Michael Snow
Clothed Woman (In Memory of my Father) 1963
oil and lucite on canvas
152 x 386.2 cm
Purchased 1966
National Gallery of Canada

Rodney Graham: Vexation Island and Other Works Opens at the the National Gallery of Canada from 15 April to 13 June 1999

Ottawa, Canada - April 13, 1999

The National Gallery of Canada is pleased to present Rodney Graham: Vexation Island and Other Works, an exhibition consisting of four projected works by Vancouver artist Rodney Graham, an innovative contemporary artist of international reputation. The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery in collaboration with Loretta Yarlow and Jack Liang of the Art Gallery of York University, and is on view from 15 April to 13 June 1999.

« The National Gallery is strongly committed to the presentation of contemporary works of art, » said Pierre Théberge, Director, National Gallery of Canada. « This work of Rodney Graham in film and video art provides an excellent opportunity for the Gallery to feature a selection of recent work by one of Canada's leading artists. »

Born in Vancouver in 1949 and a graduate of the University of British Columbia, Rodney Graham is well known both within and outside of Canada, and represented Canada at the Venice Biennale in 1997. Known for his masterful use of a wide variety of mediums, Rodney Graham has returned several times over the course of his career to making film and video as art.

The four works shown here are linked by the critical perspectives they offer on what the cinema is and might be. There are, as well, other, deeper links between them. Graham often refers to Freudian psychology as a source for his work and, indeed, has made works that make use of Freud's writings. The artist is often intrigued by the origins of his own interests in early childhood experience -- he traces his engagement in the cinema, for example, back to his early childhood, when his father showed films on Sunday in the logging camp where he worked. He has said that his earliest work with film, Two Generators, 1984, came out of a strong, neurotic aversion to the medium, an aversion expressed largely in the challenges that the work poses to the audience. This aversion has since evolved. While Vexation Island, made for the Venice Biennale of 1997, is a critical appropriation of epic film-making in high Grahamesque style, it also challenges popular cinema and indeed art, by daring to be humourous, engaging and beautiful to watch.

The works in the exhibition are based on continuous loop structures that suggest cycles. The notion of the cycle is a key concept in much of Graham's production and the artist explores it in great depth and variety.

In Two Generators, for example, a rushing river is illuminated at night by generators, an artificial cycle providing the conditions for a primitive cinema, the film lasting only as long as the illumination that allowed it to be made. This filmed burlesque of nature's cycles is repeated in the cycle of projecting the film, the lights dimming, the film shown, the lights coming up, this process repeated as many times as the budget to pay for the projectionist will allow.

In Halcion Sleep, the artist, drugged with sleeping medication, reclines asleep in the back of a van driven through a city at night, the lights whirling past in real time. We are not told why he is drugged or anything else, and the endless looping of the sleep and ride suggest someone caught in a larger literary or theatrical narrative, or even the repetitions of daily life.

Coruscating Cinnamon Granules is projected large in a small, domestic-scale space, recalling the kitchen in which it was filmed. A stove element heats up in the dark, granules of cinnamon sprinkled upon it glow and fade like tiny stars being born and dying. The element is turned off and the image fades to a few sparkles, an intensely poetic association of a quotidian pleasure with the universe.

Vexation Island is a fragment of a tale of a shipwrecked sailor, inspired by a view of the boarded-up Canadian Pavilion in the Giardini of Venice (at the Venice Biennale) like a desert island bedecked with a lonely tree. It is filmed in the bright colour of epic, popular cinema and might be interpreted as a broad metaphor for the striving, the frustration, perhaps the neurosis of creative life.

A preview screening will take place from 1:30 to 3:30 pm on Tuesday 13 April beginning in the Auditorium and continuing in the Upper Contemporary Galleries. As the Gallery will be closed to the public that day, media representatives are requested to enter by the Foyer entrance. Artist Rodney Graham and Janice Seline, Acting Associate Curator, Media Arts, National Gallery of Canada, will be available for interviews in the Upper Contemporary Galleries.

On Wednesday 14 April at 6 pm, Rodney Graham will give a talk in the Lecture Hall in conjunction with the opening of the exhibition. The Gallery will be open exceptionally until 8 pm that evening.
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