Le Système du Cottage Landor is the French translation of The System of Landor’s Cottage. A Pendant to Poe’s Last Story (T11929), an artist’s book that Graham produced in 1987. The artist’s name and the work’s title appear on the plain white cover in bold script; most of the text is black but the words ‘Le Système’ are in dark green, upper case letters, larger than the rest, which calls particular attention to them. A subtitle, ‘Pour faire pendant à la dernière histoire d’Edgar Poe’ (A pendant to Edgar [Allan] Poe’s last story) is printed in italics below. The book was translated by Thierry Dubois and published in Brussels by Yves Gevaert, who also published T11929. It was produced in an edition of thirty, of which Tate’s copy is the second.
Graham is a Canadian conceptual artist, who lives and works in Vancouver. His work appropriates material from a diverse range of sources, particularly literary works. These include writings by Herman Melville (1819–91) and Ian Fleming (1908–64), and the poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé (1842–98). In The System of Landor’s Cottage he uses a short story called Landor’s Cottage by the American mystery and horror writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809–49). Poe’s narrative was inspired by his final home, a farmhouse in New York State (now part of the Bronx) where he took up residence in 1846. The cottage has become a museum dedicated to Poe; a photograph of it is included opposite the title page of Le Système du Cottage Landor.
The theme of the literary pendant or extension is central to Graham’s concept in The System of Landor’s Cottage, which is presented as a pendant to Poe’s narrative. In the original story, Poe describes an idyllic house that the narrator stumbles upon on a country walk. In The System of Landor’s Cottage, Graham extended this tale into a 312-page, fourteen-chapter novel by inserting into Poe’s narrative a lengthy description of an annexe to the house, which provides a metaphor for the literary supplement it constitutes. The addition is so much longer than the first story that it threatens to overwhelm it. The artist has explained:
[I]nterrupting the narrative, I have taken over Poe’s first-person narrator’s voice and his viewpoint, describing in this voice and from this viewpoint a small room which houses a machine ... highly complex and of no apparent rational function, a machine which seems ‘out of place’ and which calls for an explanation. The explanation is subsequently provided by Mr Landor himself, the owner of the house and the narrator’s host who undertakes to describe the origin and history of the annex. The main body of my novel is taken up with Mr Landor’s account of the components of the annex-machine, and the relation of the apparatus to the cottage as a whole.
(Quoted in Rodney Graham, 1988, p.40.)
Graham’s use of extension and repetition, suggested respectively by the annexe metaphor and the production of different versions of the same text, is common in his work. For The System of Landor’s Cottage, he was inspired by the novels of the French writer Raymond Roussel (1877–1933), whose complex writings, which play with systems of language, were favoured by the surrealists. Graham’s narrative extends Poe’s with a series of stories within stories in the spirit of Roussel (Russell Ferguson in Rodney Graham, 2002, p.59). The artist has explained: ‘I have tried to make (my) text from pre-fabricated textual elements, and through a kind of ready-made rhetorical style – somewhat flat and rigid – with the hope that by means of a stress on grammatical and rhetorical “rigor” I might erect a hollow structure in the shape of a novel out of sentences of maximum structural integrity’ (quoted in Rodney Graham, 1988, p.7).
Graham extended the concept of the pendant with his book Vathek* 1998 (T11938). Like Le Système du Cottage Landor, Vathek* is the French translation of The System of Landor’s Cottage, but the book is wrapped in a red cover that invokes the Gothic story Vathek by William Beckford (1760–1844), which is quoted in Poe’s Landor’s Cottage and in Graham’s supplement to it.
Rodney Graham, exhibition catalogue, Vancouver Art Gallery, 1988.
Dorothea Zwirner, Rodney Graham, Cologne 2004.
Friedrich Meschede and Yves Gevaert (eds), Rodney Graham. Through the Forest, exhibition catalogue, Museu d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona 2010.