Rachel Pastan
December 9, 2013

Waking the Dragon: Turning on Jason Rhoades

“The way you turn on The Creation Myth,” William says, “is more about memory than technology.”

It’s Thursday morning and WilliamICA’s Visitor Services Coordinator and Program Technician—is letting me follow him around as he turns on Jason Rhoades, Four Roads. He starts with the electrical breakers in their secret upstairs room, then moves to the old-fashioned TV monitors on the mezzanine.

William turning on power, Creation Myth

Down in the first floor gallery, he jacks up the heavy V-8 engine in Garage Renovation New York (CHERRY Makita) which sags on its platform of shims over the course of a day, then—at last—turns his attention to The Creation Myth’s model of the artist’s brain at work. There’s music and smoke rings, VCRs and video games, a motion sensor and an inflatable stomach—a widely divergent range of things with one important common denominator: they all need power. William paraphrases a line from exhibition curator Ingrid Schaffner’s keynote talk: “Power is the fifth road,” he says.

William at the computer, Creation Myth

William moves around the edges of the piece, plugging in plugs and flipping switches. The overhead projector lights up and starts its ballerina twirl, making patterns of light dance across the walls. The fan for the Stomach wheezes as it inflates. A TV spins slowly, static buzzing on its screen. So many orange power cords loop and coil across the floor, only William knows which are functional and which merely formal.

It turns out that a surprising number of The Creation Myth’s bits and pieces are functional. The fanned array of remotes mostly really turn stuff on. The charging Makita drill battery by my feet will take its turn powering the electric train. The Prick machine, having made its violent holes in the gallery wall during installation, now charges the battery for the car radio that pulses the beat of Power 106 FM through the gallery.

Remote controls, Creation Myth

“Slowly but surely I came up with my own process for turning the piece on,” William says, moving deeper in, toward the part Rhoades called the Inner Child. “You’re stepping over and ducking under something at the same time, and little wires hang down that can scratch your neck.” He presses a button on a laptop and it comes to life slowly. “I like that this computer has a program icon that just says the internet.” Then he points through a thicket of machinery. “There’s a VCR hidden there.” He points in another direction. “The microscope in front gets run through the VCR.” He shows me the protruding table legs that can trip the uninitiated, the red and black wires twisting through the air at face level. “Those things are my nemesis,” he says.

William reaching into Creation Myth

Rhoades set up two video games on the Nintendo PlayStation in the heart of The Creation Myth. Each morning William decides which one to run. Usually he chooses Cruis’n USA over Mario Kart because he finds the music more congenial, but either way, he likes the how the trebly, tinny video game music fits with Power 106 FM’s throbbing bass. He checks the motion sensor that activates the model train, then turns on the fog machine.

Near the fog machine, which makes the smoke for the rings that blow out of the Asshole, a green bucket rests on a ladder. This is just one of many buckets that are part of this work, some made into lights, some designated, in neat block letters, as parts of the system. “MEMORY (The Wood Pile)” one reads. Another is labeled “THE INNER LIGHT.” The one on the ladder, though, has a more traditional function. It collects water that drips from the tube of the fog machine. William checks it daily, emptying it as the moisture collects.

It’s getting late, and we’re almost done. The museum will open soon. William pauses, though, to make sure I understand something. “When you’re in here,” he says, “and you’re turning things on, you get the idea that it’s very intentionally designed. You can feel he knew someone else would be doing this. I think about that every day.”

Behind us, the model train clatters on its track, and the overhead projector casts its dreamy patterns. Over our heads, the Asshole releases a shimmering ring of smoke. The sleeping dragon, gently awakened, rattles its charged scales.

Creation Myth, overview

Jason Rhoades, Four Roads, closes December 29. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to get over here!

To stay up to date with everything powerful at ICA, email miranda@icaphila.org.

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