“Grounding Robin Rhode” with Maltz-Leca
Leora Maltz-Leca (Assistant Professor, HAVC) was invited to speak at a conference run by the Arts Council of the African Studies Association.
The conference focused around issues in traditional and contemporary African art. Maltz-Leca spoke at a panel titled “PERFORMING PLACE: PSYCHOLOGICAL ENVIRONMENTS AND CONTINGENT SITES” which was chaired by Prof Ruth Simbao of Rhodes University, South Africa and Gemma Rodrigues of UCLA’s Fowler Museum. The panel had a southern African focus, and addressed the interplay between environment and performance in contemporary art, especially the way in which certain artists are using landscape to frame performance.
Maltz-Leca’s paper, titled “Grounding Robin Rhode” suggested that there is something afoot with Robin Rhode’s grounds. Painted olive green and red, scumbled and stained, veined with cracks and guarded by shadows, they oscillate, shake and flip. He, in turn, hugs, crawls and “rides” them, embracing walls and floors, or spurning them with exaggerated gestures of refusal. Unflagging in his attention to his working spaces, the artist’s plays with ground appear to be wittily emphasized by the array of games he enacts upon their varied surfaces: table tennis, juggling and dice, skateboarding, and basketball. Lilliputian figures perform these pranks and capers, flailing and flying across the artist’s painterly grounds, their incremental gestures photographically tracked, then gridded together and arrayed across a wall. Yet the spatialization of time that happens in these storyboards of repeated geometries and suspended movement hinges less on these moving figures than on a miniaturizing and repetition of ground, as the photograph reiterates itself stutteringly across a wall from eight to a hundred times. Drawing on painterly rhetorics of figure and ground – and especially the unmoored, rotational fantasies of early abstraction – Rhodes seizes on these formal tensions to gesture to other pressures: specifically the fraught relationship of the emigrant artist to his generative context, the urban ground of Johannesburg.