KünstlerInnenporträts 44

Conversation with Dan Graham

Rainer Metzger: You have a specific work in the sixties, the magazine pages in the seventies, the installations, performances, and in the eighties the concentration on architecture. What would you say about your actual work? Is there still the impact of thinking in terms of decades?

Dan Graham: Well, I was not thinking in terms of decades. I was thinking in terms of media, and I was also thinking in terms of what could be a hybrid between two different media at the same time. In the 1960s, the sixties' disposable Pop art and hippie culture was really created by media and media was being created at the same time, more an idea of media; so I gravitated toward areas that were very inexpensive and were available for me to use. The magazine page was available because I was writing for magazines and I was able to – sometimes in the writing and sometimes simply as a favour – put advertisements in a magazine directly, also they were inexpensive and disposable. When I got to teach in the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, in the early seventies, Canada was a media culture based on film and television and there was also the access to direct community television which I used for teaching. I was also interested in the way that television was being used for psychological and sociological models, and there was a guerrilla group of local television people that were very much part of the utopian, communitarian ideals of that particular time. I also liked the idea of using equipment in a teaching situation and using it to be partly teaching, partly directly accessing the local media. At the same time artists were beginning to do performances, so my performance period came from the fact that many artists were doing performances in alternative spaces. I simply wanted to contribute to that particular idea. The video with time delay came about also because the technology was there – it was inexpensive, easy. Bruce Nauman was using the same time delay situation, and a lot of my work changed, shifting from Pop and Minimal Art to work coming out of San Francisco – not only Bruce Nauman but also dancers like Yvonne Rainer, people who were using their body as performance and as audience-music-spectator situations. Architecture really began completely and totally. I took away all the apparatus of television and video. I wanted to use the same things as part of architecture as when I was using video, contrast with video as part of the Renaissance system of perspective, the static, instantaneous mirror view, the rectilinear interior space, the window supplanted by videos, time delay, the soundtrack being dissociated from video – so you had many times available at the same time and dissociated soundtrack. And also the fact that you could take a video or TV image from anywhere on earth or outside of earth, like the moon, and transmit it live to everybody's living-room, something that you couldn't do with Renaissance perspective or normal architecture. So I got into architecture also because I wasn't interested in the idea of the white cube of the gallery – a classic idea from the sixties and seventies. I wanted to take away one of the white walls and make it into a window, as soon as that happened, I had architecture.

RM: Are you still occupied with architecture as you have been in the eighties? As you have been ten years ago? You are still designing pavilions, but would you say it is quite the same now, in the year 1995?

DG: Well, it is what comes into the office and recent projects involve a combination of photography, actually transparent photography and "Two-Way-Mirror"-pavilions.
"Children's Pavilion" to the "Skate Board Pavilion" for teenagers orientated me in a way of wanting to do things for children and teenagers.

RM: I think, there is also a renaissance of some of your works. What you have given up in several phases of your work, for example. Now there will be a republishing of "Schema" in a newspaper and you had another performance last week; I think, it was the first time since the early eighties that you did it. Why does this kind of renaissance take place now?

DG: Well, I don't know about renaissance, but I think the idea of doing the performance was because the dialectic of the show involves what happened to the spectator-audience-relationship and the relation to mirrors, two-way mirrors, glass, and the live spectator situation. This was the only piece that involved all this and also the audience as spectators in its relationship to a natural performer.

RM: So you would say, it simply fit the exhibition?

DG: It was didactic.

RM: O.K. You have spoken about the complementarity to the work of other artists like Bruce Nauman or Yvonne Rainer. It has been for you a reason to do a work, not to be different than other artists but, on the contrary, to be similar.

DG: To be both, but to make a dialectic between both works. For instance, the first work that I did in magazine pages came out of my disappointment with a hero of mine, Dan Flavin whose work we showed when I had my gallery. Flavin's idea was that when the exhibition was over, the neon efflorescent tubes would go back to the store, they were never to be sold. When I exhibited Sol LeWitt, he said the wood constructions that he showed in my gallery should be used for firewood, be destroyed and burnt up. With Flavin, immediately, the work took on a collectable value and the idea of this exhibition not only was to subvert monetary value but also to relay to a particular situation of that gallery at that particular moment. In other words a site-specific installation. What he has done was to recreate things similar to the original gallery situation in a collectable sort of situation. I thought that I could do the same thing in magazines which would be simply disposable. They would work with that particular moment of publication in relation to all the other information in that magazine at that particular time. The issue will be over, it will be disposable. In fact, a lot in the sixties was about using the overproduction of forms that the economy was turning out, subverting the idea of permanent collectable value. But as soon as Flavin disappointed me, I had to come up with something else that was a challenge to him as well as an homage. With Nauman, Nauman was actually a challenge.

RM: Whom you discovered later .

DG: I discovered him later in opposition to my friends, the Minimal artists who disliked him. Just like I discovered Robert Venturi in opposition to Richard Serra who had called him a fascist and hated him. So I wrote my first article in defence of Robert Venturi against Richard Serra. A lot of my things are letters of disagreement to other artists in disagreement. The "Income Piece" was a disagreement with Robert Morris.

RM: You would say the most important artist colleague for the architectural phase of your work was Robert Venturi?

DG: In terms of the writing. Actually, when I was designing my video-television-architecture book, the woman doing the drawing was working for Robert Venturi on some projects in Philadelphia, and she took me to see the actual projects. This was a revelation. Before that, I was interested in California architecture like Rudolph Michael Schindler, some by Richard Neutra, some by Frank Lloyd Wright. Because I spent a lot of time with California artists such as Michael Asher and John Knight and it was their vocabulary. That became part of my work , too.

RM: It has always been a very important part of your work to publish articles. But in the seventies, I think from the beginning of the seventies to 1978, you have only been publishing about your own work. You didn't write about popular culture. Why?

DG: No, I wrote articles on architecture. I wrote . the "Theater-Cinema-Power ends with Ronald Reagan." It's about Benito Mussolini, Albert Speer and then Ronald Reagan.

RM: That's right, but it is in the late seventies. There are some years when you have not been writing on popular culture.

DG: Yeah, you mean after the eighties, after the early eighties .

RM: You haven't been writing?

DG: No.

RM: Only in the early eighties. And now, what kind of texts are you writing?

DG: Well, I'm developing an article about comparing 18th century Japanese idea toward nature and parks to 18th century European ideas as compared to what happened in America with the "Two-Way-Mirror"-office building, first gold and then silver; how the power of the king now has become the power of the cooperation, finally leading up to the late 1980s and 1990s. At the same time I am writing about the use of nature by a woman architect from Japan, Itsuko Hasegawa, who is dealing with a kind of new non-corporate architecture involved in large community centres, children's museums and children's learning centres, and also about a completely different idea of nature.

RM: Would you say that your perspective, your focus has widened, because now you are writing also on culture beyond, outside of America and Western Civilization, for example about Japanese culture?

DG: Yeah, I guess the first articles were very much like Pop art, Pop culture, and Pop culture usually meant celebrating American media culture. At a certain point in my own work I became very interested in European historical references and in contrasting the recent architectural ideas of Europe and America. Just as my work is somewhere between two things, the architectural projects are somewhere between sculpture and architecture. Or my first magazine work was somewhere between magazine articles and a new kind of Conceptual Art. I feel the same in the kind of architecture I am interested in. Now Japanese architecture interests me a lot. If it's between American and Japanese architecture, it's interesting.

RM: What do you mean exactly with the term "hybrid", the either-or or not the either-or but that it is sculpture and architecture, or that it is Pop Art and Conceptual Art? I think the term hybrid is very important to you.

DG: Not either-or, but both, both at the same time in a dialectic with each other so that one is commenting on and maybe criticizing the other and vice versa.

RM: Now what about the realization of projects like the "Alteration to a Suburban House"? Would you like to realize it as architecture? And would it lose the character of a model or of a sculpture, when it is architecture?

DG: All the pieces are meant to be realized. But I was being pragmatic when I had two categories of works. One category, the "Sculpture Pavilion", I thought would be built immediately and it was, for the most part. And the other category, which comprised modifications of existing suburban architecture, I thought, might be built or might not be built. "Alteration" is the most difficult one, not only because of the people who own the houses but the people in the street. I think it is very frightening for people who are walking down the street in between and in front of the view of the mirror and the showcase window, because they are revealed. Their own situation is revealed.

RM: That's right, I think. Even your "Cinema Project" is more difficult, because it is in an urban and not in a suburban context, would you agree?

DG: Yeah, although I can see, and it's partly happened, architects taking up the ideas . not specifically in centre-city but maybe in new buildings and by using similar ideas. The one of these suburban projects which I think is the most realizable, although it has not been realized yet, is the one with the large video beam screen in front of the house which is projected on the beam, the large projected image of whatever people are watching inside.

RM: On television?

DG: On television. If their children are in control of the house and they are watching cartoons, you can see cartoons. In America, people who would sponsor projects like this would probably watch educational television.

RM: Which architects do you think have been influenced by your work?

DG: It is hard to say. I know the one who has been most complimentary, it is Jacques Herzog.

RM: But he likes your work very much.

DG: Yeah, I know that Rem Kolhaas has been interested and somewhat fascinated. But because he knows I write about him, he wants me to write more about him. And I think, I shouldn't say this that Bernard Tschumi takes ideas from everybody.

RM: Yes, that is right. You collaborated several times with other artists, such as Dara Birnbaum and with writers or photographers. Would you be interested in a collaboration with an architect like Kolhaas?

DG: It would be a great dream come true, if it happened. But I think architects are into being stars and they want to collaborate with other stars. The best would be to find a very good, somewhat younger architect.

RM: Yes. You are considered to be very important for the artists of our decade, for the artists of the nineties. What would you think is the specific influence of your work? Or don't you see it like that?

DG: Well, it is a shock because it is not true in New York!

RM: It is not true in New York? It is more true in Europe?

DG: It seems to be more true in Europe.

RM: What would be the reason?

DG: I think because I have been able to make art that has not come from an art academy, that's been somewhat out of the system, that hasn't repeated itself, that hasn't gotten into a "trademark Dan Graham" that's always the same. That, I think, although it was often done with humor, can be read as social-political – which it partly was – but it also was partly anarchistic and humorous at the same time. And I hope some of the humour comes through or still comes through. It's maybe because it could be read in context with other things I do outside of art, like the articles.

RM: Well, I think your work on the rooftop of the DIA building is very much accepted also in New York, isn't it?

DG: It's used and it's liked.

RM: Yes, but it has no influence?

DG: I don't know, DIA doesn't want to buy it.

RM: They don't want to?

DG: They don't want to buy it, no.

RM: What does this mean?

DG: It means that they are putting their money into other things.

RM: That's right! But it is still your work.

DG: It is still my work.

RM: Is it still in your possession?

DG: It is in my possession, but it can only work there.

RM: That's right.

DG: And this is in an Austrian context – for about four months they had these not very successful Franz West couches and chairs on the rooftop which I didn't approve of. They obviously were getting money from Austrian government sources. And because they didn't buy it, and I don't have a contract, I cannot control what they do with it.

RM: I understand. Now back to your influence on the younger generation. How could you explain this influence? Is it your occupation with the media? Is it the interest in political implications?

DG: I think it was the availability of my work through mass-media, and the fact that it becomes a possibility again, and maybe there is a revival of the sixties.

RM: There is a revival of the sixties.

DG: And most of the people are astute enough to see that outside of some people, such as Lawrence Weiner, a lot of the Conceptual Artists of the sixties are hardly interesting any more.

RM: For you? Or for the younger generation?

DG: For the younger generation.

RM: And you are still interested?

DG: Well, I would think if people had seen Lawrence Weiner's films and videos and his entire production and could realize the enormous range of work we were both doing and continue to do. But we did not "trademark" ourselves as Conceptual Artists.

RM: Maybe the reason is that the work of Lawrence Weiner very rarely changed. He is still doing the things of the sixties, and your own work very often changed. How would you recapitulate this changing of your work? Just like you said it, a dialectic between you and other artists? How would you describe this change?

DG: Well, I was disillusioned faster than most people. And since I put myself in situations which made it necessary for me to make new work, for instance this teaching at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design where they had video. I had to adapt to that situation, rather than buy – say – if I had stayed with photography, I could have bought the best kind of photographic equipment, and then I would have been more and more deeply into a certain kind of fetishized photography like the students of Hilla and Bernhard Becher. So this might be interesting for younger artists, but it is problematic for me in terms of sales.

RM: Do you still have still problems selling your work?

DG: Enormous.

RM: Has it been easier in the eighties to sell?

DG: Worse. In the late eighties I did very well with young people who were just beginning, who were producing independent shows and were able to sell things at the same time, get them produced by contacting industry and sell them. Le Consortium in Dijon also had the possibility of producing and selling at the same time, but these were people who are outside of the gallery system. I have almost no private collectors. In the eighties, when I was in large outdoor exhibitions, things would be produced. The problem is, because they were produced very quickly, they tend to deteriorate very quickly, and I haven't been able to get enough money now that some of them are damaged, to fix them up. Also the interest now is video works of the seventies, but unfortunately I sold all of them, in editions of one, very cheaply, years ago.

(Vienna, October 1995)