REVIEW: Rodney Graham @ BALTIC, Gateshead

Posted on April 10th 2017 by Whats on Northeast

Words: Andrew Bailes for Cuckoo Review

It isn’t surprising that Rodney Graham has exhibited a very special selection of work with ‘That’s Not Me’ at the BALTIC this spring. A musician, and more prominently an exciting contemporary artist, Canadian-born Graham has consistently showcased his elaborate and experimental multi-media talents throughout his career, and this exhibition is no different.

Aptly titled ‘That’s Not Me’, this Rodney Graham collection provides multiple self-portraits in which the artist is present, but disguised as a fictional character. A dry-waller, a paddler, a chef and an actor/director are each portrayed in various states of ‘break’ or rest, in four images popularly known as The Four Seasons. The construction of each photograph in The Four Seasons not only links Graham directly to the focal point of each piece, but also allows a sense of vulnerability throughout. The theme of a smoke break, shown directly in ‘Smoke break 2 (Drywaller)’ and ‘Betula Pendula Fastigiata (Sous-Chef on Smoke Break)’ and also less noticeably in ‘Actor/Director, 1954’, catches these characters in their moment of calm and challenges us to experience their psyche. In contrast, the figure in ‘Paddler, Mouth of the Seymour’ who isn’t smoking, looks directly into the camera with a sense of urgency and panic – it seems almost as if we as a viewer have disturbed his moment of peace.

Seeing these photographs on a flat, non-backlit screen since attending the exhibition does not do the vibrancy and wonder of these pieces justice. The vivid hues of Graham’s work pops under the scrutiny of his lightboxes, and the colour palette of moody artwork ‘Dance!!!’, 2008, loses some of its shine without illumination; this collection simply must be seen in person. Another recurring symbol in these photographs is the use of newspapers: a consistent reference point to times past. In fact, although the majority of these pieces were completed between 2000-2017, the story told in each one often references much earlier settings, ranging from a cowboy saloon to a modern day concert, achieving a more eclectic look at the workings of Graham’s mind.

In addition, an audio-assisted montage of 80 saturated 35mm slides are projected in the 2000 work ‘Aberdeen’, which portray a kind of desolate blue- and yellow-stained city. Level 4 of the BALTIC also allows you to experience multiple rock songs from Graham’s latest musical effort, ‘Gondoliers’, released digitally and on vinyl by The Vinyl Factory on March 17th. A simple, playful punk rock ‘n’ roll collection with great energy, this exhibition feels intimately curated by Graham himself.

In contrast, Rodney Graham’s fifth level at the BALTIC provides only film, and predominantly pieces made in the 90s. The most immediately striking of these film works is ‘Torqued Chandelier Release’, 2005, a large projected spinning chandelier inspired by Sir Isaac Newton’s bucket experiment. A satisfying look at the depths of human thought also adorns ‘The Green Cinematograph (Programme 1: Pipe smoker and overflowing sink)’ where our patience is tested.

This review originally appeared on Cuckoo Review, a site dedicating to developing the skills of young writers in partnership with venues across the North East. For more reviews from young writers, visit the Cuckoo Review website.


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