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Rheinmetall/Victoria 8

Rodney Graham
Rheinmetall/Victoria 8, 2003
Cinemeccanica Vitoria 8
35mm film projector, silent 35 mm film loop
Puchased 2004

Rodney Graham is an internationally renowned artist and a formative and influential figure in the rise of conceptual-based practices that have been a staple of Vancouver art production since the early 1970s. Much of Rodney Graham’s art is intelligent and funny in a gently parodic way. His works cross genres and his practice is not easily categorized; his installations, performances, photographs, sculptures, films, videos, texts and music address popular culture as well as historical, literary, philosophical, musical and scientific material. Graham’s works have taken the form of architectural models, large-scale photographs, books, a computerized piano, a stagecoach and musical scores, as well as records and CDs.

In Rheinmetall/Victoria 8, a 1930s German Rheinmetall typewriter is the subject of a silent film projected by a 1961 Victoria 8 film projector, once considered the “Rolls Royce” of projectors. Views of the typewriter are presented in a series of long, slow, silent, static shots reminiscent of Neue Sachlichkeit photography of the ’20s. Close-ups reveal the inner workings – the hammers and the keypads – and unexpected beauty of the obsolete technology. Over the course of the short film, snow begins to fall, casting an icing sugar-like dust over the keys. In a signature Rodney Graham move, this very subtle action (a possible climax) seems completely irrational and recalls, among other things, the cinnamon granules dropped on the oven burner in his earlier Coruscating Cinnamon Granules 1991 (in the National Gallery of Canada’s collection). As the film progresses, the typewriter becomes completely engulfed and begins to resemble more a stormy snow-covered landscape. In the film’s denouement, a final dump threatens to bury the contraption, but stops short. The last scene depicts a frontal view of the snow-covered typewriter. Then the film, installed on a looper, begins again.

The sheer size and loud mechanical noise of the Victoria 8 projector in Rheinmetall/Victoria 8 both diverts the viewer’s cinematic gaze from the strangely seductive and compelling image of the typewriter. On screen, the projector’s cyclical drone embellishes the silent film with a soundtrack appropriating the repetitive, and all but forgotten, noise of a typewriter in use. Looking away from the screen, we are offered a view onto an industrial machine usually relegated to and hidden by a rojection booth located at the back of the theatre so that its sound would not interfere with the power of the moving image and its accompanying soundtrack. Alternately glancing between the typewriter and the projector, the viewer begins to realize a shared trait between the two “duelling technologies”: obsolescence. The recognition of this shared characteristic is not without humour and is typical of Graham’s wry touch.