The exhibition H F | R G brings together works by Harun Farocki and Rodney Graham, thus confronting two major contemporary artists from the same generation but very different backgrounds. In their use of film and video, and their shared interest in the image, history and self-representation, Farocki and Graham have many points in common. According to the curator of the exhibition, Chantal Pontbriand, they brilliantly reveal the tropes of our age. These two artists explore our complex, image-saturated world which is beset by many existential, social and political difficulties, incisively and with originality. Farocki and Graham are constantly inventing new devices to sharpen our perception of the world.
Presented on two levels of the Jeu de Paume
, this exhibition is like two retrospectives combined. Most of the featured works have never been seen in Paris before: digital projections, installations and single-channel videos by Harun Farocki, large-format photographs and lightboxes, conceptual sculptural works, sculptural installations and video installations, and 16 and 35 mm films by Rodney Graham.
In all, the exhibition comprises 45 works and explores four major concepts that inform the work of both artists, and sometimes a single work: the Archive, the Non-Verbal, the Machine and Editing. However, rather than organise the works into four corresponding sections, these are positioned dialogically in a sequence guided by intuition and by the echoes between the pieces. As in a treasure hunt, the plaques indicate the concepts found in each of the works.
The concepts act as transversal thematic lines structuring the exhibition, like leitmotivs developing in different directions, depending on the use made of them in the different works, and tracking the way the two artists give them intelligible form. The image is treated multi-dimensionally here, in such a way as to generate hyperlinks. The use of the archive as source and resource, text and language, as well as the arrangements proposed by the notion of editing or that of the machine will make this non-verbal functioning of the image more explicit, and also its open, polysemous nature. The four concepts thus resonate together. Thus, the dynamic of the hyperlink, which is so characteristic of our contemporary network culture (beyond post-structuralism and postmodernism) emerges freely from the exhibition, which is animated throughout by the dynamics of the spectators presence; It is for this reason that the monogram exhibition title, with the artists two initials separated by a slash, evokes Roland Barthes S/Z, one of the first works in the history of post-structuralism to explore intertextuality as its primary subject.
The use of the archive, as both source and resource, text and language, is a dominant feature of both practices. Graham and Farocki are both interested in phenomena linked to the image and to memory. In contrast to the current tendency towards the tabula rasa, these artists carry us forward by inventing devices and systems that change the way we look at the world and at art. Probing the meaning and role of images, Harun Farocki, who is known for the many films in which he employs a rigorous documentary approach, uses cinematographic and televisual archives (Arbeiter verlassen die Fabrik in elf Jahrzehnten [Factory Lock-Ups over Eleven Decades], 12 monitors, 2006; Vergleich über ein Drittes Ich glaubte Gefangene zu sehen [Comparison via a Third Party], 2007), and images picked up by surveillance cameras in various institjutions (Je croyais voir des prisonniers [I thought I saw prisoners], 2006). These remixed images offer a new and different vision of the subject.
For Rodney Graham, the performance dimension is a fundamental aspect. His interest is in archives that may be photographic (see his series of trees, several of which are found around the exhibition), literary (The System of Landors Cottage. A Pendant to Poes Last Story, 1987 and Reading Machine for Lenz, 1993) or musical. The archive is a constant in his work, in which we find regular references to the history of art and photography (Camera obscura mobile, 1996) and cinema (Vexation Island, 1997). In our post-media world of over-information, both these artists force us to perceive the artist in a creative manner.
What language cannot communicate is at the heart of Farockis work. He analyses the emergence of the non-verbal in cinema, attempting to reveal that which cannot be said in what is shown, what actions reveal as opposed to commentaries, combined with the surprises created by the editing of images (Nicht löschbares Feuer [Feu inextinguible] 1969; Schnittstelle [Section], 1995; Der Ausdruck der Hände [The Expression of Hands], 1997).
Graham is concerned with what separates the known from the unknown in human behaviour and in existence. He creates situations in which the non-verbal emerges through the combination of image, action and gesture, these being integrated into a repetitive structure which thus reveals the dichotomy between the conscious and the unconscious (Halcion Sleep, 1994; Vexation Island, 1997; How I Became a Ramblin Man, 1999; City Self/Country Self, 2001).
The Machine (and Dispositifs)
Both artists are acutely aware of machines and machine-like devices (dispositifs).
For Farocki, it is the cinema machine that bears witness to the world and its functioning (Auge/Maschine I, II and III, 2000, 2001, 2003 are commentaries on the technologies of war).
Graham explores ways of reading, looking and behaving that are often linked to machines, notably with the camera obscura (Camera obscura mobile, 1996), and the bicycle and other modes of transport. He links up a typewriter and film projector (Rheinmetall/Victoria 8, 2003), or produces commentaries on cinematographic, photographic and theatrical devices (Coruscating Cinnamon Granules, 1996, Dance!!!!!, 2008). In Graham's case it is more the image machine in the broad sense that is being explored, discussed, tinkered with, in the interests of highlighting the metaphysics of images and the paradox those images contain. (Chantal Pontbriand)
In the case of Harun Farocki, editing provides a unique way of understanding and analysing the world. In his works he often compares different forms of editing (Schnittstelle [Section], 1995; Deep Play, 2007).
Rodney Graham uses editing as a way of introducing his own presence into the work of other artists, by including, for example, fragments of texts or musical patterns (Loudhailer, 2003). He thus inscribes the past in the present and opens the way to a possible, unknown world.
Harun Farocki uses cinema history and the concept of cinema as "machine" as an image-making system, approaching the medium as sociopolitical praxis and as a language enabling revelation of the world and the way it functions. An uvre of over ninety films makes use of different forms photography, drawing, documentary images in an analysis of the convergence of war, economics and politics within the overall social framework. Since the 1990s Farocki has been creating installations revolving around the making and processing of images in both the historical and contemporary contexts, and the "soft editing" effected by the viewer's consciousness.
Born in 1944 in Nový Jičín in a Czechoslovakia annexed by Germany, Harun Farocki studied at the Deutsche Film und Fernsehakademie in Berlin, where he still lives and works. Initially a director, he also published Filmkritik, a journal which, between 197484, served as a vehicle for his extensive theoretical writings about the image. Retrospectives of his films have been held at the Jeu de Paume (1995), the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona (2004) and the Cinematheque in Vienna (2006). He taught at the University of California in Berkeley in 199399 and is currently a guest lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. The installation Deep Play (2007), which is part of this exhibition, was created and presented at Documenta 12 in Kassel. HF|RG presents most of Farockis installations since 1995 and thirty-two films from 1966 to today.
Rodney Graham has a complex relationship with the history of modernity and postmodernity. Primarily interested in the functioning of ideas and "ways of doing", he draws on a field of reference extending from the history of photography, the visual arts and cinema (Hitchcock, Judd, Smithson, Beuys), to literature (Mallarmé, Roussel, Caroll, Poe, Fleming), to music (Wagner) and psychoanalysis (Freud). He makes frequent personal appearances in his conceptual works, photos and videos, exploring both the artist's stance in time and the mechanisms of consciousness and self-fashioning. As a singer, he writes songs for the Rodney Graham Band. At once conceptual and playful, Graham brings his very personal brand of humour to various artistic registers.
Born in 1949, in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Rodney Graham currently lives and works in Vancouver. Graham studied art history and humanities before beginning to exhibit in North America and Europe in the early 1980s. In 1992 he took part in Documenta 9 in Kassel, and in 1997 represented Canada at the Venice Biennale. He has been the subject of major exhibitions at the Sprengel Museum in Hanover, the BAWAG Foundation in Vienna, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Montréal, the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, ICA in Philadelphia, MOCA in Los Angeles, the Whitney Biennial of American Art in New York, the Bergen Kunsthalle, the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Marseille. HF|RG is the most important exhibition Graham has had in Paris to date and brings together works from 1984 to the present.
Chantal Pontbriand, Curator
Art critic and curator Chantal Pontbriand founded the contemporary art magazine PARACHUTE in 1975. She has curated some twenty exhibitions as well as fifteen international events, mainly in the fields of performance, dance, multimedia installation, video and photography, and has also directed numerous discussion groups. From 1982 to 2003 she was director of FIND (Festival International de Nouvelle Danse) in Montreal. Her publications include Performance, Text(e)s & Documents (ed., PARACHUTE, 1980), Fragments critiques (1978-1998), (Jacqueline Chambon, 1998), Communauté et gestes (PARACHUTE, 2000), Danse : langage propre et hybridité culturelle (ed., PARACHUTE, 2001), Art et Psychanalyse: Sur ma manière de travailler (co-ed. with Hervé Bouchereau, PARACHUTE, 2002), PARACHUTE, Essais choisis 1975-2000 (ed., La Lettre volée, 2004). She is currently working on several books, including Le Grand Labo, essai sur les pratiques artistiques contemporaines et l'institution, and an anthology of essays from 2000 to 2008, and also on an event centring on the work of Yvonne Rainer.