Photo by Alx Phillips
Rodney Graham portrait home
In Barcelona for the inauguration of the retrospective show of his work, Rodney Graham answered questions from Metropolitan about his art
Describe your early work.
It was in response to the British Columbian landscape. I liked the irony of experiencing nature under stress-inducing circumstances. Igniting a river in light with an obnoxious diesel-powered engine; taking Polaroid shots of the woods at night...which I did again recently on Montserrat mountain [on show]. At one point, I nearly fell off.
You make reference to a number of writers and thinkers: Georg Büchner, Edgar Allan Poe, Sigmund Freud...
I’m interested in mental processes. In Freud’s Dream of the Botanical Monograph he includes a pressed specimen of a plant, which he uses for his theories on the unconscious. It’s written in beautifully poetic language.
You’re best known for your video ‘Vexation Island’, shown in the Venice Biennale in 1997.
Although my big breakthrough came in 1995 with ‘Halcyon Sleep’, first shown in Barcelona, in fact. I was a person asleep in the back of a car being driven to the city centre. It opened up all kinds of possibilities for me.
More recent work is also performance related.
Yes, in this show you see me playing the role of an artist from the Sixties; a 19th-century artist’s model, posing as a bugler for a panoramic piece about the Franco-Prussian war; and a musician performing in a fictional early music concert, set in a Unitarian church in 1977.
This layering of the past, channelled into a specific fictional event... does it say something about your perception of reality?
How do you feel about the MACBA show?
Honestly, I think this is the best show I’ve seen of my work. I’m very excited about it. In fact, the first time I showed ‘Edge of a Wood’ [on show] was in Berlin with the same curator, Friedrich Meschede. Another idea that became the large two-part light box ‘Allegory of Folly’, in which I play Erasmus reading the Vancouver phonebook [on show], came from a conversation I had with Bartomeu Marí [now MACBA’s director].
New work is on display at the Picasso Museum. It’s quite different! Isn’t that risky?
It is a bit scary. The pieces are really heavy.
Read Alx Phillips's review of Rodney Graham's retrospective, 'A través del bosque' here