Rhonda Ratray's Miraculous Interventions

Artist: Rhonda Divine Ratray, Man Icon
Man Icon by Rhonda Ratray
Rhonda Divine Ratray is a very interesting artist. Born Aimee LaPorte, Ratray (along with PRINCESSdie) is one of two female artists from the Boston-based the Miracle5 art collective whose mission is "to create miracles for the earth's well-being — both imaginings and visions — beyond the power of conventional beliefs." It is something that can be seen and experienced in Ratray's work.

The Miracle5 "suggest that the magic/spiritual rituals that different cultures have sought out over time are not far removed from each other and can be channeled directly into art spaces, wherever they may be." And stylistically, Ratray's pieces have such wonderful, far-reaching references: One of her game installations reminds me of 1970s game show the $10,000 Pyramid, while other paintings and mixed-media works combine imagery from luchador masks, storefront healers, '50s comic book kitsch, and a heavy dose of punk rock. They are both funny and clever, never cease to amuse, intellectually stimulate or initiate some form of self-reflection....

Artist: Rhonda Divine Ratray, Crown of Thorns
Crown of Thorns by Rhonda Ratray

KAREN MIRANDA AUGUSTINE: Your pieces have a lot of humour and satire running through them. And it's interesting, that twist, the other commentaries underlying. To what end do you use humour and satire throughout your work?

RHONDA DIVINE RATRAY: I would say about 50% humour and 50% satire.

KMA: Where did the idea of using games come from? You really use a wide variety of them: the lottery, game shows, children's games. How involved do your audiences become because of the game formats you use?

Artist: Rhonda Divine Ratray, The Compassion Game
The Compassion Game by Rhonda Ratray

RDR: When I was growing up our family would go the New Jersey shore every summer for a week or two. I loved the midway games and arcades at Point Pleasant and Seaside Heights. That bold graphic style made a huge impression on me. Also, the idea of rigged games became pretty clear. Some games you aren't meant to win, so, have fun, and pick the ones you enjoy playing.

Pertaining to my work, I think that the use of games gives the viewer/player an easy entrance into the piece. Maybe they are not familiar with the history of painting, but they have probably played Pin the Tail on the Donkey. The use of childhood games can also key into nostalgia and help bring the participant back to a time when they had more of a playful outlook. And personally, I get a huge amount of satisfaction in my role as omniscient rule maker.

KMA: I swear, I'm waiting for you to do a piece call Prey/Pray just because there is so much in your work that makes me think of people's vulnerability as they go through a major, life-altering change. A friend of mine always says, for women in particular, that we always know the answer to our problem. We see so many psychics, mediums and fortune tellers advertised on-line and in infomercials, so obviously many are searching outside themselves or are in need of support. Many are being taken advantage of. What about one being preyed upon by false healers?

RDR: Prey/Pray! That is a great idea! False healing, I think is such a tricky question. Having a reading is one thing. Like your friend, I think most people already know the answers to their problems but for some reason can't trust their gut. And sometimes it sounds more legitimate coming from someone else. So, I think getting guidance can be helpful. There is something to be said for the placebo effect and the power of the mind to facilitate healing. Belief is such a powerful thing.

Artist: Rhonda Divine Ratray, Love Fortune
Love Fortune by Rhonda Ratray

I am reminded of the essay by Claude Lévi-Strauss on Shamanism, which detailed the experience of Quesalid, a reluctant shaman. Strauss explained, "Quesalid did not become a great shaman because he cured his patients, he cured his patients because he had become a great shaman." His patients saw the proof of their ailment, in the form of a bloody worm, and believed in the showmanship of the shaman. I want to believe in spontaneous healing and miraculous interventions, but it is a hard thing to reconcile when considering "faith healing" à la Peter Popoff and the like who build empires spreading denial and sickness.

KMA: I was introduced to your work by stumbling across PRINCESSdie's work and then the Miracle5's Web site. Tell me about your involvement with the art collective, your mandate and the power/foils of doing collaborative work.

RDR: I always wanted to be a cartoon character and the Miracle5 made it happen for me! Seriously! I whole-heartedly agree with the mission of the Miracle5! It is great to have a posse!

KMA: When and why did you choose to use an alter ego as an artist?

RDR: I think I have always played around at being different people as a way to both disappear and re-populate. It is hard not to feel limited by a flesh-bag body. The invention of alter egos allows me to slip out of my skin for a while. As La Cobra Verde I become a world-devouring force who uses her venom and necromancy for the good of mankind. As the founding member of the Florence Nightingales — a fictional roller derby and punk band — I am one of a team of tragically compassionate and beloved nurses. As the Autonomous Voice of Instruction, possibly my favourite personality, I instruct and facilitate, through simple text. And even who I am now, Rhonda Divine Ratray, I legally became one of my alter egos.

KMA: I'm going to name 4 pieces of your work that are my favourites, and I'd like you to comment on them any way that you'd like. One: Official Painting of Gratitude #2

Artist: Rhonda Divine Ratray, Official Painting of Gratitue #2
Official Painting of Gratitude #2 by Rhonda Ratray

RDR: The format I use for the Paintings of Gratitude come from the Mexican and Catholic tradition of ex-voto paintings. There is so much that breaks my heart about the way these scenes are depicted. The spiritual world and the physical world converge at the sight of extreme pain or trauma. I have always loved trading scar stories. It is pretty incredible, just how lucky we are sometimes. These paintings explore the idea that we are not just lucky, but maybe our patron saint is watching out for us.

This painting was commissioned by my husband and is part of an ongoing project: The Sinterklaas Shrine. The shrine is dedicated to St. Nicholas, who is the most popular patron saint, right after Mary. As St. Nick is the Patron Saint of Children, these paintings share the childhood scar stories that I always find so amazing. The name Sinterklaas, comes from the Dutch pronunciation, and draws a more direct line to the St. Nick I grew up with: Santa Claus. If Santa knew if we were bad or good, clearly he was watching, and maybe could give a hand. I have a Miracle Intervention worksheet that asks for "key" information about the miraculous event. I make the Paintings of Gratitude on commission for customers based on the information they submit in the worksheet. The paintings then get placed on the shrine.

KMA: Two: Pushin' Up the Daisies

Artist: Rhonda Divine Ratray, Pushn' Up the Daisies
Pushin' Up the Daisies by Rhonda Ratray

RDR: I joke that I'm a closet goth…. I'm a big fan of the Memento Mori attitude. When my Dad died he didn't want a wake, so we had a memorial and he was cremated. His Catholic family was not too happy! They still don't talk to us. We took his ashes to his favourite ski mountain in Utah and after a day of skiing, we spread his remains. I knew how to cry, but not how to mourn. This piece definitely had everything to do with my coming to terms with losing him and realizing my own mortality. There are 15 activities encapsulated in the board. These ranged from writing a poem about your own flesh turning to dust to drawing a picture of your skull. The punchboard format seemed like the perfect vehicle for the idea of a transitory existence because, as you play, the board is destroyed.

KMA: Three: The Soap Oracle

Artist: Rhonda Divine Ratray, The Soap Oracle (Decal)
The Soap Oracle (Decal)
Artist: Rhonda Divine Ratray, The Soap Oracle
The Soap Oracle by Rhonda Ratray

RDR: In looking everywhere for "signs" and guidance, I realized that the soap dispenser in public bathrooms squirted different shapes that could be "read." Aided by Old Arrah's Oriental Dream and Fortune Telling Book section on reading tea leaves, I screen printed stickers for the dispensers that depict the most common soap formations and their appropriate fortune. The participant uses their own judgment to determine their fortune by comparing their real time soap squirt to the guide depicted.

KMA: Four: Scratch Fever

Artist: Rhonda Divine Ratray, Scratch Fever
Scratch Fever by Rhonda Ratray

RDR: I started collecting lottery tickets around my neighbourhood when I was walking my dogs. It is great the way you can see the seasons change through scratch tickets…. Winter Wonderland, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Sizzlin' Days and on. As I collected cards, I noticed the way they had been scratched. The scratches themselves portrayed so much emotion. I began to see the cards as physical evidence of hope and the lottery tickets as little prayers on the ground. I began to paint blown up studies of specific scratched areas. By painting the revealed result of the losing lottery ticket, I felt like I was accepting a greater loss as part of life.

KMA: How important is it for you that your audience "get" what you're trying to do? In some, like Pushin' Up the Daisies, I would think that it would encourage quite a bit of reflection from your audience. What range of feedback do you receive from people who participate with your work?

RDR: I hate it when people think I am being sarcastic or jaded. I got a lot of great feedback from the Pushin' piece. Some people e-mailed me the poems they had written. A lot of people bought them as Dia de los Muertos gifts, which I thought couldn't be more perfect. I continue to get a lot of great responses to the Soap Oracle especially. I think because that piece is in many places at one time and doesn't have my name attached to it, it is able to become what it says it is. It doesn't appear to be authored or made by a person, so it exists as a mysterious fortune-telling factory cast-off phenomenon, the Soap Oracle.

Artist: Rhonda Divine Ratray, Love Diamonds
Love Diamonds by Rhonda Ratray

KMA: What about luck? Self-procured, manmade, available only to a chosen few? How does it figure into your work?

RDR: Luck is huge! I really believe that being lucky is a mindset. From a young age I always thought that I was especially lucky. I am actually planning a project called The UP-LUCK! a mess of good luck.

KMA: What is upcoming for you?

RDR: Right now I am thinking about the baby that is going to pop out of me in July. In April, I am participating in Event Horizon, a public art project with a performative twist. I have been filling orders for lottery ticket wallets and I am working on a few pieces for a Miracle5 show in May.



Please visit Rhonda Ratray's Web sites at Ratray.com and RhondaRatray.blogspot.com.

All images are copyright of the artist and are republished with permission.

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