Rodney Graham (b. 1949)

Halcyon Sleep (1994)
Vexation Island (1997)
How I Became a Ramblin' Man (1997)
The Phonokinetoscope (2001)

Rodney Graham (born January 16, 1949) is an artist and musician born in Abbotsford, British Columbia. He is most often associated with the Vancouver School.

Coming out of Vancouver’s 1970s photoconceptual tradition, Rodney Graham’s work is often informed by historical literary, musical, philosophical and popular references. He is most often associated with other West-coast Canadian artists, including Vikky Alexander, Jeff Wall, Stan Douglas, Roy Arden and Ken Lum. He was taught by fellow Vancouver school artist Ian Wallace while at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, from 1979 to 1980. Around this time, he played in the band UJ3RK5 with fellow artist Jeff Wall. His wide-ranging and often unclassifiable work has frequently engaged with technologies of the past: literary, psychological and musical texts, optical devices, and film as historical medium.

Among his earliest works is Camera Obscura (1979; destroyed 1981) a site-specific work that consisted of a shed-sized optical device on his family’s farm field near Abbotsford, British Columbia. Entering the shed, the observer was confronted with an inverted image of a solitary tree.[1] Both prior to this (with Rome Ruins [1978])[2] and throughout the 1980s and 90s, Graham employed the technique of the camera obscura in his work.

Beginning in the early 1980s, Graham took found texts as the basis for his bookworks—at once conceptual and material—inserting bookmarks with additional pages, inserting textual loops or incorporating books into optical devices in works such as Dr. No* (1991), Lenz (1983) and Reading Machine for Lenz (1993), respectively; many of these were carried out with the esteemed Belgian publisher Yves Gevaert and/or the gallerist Christine Burgin. His extensive body of works related to Sigmund Freud (beginning in 1983) in a sense develops out of this text-based practice, though later found books would be integrated unmodified into Donald Judd-like “specific objects,” as with The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud (1987).

In 1994, Graham began a series of films and videos in which he himself appears as the principal character: Halcion Sleep (1994), Vexation Island (1997) (shown at Canadian pavilion of the 1997 Venice Biennale), How I Became a Ramblin’ Man (1999), and The Phonokinetoscope (2002), for instance. It is in this last work that evidence of Graham’s engagement both with the origins of cinema and its eventual demise surface, a work where Graham takes up a prototype by Thomas Edison and puts forward an argument for the relation between sound and image in film. Later, in Rheinmetall/Victoria 8 (2003), two increasingly obsolete technologies, the typewriter and film projector, face off against one another—with the latter projecting a film of the former.

In 2003, Graham turned to drawing and painting for the first time. Adopting a persona in a host of related photographic, installation and painted works, The Gifted Amateur, November 10th, 1962, 2007, indicates both continuing performative and art historical directions in his work.

Presently, Graham is working on a series of film installations with Harun Farocki, called "HF/RG," slated to open at the Jeu de Paume, Paris in Spring 2009. Recent work will also be the subject of a survey at the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona in January 2010, which will travel.[6] Graham lives and works in Vancouver, and is currently represented by 303 Gallery, New York; Christine Burgin Gallery, New York.