The ROCI Road to Peace: Digital Edition

Nicole L. Bray
Oct 18, 2014 1:37AM

Robert Rauschenberg implemented ROCI, the Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange, in 1984. ROCI was a seven-year program designed to promote peace through art, by way of sharing cultural traditions, demonstrating tolerance, and exchanging artistic practices and materials. Under ROCI, Rauschenberg and his team visited ten contentious nations of the time: Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, China, Tibet, Japan, Cuba, the Soviet Union, East Germany and Malaysia. The project culminated with an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. in 1991. 

The original intentions advocated by ROCI are as relevant today as they were in 1984. War, corruption, poverty, disease, over-consumption, and environmental destruction continue to ravage the world on a global scale. Inspired by the original spirit of ROCI, and Robert Rauschenberg’s own innovation, collaboration, and use of technology in art, what if a modern day ROCI existed for young contemporary artists around the world to share their respective artistic aims and work? What if social media could provide a platform to engage artists to share their practices and messages for global change, while simultaneously paying homage to Rauschenberg’s legacy?

The ROCI Road to Peace is envisioned to be an eight-month exhibition at Sotheby’s Institute of Art timed to coincide with the academic year and space restrictions. Robert Rauschenberg, Caryatid Cavalcade II (ROCI Chile), 1985, will be displayed throughout the duration of the exhibition and will serve as the anchor work, paying homage to the spirit of the original project while representing the United States. Over the course of the exhibition, a second rotating work will also be displayed alongside Rauschenberg’s cornerstone piece. The second work will vary, cycling consecutively between pieces created by prominent contemporary artists from each of the original ten nations. The artworks selected from each country demonstrate themes from the original mission of ROCI: cultural collaboration, sociopolitical commentary, and advancement in artistic practices, inspired by Rauschenberg’s own innovative materials and techniques. Materials might include the reuse of urban debris, appropriated imagery from news, posters, magazines, photographs, found objects, film, and experimentation with the boundaries of art and technology. These materials could be fused with traditional artistic practices to create artworks inspired by Rauschenberg’s Combines, Combine Paintings, installations, and silkscreens.

If Rauschenberg were alive today, he would likely be collaborating with the developers at Google, Apple and Facebook, trying to advance the boundaries of art and foster global connections amongst artists. Two months prior to the exhibition, a global invitation to young artists will be extended via social media. Artists will be invited to share digital submissions of their artworks inspired by Rauschenberg’s aspirations to promote peace and tolerance through art. Artists will post images of their work via social media, using the hashtags #TheROCIRoadtoPeace and #BobsLegacy. This interactive exhibition will continue to evolve organically over the two months. A live exhibition will then feature a curated selection of the digital submissions received from around the world displayed on television screens, alongside the Rauschenberg ROCI artwork and the rotating contemporary piece representing each of the original ten nations. 

Nicole L. Bray