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Testing Grounds

Testing Grounds

Roberta Rich studio


Print / Download

During Roberta’s time with Testing Grounds, she will be undergoing research and creative development towards her collective, Her Africa Is Real (H.A.I.R) project, Afropodes; Reimagining African Archives.

Roberta’s work responds to constructions of ‘race’ and gender identity, sometimes with satire and humour in her video, performance, installation and multi-disciplinary projects. Drawing from historical, socio-political, media and popular culture, Rich engages with notions of “authenticity” and its relationship to constructed identities and their forms of representation. In doing so, Rich aims to de-construct colonial modalities through arts practice while ascertaining empowering forms of self determination, often referencing her own [diaspora] African identity and experiences.

Roberta Rich

Photograph by Louis Lim

November 2019

I have been looking at various materials that could be used to create a braid as a prop that is part of a march larger installation consisting of video/performance/soundscapes re; Her Africa is Real – Afropodes – Reimagining African Archives. I sourced varieties of chain, rope and rigging as potential materials. Some I left in their manufactured state, others I spray painted gold-chrome, which was a lot of fun. I’m not sure if it is because I do not necessarily use enamel much, or watching the property of the items change their “value”, now catching and reflecting light differently. I have also been thinking about where and how this prop appears, whether via video, live streaming, and/or performance. Like the item itself, I also wanted it to literally weave or appear in various ways within the work at different stages.

The chain gold chrome slowly chipped away. I liked the gold flakes and residues they left behind but that was not what I was hoping would happen, and they became quite stiff, and with more movement more paint chipping off. My hands were also rather stained with chrome so the more I held or tried to braid with the chain the less I wanted to be handling it (which was definitely not the objective). The rope however retained its chrome gold appearance and though the application of the gold made thicker ropes less flexible, I was still able to create a prototype towards the kind of prop I was envisaging.

There has been a lot of dialogue and conversing about how to present stories within this work. What aesthetics and methods are appropriate? How much do we give to the person experiencing this work? How passive or active are they? are some of the questions as part of our research and approaches to the conversations about form, and the narratives taking place. Is the braid gold? Is the braid even still in the work? We are heavily driven by a conversation about present lived experiences, past experiences, and sharing these as research; it feels necessary to work through ways of embedding this within the installation and performance work while negotiating our existing ideas of re-imagining forms of an archive or allowing these to change their form and concept. The braid now is being incorporated into the development in both expected and unexpected ways. I wanted braiding to be taken place as a component of the work that was meditative and reflexive, but in part has also become more of a whip within performance and its delivery. Each time it slapped or made contact with a surface it left an imprint of its pattern, texture and gold flakes. Once the performer leaves the live space, the surface would be left with these residues. It was an unexpected development in this experiment. The residual marks left behind of a fierce warrior battling current politics of knowledge production! (haha).

Fresh eyes are a blessing yo. We’ve been working so intensively towards this CultureLAB at Arts House for some time now, and its current form these last few weeks; keen to receive responses and feelings!

Spray painting braids and ropes and chains gold.

December 2019

After presenting the Her Africa is Real (HAIR) development for CultureLAB, I have been revisiting a series of my collage works, ‘At the end of each day, I’m sometimes tired,’ 2018. I was commissioned to create this series for Runway Journal’s ‘Spectacle’ issue #38, edited by Natasha Matila-Smith – I was invited a couple of month’s ago to present work at TCB Gallery in Brunswick, and decided to present these for a solo exhibition (opened November 29th and ran until December 15th 2019).

This invitation gave me the opportunity to show these works beyond “the cloud” and the launch that was in Dharug country (Sydney). I had never shown these works in Narrm Melbourne before so it was an opportunity to experiment with form and scale within the ARI, and further unpack ideas and conversations surrounding the commodification of Bla(c)k and Brown bodies in global frameworks, particularly arts institutions.

Having many discussions with practitioners working within various fields and differing approaches to making and presenting was really helpful in thinking further about how my audience is implicated/or not. The collages now had the opportunity to exist as many forms, or rather operate within the gallery space and not a private insular online viewing. Their nature for me, is a humour that is very dry and blunt, and I wanted this to continue within the works installation. I presented the work ‘Latest Acquisitions’, 2018 as a large scale projection, to act as a type of “theatre backdrop” of sorts. ‘Latest Acquisitions’ 2018 presents an Anglo-Saxon figure, perhaps a curator, looking pretty happy with (potentially) their new collection of works – fragmented Black bodies appear upon canvasses within what appears to be a gallery or a studio. The other collage works within the series (for example, ‘At arms length’, 2018, pictured below) are presented on two flatscreen monitors adjacent to these canvasses, as if part of this “backdrop” but also presented as ‘the artwork’ within the space. The positioning of the projector also meant shadows of visitors within the space became a part of this ‘scene’.There were also postcards of the prints for sale – $2 each. I wanted to propose the opportunity of purchasing or supporting my work, that was simultaneously met with engaging in the very act that I am critiquing within the collage works’ concepts. TCB gallery invigilators now also bear the responsibility of carrying out the potential sale of these prints, and this was up to them, of how they navigated this position/ or not.I wanted to create a space of reflection – to reflect upon one’s own body in this space. Do you identify with the fragmented body? What’s your relationship to them? Is the curator character more relatable to you? Or are you merely a cultural tourist, perusing through another gallery on route to see some more exotic art?

The other thing I want to mention is the importance of being with fam, community and continuing to meet and see the work of amazing Bla(c)k and POC creatives. It is giving me life at this time of the year and re-energises me when I get a bit jaded and cynical and really deep into series like ‘At the end of each day, I’m sometimes tired’. I recently went to FLOW festival, and listening to all the beautiful artists and being in a space that is not entrenched in rowdy, patriarchal anglo energy was super refreshing and what I needed after whats been a huge last couple of months/year.


One of my prints