Graham Gussin

Primo Piano

That Graham Gussin is intent on developing certain of Conceptualism’s original premises became clear in one work here, entitled I love you. I’ve dreamt of this. Sound drawing 10.1.93, 1993. This was a sort of graphic grid, very similar to a landscape of frozen mountains, stylized and bare, painted in blue acrylic directly on the wall. But what was important was the process that led up to this piece. Gussin fed 15 seconds of the soundtrack from a pornographic film through a computer. The computer visualized these sounds, and the result was what the viewer confronted, drawn on the wall. With the help of technology that wasn’t as widespread in the ’70s as it is today, Gussin has developed what might be considered one of the essential points of “historical” Conceptualism, namely the relationships between the various semiotic systems: verbal (“linguistic” in a strict sense), visual, and sonant. The translatability of one code into the other is the basis of Gussin’s mental investigation. From a maximum of carnal, worldly, erotic presence (the porno movie), the artist extracted the sound element, thus annulling the images of bodies in the work; then, in a second phase of the process, he restored the visual data with the help of the computer, linking it to his own body through the process of drawing the grid on the wall. In this double dislocation and translation, image-sound-image, it was as if Gussin were adding his own body to those in the porno movie.

The strong emotional impact that seems to accompany this type of image was mitigated by technological indifference, and was then reasserted through memory. This comparison between the different fields of awareness and sensibility was also developed in another piece, in which he presented photographs of four mountain landscapes, in typical misty-mountaintops style; each photo was stamped with the numbers of an arithmetic formula. Nature in all its amplitude came up against precision, against the exactitude of mathematical language.

It is interesting to note how in this piece, Gussin set up a dialogue between what Kant called the “dynamic sublime”—nature in its potency—and the “mathematical sublime”—infinite grandness. On the other hand, one can point to a parallel between the first work and this one, because in the end it is as if those mathematical configurations that appear in the photos represent the “formula” of the depicted landscape. In other words, one might imagine that once those numbers, arranged in that certain order in the computer, are inserted, we are furnished with, as if with an “answer,” the perfect visualization of the corresponding landscape.

In another work, Everything available, 1992, Gussin presented a potentially infinite list of objects and various tools that are used in astronomical research—things like lenses, filters, etc. The names of the articles for sale were printed in computer characters on sheets affixed to the wall, as if the space itself had become a large page to peruse. Here too, something was supplied through absence, presented through its lack. For the reader, these ultraspecialized tools were merely names that referred to an undifferentiated technological universe, and the mental connections that might emerge were infinite, precisely like the starry sky, probed by those tools, to its most remote distances.

Massimo Carboni

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.