Ahead of the next national touring exhibition Criminal Ornamentation opening later this month, Beth Hughes, Curator, Arts Council Collection explores the work of Lis Rhodes, who features in the exhibition. 'It is dangerous to step out of line - and lethal not to.' Lis Rhodes
Since the early 1970s, Lis Rhodes has been a pioneer of avant-garde film in Britain. She is a founding member of the women’s film and video distribution company Circles, established in 1979, which was set up to address how women filmmakers had been marginalised. Due to their abstract visual language Rhodes’ films defy description, words cannot touch the visceral experience of her carefully crafted combination of sound and image. In an article published in Frieze magazine in 2012, Rhodes describes how the American writer Gertrude Stein’s masterful deconstruction of structured language infiltrates her work. “She [Stein] unravels syntax”, and indeed in her own work, Rhodes unravels the film format.
Stein’s words take centre stage in Light Reading (1978), a work acquired by the Arts Council Collection in 2015. The film begins with darkness as a woman’s voice reads extracts written by Stein. When the voice stops, a loose narrative takes shape from a series of collaged photographs, including one of a bloodstained bed. The soundtrack encourages us to look and look again, words pointing to image and the image referring back to the words in a cyclical, mutually dependant relationship.