BY Max Andrews in News | 12 MAY 05
Featured in
Issue 91

Art and Psychoanalysis: Rodney Graham

ICA, London, UK

BY Max Andrews in News | 12 MAY 05

The 50-minute video that accompanies Schema: Complications of Payment (1996), one of several Rodney Graham works relating to Sigmund Freud, shows the artist giving a class on Freud to students at the University of British Columbia. Taking on the scholars at their own game – the dense lecture concerns his original research into Freud’s own ‘Botanical Monograph’ dream – Graham nevertheless enacts a deadpan parody of both the trappings of academia and conceptually ‘rigorous’ art. The provocatively tousled flip chart that accompanied Graham’s recent talk with the Freud scholar and writer Darian Leader seemed to promise a similar precarious performance. Given that the event was billed by the ICA as the first of a series of conversations ‘using psychoanalytic techniques to explore the roots of art’, one could be forgiven for anticipating a tongue-in-cheek ‘on the couch’ session. What unfolded, however, was nothing of the sort. Dr Leader seemed content to play the role of analyst for the first hour and a half of the event, insofar as he remained mutely wrapped in thought, while the patient Graham bravely recounted his case history, wandering through slides of his work as if he was in therapy.
When the artist was four years old, his father was the manager of a logging camp and would act as a projectionist, showing films for his son and the workers in the cookhouse. This ‘primal scene’, with what might be called the symbolic authority of the name of the father and the machinery of cinema laid bare, is a wonderfully rich creation myth from which several of Graham’s works have emerged during his long career. Though his recent double-projection work Loudhailer (2003) was apparently inspired by a scene from The Wicker Man (1973), a film that could never have been on the logging camp programme, Graham went on to talk about a work that he had recently shot on high-speed film but which, owing to technical problems, he had not actually seen yet, and which sprang from these formative experiences. Provisionally entitled Torqued Chandelier in a sly reference to ‘macho’ Richard Serra’s torqued steel behemoths, the film acknowledges the screen memory of a falling chandelier in a scene that Graham has tracked to the swashbuckling Scaramouche (1952). Questions from the audience about jokes, melancholia and the death of classical opera attempted to push the event beyond merely an interesting artist’s talk or a confusing equation of psychoanalysis with regurgitated childhood. However, this strangely reticent coming together of two Freud fans failed where Slavoj Zizek’s Looking Awry: A Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture (1991) succeeds dazzlingly in reconciling undoubted enthusiasm and ‘serious’ considerations about ideology with sheer interpretive pleasure.

Max Andrews is a writer, curator and co-founder of Latitudes, Barcelona, Spain.