STEPHEN G. RHODES, ‘THE ELEVENTH HOBBY’, VILMA GOLD GALLERY, LONDON

by thomasmagnahastings

Mark-Blower-141203-Stephen-G-Rhodes-Vilma-Gold-0042

Walk down Minerva St. in Bethnal Green and you will detect the crescendo of a Church organ locked into the armature of a contemporary art gallery. Like an intervention stripped of its divinity, this streeted goddess of wisdom; sponsor of arts and craft, magic and medicine, will be in residence at Vilma Gold Gallery till 24th January 2015.

The Eleventh Hobby is the latest offering from Stephen G. Rhodes, a Berlin-based artist whose practice is hard to place. In fact, Rhodes’ practice feels more like a contusion of places that mocks any person’s desire for sound judgment. Typically, this artist mines cultural fields in search of stuff that is obviously wrong or historically misplaced, and feeds the resultant mess through a mediatic tunnel of green screens and slipshod wooden constructions. The end product is consistently thrilling and troubled – think Paul McCarthy strung to an insomniac’s clock – and this showing is certainly no exception to the contumely.

The Eleventh Hobby comprises a walk-in installation; two totemic floor sculptures; a series of wall-mounted collage works and, finally, a vertiginous loop that orchestrates your body like an in-store experience, drawing the host of discrete objects into one melodramatic play.

The exhibition’s title refers to Hobby Lobby, a chain of retail arts and crafts stores with headquarters located in Oklahoma City. Last summer, this family-run purveyor of leisure took offense to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (2010), which enshrines unconditional access to the morning-after pill in company law. Hobby Lobby sued federal government after the U.S. Supreme Court quashed their lawsuit, winning temporary exemption through a loophole in the Constitution. Meanwhile another loophole is exploited on the other side of town, as The Church of Satan prepares to mount a statue of Baphomet mit Kind…

On the occasion of The Eleventh Hobby, Stephen G. Rhodes explores the identity of all loopholes through a multifarious address to the “Holy Trinity” of state, church and commodity exchange. The holier-than-thou Hobby Lobby is imagined to be of the Devil’s party, in what looks like El Lissitsky’s Proun Room fed through the basement of Berghain, or Oklahoma chewed up by Berlin. In the centre of the gallery space there stands a semi- fabricated shop, with pegboard walls housing a stock of replica commodities; including tiny voodoo-like mannequins wrapped in plastic, inverted crucifixes, rainbow motifs and scrapbook juxtapositions of vicar strippers and a repro Obama. Amidst this Black Friday window-shopping carnage sits a dilapidated generator-powered mattress set to “auto- hump”—a fitting altarpiece. Two erotically displaced projectors throw footage of a Hobby Lobby store interior, spliced with soft televisual hooks.

Rhodes’ customer is invited to walk around this self-contained installation, and by so doing, to enter into orbit with a Dantean circle of 60s art historical offcuts. Two floor mirrors swim anamorphically across the cast concrete; a school of surveillance pictures remembers Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas with a nod to Rhodes’ détournement on this figure last year in Zurich; while the aforementioned projections jet through the pegboards’ circular holes, creating a filmic physiology in the vein of Stan Brakhage.

Stephen G. Rhodes’ The Eleventh Hobby recognises something seriously, insolubly wrong. It is funny in the way that American civil politics can be funny. But like the eternally humping mattress, the long night’s ease of laughter is quickly exhausted. Ultimately, this work is unremittingly realist because it tackles head-on the surreal logic of contemporary politics.

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