Jason Rhoades: 1:12 Perfect World

This review of Rhoades Hauser and Wirth exhibition was published in Art Monthly issue 341 November 2010

Installation shot Hauser and Wirth

‘1:12 Perfect World’, the first solo European exhibition of Jason Rhoades’s work since his death in 2006, is a strange affair. Departing from the high-puerility of his previous installation at Hauser & Wirth London (The Black Pussy… and the Pagan Idol Workshop, 2005), ‘1:12 Perfect World’ is a scaled down (to 1/12 of its original size) reimagining of his mega sculpture Perfect World, 1999. Originally installed across Deichtorhallen Hamburg’s 15,000sqft gallery space with its 80-ft-high ceilings, the centrepiece of the current installation is a kind of miniaturised meta-sculpture, previously constructed so that Rhoades could survey the entire installation. Consisting of this work – also titled 1:12 Perfect world, 2000 – and a number of actual artefacts from the exhibition in 1999, ‘1:12 Perfect World’ is an exhibition of an exhibition; a display haunted by the spectre of its own subject matter.

In the centre of Hauser & Wirth’s main room, a complex scaffold of miniature aluminium rods sits atop large, flat, glass islands, which are in turn placed upon plastic kettledrums. On top of the aluminium rods, little triangular slabs of wood are placed and in turn covered with miniature Persian rugs and laminated photographs of the grass in Rhoades’s fathers’ back garden. In the original staging, this second level of photographs was of a much larger size, representing a kind of Edenic space high above ground, which Rhoades – by virtue of a hydraulic lift – could continue his work upon. A walk around the periphery of the sculpture reveals other types of machinery – photocopiers, laminators, looms – and a kind of narrative of unfinished business, of an industrial process abandoned in full flow, begins to emerge. To help navigate the cat’s cradle of ideas and objects present in 1:21 Perfect World, 2000, a sketchbook of concepts, completed before the original 1999 sculpture, is on hand to be leafed through. Approximately 400 pages of notes in Xerox Book From Perfect World, 1999, reveal Rhoades’s preoccupation with ascension and descension, dividing and divining levels of meaning; sober ruminations undercut by sentences of spontaneous vulgarity, such as ‘my pussy looks like a slice of pizza’.

In the same room, View from Below (Guernica), 2000, is a floor plan of the jagged wooden triangles that make up the second floors ‘perfect world’ platform. Seen from below, the haphazard array of triangles – now coloured white against a sky blue background – collapse into each other to form small constellations of constructivist abstraction. What becomes unsettling is the sustained referencing of an artwork that we will never get to see, but which we are led to believe was far superior to what is placed before us. Each work wears its negation on its sleeve, being simultaneously unable to transport us back to the original 1999 sculpture, while failing to transcend its lot as a mere signpost to a greater work.

On the second floor landing area, Original Schlange from Perfect World in a Mephisto Shoe Box, 2000, the first of two oversized Mephisto shoeboxes from the original Perfect World has its lid open with a long Schlange running along the corridor and eventually penetrating Hauser and Wirth’s American Room. Inside, a 15-inch flat-screen monitor, mounted to look like a framed photograph, displays black and white stills of the original installation in 1999, alongside Sound Piece (Duet for Hammond and Hammond), 2000, a network of MiniDisc players, iPods and speakers playing sound excerpts also from the original work. These are artworks as tautological networks.

The most satisfying encounter during this hauntological journey is with a piece singled out as ‘not an artwork by Rhoades’. Buried in the basement vault room, a much-dubbed VHS video of the original 1999 installation is projected. In front of this is Recession Era Perfect World Park Bench, 2001, a bench made out of the same cold, polished aluminium used as scaffold poles in the video. Showing the sculpture from multiple angles, the sensation of vertigo overtakes me as I’m drawn into the handheld video tour. Watching the jump-cut footage of workers assembling the massive structure, hearing the clang of metal on metal and being able to feel the coldness and consistency of the material, in my hands, enabled the kind of embodied revisitation the other works could only hint at. Who cares if the sign on the door says it’s ‘not an artwork … but is archival material compiled and edited by the Estate of Jason Rhoades’? I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.

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