Rodney Graham
Canada, 1949
Rodney Graham was born in the small town of Abbotsford, British Columbia. In 1964 his family moved to Vancouver, where he studied art history and anthropology as well as English and French literature at the University of British Columbia. This varied academic background played a significant role in the subsequent development of his artistic practice. Initially rooted in the tradition of Minimalism and reflecting the evolution of Conceptual Art in the 1980s, Graham’s work is often informed by literary and cultural references. Whether in the form of sculpture, installation, photography, painting, video, film or sound pieces, his works re-examine certain foundations of Western culture through strategies involving the appropriation and re-signification of forms of knowledge. His approach involves appropriating elements of the immediate environment, sometimes on the basis of texts and books, and in other cases through specific places or situations. The artist prefers to define what he does as ‘indexing’, understood as a search directed by his interests. Collected Papers (1988) perfectly exemplifies this process. The work is a sculpture in which Graham conceptually combines the Minimalist object (a direct reference to the formal structures of Donald Judd) with the complete works—five volumes of papers—of Sigmund Freud, an author the artist has investigated over the course of his career. The repetition of a Judd-like basic module acquires a new, non-aesthetic function: to integrate the five volumes of Freud’s papers, which are in turn transformed into an object. Rheinmetall/Victoria 8 (2003) is a later work by Rodney Graham and perhaps one of the most emblematic of his career. The film offers a poetic take on obsolescence and the passage of time, conveyed through close-up shots of a typewriter the artist found in a Vancouver junk shop. In slightly over ten minutes, the film, shot in 35mm, shows the contraption as it is gradually covered by a melancholic snowfall of flour, a minimal gesture that gives a visual sense of the transition from relic to ruin. The piece also incorporates a visual and auditory dialogue between the Rheinmetall typewriter and the Victoria 8 projector used to show the film.
David Armengol