The Ties that Bind: Tim Roda’s Fabricated Family Album
There is currently an exhibiton of Tim Roda’s photographs at Greg Kucera gallery. Now based in New York City, Roda is one of my favorite artists in any medium ever to call Seattle home.
Since graduating with an MFA in ceramics from the University of Washington in 2004, Roda has been building on a theme he began in grad school. He poses himself and members of his family—most often his son Ethan—in elaborate tableaux of found objects and idosyncratically constructed sets. The resulting images are gritty, psychologically-charged documents of ritualistic moments that seem to underscore a vaguely threatening tenuousness to the construction of familial bonds, simultaneously operating on a dreamlike, archetypal plane.
A recent Fulbright recipient to Italy, Roda’s most recent work employs costumes and props drawn from multiple points in history to create a series of single-frame family dramas within the evocative palimpsests of Rome. The pairing is exceedingly appropriate: Not only is Italy Roda’s paternal ancestral home, his images are to “family photos” what Italy’s centuries of layered ruins are to “architecture.”
A couple weeks ago, Regina Hackett wrote a post about Tim Roda’s work on Another Bouncing Ball, comparing his approach to that of other artists who use their own children in their work, including fellow UW alum Zack Bent. The comment thread immediately registered the discomfort of a couple of viewers—both female—who see Roda’s images as “coercive” and “exploitive.”
I remember thinking the same thing the first time I saw the artist give a slide talk back in grad school. Except I saw the palpable presence of power inequalities in several of the scenarios as one of their many strengths; certainly not an ethical issue to get worked up about. After all, any sense of coercion we may see reflected in Roda’s photographs is Disney fare compared to the ramshackle belief systems we impose on our children from the moment we deliver them, naked and screaming, into this recursively busted culture, no?
Although each individual photograph contains a world of information, the best way to let the full effect of Roda’s images seep into your subconscious is to see several at a time. Add to that the fact that the photos themselves are physical objects—oversized, rugged things with visible printing flaws on thick fiber paper, sometimes pinned directly to the wall—and you have a strong argument for heading to Greg Kucera before the show comes down on November 14.