Lis Rhodes’s ‘Light Music’ Challenges Perceptions of Film

Lis Rhodes’s ‘Light Music’ Challenges Perceptions of Film

London born and based artist Lis Rhodes has been a key figure in the history of British avant-garde filmmaking. After studying Film and Television at the Royal College of Art, she pursued a career as a cinema programmer at the London Filmmakers’ Co-op in the 1970s, cofounded ‘Circles: Women’s Work in Distribution’ – the first British organization to distribute women artists’ film and video works -Rhodes’s perception of art manifests itself in an inclusive way in her works. For her, art is a social striving, rather than an isolated practice. By challenging the traditional rules and references – moving image, narrative structure and conclusion – through which a film communicates, she refuses the concept of a passive audience sitting and receiving sound and images. The viewers’ interaction with the film and the active engagement of their senses and intellect are key to her work. Rhodes argues that ‘It is dangerous to step out of line – and lethal not to’, and this highlights her motivation and endeavour to question and change conventional ways of thinking.

 The impact of language on perceptions, interactions and social relationships is at the heart of Rhodes’s filmic exploration. In fact, the artist adds through her work a significant political agenda to cultural practices. While maintaining her loyalty to experimental film, Rhodes also taps into performance, photography, writing, and political analysis. Her view that ‘women’s language’ is usually ignored or obfuscated drives her to utter that language in her own works.

Light Music

 In this groundbreaking work, Rhodes plays with our preconception of film by presenting the soundtrack as a series of horizontal and vertical lines that were drawn with pen and ink on the optical edge of the filmstrip. These are projected onto two opposite facing screens in a hazy room. As the films roll, they appear as an ‘optical soundtrack’. What the viewer hears, on the other hand, is the audible equivalent of the alternating images on thescreens. The space between the two screens turns the beams into airy sculptural forms consisting of light, shadow and smoke, which encourages the viewer to move around the room. This in turns destroys conventional film watching codes and turns the film into a collective practice where the audience is expected to intervene into the work and thus, become the performer. This work was the artist’s reaction to what she perceives as a lack of interest and appreciation of European women composers.Thus in Light Music, Lis Rhodes interweaves cinematic practices with a range of topics from gender politics to phenomenologicalexperience.

A retrospective show covering the last forty years of Rhodes’s career, Lis Rhodes: Dissonance and Disturbance, was exhibited at the ICAfrom January to March 2012. Her films are distributed by LUX.



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