Under the Sun is the first Israeli museum exhibition devoted to the work of Robin Rhode (b. 1976, Cape Town; lives and works in Berlin).
Rhode creates in the mediums of drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, video, and installation art. He uses a range of materials including chalk, charcoal, and soap, as well as the human body – the artist’s own body and the bodies of others.
Rhode was raised in Johannesburg,where his artistic approach was consolidated during the post-Apartheid period. Local street murals, as well as the paintings created by Rhode and his friends on the walls of their school, continue to serve as sources of inspiration for his work. Another school-related experience that has left an imprint on his work was the initiation rituals during which older students forced the newcomers to treat these paintings as if they were real – by pretending, for instance, that they were riding a painted bicycle. The absurdity of these childhood rituals, with their abusive overtone, has been assimilated into Rhode’s work, evolving into an intriguing combination of drawing and physical actions.
His works are often initiated as wall drawings that subsequently develop into performances, in which the artist, an actor, or sometimes both, respond to the represented image. Since these actions are ephemeral, and since the drawings are destined to be erased at one point or another due to their location in the public sphere, the final product is presented as a series of photographs or a video. The artistic object is thus the documentation of an event unfolding outside the art world; it is a vestige of an energetically charged, physical occurrence that persists long after the traces of movement, tension, and sweat dissolve and disappear. The power of the artistic objects created by Rhode - videos, photographs, or sculptures – thus paradoxically lies in their fundamental loss of power in comparison to what once existed outside, in the street, under a blazing sun.
Rhode exploits the public sphere as a platform for exploring issues on the international agenda, as well as ones specifically related to life in South Africa. Rooted in urban youth culture, his works touch upon questions of culture, identity, and history, and are characterized by a hip-hop rhythm and by the power of graffiti paintings.
Rhode’s work is equally rooted in the history of photography and contemporary art. A number of his photographs reveal the influence of pioneering photographers such as Etienne-Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge, who sought to capture movement in static images. Other works call to mind the aesthetic of the Italian Arte Povera artists active in the 1970s, or that of Minimalist artists such as the American Sol Le Witt. Rhode’s video works also reveal the influence of the monumental artworks created by fellow South-African William Kentridge, especially in terms of the combination of drawing, photography, and animation.
Like their creator’s dynamic engagement with different sources of inspiration, the works themselves embody a series of contrasts: they are figurative and narrative, yet can simultaneously be read in relation to formal values such as line, color, composition and perspective; they exist on the spectrum between high and low, transience and permanence, bodily and cerebral elements, an ascetic black and-white palette and vibrant color.
The current exhibition captures the breadth of the complex body of works created by Rhode, whose life and art-making emblematize the quintessential lifestyle of contemporary artists: moving among different places, sources of inspiration, mediums and modes of action, while remaining equally committed to both art and politics.