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Dan Graham: Rock 'n' Roll Review - Lisson Gallery

3 October - 3 November 2018



Since his emergence in the mid 60s, Dan Graham has been creating his own signature style of so called ‘hybrid art,’ mixing video, site-specific sculpture and performance. For years, Graham has refused to be confined to the framework of the contemporary art work around him, and thus is renowned worldwide for his work. In ‘Rock n Roll,’ Dan Graham looks closely at the relationship between the performer and the audience, employing a site specific ‘stage-set’ installation as well as a film piece which accompanies it.

Graham’s stage-set installation as part of this exhibition seemed to particularly steal the audience’s attention. This ‘quasi-functional space,’ as Graham refers to it, was a transparent curvilinear installation, creating optical illusions and distortions of the reality behind it. This way, Graham gives the viewer a more in-depth look into the intended reality of a performance against the often distorted and warped perception of the audience. This architectural anomaly evoked a feeling of calmness with its peaceful curves and the accompanying fluidity that brought. Curved glass panes reminiscent of the dominating, corporate figures of London’s skyline, yet also elicit a sort of childlike response - it feels playful and somewhat innocent with its lack of detail and its jarring structure. This is something familiar within Graham’s oeuvre, with work such as his 2015-2016 Child’s Play, comprising of what Graham referred to as ‘Fun houses for children and photo ops for parents.’

A surprising revelation in the exhibition was that the viewers presence seems to commence a part of the experience: seeing the other spectators, and seeing their reactions to your presence. The viewer becomes a part of the performance, and as such is subjected to the same distortions they have just noticed when perceived by the rest of the audience. There is also a certain sense of voyeurism involved in this piece, gazing into an altered reality and being presented with images of yourself aside countless others, unsure if they can see you in the same way. Whilst most of Graham’s work dates back to and is influenced heavily by the late 20th century, this installation also seemed to be commenting on the current state of social media. The innovative and ineffable nature of this installation was perhaps commenting on the lack of understanding we have about what effects the current relationship to technology might have, and thus the only thing we can attempt to analyse is our individual perception of our surroundings. The installation encourages the viewer to notice their perception process and realise those warped realities that we take as gospel.

Graham often utilises film installations as part of his works, and Rock 'n' Roll features ‘Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30,’ a puppet show of sorts set in the 1970s. This work was certainly entertaining and features music from Japanther as well as a main theme tune composed by artist Rodney Graham. The work attempts to portray an America after the 60s Hippie culture. Graham describes it as a ‘conduit for grandparents or older parents to share memories of the 1960s hippie era.’

However, this piece was slightly too scattered in its presentation, and it seemed to draw a tenuous link to the rest of the exhibition. Still, the production and the puppeteering involved was impressive to say the least, and the work of skilled puppet master Phillip Huber stood out in particular, creating lifelike–yet somewhat abstract–portrayals of the characters involved.

I left the exhibition with the feeling of a certain weight being lifted: the burden of being unaware of my perception process; the burden of subscribing to the delusions and distortions that we are presented with, and never searching for the obscured reality behind them.

The exhibition will feature a live performance from Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore on the 30th of October as well as London based post-punk outfit, The Raincoats. This promises to bring the exhibition to life in a new and refreshing way, but nevertheless, this is an exhibition that gives back as much as you give to it, and promises to expand and challenge the way you think about your perception.

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