Artist Profile: Lis Rhodes

1 September 2018

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.



Similarly, in describing her seminal work Dresden Dynamo, Rhodes says “the image is the sound the sound the image”; the relationship between the two is inseparable. This 10 minute 16mm film was made without a camera, the film strip physically crafted as the artist applied stickers to the film and recorded the sound made by friction on the surface of the celluloid. The film strip itself becomes the object and not just the platform. Dresden Dynamo will feature in the ACC’s forthcoming exhibition Criminal Ornamentation: Yinka Shonibare MBE curates the Arts Council Collection, a large-scale touring exhibition which looks at the social and political connotations of pattern in contemporary art. 


Regarding the inclusion of this work in the exhibition, Rhodes replied “in Dresden Dynamo I think that I was using pattern as way of undoing the structurally misleading relationship between the image and the sound track in most commercial film.” In the commercial film industry what you hear and what you see may, in combination, be misleading but in Rhodes’ films they are wedded codependents and it is in this relationship that we glimpse the visual qualities of sound.

Beth Hughes
Curator, Arts Council Collection


The Arts Council Collection is the UK's most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art.

With more than 8,000 works by over 2,000 artists, it can be seen in exhibitions and public displays across the country and beyond. This website offers unprecedented access to the Collection, and information about each work can be found on this site.