Graham Gussin (London, 1960) uses a wide array of media - including texts, drawings, film, video, sound and installation - to explore the perception of time, space and scale as an organic link between the pieces, the viewer and the exhibition space. His works frequently appropriate and manipulate images and literary narratives taken from art history, popular culture and, above all, cinema.
His deconstruction of cinematic materials reveals a special interest in film language’s structural sediment rather than its narrative articulations. The resulting ambiguity engenders a new type of deconstruction: of the notion of the sublime, which is questioned through a continuous journey between apparent proximity (transparency of the image) and effective distance (decoding its narrative connections).
In his films and videos, Graham Gussin manipulates images taken from the history of cinema, as in Ambient Horror (Day of the Fifteen Dead Layers), (2006) - a 100-minute loop that transforms the screen into a psychedelic membrane for hyper-transparent images of characters that approach and disappear in phantasmagorical fashion. Gussin also creates powerful settings of narrative uncertainty: in Spill (first version, 1999) a fake fog, created from dry ice, menacingly invades a semi-industrial deserted landscape; as in many horror film settings, the fog becomes a character, with a life of its own. However, Gussin‘s editing of the film, using long dolly shots without any dramatic denouement, paradoxically increases the viewer’s anxiety, and ends up by underscoring the importance he places on images’ ability to affirm themselves ambiguously when received, conditioned by a wide array of subjective factors.
By referring to a culturally-established universe, such as cinematic images and narrative contexts, Gussin accentuates film’s ambiguous nature by overlaying, cutting, inverting and de-contextualising its more or less typified elements.
For example, in his mobiles, he uses images from the history of cinema to associate ideas of lightness, transparency and the sublime – characteristic of Calder’s work - in a context of violence, which, in this case, is more suggestive than explicit. Gussin always uses indecisive images which may reveal either an anonymous landscape or a setting that we know will soon play host to more violent psychological and physical actions. In the work shown in this exhibition, we see images from John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972), which give us a sense of foreboding of the rising confrontational tension between four urban friends in an unfamiliar geographic and social setting.
Gussin’s text pieces create more or less random successions of phrases taken from the world of cinema, normally in the context of definition of time and space (e.g. “seven years later”, or “within the city’s borders” in Untitled Film). His pieces also toy creatively with literary titles and films in order to construct meta-narratives that play with displacement as a key factor in the confrontation with the viewer.
Film Poster - a work specifically created for this exhibition - is presented in two different locations. Inside the Gallery we see its poster version, inviting the viewer to carry this detailed manual of instructions with him, in order to build the most improbable film.
Outside, on the side of an adjacent building, the same work is presented in a public space. The sequence of instructions contained therein, suggest the possibility that language may serve as a potential detonator of conceptual and performance-based actions, where situations of practical clarity (“filming a wall being built”) are mixed with other situations of extreme ambiguity and abstraction (“filming intimacy”). The intertwining of language and visual elements thus attain a dimension of supreme randomness, exactly because the determining factor underlying their presumed execution is always the protagonist and the way he positions himself before things, temporality, emotions and his own lines of thought.
The limits of interpretation, credulity and acceptance of art as a territory of alternative truths are also addressed in the installation, Remote Viewer (2002). Here, a “remote viewer”, i.e. someone with telepathic capabilities, is found in the same space where a film documents a trip to Iceland, filmed in real time by the artist. Using graphic signs, the “remote viewer” interprets the course of the trip, writing down the fruit of his perceptions on a piece of paper. By the end, the viewer has no access to any information concerning the result of this exercise, since what is truly at stake here is the ability of art to configure itself as a place for questioning reality. Graham Gussin thereby once again creates a situation where space and time, even if indicated with precision - and, in this installation, in absolute synchrony - are rooted as conceptual categories of irreducible uncertainty: the truth of the artist’s trip, the truth of the action of the “remote viewer” and the truth of comprehension of the installation do not jointly deliver a global truth, but rather a deviant interrogation of truth in an artistic context.
In this context, it’s also worth mentioning the installation, Fall (7200-1) (1997), that presents an image of a natural landscape which encourages relaxed contemplation. However, this idyllic tranquillity may be interrupted at any time by a disruptive event. This will take place whenever the computer programme specifically created for this piece so decides. The latter’s presence in the exhibition space is signalled by a computer screen that displays an arithmetic sequence. The structure of the computer programme makes it unlikely that the disruptive event will occur during the normal reception period of the piece; however, it may arise when the visitor first enters the installation: the suspension of predictability thereby decisively increases the viewer’s sense of unease. In this manner, it is a kind of contemporary version of the sublime: a deceptive sense of the sublime.
Miguel von Hafe Pérez