For a mo­ment, it’s art

Robin Rhode found in­spi­ra­tion for his lat­est work in a scrap­yard. His in­stal­la­tion of re­worked play­ground equip­ment will form the tem­po­rary stage for an in­ter­ac­tive per­for­mance

Sunday Times - - INSIGHT - By TYMON SMITH

When Robin Rhode was asked to be the fea­tured artist for the 10th Joburg Art Fair, he be­gan traips­ing around the city vis­it­ing scrap­yards. He ini­tially had an idea of a sculp­ture made of two smashed cars.

It was dur­ing one of these vis­its, to a yard in West­dene, that he saw a whole lot of jun­gle gyms stacked on the roof. “I shifted my idea in a sec­ond and switched paths and I thought, this is it!”

In the pile of lonely, coloured rem­nants of school­yard and pub­lic-park jun­gle gyms on the scrap­yard roof, Rhode started to see “a maze, an in­stal­la­tion. I saw min­i­mal­ism in this, so I bought the whole f**king lot. That’s how it should be some­times, you should just be open and go with the flow — there’s a vibe and you have to just go with it.”

In­ter­ac­tive per­for­mance

Those jun­gle gyms have now been painted white and ar­ranged into an in­stal­la­tion in Rhode’s tem­po­rary stu­dio, in a cor­ner of what was un­til re­cently the Mu­seum of African De­sign in Mabo­neng.

The sculp­tural in­stal­la­tion will be moved to the Sand­ton Con­ven­tion Cen­tre this week to serve as the stage for an in­ter­ac­tive per­for­mance chore­ographed by Rhode in col­lab­o­ra­tion with two per­form­ers that will ex­ist only for the du­ra­tion of the art fair.

Rhode, who was the fea­tured artist at the fair’s in­au­gu­ral it­er­a­tion back in 2008, was born in Cape Town and lives in Berlin.

His re­turn to the art fair has pro­vided him with an op­por­tu­nity to demon­strate the de­vel­op­ment of his prac­tice since the in­ter­ac­tive wall-draw­ing per­for­mances that he be­came known for more than a decade ago.

Those works pro­pelled him on a me­te­oric rise through the ranks of the in­ter­na­tional art world that has seen him ex­hibit con­stantly through­out the world, es­tab­lish his own stu­dio in Berlin, run a record la­bel, work with skate­board de­sign­ers, paint us­ing a BMW Z4 as part of the mo­tor com­pany’s art ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign, and stage a per­for­mance of Aus­trian avant-garde com­poser Arnold Schön­berg’s piece

Er­wartung in Times Square, New York. For his lat­est work, Rhode wants to in­ter­ro­gate the idea of “per­for­mance in the con­text of an art fair, which I find very in­ter­est­ing be­cause it al­lows the pub­lic to ques­tion the no­tion of com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion —

The fact it’s jun­gle gyms means it speaks about the pu­rity of imag­i­na­tion, the in­no­cence of child­hood, but these ideas are plagued by other con­flicts be­cause so­ci­ety is un­der enor­mous strain from phys­i­cal abuse, from vi­o­lence Robin Rhode Artist

what’s the cur­rency, and if there is one, does it al­low for such forms to co­ex­ist with other more tra­di­tional forms?”

Un­like many of the works that will hang on the walls of ex­hibitors’ booths next week­end, this one can only be seen, not bought.

The space, on the bor­der of New­clare and West­bury, where Rhode used to work with a large crew of about 18 for­mer pris­on­ers pro­duc­ing his art, re­cently re­ceived un­war­ranted at­ten­tion from gang mem­bers, lead­ing his “army” to be re­duced to just four young men who, as we talk, are paint­ing boards against the wall for Rhode to paint on. Like Rhode, they’re all wear­ing army camo jack­ets and when the artist sud­denly shouts “Standby two chairs! Standby ash­tray! Standby Marl­boros!” the re­quired items are du­ti­fully brought to him. For Rhode, his army is an ex­am­ple of “us­ing art as a means of so­cial re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion”.

He says: “It’s about ac­cess to life, ac­cess to the dy­nam­ics of cul­ture, ac­cess to the pro­cesses of art, un­der­stand­ing the city and to un­der­stand how the world op­er­ates. What­ever you’ve seen in the me­dia has all been made with my crew, my army.”

Plagued by con­flicts

As he lights his Marl­boro, Rhode looks at his jun­gle gym as­sem­blage and ob­serves: “The fact that it’s jun­gle gyms means that it speaks about the pu­rity of imag­i­na­tion, the in­no­cence of child­hood, but these ideas are plagued by other con­flicts in so­ci­ety be­cause at the same time so­ci­ety is un­der enor­mous strain from phys­i­cal abuse, from vi­o­lence, and there’ve been many youth protests as well. So the idea of youth ori­en­ta­tion has been a mas­sive talk­ing point in our so­ci­ety.”

By the time the work makes its first pub­lic ap­pear­ance, he hopes that the au­di­ence is able to en­gage with it on mul­ti­ple lay­ers — from a per­sonal level that some­how re­lates to their own lived ex­pe­ri­ence to a con­cep­tual and aca­demic level, but also on a street level so that there’s an en­gage­ment and in­ter­ac­tion with as many lev­els of so­ci­ety as pos­si­ble.

Es­pe­cially with young peo­ple. “It’s an or­ganic thing for me in that I grav­i­tate to­wards youth cul­ture and young peo­ple, maybe be­cause I’m a young soul and I just love the vibe and I love the fu­ture.”

Rhode’s per­for­mance, ‘The Force of Destiny’, will take place daily dur­ing the FNB Joburg Art Fair, at the Sand­ton Con­ven­tion Cen­tre from September 8 to 10. www.fn­bjobur­gart­fair.co.za

Pic­ture: Sim­phiwe Nk­wali

ON THEIR METTLE Robin Rhode, cen­tre, and fel­low per­for­mance artists Maxime Scheep­ers and Kevin Narain in Rhode’s Jun­gle Gym in­stal­la­tion.

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