PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 27.1 (2005) 111-116
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Rodney Graham's Multiple Identities
Fodney Graham: A Little Thought is the first major survey of the Canadian artist to tour North America. Curated by Grand Arnold, Jessica Bradley and Cornelia Butler, the show was presented at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, in the spring of 2004. Featuring over thirty works produced since the 1970s the exhibition is a rare opportunity to see a large repertoire of Graham's bookworks, musical recordings, sculptures, large photographs as well as the video and film installations that have dominated the artist's production over the past decade. The exhibition opens with the trilogy of video installations Vexation Island, How I Became a Ramblin' Man and City Self/Country Self. In these works, Graham investigates different characters as well as the structure and concept of the cycle. Also featured in the show are the artist's large photographs of inverted trees and his films Coruscating Cinnamon Granules and Two Generators that document lighting events. Through his use of light projections and viewing devices such as the camera obscura and the film camera, Graham questions our ways of seeing.
The exhibition closes with two recent film installations Rheinmetall/Victoria 8 (2003) and Phonokinetoscope (2001) in which the artist sets up dialogues between machines. Phonokinetoscope features a film projector with a looper connected to a turntable. When the viewer drops the needle on the record, both the turntable and film projector are activated. The film presents a man, played by Graham, cycling in a park on LSD while the record plays an original song by the artist inspired by Pink Floyd's [End Page 111] soundtrack for a scene in Antonioni's film Zabriskie Point. In Rheinmetall/Victoria 8, a German typewriter manufactured in the mid-1930s by the German company Rheinmetall is the subject of a short, silent, 35 mm documentary film projected by a 1950s Italian-made Victoria 8 Cinemeccanica projector. The film documents the typewriter as it is dusted and eventually covered by a snowfall of flour. In both of these film installations, the mechanics and sound of the film projector are revealed and even featured. By incorporating the projectors in the installations, Graham also reveals their looping devices, making the cyclical structure of the works apparent. In this way, the filmic works differ from the artist's video installations where the ceiling mounted video projectors effectively disappear like the projection booth at a movie theatre. It is fitting that Graham's recent video installations are a take on Hollywood movies.
In the early years of video production identity and psychological states were privileged themes of this art form. As artists explored this new medium, they also investigated themselves. In 1978, at a time when most videos being produced featured the artist as subject, Rosalind Krauss remarked: "In that image of self-regard is configured a narcissism so endemic to works of video that I find myself wanting to generalize it as the condition of the entire genre.1 Twenty-five years later, after much video art has been made, technology has advanced, and a panoply of subjects have been investigated, is the human psyche still a relevant theme for video art?
One would have to say yes when confronted with Rodney Graham's recent video installations. Since the mid-1990s Graham has produced an important body of work exploring the psyche in its various forms from manifestations of the mind and soul to psychoanalysis and psychedelic states. In a recent trilogy of...