Rhonda Holberton: YOU BECAUSE FREE INSTANTLY NEW

Shotgun Review

Rhonda Holberton: YOU BECAUSE FREE INSTANTLY NEW

By Amanda N. Simons September 14, 2014

Pro Arts Gallery in downtown Oakland is currently host to YOU BECAUSE FREE INSTANTLY NEW, a 2 x 2 Solos exhibition of work by Rhonda Holberton, curated by FICTILIS.1 Mere footsteps from the former epicenter of Occupy Oakland’s nightly clashes with police, Holberton’s work serves as a critical commentary and an eerie reminder of the (sometimes camouflaged) structures of authority that govern civilian life. The exhibition is a series of visual iterations on military technology, consumer culture, and concealment, in the form of textiles, video and sound installations, computer-aided sculpture, and product design.

All the Actors Have Withdrawn (2014) is a digital video projected onto a frosted acrylic panel placed upright on a pedestal. The video depicts a gray-toned, three-dimensional rendering of what appears to be three nude female figures melding into a single conjoined form. Arms, elbows, and fists protrude outward at various angles in combat-like stances. The image rotates upon a central point to reveal a 360-degree view of this grainy, broken, and disintegrating form frozen in space. While the pedestal, figurative form, and rotation at first call reference to classical bronze sculpture, the momentum of the rotation suggests a deeper intent that challenges classical conventions. With less emphasis placed upon the aesthetics of the object, All the Actors Have Withdrawn depicts, rather, a violent conflict carefully paused at an opportune moment.

But the piece itself is only half the experience. The projector from which the video emanates is mounted above the piece and is directed at the viewer. Its lens is carefully taped to reveal just a slit of light that shines and flickers uncomfortably downward. As I stood there, I found myself conflicted. Instinct and experience said to move away from the voyeuristic projector lens, at the risk of being unable to experience the work, but the video’s movement called me to stay put. Such a conflict raises the question, at what point do we sacrifice our personal privacy for the sake of participating in or even simply experiencing contemporary culture? Or, in light of contemporary government surveillance, are we even afforded such a choice today?

Like the content it addresses, Holberton’s work is surprisingly subtle and strategic in its execution. The exhibition’s carefully curated objects—flowing ponchos, perfume bottles, and digitally rendered wallpaper—reference our everyday lives with a comfortable familiarity. With time, the initial ease one might feel dissipates as the camouflaged works reveal themselves: video masked as reality, war marketed as fashion, and an installation that brands gallery-goers not as passive recipients of the works’ messages, but rather as active participants, implicated by their very presence in the space.

Rhonda Holberton. YOU BECAUSE FREE INSTANTLY NEW, 2014; installation view; Pro Arts Gallery, Oakland, California. Courtesy of the Artist and Pro Arts Gallery.

YOU BECAUSE FREE INSTANTLY NEW is on view at Pro Arts, in Oakland, through September 19, 2014.

Notes

  1.  FICTILIS is the collaborative practice of Andrea Steves and Timothy Furstnau.

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