Dan Graham: Performer/Audience/Mirror (1977)

“Since the mid-1960’s Graham has produced a body of work that functions as a sustained phenomenological inquiry into architectural space and time. Performer/Audience/Mirror (1977) investigates the nature of perception and participation. In the video documentation of his performance at Video Free America in San Francisco, we see the artist standing in front of a silent, seated audience with a mirrored wall behind him. His improvised, continuous observations and interpretations of his and the crowds physical movements articulate the cycles of awareness occurring within his own consciousness and between himself and his viewers. The piece proceeds through four basic stages: Graham faces the audience and describes his external features and behaviour; he describes the audience’s external appearance and behaviour; he turns to face  the mirror, moving about as he describes himself again; and then he describes the audience as he sees it reversed in the mirror. The mirror serves to diminish the boundary between performer and audience as the group collectively becomes conscious of their own bodies and of th performance context. The piece emphasises the shared present moment, with a constant play between delayed observations and instantaneous visual perception.

At the same time that he was videotaping his performances, Graham was also producing installations using mirrors and live recording situations to probe real versus delayed time. In Opposing Mirrors and Video Monitors on Time Delay (1974), the viewer sees him- or herself in a seemingly infinite space created by surveillance cameras, monitors, and mirrors reflecting the opposite side of the room. The images recorded by the cameras are played back on the monitors with a five-second delay. Graham has used the device of time delay repeatedly in his installations; he considers the effect to be present even in works without cameras, such as his pavillions. One such structure, Double Cylinder (The Kiss), commissioned in 1994 by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, is constructed of two-way mirror, transparent glass, and steel. The mirror (a central motif for Graham and a number of his contemporaries) both extends and disrupts the space, which is ultimately activated only by the presence of the viewer who moves in and out of it.”  

Zimbardo. T (2008) In Freiling. R (Ed.) The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now. Thames and Hudson. London.


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