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About Rodney Graham:
Rodney Graham pulls at the threads of cultural and intellectual history through photography, film, music, performance and painting. He presents cyclical narratives that pop with puns and references to literature and philosophy, from Lewis Carroll to Sigmund Freud to Kurt Cobain, with a sense of humour that betrays Graham’s footing in the post-punk scene of late 1970s Vancouver. The nine-minute loop Vexation Island (1997) presents the artist as a 17th-century sailor, lying unconscious under a coconut tree with a bruise on his head; after eight and a half minutes he gets up and shakes the tree inducing a coconut to fall and knock him out, and for the sequence to start again. Graham returns as a cowboy in How I Became a Ramblin’ Man (1999) and as both city dandy and country bumpkin in City Self/Country Self (2001) – fictional characters all engaged in an endless loop of activity. Such dream states and the ramblings of the unconscious are rooted in Graham’s earlier upside-down photographs of oak trees. Inversion, Graham explains, has a logic: ‘You don’t have to delve very deeply into modern physics to realise that the scientific view holds that the world is really not as it appears. Before the brain rights it, the eye sees a tree upside down in the same way it appears on the glass back of the large format field camera I use.’ (2005)
Rodney Graham was born in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada in 1949. He graduated from the University of British Columbia, Burnaby, Canada in 1971 and lives and works in Vancouver, Canada. Solo exhibitions include Sammlung Goetz, Munich, Germany (2015); Charles H. Scott Gallery, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Vancouver, Canada (2014); Vancouver Art Gallery, Canada (2012); Museum der Moderne, Salzburg, Austria (2011); Museu D’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Spain (2010); Jeu de Paume, Paris, France (2009); Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, CA, USA (2004); Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, UK (2002); Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, Germany (2001); and Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Austria (1999). He has participated in group exhibitions such as the Carnegie International (2013), the 13th, 14th and 17th Sydney Biennales, Australia (2002, 2006, 2010), the Whitney Biennial, New York, USA (2006) and the Biennale d’Art contemporain de Lyon, France (2003). He represented Canada at the 47th Venice Biennale, Italy (1997) and among awards he has received the Gershon Iskowitz Prize, Toronto, Canada (2004), the Kurt Schwitters-Preis, Niedersächsiche Sparkassenstiftung, Germany (2006) and the Audain Prize for lifetime achievement in visual arts, British Columbia, Canada (2011).
Says Graham of the Gondoliers album’s form: “I started working on it pretty quickly after the completion of the last album, which was the first batch of new songs I had written in about 7 years. The new album is short, like the last one. Both are about 30 minutes. I think its easier to create something with a definite shape when, albums are shorter. Easier to organize and sequence themes. I obsess over song sequences and often remind myself that there are over 400 million ways of sequencing 12 songs. Nine songs offer less than four hundred thousand possibilities. In the end I opted for an alphabetical sequence.”
The music also evolves independently from his visual art: “I find it hard to relate my music to my art making. I don’t see it as an extension of my art practice. One thing is for sure I am not thinking of an art audience when I do music, though people in the art world may be the people who are most interested in it, perhaps because I am an artist. Fair enough. I don’t deal with art issues in my music and try not to approach music as an artist. I try to approach it as a musician, as humble as my abilities might be in that regard.”