November 2024

In Rohdes

Kate RohdeKate RohdeKate RohdeKate RohdeKate RohdeKate RohdeKate RohdeKate RohdeKate RohdeText: Fleur Mitchell Images: Kate Rohde

With a skillful use of synthetic materials, utilising everything from expanding foam to fake fur, hair, resin, jewels and glitter, Melbourne based artist Kate Rohde creates sculptures and installations that seem to come some hyper-colour, ’80s cartoon dreamland. Rohde’s extremely detailed installations, dioramas, taxidermy replicas and recreations of Baroque cabinets question and re-imagine notions of natural history. Rohde herself describes it perfectly as “natural history museum on acid”. And that’s exactly what her work is like… a trip to the museum turned a little bit freaky. With a unique humour and distinct imagination, Rohde forces us to flip the conditioned ways we categorise and compartmentalise to make sense of the natural world that surrounds us. Rohde’s aesthetic draws heavily from the Baroque and Rococo periods both in it’s intricacy and it’s garishness. Her skill in mashing up references makes for a weird result that is sort if like the Land Before Time meets 16th Century Cabinet of Curiosities. It’s so wrong it’s right.

Fleur Mitchell: Did you always want to be an artist? Where you artistic as a child?

Kate Rohde: I was always doing drawings and doing funny little craft projects as a kid. When I finished high school I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I loved art so I decided to go to art school and just see how things went, despite most people being quite dubious about it as a career. Since then I’ve never looked back!

FM: Your recent exhibition Renaissance Dinosaur at Karen Woodbury Gallery was the product of your collaboration with Romance Was Born. It seems as though you were destined to work together, how did the whole thing come about?

KR: I think we’d both been aware of each others work for several years and been mutual admirers. I knew they often worked with artists and when they approached me through Kaliman gallery I jumped at the chance.

FM: What was it like creating work informed by a fashion context?

KR: In many respects I just kept on making work as I would for a fine art context and left it up to the RWB guys to make it a fashion item. At times I perhaps thought a bit more consciously about colours and patterns. Because RWB make such amazing one offs that are almost unwearable, anything seemed possible.

FM: The dinosaurs and other creatures you created for the show, have such a “rainbow brite” hyper-colour ’80s kitsch quality. Is it just me or is this an era you subconsciously or consciously draw from?

KR: I am a child of the ’80s so I guess its what I grew up with, i really like working with bright colours and the rainbow motif repeats itself often in my work, so it’s definitely something I aim for. I think a lot of people are very conservative with colour so I try to put lots of weird combinations together and just see how it goes.

FM: Do you develop a connection with the creatures you create? Do you feel like a mother to them?

KR: Yes, I feel very maternal towards the creatures I make. They are kind of like pets for me and I feel a bit sad when I sell them, especially if it goes to a private collection and I’ll probably never see it again.

FM: Your work is so detailed and meticulous, how much time does it take on average to create a piece?

KR: One of the RWB dinosaurs would have taken about one week full time to make I’d say. If it’s a resin cast it could take as long as a month from start to finish.

FM: You reference the Baroque and Rococo periods quite often in your work, what draws you to them?

KR: I’ve always been drawn to highly decorative motifs and I love Baroque and Rococo as they draw so heavily on forms in nature. Anything ornate or over the top seems to draw me in. even when I was little my drawings were very detail rich so it’s just something I’m innately attracted to.

FM: What other art movements or artists inspire you?

KR: I really love the work of American artist Karen Kilimnik, she draws on a lot of fairy-tales and classic literature and kind of mashes them up with celebrity culture. Also Canadian artist David Altmejd, I saw his work at the Venice Biennale in 2007 and never quite got over it!

FM: You embrace so many synthetic and artificial materials in the construction of your work, why do those materials appeal to you?

KR: I feel those materials are the products of our time, plastics, acrylic fur etc… since it’s all about creating a fake world it makes sense that its all imitation to me. Also it highlights the futility of trying to outdo nature in a way.

FM: What do you want people to take from your work?

KR: I don’t really set out to try and make people think anything in particular. I hope perhaps they have an escape from reality for a brief moment.

FM: What are you working on at the moment and what’s next on the horizon?

KR: At the moment I’m working on a project to be exhibited in Tokyo. It’s at this amazing venue which is part of Tokyo University – the Koishikawa Annex, which houses old scientific and cultural specimens from the university museum. Its arranged like an old fashioned wunderkammer, with little scientific order and no labels so everything is very mysterious there. I’m making works that will be scattered throughout the annex amongst the real specimens. I’m going to Tokyo next week to install which is very exciting.

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