This article was originally delivered as a lecture at the Art Gallery of Ontario as part of a series of talks and discussions which accompanied the exhibition “Dan Graham: Public/Private,” June 29-Septemper 25, 1994. The text, which is an excerpt of a longer version, retains the rhythm and, more importantly for the author for the author, some of the idiosyncrasies of the orginal oral presentation.
You could say that my deployment of time here, tonight, is in part a response to what Graham has said about the “immediate image” – those are his words – and about the “neutral, “timeless” quality implied by most architectural spaces. His deployment of video – with which he is, at times, able to introduce into his architecture the image of an infinite regress of time continuums within time continuums – is his way of marking time, of introducing into a situation a kind of contretemps or countertime, a syncopation which tends to throw things off: an awkward incident perhaps; and one which gives evidence of what always arrives at a bad time.
Here, now, is one such incident.
Oddly enough, it’s an image, one that I have taken upon myself to reproduce. Some of you may no doubt recognize it; it’s the last reproduction found in Dan Graham’s Video-Architecture-Television, published in 1979 by the NSCAD Press. This image – a photograph of the artist in his installation Present Continuous Past(s) taken in 1975 at the John Gibson Gallery, New York – has, since the time of its publication, always held a certain fascination for me; enough, in fact, that at some point – I can’t recall when – I made a promise to myself that, one day, I would make something of it.
If you look closely you will notice that the artist has been caught in the middle of performing a little hop for the camera. He seems to be jumping on the spot, and, as well, appears to be very pleased with himself. Now the moment the shutter of the stills photographer was released, what I take to be Graham’s spontaneous gesture, his little two-step (and again, if you look closely you will understand why I say that this dance was necessarily performed, at the very least, as a twosome – you see, of course, that he is, among other things, accompanied by a number of his own reflections) makes of itself an example of its own impossibility: a step understood as a step-for-nothing.
I should explain what I mean by “a step-for-nothing,” a step where everything and nothing is possible. The notion comes from Maurice Blanchot, from his text The Step Not Beyond or Le Pas Au-Dela whose articulation doubtlessly will perplex the logician in all of us. Indeed, Blanchot describes the “pas” – the step which is at the same time not a step beyond (itself) – as a “relation of strangeness” which, in folding itself back up, unfolds itself. An impossibility or, at the very least, an impracticality. But it is precisely through such an impossibility or impracticality – through the peculiar “logic” of this overstep, this stepping beyond itself which, in never completing itself always calls for another step, another limit – that I wish to think the coming-to-pass of an event, that is, a demonstration.
But to get back to my image and my introduction. What is pictured here in the closing pages of Video-Architecture-Television is a picture of the artist with his work. We see him with his work, but we also see him in it. So what is he doing there? Is he working? Is this another one of those portraits of the artist – “the man himself” – at work? Perhaps. But, just as well, couldn’t it be that he’s simply killing time, hanging out while mugging for the camera? In keeping, then, with a certain playfulness, I propose that we caption this little event, going so far as to suggest that the artist appears to proclaim – in a speech balloon perhaps – something like the following: “Here I am – at this very moment in this work where I make an example of myself for myself, for myself and for you the other.”
In effect, here, in my reading of this scene, a scene in which the artist is caught modeling himself for himself, I am saying that he – Graham – appears to be “giving-himself-a-presence,” or let us say, in order to generalize a bit, an experience. He – Graham – gives himself an experience. But, just a moment ago, I said that this very same performance implied something quite different: namely, an impossibility; that is to say, that everything in the scene which seems to promote spontaneity or immediacy – Graham’s own for example – is marked by repetition. For example: in the folds of a double mirror, in the deferred or delayed sequences with which the video apparatus mimes the structure of self-appropriation or auto-affection, in the crossing of multiple and multiplying glances, and so forth.