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Donald Rodney: Autoicon

By: Richard Birkett


Publisher: Afterall Books

128 Pages

An illustrated examination of Donald Rodney’s last work completed posthumously, authored by Richard Birkett.

Originally produced as both a website and CD-ROM, Donald Rodney’s Autoicon was conceived by the artist in the mid-1990s but not completed until 2000, two years after his death from sickle cell anaemia, by a group of close friends and artists ironically named Donald Rodney plc. Referencing Jeremy Bentham’s infamous nineteenth-century Auto-Icon, the work proposes an extension of the personhood and presence of Rodney, while challenging dominant conceptions of the self, the body and historicity. Consisting of a Java-based AI and neural network, the platform engages the user in text-based ‘chat’ and provides responses by drawing from a dense body of data related to Rodney, including documentation of artworks, medical records, interviews, images, notes and videos.

Tracing the ideas that emerged around its conception before and after Rodney’s death, and linking the work to the artist’s seminal 1997 exhibition ‘9 Night in Eldorado’, Richard Birkett addresses Autoicon as an index of entangled social and material relations – a form of dispersed memory. As a work of net art, Autoicon is in critical dialogue with contemporaneous imaginings of the dissolution of the corporeal into the ‘virtual’, while acutely aware of the forms of racialisation and ableism that persist in the coding of the body. Bound to a black history of displacement, dispossession and resistance, Autoicon offers then a counter-manifestation of the subject as formed and multiplied through temporal disjuncture, affectability and acts of collective care.

This title is part of the One Work book series, which focuses on artworks that have significantly shaped the way we understand art and its history.

128 pages, 21 cm x 15 cm, paper cover, Afterall Books


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