On a Friday afternoon in April of 1943 Albert Hofmann ingested some LSD and went for a bike ride. Hofmann was the first scientist to synthetically compound the hallucinatory chemical. His daily bike ride through the forest was no longer just a quick jaunt on a utilitarian machine; it became an adventure.
57-year-old Canadian artist Rodney Graham, like Hofmann, searches for self-knowledge using perception-extending technologies. Accordingly, Hofmann’s experimental bike ride became the impetus for Graham’s best-known work, a 2002 film and sound installation titled “Phonokinetoscope.” As much as the film is a memorial to the legendary tripper, it is also a metaphor of Graham’s own work; his art embodies the fusing of sight and sound, of being and thinking and dreaming, all in the name of encountering oneself again and again, each time in a newfound way.
Rodney Graham’s art is largely informed by two major developments in the contemporary art world of the past twenty-five years. First, Graham’s art is rigorously academic and intellectual; the tradition of learning from the masters in an organized setting has been in existence in Europe for over the past 500 years, but was skirted by Modernism in the past century. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, we have seen a return to academicism and the importance of the art school master’s degree in an artist’s career. Graham was educated at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. His primary teacher was fellow Canadian Jeff Wall, who taught him the highly theoretical and stylized ways of photoconceptualism.
This brings us to the second major development in contemporary art making, namely the proliferation of the influence of the cinema. Film is undoubtedly the new artistic medium par excellence, and Graham one of its major proponents. However, Graham is rarely interested in the narrative aspect of film. Instead, he likes to experiment with its techniques and means of production. In this way, cinematography and film projectors are the main content of these films, which then lead viewers into a questioning state of mind about the narrative possibilities of the filmic medium. Loops, repetition and unedited footage contribute to Graham’s narrative of film as art.
To sum up Graham’s thirty-plus year artistic career in such a short space would do an injustice to this wildly diverse artist. Perhaps the general aim of his work is to ponder the problem of representation. How does a camera capture its subject? How does the mind translate what the eye sees? Graham calls his art “thought experiments,” and this indicates that Graham is leading his viewers through a series of questions rather than facts or answers. Film’s representational capacity (or the potential for it to depict our consciousness) is the means for which we know ourselves in this cinema-obsessed culture. Film, like Graham’s art, embodies the fusing of sight and sound, of being and thinking and dreaming, all in the name of encountering oneself again and again, each time in a newfound way. (Jason Foumberg)
Rodney Graham shows at Donald Young Gallery, 933 West Washington Boulevard, (312)455-0100. OPENING RECEPTION: Dec. 15, 2006, 5-7:30pm. Through January 2007.