Donald Rodney, The House That Jack Built (1987) / Installation View At Spike Island, Bristol / Courtesy of Sheffield Museums And The Donald Rodney Estate / Photo By Lisa Whiting
Donald Rodney: Visceral Canker
May 25 – Sep 8, 2024
Spike Island
Bristol, UK

Spike Island presents a major survey exhibition of late British artist Donald Rodney (b. 1961, West Bromwich; d. 1998, London). Rodney worked across sculpture, installation, drawing, painting, and digital media, experimenting with new materials and technologies throughout his life. His work is known for being incisive, acerbic, and evocative in its analysis of the prejudices and injustices surrounding racial identity, Black masculinity, chronic illness, and Britain’s colonial past. Rodney was also co-founding member of the BLK Art Group: an association of young Black artists formed in Wolverhampton in 1982.

The exhibition at Spike Island brings together all of Rodney’s surviving works. This includes large-scale oil pastels on X-rays, kinetic and animatronic sculptures, and restaged installations, as well as sketchbooks and rare archive materials, spanning 1982 to 1997. Also on display is Autoicon (1997–2000), an interactive digital artwork initiated by Rodney and finalised by a group of his close friends after he died from sickle cell anaemia in 1998.

Rodney suffered from sickle cell throughout his life. This meant persistent pain, regular invasive treatments and increasing immobility. Though these were extremely challenging experiences, Rodney often incorporated them directly into his work as metaphors for the illnesses and injustices of society at large. This is evident in works such as Flesh of My Flesh (1996), a photographic triptych that includes a close-up of a raised scar on Rodney’s thigh; and My Mother, My Father, My Sister, My Brother (1997), a tiny maquette of a house made from pins and his own skin.

Visceral Canker aims to introduce a new generation of audiences to Rodney’s life and work, cementing his place as a vital figure in British art. The title comes from a 1990 work by the artist, which comprises two wooden plaques displaying heraldic images, linked together by a system of medical tubes that pump theatrical blood. It exemplifies both the viscerality of Rodney’s work and politics, and his persistent scrutiny of the canker, or disease, at the heart of society: in this case specifically, how the inhumanity of Britain’s colonial history continues to structure life today.

The exhibition is curated by former Spike Island Director Robert Leckie and Nicole Yip, Chief Curator at Nottingham Contemporary. It is presented in partnership with Nottingham Contemporary and Whitechapel Gallery, where it will tour on Spike Island.

Donald Rodney: Visceral Canker
May 25 – Sep 8, 2024
Spike Island
Bristol, UK

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