Rhodes cut his teeth writing and performing music in the ripe experimental music scene of Seattle in the 1990s. He has moved between disciplines since, from music, to writing, to film making, to video art, to augmented reality and electronic publications design. In all these genre and media, there is an underlying belief in the power of medium to change experience, and a desire to combine the intellectual and theoretical with a popular gestalt.
Rhodes received his BA with honors in Italian Literature and Philology at the University of Washington in Seattle. It was in this context that he first encountered the ideas and writings of 70s post-structuralist linguists and semioticians, comedia d’arte, neo-realist and new wave cinema, that would later become touchstones in his work. He made his first short video works with a local collective of actors and writers for Seattle Public Access Television and, after a brief career in music, returned to school to study filmmaking and photography at The Evergreen State College. He accepted a graduate fellowship at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he would receive his MFA in Media Arts, and it was there, studying under Tony Conrad and greatly influenced by the tradition of video art in the region (film artists of Buffalo Media Study in the 70s such as Hollis Frampton, Paul Sharits, Peter Campus, Jonas Mekas, Gary Hill), that Rhodes began making experimental shorts and video art for the gallery. A series of collaborations with the community which centered around the local micro-cinema, Squeaky Wheel, led to a string of successes and screenings internationally; his thesis featurette, Tesseract, was funded by the Princess Grace Foundation. A major 35mm production, Tesseract was a film in which Rhodes sought to combine studio film production with an experimental, multi-channel form to tell the story of Eadweard Muybridge and his obsession with time as described in Hollis Frampton’s essay, “Fragments of a Tesseract.” Tesseract, produced with multiple cameras, film stocks and gauges, HD compositing and archival photos, attempted to capture in a ten-minute short the strange four-dimensional object that is a reel of film.
In 2005, Rhodes received a Fulbright scholarship to conduct PhD studies at York University in Toronto in the Joint Programme in Communication & Culture, studying under Caitlin Fischer, Janine Marchessault, and Michael Zryd in the Department of Film, and Michael Prokopow in Ryerson University’s Department of Design. While there he completed his first feature film, the documentary Made Over in America, a collaboration with the body theorist Bernadette Wegenstein of John Hopkins University that examined the contemporary phenomenon of surgical makeover as fantasized in reality television. The film was an exploration in content of ideas which Rhodes was already exploring in form: the blurry boundary between virtual and real in emerging media. In 2006, Rhodes helped found the Future Cinema Lab at York University and began working with the new medium of Augmented Reality.
One of the inaugural projects of York University’s Future Cinema Lab was Rhodes’ augmented reality installation 52Card Psycho, for which they created, with funding from the Canada Media Research Consortium, a new marker-recognition software in collaboration with PhD researchers in the robotics department and Mark Fiala at the National Research Council of Canada. 52Card Psycho riffed on the tradition of video art deconstructing cinema; the 52 shots that make up the shower scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho, were individually mapped onto the cards of a custom playing deck. When installed, users could view the scene pulled apart into its sculptural elements—mouths, legs, arms, faces, knives, drains—and play with them. The installation toured internationally in juried and invitational shows at ISEA, the European Media Arts Festival, Mediations Biennial in Poland, Microwave International Festival in Hong Kong, and spawned variations with different cinematic sequences.
In 2008, Rhodes joined the permanent faculty of the School of Film and Animation at Rochester Institute of Technology and began production of his first feature fiction film, Buried Land, in collaboration with Steven Eastwood at the University of East London which would be released in 2010 at the Tribeca International Film Festival in New York. Buried Land again inspected the blurry borders between a real and an imagined virtual, here in the events of Visoko, Bosnia where an amateur archeologist had convinced the local community, and some of the world, that beneath the unusual hills surrounding the town lay buried pyramids. Rhodes and Eastwood entered the community with an actor, a loose script, and production grants from the Princess Grace Foundation and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) to produce a film that blurred lines between fiction and documentary using the real people and situations there. After its Tribeca premiere, Buried Land went on to receive mention in Site and Sound “Best Films of 2010” and selection at the Mumbai, Sarajevo, Moscow, Cottbus and Göteborg film festivals.
During his three years in Rochester, Rhodes pursued multiple vectors of work. At RIT, he taught film production and through funding from a Provost’s Learning Innovation Grant created in collaboration with Professor Patricia Ambrogia in the School of Photography a speaker series, “New Screens New Media,” that brought to RIT screenings and live interviews with the media artists Bill Viola, Gary Hill, David Rokeby, Candice Breitz, and others. Rhodes began frequent trips to China and created in Rochester The Sixth Generation: the New Wave of Chinese Cinema screening series and symposium with support from the New York Council of the Humanities. During these same years, he helped found and write the manifesto of the augmented reality art collective, Manifest.AR, and began collaborating with its members to create pop-up exhibitions through smartphone apps. In a series of exhibitions at the ICA in Boston, Devotion Gallery in Brooklyn, the Zero 1 Biennial in San Jose, CAA LA Replay in Los Angeles, and others, they published apps that delivered short conceptual riffs on virtuality in popular culture, borders, economics, social media, and art.
In 2011, Rhodes joined the faculty of the Department of Visual Communication Design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to create a new curriculum on the subject of new media design. With an equipment award from the Sony Digital Media Academy, he founded the Augmented Reality & 3D Laboratory within his department and developed a series of courses in new electronic publications, creating apps for tablet computers based on the tradition of art books and the extensive Joan Flasch Artist Books collection at SAIC. Forging alliances with faculty also focused on new media projects in the departments of Film Video New Media and Art & Technology Studies, he received Dean of Faculty support to co-teach new cross-listed courses in code-based data visualization and the translation of print-tradition design to digital screens. In his own work, Rhodes took on a series of high-profile augmented reality design projects for smartphones, and began to write and present on the subject of new media, the virtual and real.
Between 2012 and 2014 Rhodes reprised the card-based augmented reality technology developed at York University to give a series of performance lectures using live mediation and ‘card tricks’ that unfolded the lecture in augmented reality before the audience. These ‘AR on AR’ lectures critiqued the new medium in relationship to various traditions—protest, performance, fine art, early cinema, museum archives and artifacts—and were performed for academic audiences at major conferences of literature, science, art, cinema, performance, and museum studies. These talks were subsequently published as videos for exhibition and in print journals as screenplays that used custom smartphone apps to augment the text with video. In two collaborations with Professor Claudia Hart at SAIC, Nue Morte (2013) and Alices Walking (2014), Rhodes developed smartphone apps that activated art objects and custom costumes as to be augmented with video art connecting virtual content to live performances and exhibited objects. In 2014, he completed the augmented reality design for Broadway Augmented, an NEA funded virtual public art exhibition in Sacramento, which used natural feature detection to virtually install a series of commissioned media sculptures on public streets, viewable only through smartphone. Rhodes is currently collaborating with the Chicago History Museum on a similar project, Chicago 0,0, to publish the museum’s photographic archives to the Chicago community, viewable through augmented reality experiences and VR panoramic viewing through the smartphone platform and Google Cardboard.
Rhodes currently teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he is developing courses of creative studios for future-looking design and new methods of publication for media experiences.