Jason Rhoades
My Madinah
In pursuit of my ermitage...

Past Exhibition 13 Jun – 12 Sep 2004 Hauser & Wirth Collection


The installation ‘My Madinah. In pursuit of my ermitage… extends throughout the Roundhouse and turns the entire exhibition space into a single situation with coloured lights and towels, electrified lines and words.

‘My Madinah’ is the hitherto most important stage of an adventure which began some years ago in the United States, when Jason Rhoades travelled from Los Angeles to Mecca, east-south-east going towards Mexico. In this little place, not far from Salton Sea, Rhoades came up with a plan, namely to make a centre for his own art at this very spot, an ‘ermitage’ comprising elements from various projects – both realised and as yet unrealised – from the visions, modus operandi and narratives that they generated, and from all those ‘suggestions’ that the new sign ‘Mecca’ would offer in the future. Last year preparations had reached the point where it was possible to present the exhibition Meccatuna in the David Zwirner Gallery, New York, in which a small group of forms was activated – including a Kaaba and a first series of Lights. The Roundhouse in St. Gallen is not only the setting for the next step. The old locomotive shed itself – as an example of ideal architecture – has been incorporated into the functioning of the plan; on its own coordinates it figures as a model of the structure to be built in the desert landscape by Salton Sea. Or to put it more precisely: the present exhibition projects it there.

So ‘My Madinah’ is ‘medial’: it is designed as a bipolar transmission and reception station. A tantalising game with glowing conjurations flows into the exhibition space, filling the interior with every possible colour frequency of neon, penetrating it right into the last detail of its exterior skin, completely absorbing it in its entirety and transferring this design to Mecca, California. The more than one thousand lights under the ceiling – the main element in this Median Transfer – send all the energy available in this building out into the interior, so that, in return, they can absorb every aspect of the spatial conditions for a one-to-one reconstruction in Mecca. In the best case scenario, by the end of the exhibition the building would no longer be visible in Switzerland.

The process of this substance-light-interchange will take the whole summer, right up until the last day of the exhibition and is dependent on the support of the exhibition visitors, for whom a special type of carpet – made using the Spukaki technique – has been laid on the floor. Each visitor is invited to sit or lie down and to rest. The visitor’s surrender to the light and the space will accompany the flow of the transfer like the wizard’s hand in the puppet.

Readers with an interest and background in art history can – as they gaze up at the lights under the ceiling – not only recognise Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Etant donnés’ (Given: 1. The Waterfall / 2. The Illuminating Gas), but also its older sister ‘L’origine du monde’ by Gustave Courbet. Picture-words for the female genitals hang throughout the exhibition space in every imaginable colour and formulation. And as in the ‘Origin of the World’, the most important production for the life of the human species enters into an exchange with the intensest powers of attraction and of imagination of its two poles, so, too, in each new light the word that shall be nameless is multiplied and lost.

Jason Rhoades found a total of 1724 expressions used in English for the female genitals, a figure that takes us to the half-way point of the more fortunate half of the century of Enlightenment, the year when Immanuel Kant was born. No doubt an extremely dry spirit, he also had one of the brightest minds in the entire epoch, thinking out a new transcendence which – following in his tracks – was to free itself of the old veils of religion. Exactly two hundred years ago he died with the words ‘Es ist gut’. This dapper gentleman in Königsberg is celebrated by the lights of Madinah as is the gate to the cave of birth, and it was this picture that embodied the first signs of culture and art forty to sixty thousand years ago; a picture – take the word ‘cunt’ in English – that still seems to be hovering on the threshold of the unsayable.

The accompanying programme of films includes one with a legendary figure, dreamt up in the 1970s: Emmanuelle. Since she first appeared, the gentle enlightenment of the heroine has had endless ramifications in stories and faces beyond the control of her inventors, like the story of the life of the Prophet Mohammed, which was put together from the most diverse voices. Even the name, or rather, the letters of the word ‘Emmanuelle’ started to wander on her behalf, and these were taken up in the framework of ‘My Madinah’, so that they might approach the sequence laid down by the name of the prophet. The path of his enlightenment is in any case similar to the tests she faced.

In the illuminated space in St. Gallen, there will also be a fine book on display, where all 1724 synonyms are available in a legible form. It is conceived as a ‘manual’, that is to say, it is intended to be explored by the tips of people’s fingers, in the same way that Braille texts are read. The book ‘1724 • Birth of the Cunt’ – published by Silverbridge in Paris in an edition of 172 + 4 – sheds light on the ‘written’ context of the work in an essay by Gianfranco Sanguinetti, ‘La Chatte, hier et aujourd’hui’, which reminds us how long the pussy – as the muse of poetry – squandered her bounty before she fell into the hands of the economists. Since then, it is not only language that has become a playing field for the censors; nowadays pleasure only derobes for an exercise with the proviso that control should be mutual – and with the much vaunted exhortation to go at it as though it were some very profitable business. Honi soit que personne n’y voir.

‘My Madinah’ can therefore most certainly be regarded as a sacred place, or as though one were entering a mosque, the setting for a reflection of the salvation of humankind and a station in a magical transference on waves of light, which with its art is to perform a miracle that all visitors are invited to share in – thereby assisting in the materialisation of an extremely personal vision of the artist.

Which only leaves – for oblivion – a small pointer: at the opening a cocktail will be on offer, the so-called ‘Funky Cold Medina’, which is reputed to pack a rather dangerous punch. As the rapper Tone Loc knows only too well, it takes your senses – unusually quickly and almost unseeingly – to the very edge of the ‘origin of the world’, or to one of its three- or four-legged chimeras. It is well known, that those under its influence are particularly keenly aware of the orbit of the Earth around the Sun.

(Roberto Ohrt)

Jason Rhoades (b. 1965) is represented in the Hauser & Wirth Collection with important installations and sculptures. Some of his works – ‘Uno Momento/The Theatre in My Dick/A Look to the Physical/Ephemeral’ (1996), ‘Blue Room’ and ‘Love Seat’ (1995) and ‘Spaceball’ (1997) – have already been seen in earlier selections from the Collection in the Roundhouse in St. Gallen. This year’s presentation, a solo show by Jason Rhoades – ‘My Madinah. In pursuit of my ermitage…’ – has been specially conceived for and in response to the Roundhouse. At the same time it is also part of an evolving, on-going project by the artist which will continue to take shape in future exhibitions.

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About the artist

Jason Rhoades (1965 – 2006) is known for monumental, room-filling installations. These idiosyncratic sculptures incorporate a wide range of objects including products of mass culture combined with hand-made items and biographical references. Drawing on the history of assemblage, Rhoades imbues his materials…

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