Lehmann Maupin is pleased to present having been there, Robin Rhode’s debut exhibition in Hong Kong. Continuing the artist’s engagement with complex social and political issues, this exhibition also explores Rhode’s notions of permanence and ephemerality as seen through his unique marks and gestures. In addition to a selection of photographic works and wall drawings, Rhode will premiere a new animation created specifically for his Hong Kong exhibition.
Rhode, who was born in South Africa and is based in Berlin, engages a variety of visual forms including photography, performance, drawing, and stop-motion animation to create engaging and poignant narratives. Rhode’s experience as a member of one of the first post-apartheid generations in South Africa has been a major influence on his work, leading him to approach topics such as poverty and violence from a personal perspective. His work features imagery of everyday and consumer objects, such as paper clips, light bulbs, and champagne flutes, found in desolate urban settings as a reference to his upbringing, but also to broader universal ideas including desire, luxury, and the influx of consumerism into South African society. Working within the contexts of Johannesburg and Berlin—cities undergoing significant social and political changes—Rhode’s artworks embrace a vibrant spontaneity and are infused with both the language of the street and the dynamics of body-based performance art of the 1970s.
The exhibition title is a reference to a quotation of cultural theorist Roland Barthes who wrote, referencing the depiction of photographic subjects, “photography set up, not a perception of the being there of an object...but a perception of its having been there.” Rhode’s photographs, in which he increasingly appears, though often in disguise, explore this idea further. By inserting himself into the photographic image and through his mark making, Rhode creates records and traces of “having been there.”
In addition to photographic pieces, the exhibition includes a selection of wall drawings, created first in vinyl and subsequently drawn over in oil crayon. Highlighting Rhode’s focus on spontaneity and gesture, these works capture the playful spirit of his practice. As with the photographs, these works reinforce the exhibition’s central theme, replicating traces and references of the imagery featured in Rhode’s photographs upon the gallery’s walls.
Rhode has also created a new animation that examines aspects of established Chinese myths, weaving a tale of struggle, of growth, and ultimately of evolution. Highlighting themes frequently referenced in the artists’ work such as reinvention and transformation, this animation refines Rhode’s relationship to a medium with which he is often associated.