PRINT May 1985


EVERY TIME I READ one of Dan Graham’s articles I am tempted to think of his art the way Joseph Kosuth thought of Robert Smithson’s work. But this carries one only so far. In “Art After Philosophy” Kosuth wrote that Smithson should have "recognized his articles in magazines as being his work . . . and his ‘work’ serving as illustrations for them.”1 As with Smithson, it has been argued that it is in Graham’s articles that the conceptual growth of his art occurs. In Smithson’s case, the works are materializations of the ideas in the articles, and aim for the traditional idealistic self-sufficiency of the work of art, despite the radical novelty of their materials (including the natural environment). But in Graham’s case, the articles have an analytic, almost forbidding intricacy which precludes direct material translation. His writings do not go out of their way to invite readers; it is as though the writing is one idea talking to another. Graham’s works cannot illustrate the sticky web of ideas in the articles because the works are totally incomplete without their audience. They incorporate the viewer not simply as their witness, but as their substance. Smithson’s works are essentially anti-social or asocial—they are cosmic in perspective—compared to Graham’s always aggressively social work and societal perspective. Graham’s performances epitomize this insistent sociality.

Graham’s performances, for all their technical elaborateness and careful scripting, take as their subliminal background his relentlessly analytic writings. which they then diffusely exploit. Their physical concentration in a tightly structured space facilitates the performer’s one-to-one relationship with the audience. It is this directness, the effort to determine the particularity of the audience, that makes Graham’s performances more than entertainment, which assumes a general, faceless audience never dealt with directly. But Graham’s performances lack the intellectual concentration of his writings, with their insistent hammering of ideas into consciousness.

Nonetheless, Graham’s performances never go slack. because of what they impose on the audience: a self-consciousness so intense it forces the viewer to the limit of his or her selfhood, to the limit where self-image and objective image fuse and confuse, where, in Graham’s words, “community-defined ‘personal’ identity” and personally stated communal identity interlock and interchange. At this limit of dialectic, the conventions of individuality and community are experienced as the byproducts of memory, for Graham the ultimate content of art. This is why Graham’s performances are the key to his art, and signal his importance as a post-Modernist artist who was one before the term became fashionable: post-Modernism involves recognition of the power of memory to constitute and dominate the present, memory as the socializing power that shapes the immediate sense of self. More crucially, post-Modernism is about the inescapability of memory once the utopian sense of Modernity has dissipated—a moment such as this one, when it no longer seems possible or desirable to keep making it new. Through various strategies, Graham converts—deconstructs—the present moment into memory, showing how the moment is nothing but a form of memory. Memory invariably exists in fragments, each memory itself ready to fragment further into shards of sensational affect, in an infinite regress which when it takes over signals personally impulsive as well as socially propulsive power. This regress undermines the possibility of “self-centering” and “self-concentration,” of any sense of stable, reliably functioning self.

Describing his Two Adjacent Pavilions, model 1978; first constructed at Documenta 7, 1982, Graham asserts that “they involve a dialectic between audiences in relation to their own self-images.” (Additional architectural projects in the same vein include Pavilion/Sculpture for Argonne, 1978–82, and two unexecuted projects. Cinema, 1981, and Alteration to a Suburban House, 1978.) The pavilions are “a philosophical-psychological fantasy,” in which each pavilion can be “viewed as a separate ego—each the others hypothetical viewing subject which observes the other hypothetical viewing/ viewed subject/object.” Each pavilion/ego, at once semitransparent and semiopaque (semiwindow and semimirror), “allows more or less a view of each others interior/exterior.” This condition and situation of self-hood, here architecturally defined, is always polemically stated. Graham’s architectural projects are correlative with his performance projects, and involve the same kind of space interaction, the same deconstruction of inhabited space, that is, the same sense of theater and the analysis of the “theatricality’’ of social and self relationship. Graham’s art addresses this question of selfhood with extraordinary vigor and surgical exactness. But it is in his performances, which are also philosophical-psychological fantasies, rather than in his architectural projects, that another dimension of the post-Modernist deconstruction of subjectivity emerges most clearly: the idea that there is no possibility of reconstructing or recentering the deconstructed, decentered subject. The subject can neither re-emerge with a transcendent, ”mothering“ truth, nor be at home in any world, even the world it once ”fathered.“ For the mastery it once had over the truth and the world has become the factor that distances the subject from itself. That very mastery is suspect, and is simply a memory. However, the therapeutic reintegration of the subject remains a subliminal if utopian possibility of Graham’s kind of post-Modernist narcissism—a possible striving to overcome what is in effect the subjects reduction to infantile status by its fragmentation. Graham never arrives at this reintegration, but it remains the hopeful point of his driven performances. (It is worth noting that Freud’s deconstruction of the subject posits its actual reintegration as the goal of psychoanalytic therapy. This therapeutic dimension has been entirely neglected, and rejected, by the Lacan-oriented post-Modernists, who idolize Freud’s deconstruction alone.) One might even say that the post-Modernist insistence on ecstatic communication, on demonic possession by the ”network,” is a strategy for disavowal of this alienation and frustration—which to me is so honestly evident in Graham’s work, so much of what it is finally about.

Where does this sense of advanced frustration come from? Graham’s demonstration of the fundamental doubleness—“duplicity”—of the self makes clear the impossibility of establishing centrality, the inherent absurdity of the idea that having a center or being a center is normal and, indeed, the very essence of normality. Marginality emerges with a vengeance out of this recognition, out of the discovery of the collapsing center which is what Graham’s performances are about—permanent marginality. But Graham does not make marginality the new privileged position, as numerous other cultural critics and artists do. The way he pulls antinarcissism out of supposedly narcissistic situations is one of his major contributions; the way he demonstrates frustrated narcissism, narcissism unable to bind up the memorable images of the self in a single, coherent, stable sense of selfhood, is one of the triumphs of his performances. When Graham asserts that “Fascist art remains the repressed collective unconscious of the present”2 he is in effect saying that the pressure to totalitarian centrality, the forcing of unity, remains dominant in modern art production. Instead Graham proposes, implicitly, that art be investigation of the fragments of memory that constitute every image. Graham thinks of the artist as a kind of historian of ancient, lost, ”historical“ selfhood, capable of seizing it “only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again,” to quote a statement by Walter Benjamin that Graham, in self-justification, quotes several times. In his video and architectural performances, through the use of feedback, Graham positions himself or the spectator—and himself as his own spectator—so that they can ”seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger.”3 The moment of the flashing up of memory, of the spontaneous creation of a living memory, is the moment of danger, for it is dangerous to the integrity of the self, to its permanent belief in its centrality and its self-possession.

Graham shows that Nietzsche’s command to “live dangerously” means to live with, and accept being no more than, one’s memories. For every memory gnaws from within at the selfs supposed unity of being, since the memory brings back a lapsed time that the self did not know possessed it. Memory shows the self its inherent alienation from itself, eternally and once and for all. Eternal frustration is the upshot of Graham’s art, which involves the creation of a continuum of petites perceptions, a mess of intimate memories, which is hardly the same as being self-possessed, or having an archaically strong sense of an indivisible nuclear self. Graham’s performances constantly split the nucleus of the self, releasing a stream of powerful memories. His art turns the spectator into a Humpty Dumpty who can never be put back together again, which I think is a good part of the message of conceptual art.

To claim Graham completely for one popular version of conceptual art, as was implicitly done in the early ’70s by a variety of critics,4 is not only to misconceive the nature of the relationship between Graham’s writings and his performances, but to reduce the future of conceptual art. Contrary to Kosuth, all conceptual art does not set up a hierarchical relationship between the concept of art and objects of art (“an object is only art when placed in the context of art”); some of it synthesizes them in a feedback loop. The "change . . . from ‘appearance’ to ‘conception,’” as Kosuth puts it, was indeed “the beginning of ‘modern’ art and the beginning of Conceptual Art.” For Kosuth it involved the new self-consciousness that “art exists only conceptually.”5 But this view of art implies a total transference of the power of the object to the concept, which would be meaningless and empty. if there were not the idea of the negation of the object. The object always remains as the implicit horizon and feedback to the concept. Moreover the appearance of the object, no matter its form, actualizes a possible concept of art, testing its validity.

In Graham’s art the concept of feedback is central. Objects of art are not only a kind of feedback on a concept of art, but any given concept of art and the objects that “represent” it are a kind of social feedback to the lifeworld community at large—a means by which it can monitor and learn about itself. Conceptual art, as practiced by Graham, makes this transparently clear once and for all. The performances offer neither exclusively objects to be experienced nor a setting for the experiencing subject, but rather present situations in which the communicative, mediative process which is central to the feedback system is itself “the star,” the major focus. In the performances, routine feedback is ritualistically organized and analytically exposed. What Graham calls “feedback interference”—the generation of a "pattern on the [video] monitor of image-within-image-within-image-feedback”—becomes at once the sacred “essence” of the communicative process he is manipulating and the chief instrument of his attempt to profanely politicize it. Graham shows us to be socially trapped as well as intellectually liberated by the feedback situation.

As the Promethean performer in the feedback situation Graham is inherently the victim of his audience, which is put in the godlike position of commentator and absolute observer. Their glance at him always accompanies his own at himself. They are not simply monitoring or overseeing his self-observation; the audience is not a neutral witness to it but implicitly regulates it, determining the content and rhythm of the language in which it reports its, findings and even directing it toward a certain kind of finding. What Graham’s self-glance usually finds is his body as experienced by others. His body thus becomes a communal body, for Graham, like a Duchampian medium, is trying to make contact with the audiences sense of its own concreteness. He heroically plunges into the nihilistic display of “mirrors,” emerging with an image of the “body politic.” The mirrors are a dreadful Pascalian infinite for him because they harbor the god of the other’s glance, which makes him divide from his sense of himself. But this “alienation” is orgiastic, Dionysian. By experiencing his own body through others, Graham experiences consummate union with the audience.

There is frustration in this consummation—self-lessness as the social body is found, self-lessness in the infinite regress of images which leads to the communally significant find. Graham is the dying god, a scapegoat running the gauntlet of the infinite regress that makes him “representative” of the community, the medium of its self-identity. He can observe no “progress”—no growth—in his own sense of self-identity. He is driven as much by a yearning for self-integration as for community, but the two correlate only in the paranoid bodily discomfort by which he expresses his double sense of self and which is the sign of his and his audiences embrace of synonymity. When, in the transcript of a performance at P.S. 1, he observes his “very dead, very deadpan, very straight-forward, very unexpressive” face, “except perhaps for the lips as I talk,” or comments that his “body is basically symmetrical which it hasn’t been in a long time,” compelling him to “make a gesture with one shoulder to make it asymmetrical a little bit,” and then worries about having “a more balanced view of myself,”7 the seesawing is indicative of the medium’s feedback to himself and the suffering from universal self-consciousness and the uncertainty it creates. Graham has become the scapegoat by which the community drives this self-consciousness and uncertainty from itself—this self-consciousness about its body, which is really an uneasiness about, and even a dread of, an already existent if always open-to-question social contract. (Self-consciousness about the body is symbolic of the persistent, implicit question of inescapable togetherness with others, and especially of the unsystematic, unpredictable character of the togetherness.) Graham displays himself to us with all his social wounds, the martyr of our self-doubts and the medium of our longing for ourselves through our longing for a ”balanced“ view of and relationship with the other—who is always in the position of knowing my body better than I know it myself, for he or she can experience it with all the aggression and sexual initiative of the social observer unconsciously wanting to satisfy his own ”social" interests.

Ludwig von Bertalanffy describes feedback as “a circular process where part of the output is monitored back, as information on the preliminary outcome of the response, into the input, thus making the system self-regulating; be it in the sense of maintenance of certain variables or of steering toward a desired goal.” He goes on to list the “essential criteria of feedback control systems”: “(1)Regulation is based upon preestablished arrangements (’structures’ in a broad sense) . . . (2)Causal trains within the feedback system are linear and uni-directional. The basic feedback scheme is still the classical stimulus-response (S-R) scheme, only the feedback loop being added so that causality becomes circular. (3)Typical feedback or homeostatic phenomena are ’open’ with respect to incoming information, but ’closed’ with respect to matter and energy.” In general, "a feedback mechanism can ’reactively’ reach a state of higher organization owing to ‘learning,’ i.e., information fed into the system.”8

Graham’s performances are heavily dependent on their architecture, i.e., on the “preestablished arrangements” of the structures in which they occur. Such arrangements include everything from the use of mirrors to the positioning of the video monitor and, in the time delay pieces, the setting up of a closed system of rooms. Here the architectural determination of the performances is most explicit, but the internal establishment of a closed circuit—however involuted—of relationship between performer and audience is also architectural. Indeed, it is a supreme example of architectural meaning, namely, the creation of an external space that influences social and self-perception, or that exists in a feedback loop with every kind of perception. The architectural dimension of Graham’s performances has become increasingly explicit. In his seemingly pure architectural projects, the architecture seems to dissolve into the viewers’ “performances” that take place within it, that are generated by it. Graham’s architecture automatically makes people’s interactions in and around it self-conscious and thus “artistic,” “artificial.” In his performances the architectural dimension is so predetermined by the preestablished structures—the mirrors, the monitors, the arrangement of the room—that it becomes impossible to imagine the performance occurring in a randomly chosen, casually experienced, relatively unstructured space. It is just this sense of predetermination, embodied in architectural structure, that Graham wants, for it is a metaphoric reminder of inescapable social codes, forms of what Emile Durkheim called “social coercion.” It is the outer form of an inner map of social organization, of presupposed social order. It is to this that Graham points when he remarks, analyzing the cinema, that “it is difficult to separate the optics of the materials of the architecture from the psychological identifications constructed by the film images.” In fact, “the state of higher organization” that is reactively reached through the feedback mechanism is a state of psychological identification with certain socially accepted types of self. Graham does not have to look to the cinema as “prototypical of all other perspective systems which work to produce a social subject through manipulating the subject’s imaginary identifications.” The most naively conceived architectural structure is not only a fundamental determination of human space but presupposes a “system of voyeuristic identifications,” a program of self-identifications through coercive identifications with others, or rather,“forced togetherness” with the various models for being an “other”? Architecture in general voyeuristically teaches one the perspective of the other.

Such attention to architecture and the identification process is a sign of the pervasive “humanism” of Graham’s performances. This is a far from ironic, incidental humanism. Graham concludes his “Working Notes” for “Local Television News Program Analysis For Public Access Cable Television” (1978) with ’’A last question: can an analytical, didactic de-construction of media, such as we propose, be of cultural and political value to the community?”10 Graham is enveloped by the all-encompassing space of society, which he thinks more of comprehending than escaping, in the hope of understanding its determination of his particularity, especially of his desire, which always circles back to it, invariably taking it as the only source of personal satisfaction. I think this communalism is worth contrasting with Smithson’s cosmicism. The contrast, I think, is most clear in their use of the mirror. Smithson uses it to blot up his experience of the immediately perceived world; in the blottings he finds traces of a cosmic space. Graham uses the mirror to throw his immediate experience of himself back on its communal meditation, as if the self experienced its presence through its communal recognition. Smithson found cosmic space aphrodisiac and charismatic. For Graham the medium of communal space created by the mirror—the socially amplified space of the mirror—is the only source of arousal and self-reference. Graham uses the mirror to become timely: reflected in it for others, and for the other he is to himself when he observes his own reflection, he has the perfect sense of social timing that makes him seem an individual to himself.

Benjamin H.D. Buchloh has written that one of the reasons for “the general misunderstanding and delayed recognition of Graham’s work” may have been ’’the work’s specifically ’non-esthetical’ form of appearance.”11 However, I think Graham’s work has been misunderstood because it looks minimal and conceptual but in fact contradicts, by reason of its communalism or humanism, the basic understandings of Minimalism and conceptualism, which took the Modernist conception of art as a rigorously self-reflexive enterprise to its ultimate hermetic logic, built on an earlier hermeticism. But for Graham this new hermeticism was implicitly self-deceptive, since it short-circuited the communicative potential of art. Mediation as such became a rootless abstraction in Minimalism and conceptualism—particularly conceptualism. For Graham, art’s unique mediative function—the source of its special status and prestige—is rooted in more general social mediative capacity and opportunities, reflecting the state or condition of communication in the interpersonal life-world as a whole. Graham “borrows” what he implicitly regards as the hottest, most contemporary instruments of interactive mediation—video—to make this point, i.e., to make the point that mediation is not only an interactive process (which Minimalism and conceptualism tend to forget) but that it is always problematic. It is dependent not only on the “state of the field” of mediative instruments, but on the communicative codes that define their usage and expected results—which determine the limits with which they are presumed to make sense, the very will with which they must be used if they are to be used “properly.” That is, mediation has its socially acceptable instruments and ends, and responds to and creates in its wake the kind of subject that exists through it. A whole mentality goes with any mode of mediation; Graham is asking, in effect, why not explore and test the limits of this mentality in the very process of using the instruments of mediation? Graham is interested in the ideology of mediation, not simply the social—or artistic—fact of it. Mediation, and the speech acts including visual representations that are the articulation of its interactive properties, are his theme. For him, all mediative mediums exist against the background of a communicative ideal, which not only numinously regulates but determines its concrete form.

For Graham, who for all his writing-his relentless pursuit of discursiveness, articulateness—accepts Marshall McLuhan’s thesis of a postverbal Modernism, film and video are the basic modes of modern communication. Through their projections they articulate a sense of what is essentially to be “seen.” Comparing film and video—and explaining his preference for the latter as more crucially modern—in his "Essay on Video, Architecture and Television,” Graham writes:

Video is a present-time medium. Its image can be simultaneous with its perception by/of its audience (it can be the image of its audience perceiving). The space/time it presents, is continuous, unbroken and congruent to that of the real time which is the shared time of its perceivers and their individual and collective real environments. This is unlike film which is, necessarily, an edited re-presentation of the past of another reality/ an other’s reality for separate contemplation by unconnected individuals. Film is discontinuous, its language constructed, in fact, from syntactical and temporal disjunctions (for example, montage). Film is a reflection of a reality external to the spectator’s body; the spectator’s body is out of the frame. In a live-video-situation, the spectator may be included within the frame at one moment, or be out of the frame at another moment. Film constructs a “reality” separate and incongruent to the viewing situation; video feeds back indigenous data in the immediate, present-time environment or connects parallel time/space continua. Film is contemplative and “distanced”; it detaches the viewer from present reality and makes him a spectator.12

Whether or not Graham realizes it, he is putting his finger on exactly what makes Modern mediation problematic: its insistence on presentness, i.e., on the unmediated or immediate. The mysticism (and mystification) of immediacy—of being pastless and futureless, and thus radically present—has been with us at least since Impressionism. It gets new force with video, the currently ideal instrument of presentness—of achieving union with ones own present, so that one disappears into it as though into the godhead.

The Modern conception of mediation is self-contradictory. On the one hand, the mediated character of all reality is acknowledged. One of the great discoveries of Modern times is the inescapability of the medium, the impossibility of direct relations. On the other hand, Modernity assumes it has the instruments to create the ideal state of immediacy—to literalize immediacy beyond any past attempts—and thereby to make the mediative medium seem a dispensable illusion, an unnecessary and insufficient condition for the effect of “being there.” To be in the state of immediacy is to be Modern, to realize ones own Modernity—but it is to do so through such modern, immediacy-generating instruments as video. The “you are there!” effect sums up all of Modernism’s epistemological idealism. The relentless, yet peculiarly empty—of history—realism of this goal tends to be masked by the sublime sensation of absolute presentness that is its surface effect, yet this sensation also betrays the inherent self-contradiction of pursuing the goal of immediacy. It is as though one can only acknowledge the givenness of the mediative medium dialectically, through a critical subliminal scanning of the limitations it imposes on communication, which seeks to encompass communicators in the moment of their interaction, a “moment” ideally interpreted ad the sign of spontaneity of communication. The circle is completed when this spontaneity is understood as the basis for instinctive, immediate understanding—the communicative ideal—which is able to dispense with the “distorting,” ”interpretive” mediative medium. This ideal of “communication at first sight” is premised on an increasingly simplistic ideal of immediacy in social interaction as well as art; video shows the ideal at its most simplistic. Paradoxically, the ideal exists only to the extent that actual communication, and our understanding of all the conditions that mediate it, becomes complex and sophisticated.

Graham is attracted to this ideal of immediacy—of being completely present—but the structure he sets up to generate it specifically produces a reverberating series of reflections that contradict it. In fact, not only does he consciously move against the unreflective state of consciousness that is the source of the illusion of immediacy, and which seems embodied in his mediative instrumentation of video and mirrors, but he firmly establishes an infinite regress of reflections which spiral toward a tense but untransformed sense of identity. This in turn is materialized in his scrupulous publication of his performative, self-reflective speech acts and the “architectural” plots of his performances. His documentation—creation of a text—works against his immediatist ideal, burying it under an avalanche of silenced speech acts that can be brought to life again only by “recital” and interpretations. Graham repeatedly tests the validity of his own performances by documenting them to such an extent that they seem to disappear into his expository analyses of their presuppositions. This is what prompted my original temptation to regard his articles as Kosuth had regarded Smithson’s.

What also mediates against the ideal satisfaction of immediacy is Graham’s self-consciously erotic use of his instrumentation as an intermediary between himself and his audience. In TV Camera/Monitor Performance, 1970; the nude version (1974) of Two Consciousness Projection(s),1972 ; and Helix/Spiral, 1973, the camera is used phallically. It rehearses but never really realizes the “erect” state of Graham’s glance, with its threatening penetrative potential. It distances that glance from its object, forcing a peculiar passivity on the glance. In many other works—writings as well, e.g., “Dean Martin/ Entertainment as Theater” (1969)—there is the outsider’s voyeuristic fascination with the surface features of erotic situations, none of which involve profoundly realized erotic relations. There is a general erotic character to Graham’s relations with his audience, and the peculiar conceptual frustration that pervades them, which is signaled by the prolonged masturbatory verbalizations with which he articulates his feelings about his body. In an act of self-arousal, he discharges his tension about his body in a stream of half-unconscious speech acts, “artistically” reliving in his performance the adolescent nightmare of being caught masturbating in public. This is an affirmative act of self-love just to the extent that Graham makes himself a sacrificial lamb consumed by the envious glances of strangers. It is at the same time a way for those ashamed of the “strangeness” of their bodies to empathetically feel at home with a mystical flesh of language.

The source of the frustration is in the fixated character of Graham’s looking itself—the fixation of completely instrumental looking. It is looking in terms of strictly instrumental or “interested” relations that generates a sense of immediacy, since it must target its object precisely to exploit it properly—if only as the catalyst for masturbatory self-fixation. But such obsessive looking denies the subjective reality of the object of its own desire, including itself. The voyeuristic glance is epitomized by video, whose congenital incapacity for generating new self-consciousness is shown in its being bound to a durationless present-time. Such present time promises perfect presentness, that is its inexhaustible "interestingess.” Ironically, the illusion of immediacy in voyeuristic video is the thing that counteracts the illusion of intimacy, which comes with a sense of history. Narcissus is not intimate with himself—cannot begin to intimate his own subjectivity—because he is stuck on a present appearance of himself. Paolo and Francesca, in Dante’s Inferno, are not intimate with one another, but obsessed with the immediacy, the sheer givenness of the other. They do not interact communicatively, dialectically reflect one another, but only bestow their own immediacy on the other as a gift. And that is what Graham does with his audience.

The unconsummated quality of such eroticism is most explicit in Identification Projection (1977):

A woman performer looks at the audience, selects and describes the various men (perhaps also women) who charismatically ("sexually’’) attract her. The description and the feeling she expresses are to be as sincere, non-theatrical, as possible. The performer pauses between descriptions of people for a time the same length as her period of speaking (so that she appears as sexual object). The pauses should seem a little too long. During this period she does not look at or acknowledge the presence of the audience; she moves slowly; she is for herself (thinking private thoughts about herself).13

The pathos of the frustration for both audience and female performer is made especially clear when, studying the transcript of the performance, one observes that the descriptions the female performer uses are premised on stereotypes of socially idealized sexual objects. Her mind is constituted by conventional linguistic conceptions of sexual roles which distance her as much as possible from subjective, physical sexual experience. These roles are all based on what society assumes a sexy appearance to be. It is because both she and the audience are trapped in looking, institutionally trained to be fixated on appearances, that they are incapable of locating their sexuality in their existentially possessed bodies. Both are seduced into playing sexy roles in a game of manipulated appearances. In the name of these socially determined roles they forfeit their sexuality, which almost becomes self-repressive—certainly powerless—in such a “game theory” of sexiness, In general, none of Graham’s performers can reflectively disengage from their own self-conscious looking, and experience the swoon into unconsciousness they yearn for.

In sum, one is never released from looking in Graham, and looking is never a release. Looking is burdened by the fiction of self-reflection, which it interprets, as self-emancipation. It is an interpretation natural to the dialectic implied by the feedback loop, in which looking circles back on itself—in which the looker studies looking, and the projections it breeds. It is perhaps Graham’s proposed Cinema that makes this dialectic, at once social and personal, explicit.

The psychological circuit of intersubjective looks and identifications is echoed in and is a product of the material properties of the architectural materials, whose optical functioning derives from the properties of the two-way mirror glass. My cinema, like “the cinema,” is a perceptual “machine.” But unlike the cinema which must conceal from the spectators their own looks and projections, the architecture here allows inside and outside spectators to perceive their positions, projections, bodies and identifications. Topologically, an optical “skin,” both reflective and transparent inside and outside, functions simultaneously as a screen for the film’s projection, dialectically seen in the outside environment as well as in the normal cinema context as a point of transfer for the gazes of the inner and outer spectators in relation to each other and the film image.14

This Cinema makes clear that Graham is an exemplary artist-thinker. His works are projections and clarifications of a communally implicit conception of art as a process of self-identification through communication with others. For the artist-thinker, art must have communicative competence, which is the only way for it to achieve communal acceptance. Art is not inevitably self-validating—which is the implicit hope behind its proclamation of autonomy. Rather, it is a social communication, and contemporary art is a meditation on the nature of mediation, which abstracts it from its sociality. Graham restores this sociality, and thereby restores to Modernist self-criticality a sense of the communicative horizon on which it exists. Its validity is finally as a Virgilian guide to the life-world it professes to be responsible to, but can barely keep up with. Graham shows us that the only way to purge the infernal life-world and achieve a sublime consciousness of sorts is not by creating a vacuum-sealed, hermetic art, but by making the dominance of the life-world itself communicatively discursive in the performative architecture of art.

Donald Kuspit is a frequent contributor to Artforum; his most recent bock is Leon Golub: Existentialist/Activist Painter (Rutgers University Press, 1985).

The descriptive texts concerning the works illustrated are excerpted from Dan Graham’s writings.



1. Joseph Kosuth, “Art After Philosophy,” Idea Art, ed. Gregory Baltcock, New York: Dutton, 1973, p. 100.

2. Dan Graham, “Theater, Cinema, Power,” Parachute. Summer 1982.

3. Walter Benjamin, “Thesis on the Philosophy of History,” Illuminations, New York: Schocken, 1969, p. 255.

4. For example, Lucy R. Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972, New York: Praeger, 1973, p. 155.

5. Kosuth, pp. 89, 80.

6. Dan Graham, Video-Architecture-Television, Halifax, Nova Scotia: The Press of Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1979.

7. Dan Graham, Theatre, no publisher, no date.

8. Ludwig van Bertalanffy, General System Theory, New York: George Braziller, 1968. pp. 150, 161–63.

9. Dan Graham, Buildings and Signs, Chicago: Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, 1981, p. 50.

10. Graham, Video-Architecture-Television. p. 61.

11. Benjam in H.D. Buchloh, “Moments of History in the Work of Dan Graham,” in Dan Graham, Articles, Eindhoven, the Netherlands: Municipal Van Abbemuseum, 1978, p. 73,

12. Graham, Video-Architecture-Television, p. 62.

13. Graham, Theatre.

14, Graham, Buildings and Signs, p. 50.