted to talk about world issues, particularly what was happening in Syria. I made the boats and raft because I wanted to address these global issues, and to show how history is repeating itself. Cuba, just like Syria, was a country that used water passage as a way to escape dictatorship and a brutal regime.
I thought about the tragedy of the situation: the horrors of the journey, the unknown, leaving everything behind. What kind of choice would that be? I don’t think here in the United States we can really comprehend what it is to make the decision to leave one’s country, community and family. To be forced to flee, not knowing where you’re going to work and live, or when you’re ever going to see your family again. These atrocities are heartbreaking and we must continue to talk about them because we are all affected one way or another.
What role does detail play in your work?
When the idea behind a new work has been realized, the details transport me into another world. There’s a rhythm in my making. This material interaction elicits understanding and meaning, far beyond what I can express in words.
All of my work is a labor of love, but I think the details are pretty subverted. People walk up to Flag and assume it’s a large, crumpled piece of craft paper, not realizing it’s made of 60 pounds of plaster. I love that idea of being able to slowly absorb an object and make your own meaning—creating a new understanding of the object.
I think people have an intuitive ability to sense the intricacies, and while they might not be aware of them, they can sense the energy. My work tends to lure people in with its physicality, simplicity, and craftsmanship—slowly unveiling deep commentary on major issues facing humanity and society.
What’s next for you?
I’m moving to Los Angeles, so I’m excited to experience the vibrancy of the city. What lies ahead, I’m not quite sure, but I’m excited for the next challenge and the next subject to be discovered.
Image credits: 1) Shae Rocco working in the studio; Photo by Stephanie Smith; 2) Video by Stephanie Smith; 3) Shae Rocco working in the studio; Photo by Stephanie Smith; 4) Shae Rocco working in the studio; Photo by Stephanie Smith; 5) Shae Rocco, Book; Courtesy of the artist; 6) Shae Rocco, Book, 2016; Detail, Installation view of BFA Exhibition; 7) Shae Rocco, Flag, 2016; Detail, Installation view of BFA Exhibition; 8) Shae Rocco, Book, 2016; Ice, marble, cement, 3 ½ x 2 x 2 feet; Installation view of BFA Exhibition; 9) Shae Rocco, Flag, 2016; Detail, Installation view of BFA Exhibition; 10) Shae Rocco, Boat II, 2015, Ceramic, Wood, Concrete; Courtesy of the artist; 11) Shae Rocco, Raft, 2015; Porcelain, Pallet Wood, Twine; Courtesy of the artist; 12) Portrait of Shae Rocco; Photo by Claudine Gossett.