Robin Rhode Principle of Hope
A part of something is for the foreseeable future going to be better than all of it. Fragments over wholes. Restless nomadic activity over the settlements of held territory. Criticism over resignation ... limited independence over the status of clients. Attention, alertness, focus. To do as others do, but somehow stand apart. To tell a story in pieces, as it is – Edward W. Said After the Last Sky, 1986.
Using the street corner as my studio, the photographic work titled Principle of Hope is photographed against a ruined wall in a township in Johannesburg. This dilapidated wall is situated in a disadvantaged community that remains as a footprint of the segregated Apartheid era. Today, communities in this area are plagued by high levels of gangsterism, violence, poverty, drug abuse, unemployment, and with HIV/AIDS on an upward rise to due to poor facilities and lack of education. The youth of this area are grappling with identity issues and a lack of self-worth, even after 20 years in a newly democratic Post-Apartheid South Africa. It is these disenfranchised youth from the streets of Johannesburg who have undergone a transformation to become my studio assistants, collaborators, in this unique art-making process that incorporates the painting of walls in brightly coloured palettes as a means to trigger psychological perception, and to embrace mathematics and geometry as an educative tool to assist in developing reason and logic in the minds of young people. These geometric wall paintings and performances functions as a form photographic reportage capturing creative gestures on a singular wall surface, but it also functions as a form of rehabilitation by empowering youth through reclaiming urban space and embracing creativity as a productive outlet.
My photographic works evoke a sentiment shared by the great Palestinian humanist, Edward Said, To tell a story in pieces, as it is. In my body of photography, however, I attempt to present an even greater challenge – the mystic search for wholeness in the very midst of its impossibility. My photographic technique is similar to stop-frame animation. I attempt to capture each moment of the painting process, each choreographic action of the performers, frame by frame, a form of cinematic construct infused with political narrative.
In the photographic artwork titled Principle of Hope, the glimmer of an answer resides in geometry – the necessary illusion of perfectibility. Here a spiral wall is rendered in painted grey tones to create the visual impression of heavy stacked concrete bricks. The painted concrete spiral evolves upwards towards a blue sky, a metaphor for an imaginary utopia. Moving between abstract speculation and visceral record, the artwork takes as a point of reference the philosopher Ernst Bloch’s book published in 3 volumes in the 1950’s titled The Principle of Hope in which the author explores utopian impulses present in art, literature, religion and other forms of cultural expression, and envisages a future state of absolute perfection. More a wager in the present tense than an edifying work of art, my photographic work nominated for the Prix Pictet Prize is a vital challenge to our current disaffection. It is a testimony, perhaps, that art can save us.
About the author
1976, South Africa
Robin Rhode was born in Cape Town, South Africa. A multidisciplinary artist, he engages in a variety of visual languages such as photography, performance, drawing and sculpture to create arrestingly beautiful narratives that are brought to life using quotidian materials such as soap, charcoal, chalk and paint. Coming of age in a newly post-apartheid South Africa, Rhode was exposed to new forms of creative expression motivated by the spirit of the individual rather than dictated by a political or social agenda. The growing influence of urban music, film, and popular sports on youth culture as well as the community’s reliance on storytelling in the form of colourful murals encouraged the development of Rhode’s hybrid street-based aesthetic.
His strategic interventions transform urban landscapes into imaginary worlds, compressing space and time, as two-dimensional renderings become the subject of three-dimensional interactions by a sole protagonist, usually played by the artist or by an actor inhabiting the role of artist. Melding individual expressionism with broader socioeconomic concerns, Rhode’s work reveals a mastery of illusion, a rich range of historical and contemporary references, and an innate skill for blending high and low art forms.
He has had major solo and group exhibitions at a number of important museums around the world such as: Haus Konstruktiv, Zurich, Switzerland; Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art, NY, USA; Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; Hayward Gallery, London, UK. Furthermore, he has participated in 51st International Venice Biennale, Italy, Biennale of Sydney, Australia and The New Orleans Biennial, USA.
His work is in the public collections of Centre Pompidou, Paris, France; Julia Stoschek Collection, Düsseldorf, Germany; Foundation Louis Vuitton, Paris, France; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA; The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, USA; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, USA.
Joana Choumali, Ça va aller, 2016-2019
Shahidul Alam, Still She Smiles, 2014
Margaret Courtney-Clarke, Cry Sadness into the Coming Rain, 2014 - 2018
Rena Effendi, Transylvania: Built on Grass, 2012
Lucas Foglia, Human Nature, 2006 – 2019
Janelle Lynch, Another Way of Looking at Love, 2015-2018
Gideon Mendel, A Testament of Faded Memory, 2016
Ross McDonnell, Limbs, 2012
Ivor Prickett, End of the Caliphate, 2016 - 2018
Robin Rhode, Principle of Hope, 2017
Awoiska van der Molen, Am schwarzen Himmelsrund, 2010-2018
Alexia Webster, Street Studios, 2011-2018