From the start, Rodney Graham’s work contained all of the elements that eventually made the Vancouverite one of the most influential figures in the international art world.
His early piece Two Generators, from 1984, takes a brilliantly simple idea, harnesses it to produce an unsettling jolt of humour, and channels it into a maze of questions about perception, art making, economics, and the mechanics of reproduction.
This is the launching point of an acclaimed career—or, more accurately, the headwaters. The four-minute 35mm film flips between two night-time representations of Gold Creek in Golden Ears Park: the first offers a darkened screen accompanied by the noise of the rushing waters; the second, arriving with the suddenness of a switch being thrown, illuminates the creek with floodlamps powered by a diesel generator, the squalling racket of which drowns out any natural sound.
As viewers will experience tonight at a free downtown showing introduced by Graham himself, the one-hour runtime of Two Generators draws on the full human-powered apparatus of cinema, as the process forces a projectionist to load and then reload, thread and then rethread, the short film by hand. The result can be a kind of trance brought on by the whirling, rattling gears of the medium itself.
Two Generators runs at the Cinematheque tonight (December 8) at 7 p.m., as part of the Canada on Screen series. Admission is free on a first-come first-served basis. See the Cinematheque’s website for details.