Ever since Kate Rohde partnered with psychedelic fashion house Romance Was Born (RWB) for their 2010 “Renaissance Dinosaur” collection, it’s as though a portal to a hallucinatory parallel universe has opened. Most recently this occurred at RWB’s exhibit, “Express Yourself: Romance Was Born for Kids,” currently on view at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. For the show, RWB designers Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett tapped a number of artistic conspirators to help them create a whimsical immersive installation where children of all ages could let their imaginations run wild. Rhode was a natural choice, with her repertoire full of ethereal creatures befitting the Wonderlandian aesthetic. “Right from the start I feel we’ve always been on the same wavelength, and just get what we’re looking for in a very natural way,” Rohde tells CH.
Filled with flora and fauna, Rohde’s incredibly detailed work is inspired by the love of nature that she developed during a childhood spent in the forest environment of the Dandenong Ranges. Using taxidermy and anatomically-correct zoological studies, Rohde reimagines an alternate natural history filled with brilliant glamor, with rainbow-hued animals covered in hair extensions and rhinestones looking as though they’re parading through a Baroque paradise. Noting her verdant childhood home, Rohde says, “There were many animals about, but I always found them a bit ‘brown’ and boring!” Rohde’s specimens, on the other hand, bloom with color.
Rohde was initially approached by Sales and Plunkett about six months before the “For Kids” exhibition, continuing what has now been a five-year-long conversation. “They [RWB] are really pretty open to letting me just do what I want within a pretty open brief, which I think is a big part of why we work together so well,” says Rohde. The exhibit revisits Rohde’s first foray into the world of RWB, with the kaleidoscopic mural she created for “Renaissance Dinosaur” serving as background for the installation’s Rainbow Room. And while that could have been an outstanding contribution on its own, the RWB team also used Rohde’s prolific imagination to help fill a gap in their exhibit; “particularly it was hard for them to find a substantial piece to go in the orange section [of the Rainbow Room], so they asked if I could make a predominantly orange artwork,” Rohde recalls. After brainstorming with Sales, Rohde landed on the idea of creating what she calls the “fantastic fox,” a three-dimensional fox figure covered in Rohde’s standard Rococo ornamentation. Rohde’s work also graces items from the “For Kids” gift shop, including T-shirts and a coloring book.
Rohde notes that “For Kids” is worlds away from her usual gallery experience, which she calls “white cube” shows. Much of this is a result of the target audience she says. “Because it’s for kids, the National Gallery of Victoria was very aware that they need to be free to run and touch things and really engage,” Rohde observes. It’s a natural habitat for her creatures, and Rohde wholeheartedly agrees. “My favorite shows have always been this kind—where it’s a whole environment, rather than discreet pieces in a sparse room.”
“Express Yourself: Romance Was Born for Kids” runs until 16 April 2016 at the National Gallery of Victoria (180 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne)
Images courtesy of the National Gallery of Victoria