launch interview with Robin Rhode
Robin Rhode approaches his multidisciplinary and unconventional art practice through the high energy of street inventiveness and youth culture, often drawing on the subcultural codes of hip hop, popular sports, film, and fashion to render the everyday as art. A self-proclaimed "revolutionary contemporary artist," his strategic interventions in galleries and public spaces explore issues of culture, identity, history, and the socioeconomic realities of a South Africa newly welcomed back into the global fold. Utilizing lo-fi techniques such as charcoal drawing, performance, and simple computer animations, he transforms the quotidian into humorous, evocative experiences laced with sharp commentary on the politics of leisure, global branding, and the commodification of youth cultures.
Rhode's visual and conceptual alphabet is built around issues of desire, loss, and dislocation in a capitalist world while also acknowledging the specific indignities of growing up "colored" in formerly apartheid South Africa. For instance, Park Bench (2000) was a life-size drawing of said object on the wall of the Parliament building in Cape Town, in an area that used to be off-limits to all but white South Africans. Dressed in dark, hooded clothing associated with trouble-making youths, Rhode then proceeded to loiter around his bench and was eventually arrested for defaming state property. Likewise, in Car Theft (1998/2003), he uses various objects to attempt to break into a car he has drawn on the gallery wall, highlighting his signature method of attempting to playfully transform flat renderings of everyday objects into illusory three-dimensional ones through his physical interactions. Very much a provocateur and cultural subversive, he shares conceptual links with artists as varied as Marcel Duchamp, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and David Hammons. Yet, these "high art" associations do not negate his equally strong ties to popular cultural phenomena such as rappers Wu-Tang Clan, the Nike brand, graffiti art, and music-video director Hype Williams.
In 2001, Rhode was nominated for South Africa's FNB Vita Art Prize. He has been included in several group exhibitions, including Dislocation. Image. Identity. South Africa, Centro Cultural de Maria, O'Porto, Portugal (2002); Shelf Life, Gasworks Gallery, London, England (2001); and Juncture, The Granary, Cape Town, and Studio Voltaire, London (2001). His solo exhibitions include Fresh: Robin Rhode at South Africa National Gallery, Cape Town (2000). Rhode is an artist-in-residence at the Walker Art Center in 2002-2003.
charcoal on wall, screwdriver, straightened hanger, metal plate, half tennis ball, sparkplug, half brick, alarm with generator battery
Courtesy the artist, Berlin, Germany
In Car Theft, Rhode, dressed in street wear associated with trouble-making youths, uses various objects to attempt to break into a City-Golf (allegedly one of the easiest cars to steal) that he has drawn on the gallery wall. He thus highlights his signature method of attempting to playfully transform flat renderings into the three-dimensional through his impromptu and fugitive interventions. This drawing, originally made with spraypaint commonly used by graffiti artists, was specifically re-created in charcoal for Rhode's performance on the opening night of the exhibition. The drawing functions as a remnant emphasizing the temporality of the action.
twelve color photographs
16-1/2 x 23-3/8 in.
41.9 x 59.4 cm
Courtesy the artist, Berlin, Germany
The color photographs in the He Got Game series document a performance first held in 2000 on the grounds of the Cape Town Observatory in South Africa. The drawings were executed on tarmac, and Rhode, clad in the appropriate gear and sporting the unavoidable brands linked to the sport, mimicked its stereotypical postures and attitudes. The artist not only blurs the boundaries of two- and three-dimensionality in what has become his signature ploy, but he also confuses horizontality and verticality as he performs while lying on the tarmac, thus further confusing traditional codes of representation.
Cinematic in appearance, Rhode's photographs freeze his gesticulations around basketball's most recognizable feature, the hoop; the lines and stripes he added to the tarmac surface simulate movement and speed. Shot with a digital camera, the somewhat loose aesthetic of these images is intentional, as it jibes well with the street setting where the performance was taking place and renders the quick pace of his performance. Ultimately, Rhode both acknowledges and undermines his generation's fascination with the glamour of sports by concentrating its most stereotypical and consumable aspects--branding and the media.