Canadian Artist Rodney Graham’s Through the Forest at Hamburger Kunsthalle
HAMBURG.- Canadian artist Rodney Graham’s (*1949) exhibition entitled Through the Forest provides insight into the development of his complex body of work. The exhibition brings together close to 100 works, dating between 1978 and 2010. They come from important private and public collections in Europe and North America. Graham’s interdisciplinary work embraces a variety of media: books, video, sculpture, painting, installation and music. His use of appropriation allows him to pay tribute to some important artists, writers, philosophers and pop musicians, though not without respectfully and ironically demystifying their undoubtedly substantial influence and offering us a new take on the worlds they describe. The roots of Graham’s work, which is influenced by 1970s Conceptual art and its way of thinking, lie in the adaptation of literary models.
Graham made his first large photographic work, 75 Polaroids, in 1976. It is a series of snapshots taken during a night-time walk through the forests around Vancouver that marked the beginning of his career as an artist. 75 Polaroids contains elements that would be essential to his later works, namely his fascination with photographic processes, which transform objects from mere representations to autonomous images, and the idea of illuminating places at night via flash. Following this work, Graham experimented with a camera obscura he made himself and used to photograph archaeological sites during his stay at the American Academy in Rome. The exhibition will show the series Montserrat (1995), which consists of 80 Polaroids.
In 1986, Rodney Graham came across an English translation of the story Lenz by the German author Georg Büchner. In that translation, Graham discovered a peculiarity of the layout: the words ‘Through the forest’ appear twice at points where the story continues from one page to another. For him, the text became a loop, as the term is used in film terminology, and a key element to later works. Graham constructed a reading machine that he employed to make this experience both vivid and visible. The first five pages on which he recognised this phenomenon in the layout of the text are arranged so that the rotational effect becomes tangible. Later, Graham made other constructions and he also made objects that display books he found in antique shops.
A significant part of this exhibition is devoted to his early works and the development of his oeuvre; to this end, the exhibition is showing the archive of Rodney Graham’s former Belgian publisher, Yves Gevaert, allowing viewers to make connections between his work and the material in this archive. An assortment of other materials has also been included, and it contributes to the understanding of how Graham’s ideas developed.
This exhibition focuses on the films he made later, which, on a formal level, further the tradition of conceptual-text works and light phenomena in terms of themes and motifs. For the film Coruscating Cinnamon Granules (1996), Graham strewed ground cinnamon onto a burner of a stove and filmed the glowing specks. Rheinmetall/Victoria 8 (2003) is an installation of a surrealistic image. Graham acquired an almost unused 1930s typewriter from a second-hand shop in Vancouver. First, he documented the object photographically, in the style of New Objectivity; he then covered it with flour to create a poignant image for words falling silent.
Another part of the exhibition deals with the role of the artist. In the film Lobbing Potatoes at a Gong, 1969 (2006), Graham re-enacts a scene from the history of rock music in which a musician throws potatoes at a gong in a sort of performance. In Graham’s piece, vodka takes the place of the potatoes; a bottle of vodka is part of the installation. Rodney Graham is interested in these kinds of “processes of translation”. Something that originated in literature becomes physical as it is rendered in another medium. My Only Novel Translated from the French (After William Beckford, Mark Twain) (2000), in which the French translation of an English text is translated back into English, is a direct example of this. The theme of the role of the artist is also explored in the monumental triptych The Gifted Amateur, Nov. 10th, 1962 (2007). In this work, Graham is a sleepwalking amateur painter who attempts to reproduce a large-format abstract painting.