Making its New York debut at Gladstone Gallery, Rachel Rose’s fantastical film Enclosure (2019) takes place in the English countryside during the aftermath of the 17th-century Enclosure Acts. In enabling property owners to seize shared-use “common” territories from peasants, these laws effectively privatized land, ending the feudal system. Rose’s interest in the historically understated moment lies in its comparatively momentous consequences: with the advent of a working class who, ever-dependent on employment, could be controlled in perpetuity, the ruling classes introduced the logic of capitalism into the social fabric. These socioeconomic conditions gave rise to the Industrial Revolution and its all-consuming impact on the human condition.
Enclosure follows a young woman named Recent as she comes of age within a fictional, itinerant clan of magic-wielding grifters known as the Famlee. Tasked by its alchemist leader, Jaccko, she persuades a widow to sign over her land to the group before noblemen, acting under the Enclosure Acts, can take it by force. Periodically, the film cuts away from the action, lingering on lush green fields and arboreal surroundings as the backdrop for sequences of hypnotic, otherworldly and unsettling cinematic interludes for which Rose is renowned. Here we see ghostly renderings of dark, celestial orbs floating in the sky, which feel at once like omens and oddly reassuring beacons of consistency within a world in flux. Though Recent ultimately succeeds in her mission, the image Rose leaves us with is the widow sobbing alone in her kitchen.
Seven landscapes in gilded frames—displayed in the dimly lit peripheries beyond Enclosure’s projection screen in the gallery—echo the film’s surreal, cosmic motifs. On loan from the Yale Center for British Art, these works date to 18th- and early 19th-century England and are attributed to four artists: the lauded traditionalists Thomas Gainsborough and Joseph Wright of Derby as well as the Romantics John Constable and Samuel Palmer.
Rose also unveils two new series of works that resonate thematically and visually with Enclosure. “Loops” consists of pedestal-mounted sculptures in which a single rock is affixed to a sensuously shaped hunk of glass; the materials symbolize the tension between new and existing paradigms. Elsewhere, in a series of paintings titled “Colores,” Rose superimposed smeary, illusionistic patchworks of iridescent pigments over reproductions of the historical English landscapes. What this all amounts to is a spectacle as profoundly haunting as it is aesthetically magnificent—a combination of qualities that, too, hold timeless appeal. —Rachel Summer Small
Rachel Rose, Enclosure, 2019. Video Still © Rachel Rose. Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery.