Rodney Graham: 303 Gallery

By Burton, Johanna | Artforum International, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Rodney Graham: 303 Gallery


Burton, Johanna, Artforum International


In his three-act play La machine a ecrire (The Typewriter, 1941), Jean Cocteau presents a female protagonist indistinguishable from the eponymous tool of her modern trade. This mysterious character's deep-seated aggressiveness is borne out in typewritten letters signed "The Typewriter" whose alarming anonymity propels an entire community into a state of sustained anxiety. Recognizing the metaphoric implications of the perpetrator's activities, the detective bent on cracking "the typewriter's" case likens her use of the mechanical writing tool to that of a machine gun (unsurprising, perhaps, given that companies such as Remington produced both machines designed for speed, precision, and repetition). The culprit, too, eventually defines her actions as a literal (and literary) attack for which she "chose the filthiest, most despicable of human weapons to beat them with--a typewriter!"

Practically obsolete, the typewriter now rarely inspires awe or fear. Yet it retains some of the fascination it first evinced as one of the earliest technological prostheses--simultaneously extending and alienating the body while mechanizing and homogenizing the inherently personal act of writing. In his film installation Rheinmetall/Victoria-8, 2003, Rodney Graham, who has initiated evocative contextual recastings for some twenty-five years, takes the typewriter as distinct cultural repository and thus as a site not merely of production (however outdated) but also of mnemonic accumulation and time's passage. Graham's ten-minute-forty-seven-second 35 mm film projection painstakingly, in a style at once loving and clinical, details the contours of a mid-'30s German Rheinmetall model typewriter, the likes of which could easily have figured into Cocteau's paranoid schema, written as it was at a moment when a thinly veiled symbolic slide from typewriter to tank was obvious. …

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