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."


Donald Rodney (b. West Bromwich, 1961–1998) was a British artist. He was born in West Bromwich, to Jamaican parents, and grew up in Smethwick, on the outskirts of Birmingham. He studied Art Foundation at Bournville School of Art, Birmingham (1980-81); BA Fine Art at Trent Polytechnic in Nottingham (1981–1985); and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Multi-Media Fine Art at Slade School of Fine Art in London (1987). Rodney first gained visibility as a member of the BLK Art Group in the early 1980s, through a series of exhibitions titled The Pan-Afrikan Connection (1981–84).  

Rodney’s solo exhibitions include Reimagining Donald Rodney, Vivid Projects, Birmingham (2016); Donald Rodney – In Retrospect, iniva, London (2008); 9 Night in Eldorado, South London Gallery (1997); Cataract, Camerawork, London (1991); Critical, Rochdale Art Gallery (1990); Crisis, Chisenhale Gallery, London (1989); The First White Christmas & Other Empire Stories, Saltley Print and Media, Birmingham (1985); and The Atrocity Exhibition & Other Empire Stories, Black Art Gallery, London (1986). 

Rodney’s work is in the collections of Tate Gallery, London; Arts Council England; the British Council; the Government Art Collection; Museums Sheffield; the National Galleries of Wales; South London Gallery; Wolverhampton Art Gallery; and Birmingham City Art Gallery.  

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Published 2003
Edited by: Richard Hylton
Pages: 112
Images: 75
Dimensions: 6 x 8 1/2 inches, 128 pp., 24 colour illus.
ISBN: 1-899282-90-4

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