Dan Graham is associated with the Conceptual artists, who since the mid-1960s have been experimenting with new aesthetic and methodological approaches to the art object, leading to its dematerialization and claiming a preeminent role for the idea rather than the object ’s creation. Perhaps one of the most eclectic artists in terms of his quest for new means of artistic expression, Graham also ran an art gallery and was the author of various articles on art, television, and film before he began creating works that, through experimentation with different media and techniques, include video, performance, photographs, and his well known pavilions.
His earliest films, made between 1969 and 1974, reveal an interest in the immediacy of the medium and its capacity to transpose, without mediations and reworkings, the real passage of time as it is captured by the movie camera. In Sunset to Sunrise ,1969,the time is that of the setting and rising of the sun. The movie camera first frames the sun on the horizon at dusk, then —in a spiraling movement toward the sky —expands to take in the entire firmament; while a spiraling movement in the opposite direction is described by a movie camera in the same position, at dawn on the following day, ending on the horizon line with the rising sun.
The sun defines the beginning and end point of the film shoot and measures the passage of time.
In Binocular Zoom , 1969-70, the elapse of time is that of the aperture of the zoom lenses of two small movie cameras that, placed at the eye level of each of the cameramen, frame the sun, which is partly veiled by clouds. Projected next to each other ,the two images gradually reveal their disparity as the zoom function of each of the cameras expands the visual field at the same speed, but the eye of the viewer momentarily identifies precisely with the line of view of the movie cameras. Graham is particularly interested in human perceptual potential and human relationship to physical space; he treats the human body as a receiver of stimuli and uses the movie camera to conduct a quest for human identification with the surrounding environment. In Roll ,1970 ,two projections show a performer rolling around on the ground and a film shot by the same performer while he is rolling and holding the movie camera. To the viewer ’s eye, there is a continuous sensation of movement, but the relationship between the body in motion and the perception of that same movement creates a strong sense of alienation.
A focus on the body and on ways of perceiving space in relation to it is also present in Helix/Spiral ,1973,and in the earlier Helix/Spiral (Simone Forti), 1973, in which the same action is carried out by the artist with the performer and dancer Simone Forti .A cameraman at the center of the stage has the movie camera take in the space around his body, shooting the surrounding space while, simultaneously, a second cameraman frames the center of the stage, moving in a spiral direction. The two films are projected simultaneously on two opposite screens, reflecting the movements of each cameraman and defining a new space of action in the setting. This almost seems to follow the dictates of the new Vitruvian man: it is the body of each performer that determines the view of the movie camera and consequently the boundaries of the filming.
Graham ’s primary interest in the viewer is in his or her relationship to the work of art, and this is a predominant theme in the pavilions the artist began creating in the mid- 170s.In many of these, executed both in transparent and mirror glass, viewers are involved in a dialogue with themselves through a play of mirrors that makes them an integral part of the work. Halfway between architecture, which the artist admires for its functionality, and sculptural object, the pavilions establish a dialogue with people and with the surrounding environment, seeking out new possibilities of experimentation for the viewer.
The pavilion in the collection of the Castello di Rivoli, Children ’s Day Care, CD-Rom, Cartoon and Computer Screen Library Project, was first created as an interior pavilion for the exhibition Skulptur Project Münster ,in 1987.
Conceived specifically as a space for children, where they can feel free to play, watch cartoons, or read comic books, the pavilion seems to stand in defense of freedom and against conformist and restrictive education that reduces individuals to the same level and, even at a young age, turns them into easy prey for rampant consumerism. The existence of a place where each human being can feel truly free seems almost a luxury, if not a utopia.