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Coruscating Cinnamon Granules

Rodney Graham
Coruscating Cinnamon Granules, 1996
16 mm film loop, projector, screen, cinema seats, kitchen-size enclosure
305 x 460 cm (size of viewing enclosure)

Coruscating Cinnamon Granules is one of several film and video pieces that Rodney Graham has made, although he is also well known for his photographic, sculptural, and textual work. Graham's film works address the idea of a negative cinema by deconstructing the cinematic experience and re-presenting it in ways that critically explore its substance and dynamics. According to Graham, Coruscating Cinnamon Granules

"documents. . . a lighting event performed at home and is intended to be projected in a cinema bearing the dimensions of my own modest kitchen: a glittering mini-spectacle that resembles a constellation of stars that appear before one's eyes after a mild blow to the head, created by simply spreading granulated particles of the common household spice over the surface of a spiral electric cooking element before turning the element on in darkness. "

Coruscating Cinnamon Granules is both a film and a constructed representation of a cinema - an intimate cinema the size of his own kitchen, containing five or six seats exactly like those one would expect to find in a movie theatre. Graham makes no attempt to muffle the noise of the projector: even though it is situated outside the small viewing space, it is loud and obvious because the film is silent. The projected image is completely cinematic. It is bright and large, filling the viewer's field of vision just as film projection in a conventional theatre does.

Graham's work may be interpreted as part of an extended essay on seeing as illumination. In photographic terms, it is illumination that creates an image in the camera obscura or on photographic film, just as vision is the result of light reaching the back of the retina. Graham's fascination extends to the illuminations that take place in the human psyche; hence his longstanding interest in Freud. The fact that the image in Coruscating Cinnamon Granules is looped and repeats itself endlessly alludes, in Graham's mind, to the trap of neurosis, where the subject is doomed to repeat his or her actions over and over without any understanding or sense of purpose.

Coruscating Cinnamon Granules avoids the storyline of Graham's more literary work, such as Vexation Island (1997), but it employs similar formal structures to point back to the institution of the cinema. Film is made to be shown repeatedly, mechanically, and is, one could say, by its very nature neurotic, in the sense that Graham interprets neurosis. In spite of this, the filmed image does seduce and illuminate, leaving the viewer with a sense of wonderment, which is also part of the cinematic experience. That this can be made to happen with a kitchen stove and an ordinary spice attests to the transformative power of vision and of Graham's art.