[La Véranda] comprises two identical books held together by a narrow, printed paper sleeve that folds around them. They are French translations of a short story by the American author Herman Melville (1819–91) written in the early 1850s, called The Piazza, which was published in a collection called The Piazza Tales in 1856. The copies produced for Graham’s work were translated by Philippe Hunt. Their yellow covers display the title ‘La Véranda’ in black, upper case letters. [La Véranda] was published in Brussels by Yves Gevaert in an edition of one hundred copies, plus fifty examples aside from the edition. The books that make up Tate T11931 are numbers one and thirty-four.
Melville’s story tells of a veranda (or ‘piazza’) that the narrator builds onto his rural home and the enchanting panorama revealed from it. His inspiration was the picturesque residence in Massachusetts called Arrowhead to which he moved in 1850. In [La Véranda], the wrapper around the books has on each side a different black and white photograph of Melville’s house. On one side, a paragraph of text reads: ‘La maison de Herman Melville à Pittsfield dans le Massachusetts à laquelle l’auteur ajouta une véranda en 1851’. [The house of Herman Melville in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, onto which the author added a veranda in 1851]. On the other side, the text reads: ‘La véranda de la maison de Herman Melville et le modèle qui a servi à sa nouvelle – à laquelle l’artiste ajouta un détail ornemental en 1987’. [The veranda of the house of Herman Melville that was used as the model for his short story – onto which the artist added an ornamental detail in 1987].
This work is closely connected to another Graham made the same year, [The Piazza 4.1] (Tate T11930), which comprises two identical bookmarks inserted into a modern, hard-back copy of a collection of Melville’s writings, The Piazza Tales and other Prose Pieces. They are placed between pages four and five of the short story The Piazza, and text printed onto them adds a page to the narrative. The text describes in lyrical prose that emulates Melville’s a decorative element – a ‘bracket’ or ‘capital’– that joins a pillar of the veranda to its roof. This is the ‘ornamental detail’ added by the artist to which the text on the sleeve of [La Véranda] refers.
Graham is a Canadian conceptual artist, a member of the loose group of contemporary artists working in Vancouver that has become known as the Vancouver School. His work appropriates and plays on a diverse range of source material, particularly literary and musical. Many of his works of the late 1980s and early 1990s are concerned with themes of insertion, extension and repetition. In The System of Landor’s Cottage. A Pendant to Poe’s Last Story 1987 (Tate T11929), Graham extended the short story Landor’s Cottage 1849 by Edgar Allan Poe (1809–49) into a 312-page novel. Poe’s narrative describes an idyllic house in the countryside. Graham’s additional text, written in the style of the original, describes an annexe to this house. In Parsifal (1882 – 38,969,364,735) 1990 (Tate T11933), the artist focused on the repetition of a sequence of music by Richard Wagner’s assistant Engelbert Humperdinck (1854–1921), itself written as an addition to the original opera and designed as a loop that could be indefinitely repeated.
Graham’s work often involves placing books or sheets of music in cases or bindings, which transforms them into high art objects and makes reading of them difficult. In Casino Royale (Sculpture de Voyage) 1990 (Tate T11934), for example, a paperback copy of the novel Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (1908–64), first published in 1953, lies face-down inside a rectangular display case, in which it has to be viewed from underneath to be read.
Rodney Graham, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 2002.
Rodney Graham: A Little Thought, exhibition catalogue, Vancouver Art Gallery, 2003.
Dorothea Zwirner, Rodney Graham, Cologne 2004, reproduced pp.134–5.