Rolling On The Floor: An Interview With Renee Rhodes

February 13, 2013 · Print This Article

Renée Rhodes, Calibration Dances, (still), 2012. Single channel HD video. 8:30 mins.

Renée Rhodes, Calibration Dances, (still), 2012. Single channel HD video. 8:30 mins.

Some time in the 1990’s, two children named Jeffrey and Renée were dancing ballet in separate productions of The Nutcracker.  Jeffrey was performing in New Jersey, while Renée was performing in Florida.  Years later, these two kids would grow up to be young adults and their stars would align in graduate school at San Francisco Art Institute.

When Renée Rhodes and I started our friendship, her hair was no longer than 2 inches in length.  She captivated my interest with her performance-based artwork, utilizing a familiar language of dance that I always assumed was separate from the discourse of fine art.  She exposed me to her interests in Yvonne Rainer, Pina Bausch, and Jonah Bokaer.  Today, Renée and I jokingly prance around the city of San Francisco, hoping to one day choreograph our own piece for the world to see.

At the start of this interview with Renée for Bad at Sports, we sat down and watched a YouTube clip of Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle.  The clip reminded me of a ballet movement called croisé.

Renée: I think I’m losing my French ballet words.

Jeff: Uh oh.

R: Have you heard of Labanotation?

J: No!  What the hell is that?

R: It’s a method for movement notation created by Rudolf Laban. It’s a way of noting dance moves as a graphic score.

Rudolf Laban

Rudolf Laban



J: Have you used it before?

R: No, it’s very complicated.  You really have to study it and be trained to properly use it.  I’m more interested in the narrative and history of measuring the body in that way.

J: You’re so smart!

R: Are you mocking me?

J: No, but, before we started this interview, I thought I was going to open with, “Renée, your hair is so long”.

R: Oh God.  You know what else is long?  A Jacques Tati film.

Jacques Tati, Mon Oncle, (still), 1958.

Jacques Tati, Mon Oncle, (still), 1958.

J: Are they really long?

R: No, but there’s not very much dialogue, so it can feel really long, and kind of like a dance.  I like how he creates an alternative language out of gestures.

J: Have you taken a ballet class lately?

R: Nope, sure haven’t.

J: But ballet has been a huge part of your artistic practice, or at least, an influence, right?

R: Is this is a prompt?

J: Yes.

R: I was taking ballet classes mostly throughout childhood and high school life, and later started using that as creative material.  And back to Labanotation, the reason I brought that up was because ballet is another way of measuring how the body moves.  Ballet is a sort of geometry when you strip it of its fairytale narrative.  It’s about making shapes and forms in this sort of perfection.  So I guess I’m not really interested in perfecting my ability to make those shapes, but I’m interested in that sort of quest and narrative.  It’s very human to want to achieve formal perfection, and I see that in ballet and that’s interesting, and it’s something I’m critical of, too.

J:  I see formal perfection in an Abercrombie & Fitch ad.

R: Damn!  Anyway, I think that the idea of making forms and shapes with your body is a way of measuring your own body’s physical terrain.  But it’s also a way of measuring the space around your body, or the space that your body is in.  It’s a very abstract language, but I see it as a sort of cartography, which is itself an abstract representation of space.

Renée Rhodes, Maps for Moving Landscapes, (still), 2011. Installation with maps, books, and 2 channel video projection.

Renée Rhodes, Maps for Moving Landscapes, (still), 2011. Installation with maps, books, and 2 channel video projection.

Renée Rhodes, Maps for Moving Landscapes, (map), 2011. Installation with maps, books, and 2 channel video projection.

Renée Rhodes, Maps for Moving Landscapes, (map), 2011. Installation with maps, books, and 2 channel video projection.

Renée Rhodes, Muscle Map Hiking Club, 2012. Hike and movement workshop at the Headlands Center for the Arts that guided participants through a series of exercises for translating the landscape from visual data to embodied topological maps.

Renée Rhodes, Muscle Map Hiking Club, 2012. Hike and movement workshop at the Headlands Center for the Arts that guided participants through a series of exercises for translating the landscape from visual data to embodied topological maps.

J: Do you mean like Google Maps?  Is that a stupid question?

R: No!  Yes!  I love Google Maps because they make me totally confused!

J: How are Google Maps and ballet related?

R: They both operate on a fixed number of axis points in their movement.  They’re both very frontal.  It’s more about the grid — working on a grid system, and fixity that appears to be fluid.  With projects that I’m working on now, that ballet influence is there in a critical way.  I’m more interested in rolling around on the floor.

J: Isn’t that how we met in grad school?  We rolled into each other on the floor?

R: Yeah — fun icebreakers.

J: So what project are you working on now?

R: It’s called Navigating In a Whiteout.  There’s a lot of rolling on the floor.

J: I’ve never seen a ballerina roll on the floor.

R: (in theatrical voice) “It’s Modern Art, Jeffrey!”  Joking aside, it’s a more contemporary form of movement that starts with one simple movement phrase that is permutated along different axis points of the body.  It moves from the variation of the movement that’s just in the hands, to the version of the movement that happens through floor work, and then a version of the movement that’s for a body standing.

J: How did you arrive at this type of choreography?  Can I call it choreography?

R: Sure, you can.  I started the project by imagining myself as an explorer of Bouvet Island via Google Earth.  Bouvet Island is tiny and is the most remote island in the world.  It’s a place I’d never likely get to in any other way, but I spend a lot of time there!  I feel really familiar with the terrain and the topography on the island as if I have a memory of it.  That memory is now very visual and cerebral, and I am trying to figure out what my sense and physical memories are of that place.  The movement is a narrative about translating mediated landscape — about wandering through that terrain and transposing that topography onto my own body.

Renée Rhodes, Navigating In a Whiteout, (video backdrop still), 2013. Performance for 3 dancers, sound + video. 20 mins.

Renée Rhodes, Navigating In a Whiteout, (video backdrop still), 2013. Performance for 3 dancers, sound + video. 20 mins.

J: Whoa, so you’re like explorer and terrain all at once?

R: I think so!  When you navigate through a place, that terrain maps itself into your memory and onto your body.

J: How will this project manifest?

R: As a manifesto.

J: Are you serious?

R: No, but thanks for asking. It’s actually a performance for three dancers with four different movement sections, sound, and video.  It’s being presented during Scrawl at the Center for Drawing, which has a new monthly performance series created by Mimi Moncier.  Mimi’s idea is to present movement and performance-based works that loosely explore the idea of drawing.

J: Are you one of the three dancers?

R: Yes I am.

Renée Rhodes, Navigating In a Whiteout, (performance still), 2013. Performance for 3 dancers, sound + video. 20 mins.

Renée Rhodes, Navigating In a Whiteout, (performance still), 2013. Performance for 3 dancers, sound + video. 20 mins.

J: Can you share how you choreograph your work with the dancers?

R: I made all the choreography on my own, before meeting with them.  So that’s a lot of time alone in the studio, jumping around, rolling on the floor, and looking for movements that are compelling to me.  I’m also spending time with source material, which is the Google Earth footage through Bouvet Island.  I think it’s called making a tour in Google Earth.  You can save your movements in Google Earth as a data file and re-watch your expedition.  In terms of the dancers, I met Laurie Bramlage at a favorite dance class of ours, and Rosa Navarrete at a symposium at Z Lab UC Berkeley where I gave a presentation — or a “movement workshop,” if you want to be more specific.

J: I do not want to be more specific, thank you.

R: In this project, we had a really short amount of time to set the piece, so I wanted to make sure that I had all the movement ready.  There wasn’t a lot of time to experiment and change things.  It was a process of me demonstrating movement and them developing a memory of it.

J: Whoa, that was a beautiful way of explaining how any dancer probably learns how to dance.

R: (in kid voice) “I’m going to show you this move and you’re going to repeat it over and over until you remember it so we don’t have to use words anymore!”

Renée Rhodes, Navigating In a Whiteout, (performance still), 2013. Performance for 3 dancers, sound + video. 20 mins.

Renée Rhodes, Navigating In a Whiteout, (performance still), 2013. Performance for 3 dancers, sound + video. 20 mins.

J: What is “a short amount of time”?

R: We met four times.  It really feels like the beginning stages of a project, like it’s in a sketch phase or something.  This is atypical for me because I usually spend more time on things.  On the other hand, I performed a solo excerpt of it last week in Portland at Worksound Gallery.  It felt really good to get it out there.

J: I think that fast paced, “no-time” sense of urgency is actually quite precious, and for me, makes me work really strangely in a super productive way.

R: Yeah, I agree with that.  Sometimes it’s good to have limitations so I just don’t go off on every tangent.  So now I feel like I have a pretty solid framework for this project that I’d like to develop more in the future.  One of the ways I want to develop it more is to collaborate with the dancers more and create a responsive movement with them.  Right now, there are some moments with partnering work, and in the future, I’d like there to be more improvisational exploration of what that movement could be.

J: Renée, do you feel like you ever finish anything?

R: No.

Renée Rhodes’s Navigating In a Whiteout was presented last week as a part of Scrawl at the Center for Drawing in San Francisco on February 8th.  You can view her other artworks on her website:

Play By Play : What to Expect in the Coming Months

January 18, 2013 · Print This Article


I came on as the Managing Editor of the Bad at Sports blog about a month ago. It’s been an exciting turn and I hope to do well by it. A few people have asked what my vision going forward is, and I thought I might say something about it here. I hope to continue reflecting on the dynamic energy in Chicago’s contemporary art world while connecting to conversations and aesthetic agendas in other cities and disciplines. That agenda was set in place a while ago and I believe I can continue to guide and focus that intention. There is room for experimentation in that vision, which seems necessary to me. Bad at Sports has never presented a tidy, singular package and as such, I believe it would go against the nature of the project to filter content and tone through a single, editorial lens. Its roots in independent, DIY and Punk Rock collectivism remain at the heart of the project’s vitality and the blog is a platform for unique and individual voices that pass through the subject of contemporary art and culture. As such it becomes a nexus of concerns and responses to culture at large. That is something I hope to preserve under my stewardship. As an artist-run forum, Bad at Sports has the unique capacity to reflect on a host of subjects, exposing the intellectual, aesthetic and social networks that define and subsequently influence cultural production. I believe it is our job to explore and discuss the contexts we inhabit. In doing so, we further establish a living touchstone and future archive of contemporary discourse.

Some changes should be apparent already — others will fall into place like pieces of a puzzle in the coming months. The process is organic, but I’ve been trying to set up a casual, thematic architecture  that unfolds over the course of a given week. Eventually, I hope to schedule two posts a day, one before 2pm and one after. Built in to this, is room for special occasions and guest writers — those posts would either go live in the evenings, or fill in existing gaps. To that end I’ve been inviting a number of new writers, many of whom I have admired for a long time.

Here is something of a loose schedule:

Mondays: Essays and reflections from old favorites Jeriah Hildewin, Shane McAdams and Nicholas O’Brien — writers who have been posting with consistent dedication. In addition, I’m excited to announce a new bi-weekly column by Dana Bassett, whom you may know for her ACRE Newsletters.

Tuesdays are dedicated to three subjects: Performance, Social Practice, Language (or the performance thereof) and Object Oriented Ontology. Confirmed participants include longstanding contributor Abigail Satinsky and Mary Jane Jacob (Social Practice), Anthony Romero and João Florêncio (performance), Gene Tanta (language), Robert Jackson (OOO).

On Wednesdays, we will read about artists and art in other cities. The following writers will post on rotation: Jeffery Songco is covering the Bay Area, Sam Davis continues to represent Bad at Sports’ Los Angeles Bureau, Sarah Margolis-Pineo is writing about Portland. Juliana Driever will be relaying posts, interviews and artist profiles about New York, and then we’ll bring it back to the Midwest with Kelly Shindler’s dispatch from St. Louis, and Jamilee Polson Lacy writing about Kansas City.

Thursdays herald our illustrious Stephanie Burke’s Top 5 Weekend Picks and a new monthly contribution from author/translator Johannes Göransson whose writing you can also find here.

Fridays have been set aside for art reviews and artist profiles with contributions from Danny Orendoff, Monica Westin, Abraham Ritchie and myself.

WEEKENDS will feature a range and flux of the above, plus Brit Barton’s Endless Opportunities, cultural reflections and short essays by Terri Griffith, continued posts from Jesse Malmed, in addition to a monthly contribution from the newly confirmed Bailey Romaine and Adrienne Harris.

My last note is this — there is room in this schedule for additional posts, posts that would feature special events, festivals and conferences in the city. That space would also be available to, at times, connect the blog and the podcast. As a first indication of this, we will be highlighting IN>TIME, a performance festival that is going on as we speak, from January until March.

Otherwise if you have any comments, suggestions or, even guest posts you would like to submit, please feel free to contact me at:

Radical Lights

February 7, 2012 · Print This Article

I lived in San Francisco once. It sometimes feels distant now because I have even lived another place between there and here. San Francisco occupies an interesting place in the American imagination. Even though high rents and a sort of institutionalized and self-aware weirdness pervade much of the city, it is still, in fact, filled with oddballs, Peter Pans and visionaries. Its role in American culture is as a provocateur, a laboratory and a refuge. I think this is true and the city certainly thinks it’s true.

It was stirring, then, to see so much of San Francisco last week at Northwestern University’s Block Cinema screening of Stories Untold, one of over 20 different programs of (mostly) shorts under the umbrella of the Radical Light project. The project, whose full name is Radical Light: Alternative Film and Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945-2000, encompasses a large, brimming book, those 20-some programs of experimental media and a gallery exhibition at the Berkeley Museum of Art. The monumental exhibition was facilitated by curators/editors/programmers Steve Anker (now the Dean of the School of Film/Video at California Institute of the Arts, once of the San Francisco Cinematheque), Kathy Geritz and Steve Seid (Film and Video Curators at the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive,). Over the course of a decade, the three scholars and exhibitors wove together a history of alternative and experimental media notable for the quality, diversity and energy of the work.

The book teems with interesting essays, artist pages, personal reflections and histories and, ecstatically, loads of ephemera from various screenings. Cinema is an event and even when large institutions are involved (SFMOMA, SFAI, KQED and BAM/PFA all having played interesting roles in the development of Bay Area media), the works and culture in Radical Light’s purview are scrappy, marginal and rule-defying. Flyers from shows, dispatches from seminal organizations and photographs enliven the text and remind young guns that the culture has always been suffused with polymaths—artists as curators as critics as janitors as flyer-makers as audiences as artists—and that making a show is as simple and as complex as making a show.

On Thursday February 16th, the excellent Conversations at the Edge series at the Gene Siskel Film Center brings Steve Anker and the New Preservation/New Prints program. The program features works from 1906 to 1984. A number of these films and some of their makers—for me, at least—fall under the “seen about but haven’t seen” category. Making this an even bigger treat is that these films have been well preserved and new prints have been struck. For all the great benefits of increased online visibility of canonical (and forgotten) experimental film history, the joy of seeing these works in a proper cinematic context and in their correct format is immense. You can watch Oh, Dem Watermelons by the recently deceased Robert Nelson below, but you’re better served just tasting it here and letting your interest be sated by real thing.

One week later, CATE brings us George Kuchar: HotSpell. I love Kuchar’s work, especially the video diaries he began to make in the 1980s. Ed Halter wrote this lovely piece on Kuchar for Artforum and I think it perfectly sums up what makes his work so endlessly watchable. The work is funny, smart and messy. It’s about cinematic representation and camp and biography and the weather while still mostly being about that moment. Halter nails it nicely: “cinema à la Kuchar pivoted on the dialectic between overblown fantasy and schlumpy reality, the films always working double time as documentaries of their own making.”

Then, on Friday the 24th, Chicago Filmmakers hosts Radical Light’s Found Footage Films program. The Bay Area has had a long entanglement with collage and appropriative filmmaking. This program is of particular interest to me now because of the (seeming,) (current,) wholesale mainstream embrace of borrowed images. The ease of digital editing and prevalence of moving image media has enabled entire new folk arts of super-cuts, stretched videos and detourned mass media. Bring a teenage friend who’s never heard of Craig Baldwin or who can’t imagine what a debate about sampling would even be and see if the works’ radical histories can still be felt.

(Thad Povey‘s Thine Inward-Looking Eyes)

I had the privilege of helping bring some of Radical Light to Portland last year and with it Steve Seid. Among the great joys were meeting Loren Sears (the book is almost worth its price just for the picture of him from Bolinas in 1973 sitting cross-legged in his Video Van, a mobile video editing and processing station replete with patterned rugs and a lingering hippie/techno-utopian/media shaman vibe that feels quintessentially Bay Arean), having the chance to learn even more secrets than were divulged in the book and, if it isn’t too horn-tooting to admit, to participate in Seid’s reading by doing a performative reading as Kuchar, one of the few impressions I can do. Kuchar’s presence was all over last week’s screening and remains one of the many vital personalities Radical Light teases into the large, varied, tangential and fascinating tape-stry of a half century of inventive cinema.

Episode 174: Lawrence Rinder

December 28, 2008 · Print This Article

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downloadLarry Rinder

This week Patricia and Brian chat with Lawrence Rinder, currently the director of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Previously he was the Dean at California College of the Arts, curated for the Whitney Museum of American Art, and founded the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art at CCA. He has curated numerous exhibitions including the 2002 Whitney Bienial. In this conversation, they discuss BAMPHA’s new building, arts education, the future of the museum, and the Bay Area art community. At the end Larry agrees to come back on the show in the future to discuss all the curatorial projects in his past thay didn’t have time to discuss. Read more