In the mid-1970s, Rodney Graham questioned the fundamentals of western musical and artistic culture. In very varied forms of expression, he applied strategies of duplication (works within works: mise en abyme), literary, philosophical and visual references, and temporal alteration and overlap, in order to re-think the relations between reality and its representation. The artist developed a complex and hybrid oeuvre, ranging from Camera Obscura (1979) to films, photographs taken in light boxes, architectonic models, illuminations of nature, and textual and musical pieces. In his early works, Graham explored the mechanisms of visual recording (photography and film), to question our methods of perception. By making his own apparatus, designed to replace what he had lost, he rediscovered systems used since the Renaissance. In observing the fact that, like the camera, the eye brings about a reversal; of the image, he deduced therefrom a kinship between the organ and the machine. Rodney Graham’s work is at once textual and visual. It multiplies inclusions in texts, and re-creates existing works in the manner of “annexation”, to use his own word, often on the basis of a parodic style. For example, he wrote a long supplementary passage to an Edgar Allan Poe text, created a series of sculptures based on Donald Judd’s work with the inclusion of a text by Sigmund Freud (On Sexuality, 1987), produced a work by using a few bars from Wagner’s Parsifal, and re-created the fictitious performance of a late 16th century musical piece. His works play on the ambiguity between form and content, mixing fiction and reality in a “game” in which Rodney Graham is also often a player.
Rodney Graham was born in 1949 in Vancouver, Canada, where he lives and works today. Between 1968 and 1971, he studied literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and discovered art by himself in the ensuing years. The artist has had major retrospectives and exhibitions (Kunsthalle, Zurich, 2002; White Chapel, London, 2003; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2005; Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, 2009; Museu d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona, 2010), and took part in the 1997 Venice Biennale—where he represented Canada with his film Vexation Island—and in Documenta IX in Kassel in 1992. In 2004 he won the Gershon Iskowitz prize (Toronto) and in 2006 he was awarded the Kurt Schwitters prize.