[The Piazza 4.1] comprises two identical bookmarks inserted into a hard-back copy of The Piazza Tales and other Prose Pieces 1839–1860, which is the ninth volume in the series, Writings of Herman Melville, published by Northwestern University Press, Evanston, and The Newberry Library, in 1987. The bookmarks are made of card and follow the dimensions of the printed page but with tabs that extend above and below the volume’s upper and lower edges. They have text printed on part of both sides to form a single page of script; the remaining sections are blank and coloured red.
The bookmarks are inserted between pages four and five of the volume’s first tale, The Piazza, a story that Melville wrote in the early 1850s, which was published in a collection called The Piazza Tales in 1856. The original first-person narrative tells of a veranda (or ‘piazza’) that the author builds onto his rural home and the enchanting panorama revealed from it. In [The Piazza 4.1], the bookmarks add an extra page into Melville’s story, to which the number ‘4.1’ in Graham’s title refers. The text on them describes a decorative element – a ‘bracket’ or ‘capital’– that joins a pillar of the veranda to its roof. The concept of this architectural element is echoed by the bookmarks, which have an ornamental rather than a structural or utilitarian purpose. Graham’s additional text is designed to extend Melville’s account rather than to interrupt it; his use in the title of square brackets, which conventionally indicate an aside, underlines the work’s role as a supplement. In lyrical prose that emulates Melville’s, Graham draws on and develops the original story’s central conceit – the analogy of art and nature – by musing on the capital’s carved decoration of acanthus leaves.
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 novels and music. Much of his output of the late 1980s is concerned with themes of insertion and extension. In the slightly earlier artist’s book, The System of Landor’s Cottage. A Pendant to Poe’s Last Story 1987 (T11929), Graham extended a short story by Edgar Allan Poe (1809–49) into a 312-page novel. The original story describes an idyllic house that the narrator stumbles upon on a country walk. In The System of Landor’s Cottage, Graham inserted a lengthy description of an annexe to the house, written in the same style as the original, into Poe’s narrative. As in [The Piazza 4.1], an architectural extension is a metaphor for the literary pendant or supplement.
[The Piazza 4.1] was produced in an edition of twenty-five copies of which Tate’s is number twenty-four. The artist signed and editioned each copy of the book on the title page.
Rodney Graham: A Little Thought, exhibition catalogue, Vancouver Art Gallery, 2003.
Rodney Graham: Works from 1976 to 1994, exhibition catalogue, Starkmann Library Services, Winchester, Massachusetts 1994, reproduced pp.116–7.
Dorothea Zwirner, Rodney Graham, Cologne 2004.