This selection of Frank Rodick's work from the series Arena delves into the gripping and mysterious realm of human emotion. As people, our lives are necessarily rooted in chemistry as we experience the world with our bodies,but the feelings evoked by these corporeal experiences are far more difficult to grasp. Fear, laughter, passion, love — all are beyond explaining and yet, they are ordinary experiences shared by us all.
As familiar as they are, these primal responses are highly complex and not mutually distinct. Using blurred, truncated views of the human form, Rodick taps into the powerful ambiguities of pleasure and pain in his images, forcing us to examine our untidy interiors. Inside each of us, he suggests, has a heart of darkness, a core that isn't rational, civilized, or predictable. Rodick's images bring us into direct confrontation with that physiological self which is, for many, frightening and forbidden — yet so fascinating it compels our gaze.
Using multiple imagery and blurring, Rodick emulates the non-linear and sometimes hallucinogenic nature of human sensation. His disjunctive image sequencing also echoes the transitory, layered quality of our emotions. Reinforcing this effect are the titles of his pieces which, instead of offering clarity, add a further dimension of ambiguity. In this body of work, Rodick has boldly tackled with his camera a subject both fleeting and inchoate, with haunting results. Ultimately, each viewer is left alone with an intensity of experience he/she must interpret for himself/herself.
Curator of Photographs,
Philadelphia Museum of Art
One way I think of Arena is as a journey into primal territory—images that explore sexuality and eroticism as an amphitheatre of eternal human conditions, such as passion and fear, abandonment and memory, love, desire, pain, and mortality.
I’ve observed that these photographs elicit strong reactions from viewers — emotions, sensations, and thoughts that cover a spectrum of experience. For one spectator it’s the recognition of something grievous and submerged, whereas for another it offers the precarious innervation of a narcotic. And for others, the encounter becomes something altogether different and almost always unexpected.
Frank Rodick grew up in Montreal, where his parents’ small but eclectic bookstore was a meeting place for the city’s literati. His first body of work was a set of forty images entitled Liquid City, completed during the years 1991 to 1999. These photographs portray the modern city more as a personal vision than as a specific location. During 1995–97, Rodick also completed a series of images—entitled Sub Rosa—based on the nude figure. In 2002, he produced the first set of works from his project Arena. Stephen Perloff, editor and founder of The Photo Review, has stated: “Pain and pleasure, sex and procreation, dissolution and death all appear in the Arena photographs—not as opposites, but as a continuum, a dialectic in which each condition is inherent in the other. As in Mr. Rodick’s other series, Liquid City and sub rosa, the Arena images obscure reality and force viewers to confront what they think they know and to reimagine the world and their own experience. While one can find art historical precedents of his Arena series in Bosch, Velazquez, and Goya, Mr. Rodick’s spiritual forebears are equally Werner Heisenberg and Franz Kafka.”1
Rodick received grants from the Canada Council in 1997 and 2002, the Ontario Arts Council in 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2002, and the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs in 2002 and 2004. Institutions that have collected his work include the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires; Museet for Fotokunst, Odense, Denmark; Musée de la Photographie, Charleroi, Belgium; Lehigh University Art Galleries, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; and Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, Ottawa, Ontario. Rodick currently resides in Toronto.