For Stephen Greer Rhodes, his work, currently on view at Misako & Rosen gallery in Tokyo, documents the “agriculture of freedom”— a freedom that is constantly undermined by the cultivation of extremely strange and convoluted forces.
This concept stems from the inspiration of American hardware store Hobby Lobby, but it doesn’t necessarily stop there. Satanism, the occult and British mountain climber (and itinerant occultist) Aleister Crowley, along with a self-interest group seeking a civilized end to human civilization, all pepper the Rhodes’s conceptual landscape. A crisis of ethos that is at the center of a Rhodes exhibition entitled The Twelf Hobby : Lober xxbbyj, Religious Freedom Sex Magick, addresses wider issues of power, leadership, representation and, indeed, animation.
Born in Houston, Texas, and raised in the neighboring state of Louisiana, Rhodes now lives and works in Berlin, and much of his work revolves around collecting and then re-situating materials bought from the United States and elsewhere—as is the case with The Twelf Hobby. The installation is also accompanied by a short film featuring imagery that takes a stab at the contradicting relationship between religion and sex. He documents the ways the two concepts interlace, and how they are responsible for each others perversions, through an abstract assembly of found objects and the archival records of their collection process.
This sense of “craft” and his other manifestations of “craft-ism”—diagrams and symbols that spirit dark forces—speaks of Rhodes’s interest in conversing and collaborating with the undead or “undead” objects, and things from the past that now occupy the present. Through an exploration of the “dark arts,” Hobby Lobby as a notion is extended beyond the home and into the territory of commercial retail space, with the thin and contentious line between the two different ideas drawn out through collage, painting, mural-making and sculpture—all in a twisted dedication to what might arguably be the world’s worst home-improvement store.
Rhodes is quick to highlight hypocrisy and laugh at the irony that exist in the public domain. His installation Who Farted?!!?… (Interregnum), which was first shown at the Prospect.1 New Orleans art festival in 2008, was intentionally staged during that year’s US Presidential campaign. The stage show of life-like animatronic figures at Florida Disney World’s Hall of Presidents are recreated through film and other materials, and presented it at Prospect.1 to coincide with the week of Halloween. Who Farted best represents the constant tug-of-war of reality and fantasy in contemporary culture, depicting real subjects as works of fiction and vice versa.
In The Twelf Hobby, the hardware store chain that it is based on has come to represent a series of conflicting freedoms. Its encouragement of creativity and free enterprise come in sharp contrast to the company’s strong opposition to gay marriage, premarital sex and contraception. The human body is seen as commercial territory, with mothers regarded as “primary targets,” employees as “servants” and shoppers encouraged to consume with “creative frenzy.”
In direct contrast to Hobby Lobby is VHEMT or the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, which sees the family unit as being in literal crisis. In The Twelf Hobby, the movement’s logo, “Thank you for not Breeding,” sits printed on Hobby Lobby fabric, alongside pentagrams and other satanic imagery, as if to say that their beliefs are dependent on each others survive.
Rhodes also fills the gallery with intentionally banal, yet strangely comforting background music to represent the worst aspect of consumerism. At one level the sound is therapeutic. A muffled anonymous voice emanates from underneath a mattress installed at the middle of the gallery. Whether the words spoken are designed to sooth or evoke the spirit of Crowley conjuring spirits remains to be seen; but they are nonetheless hypnotic.
For his previous show “The Eleventh Hobby,” which was held earlier this year at London’s Vilma Gold Gallery, Rhodes created a space of carnal exploration, “pride and lust” and “weird exemption.” His current exhibit in Tokyo, “The Twelf Hobby,” is about “weird freedom”—the power, suspicion, greed, envy and right to limit the freedom of others—though the show makes little or no attempt to explain itself in these terms. Yet seen as a space of representation, it’s possible to imagine that The Twelf Hobby explores the human body as a territory of questionable freedom, where its natural development and growth is actively limited or negated by the morality of others.
The installation could been seen as a shifting map that charts how politics and culture are at odds with one another, and aimed at encouraging one to have an attitude of ownership and self-expression when faced with double standards within society. On entering the real world, such self-expression is often confronted by ridiculous and outdated social obstacles that seem to merely exist to limit and edit it. Yet at the heart of all this is something much clearer. In Rhodes’s depiction of history and fiction as subjective experiences, the two concepts openly undermine each other through clever and insightful juxtaposition. They point out how the extremely strange and convoluted forces—of home-improvement stores, opposing religious groups that battle both the law and each other to erect competing monuments, and special interest groups that see no future in their own existence—that seek to undermine the individual are no less immune to societal vice, like promiscuity, deviance or, indeed, misrepresenting the law to suit their own spiritual or financial purpose.
Stephen G. Rhodes’ s “The Twelf Hobby : Lober xxbbyj, Religious Freedom Sex Magick” is on view at Misako & Rosen, Tokyo, until June 21, 2015.