Lucy Jackson – 1 September, 2017
It is obvious from the first moment that 'Rough Rough' is not about individual pieces, but about the whole space, the material, visual and mental links made between artworks. Rhofir speaks about how galleries can be likened to hospitals, each artwork/patient waiting to be deemed good/bad and moved along. Galleries can be intimidating places, not only for people who don't visit them often, but also for people who do.
1 August-25 August 2017
When walking into The Engine Room, I was met by a chair and a desk. Lining the entrance to the gallery, they were not ‘the real thing’ but rather sketches turned into sculptures, silhouettes only, made out of canvas blown up like pool inflatables.
Rough Rough shows the movement from a rough sketch on paper to an imagined 3D version. French artist, Soraya Rhofir, was the recipient of Massey University’s Te Whare Hēra Artist Residency programme from January to June 2017. Her previous work mostly consists of print collages focusing on pop culture. Rough Rough moves from this into a new space.
As a temporary visitor living in New Zealand, Rhofir realised the differences between France and New Zealand, absorbing these ideas into her artwork. I had the opportunity to speak with her when I visited the gallery, and it was obvious from our encounter that she had no shortage of ideas. Rough Rough pulls them from politics, gender and science-fiction, as well as considering spatial arrangements and the role of the visitor in artistic interpretation.
It was clear during my first walk around the gallery without Rhofir’s commentary, that she had thought carefully about the space her work inhabited. Sculptures line the walls, dominate the floor, hang from the ceiling and so forth. I‘m reluctant to call it an exhibition (as that can bring up notions of the white cube space); rather it is an experience—as if by visiting we are walking into a different world, or land. As I walk through, sculptures unfold like pop-up books, sculptures merge with each other, and others come apart.
Not only does Rhofir play with notions of 2D versus 3D in Rough Rough, but also materiality. She tricks us: what appears to be plaster is really foam, bouncing around when you touch it. What appears light is heavy; what is usually used for a building or electrical function unexpectedly enters the space and mixes with more conventional art materials.
While walking around the room, I had to be exceptionally alert and spatially aware. Everywhere I stood I had to think about my own bodily space in relation to the works (walking through a door sideways), making sure not to fall onto them, or walk into protruding sticks (which at a distance, looked like flat painted black lines) coming out of the walls. This assessment of where I stood in the gallery made me aware of not only the physical space I bodily occupied, but also the mental space I needed to decode the exhibition.
A myriad of black lines swept across the walls and the inner sanctum of the gallery. A constant, these black lines both joined and separated the artworks, depending on where you were standing, what angle you were looking from, and your position in the gallery. Rhofir has considered her visitors and their part in her experiment. Not only is it her exhibition, but everyone else’s as well.
After walking around the exhibition once, I felt favourable about the exhibition, and then bumped into the artist who briefly explained that the sculptures are based on a rough sketch that has been brought to life—almost like the story of Pinocchio who sprang to life from a wooden toy. The black lines of Rhofir’s exhibition are in mid movement: although inanimate they have a life of their own.
As I move from one side of the room to another, I do not experience the exhibition the same way. What looked like a black flat line becomes something different, revealing itself in minute details.
Rough Rough is reminiscent of Rhofir’s time spent in New Zealand. She explains the realisations she has had in New Zealand, and how they have been translated into her work. They may be small notions, such as the process of a welding material that she had not been exposed to in France, using a hāngi bag as the background of a collage about alienation, or presenting a kite, alluding to windy weather.
Facing the wind is a sculptural collage placed on the back wall. Made of a geometric pattern that alludes to Wellington architecture, there are also digitally printed aliens, bringing together her love of science-fiction and her experience of being a foreigner in a new country. She speaks about feeling like an alien in this land, and the nuances of feeling isolated. The adjacent artwork features different images of women, in wheelchairs, as cave people/apes, or pseudo-Picasso sketches. Rhofir tells me that in her opinion, New Zealand women are treated differently than in France. She says women in New Zealand are strong.
Rhofir’s interest in science-fiction and politics is evident from the details of her art. In one sculptural collage is an image of the White House, with the Flintstones standing in front—insinuating the return to the stone age due to recent political changes. Conspiracy Hessian Alien Bag, made from a hāngi bag, has further links to aliens and science fiction. Hi Visibility Cape is an artwork for now, but will later become a costume in her science-fiction film.
It is obvious from the first moment that Rough Rough is not about individual pieces, but about the whole space, the material, visual and mental links made between artworks. Rhofir speaks about how galleries can be likened to hospitals, each artwork/patient waiting to be deemed good/bad and moved along. Galleries can be intimidating places, not only for people who don’t visit them often, but also for people who do. I am a perfect example. Rhofir’s work negates this feeling of intimidation.
Rhofir explains that the title of the exhibition, Rough Rough, is inspired by the musicality of language once you stop trying to translate and just listen to the sounds of the words. It also alludes to the rough sketch on the page, the sound of a dog, but also the amount of times we as New Zealander’s say ‘rough’.
Her art reinforces the importance of seeing our country through another lens, as things that seem mundane to us may actually be special. Rough Rough is a perfect example of a space that has not been considered only for the viewing purposes of art goers. Depending on where we stand and what we see, we will draw different connections and interpretations. Rhofir’s work is and is not 2D or 3D; it is both, yet neither. Rough Rough considers the visitor both physically and emotionally, and casts us into a new dimension.
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