Geoffrey Alan Rhodes






Geoffrey Alan Rhodes (2020)

Rhodes cut his teeth writing and performing music in Seattle's ripe experimental music scene in the 1990s. He has moved between disciplines since, from music, to writing, to film making, to video art, to augmented and virtual reality design. In all these genre and media, he brings 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 within 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 (2005), 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 Toronto's York University 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, which was a collaboration with the body theorist Bernadette Wegenstein of Johns 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 AR marker-recognition software in collaboration with PhD researchers in robotics 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 full-time 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 filmmaker Steven Eastwood, who was then at the University of East London; the film would be released in 2010 at the Tribeca International Film Festival. Buried Land again inspected the blurry borders between a real and an imagined virtual: the film explores real events in 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, screenwriting, 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 funding from the New York Council for the Humanities. During these same years, he helped found the collective, Manifest.AR, and collaborated with its members to create pop-up exhibitions of augmented reality art 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 full-time faculty of the Department of Visual Communication Design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to create curricula of new media design. Over a nine year period, he created and developed a series of courses in designing and producing new electronic publications, apps for devices, data visualization, video for multi-channel and monumental screen installations, and cutting edge augmented and virtual reality experiences. Forging alliances with faculty in the departments of Performance, Film Video New Media, Contemporary Practices, and Art & Technology Studies, Rhodes received special funding from the Sony Digital Media Academy and SAIC's Dean of Faculty to collaboratively create and teach new courses in data visualization art with acclaimed coding artist Christopher Baker, and on the future of narrative book design for interactive screens with designer Stephen Farrell. In the summers of 2014 and 2016, Rhodes created and led Summer-session study trips to Romania with acclaimed video artist Irina Botea and performance artist Robin Deacon.

In 2016, Rhodes was awarded tenure by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and in 2019 took over the position of Chair in the Department of Visual Communication Design.

In his studio work, while in Chicago Rhodes reprised the card-based augmented reality technology developed at York University to give a series of performance lectures (2012-14) 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. Based on this work, in 2015 Rhodes founded the Chicago 00 Project in collaboration with John Russick at the Chicago History Museum. As of 2020, the project has produced and published five augmented and virtual reality experiences of Chicago history, connecting the Chicago History Museum's extensive media archive with the places in the city where the stories happened. The project has received major funding from the Princess Grace Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and has received awards for excellence from the American Alliance of Museums and the Chicago Innovation Awards.

In 2020, Rhodes joined the faculty of Shanghai's Jiao Tong University and the Institute of Cultural and Creative Industry, where he is currently a tenured professor researching innovations in virtual reality, future museums, and the connections between old and new media technologies.