Donald Rodney: AUTOICON


AUTOICON is a dynamic internet work that simulates both the physical presence and elements of the creative personality of the artist Donald Rodney who – after initiating the project – died from sickle-cell anaemia in March 1998. The project builds on Donald Rodney’s artistic practice in his later years, when he increasingly began to delegate key roles in the organisation and production of his artwork. Making reference to this working process, AUTOICON is developed by a close group of friends and artists (ironically described as ‘Donald Rodney plc’) who have acted as an advisory and editorial board in the artist’s absence, and who specified the rules by which the ‘automated’ aspects of the project operate.

AUTOICON is automated by programmed rule-sets and works to continually maintain creative output. Visitors to the site will encounter a ‘live’ presence through a ‘body’ of data (which refers to the mass of medical data produced on the human body), be able to engage in simulated dialogue (derived from interviews and memories), and in turn affect an ‘auto-generative’ montage-machine that assembles images collected from the web (rather like a sketchbook of ideas in flux). Through AUTOICON, participants generate new work in the spirit of Donald’s art practice; as well as offer a challenge and critique the idea of monolithic creativity. In this way, the project draws attention to current ideas around human-machine assemblages, dis-embodied exchange and deferred authorship – and raises timely questions over digital creativity, ethics and memorial.

Donald Rodney made considerable use of imagery such as x-ray photography, blood samples, cellculture, and so on, to draw attention not only to his medical condition that was slowly corroding his body, but more importantly as a metaphor to represent the ‘disease’ of racism that lay at the core of society. More information on the work of Donald Rodney, can be found on the web site,

AUTOICON has been produced by STAR, Science Technology Arts Research, University of Plymouth (Geoff Cox, Angelika Koechert, Mike Phillips); inIVA, Institute of International Visual Arts (Gary Stewart); and Sidestream (Adrian Ward); with contributions from Eddie Chambers, Richard Hylton, Virginia Nimarkoh, Keith Piper, Diane Symons; and with support from ACE, Arts Council of England (New Media Fund). (Thanks also to Pete Everett and Elliot Lewis).



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