Sunday, November 15, 2009


The Hut on Fowl’s Legs: Baba-Yaga

For the visual accompaniment I used printed
fabrics used by Southern African witch doctors,
known as sangomas, who practice a
form of traditional healing. They perform a
holistic and symbolic form of healing,
embedded in the beliefs of their culture that
ancestors in the afterlife guide and protect
the living. Sangomas are called to heal, and
through them ancestors from the spirit
world can give instruction and advice to heal
illness, social disharmony, and spiritual
difficulties. In many cases a ritual sacrifice of
an animal is performed, usually a chicken.
The visual component essentializes the
meaning of Baba Yaga in a formalistic
sense, thus beginning to touch on aspects
of the spiritual world and its meaning in
contemporary society.


Thus Robin Rhode, “Visual Artist,” explaining his video accompaniment of pianist Leif Ove Andsnes’s playing of one section of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. The collaboration between the two men is part of “Pictures Reframed,” which had its debut at Alice Tully Hall on Friday, November 13, 2009.

One critic who was on hand that night suggests the following alternative (perhaps deeper?) reading of the video accompaniment:

The first sight we see is a chicken running across a barnyard. A chicken—clearly a representation of the Big Questions of life: “Which came first—the chicken or the egg?” and “Why did the chicken cross the road?” This chicken, skipping along, is carefree—but suddenly it is replaced by a two-dimensional fowl, bordered by a circle, on a red field that turns out to be a cloth. No longer at large, the hemmed-in chicken is a prisoner—but is it of red state Soviet Union or red state Mississippi? Before that question can be resolved, however, the chicken reappears on a new cloth, this one black; the chicken is now either surrounded by deepest night or pirates. But again before the issue can be resolved, the black cloth is gone and the chicken, still ringed by a circle, is now on a field of white. Surely, this connotes the frigid purity of a bird that will never reproduce, or maybe it is just lying frozen in a virgin field of snow. Either way, the video has taken us on the full journey from birth to death. Cluck.

(Another critic offered a reading of the video based on Col. Sanders—but that is too frivolous a suggestion to be given serious critical attention.)