Dan Graham: Rock My Religion (AFTERALL)
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Dan Graham's Rock My Religion (1982--1984) is a video essay populated by punk and rock performers (Patti Smith, Jim Morrison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Eddie Cochran) and historical figures (including Ann Lee, founder of the Shakers). It represented a coming together of narrative voice-overs, singing and shouting voices, and jarring sounds and overlaid texts that proposed a historical genealogy of rock music and an ambitious thesis about the origins of North America's popular culture. Because of its passionate embrace of underground music, its low-fi aesthetics, interest in politics, and liberal approach to historiography, the video has become a landmark work in the history of contemporary moving image and art; but it has remained, possibly for the same reasons, one of Graham's least written about works--underappreciated and possibly misunderstood by the critics who otherwise celebrate him. This illustrated study of Graham's groundbreaking work fills that critical gap. Kodwo Eshun examines Rock My Religion not only in terms of contemporary art and Graham's wider body of work but also as part of the broader culture of the time. He explores the relationship between Graham and New York's underground music scene of the 1980s, connecting the artistic methods of the No Wave bands--especially their group dynamics and relationship to the audience--and Rock My Religion's treatment of working class identity and culture.
analyses the post-War development of suburbia. Within Rock My Religion, the scene from Westkunst demonstrates the typical suburban location of the white teenager. Its placement in Rock My Religion, from 33:22 to 35:38, imbues it with the peculiarly self-contained dimension of a suburban ideal. This sense of contemporary pastoral is created by Branca’s ‘Theme for a Drive Through Suburbia’ (1980—82). There are no distinctive guitars to be heard in this scene; instead, 30 | Dan Graham there are
recalled by the auditory memory. When the memory of the Shakers is played back, however, what returns is a peculiar form of cultural dissonance. The historical associations that viewers bring to the images of the Shakers no longer behave historically. Rather, they emerge from a present that can’t be told clearly from the past. In Branca’s ensembles, each guitar was strung with two pairs of three strings, tuned an octave apart, to play a chorused or unison note. The four guitars he used in these
begins by recognising the evangelical language of religious awakening, which calls on the faithful to renounce all worldly pleasure. He is then confronted with the recognition that this demand is made in the profane language of ‘worldly music’. The contradiction of an eschatological warning rendered as a scatological joke reveals the common ground shared by intimate enemies. Both rock and Protestantism can be seen as fundamentalisms, fighting over the same terrain. The horizontal hold at the top
younger art historians and critics, that sense of revenge remains palpable. Its vengefulness stemmed from the belief that the rock culture that mattered to artists in the 1970s and 80s had been ignored by art critics unschooled in such culture, indifferent to its impact and convinced of its irrelevance. In this sense, Rock My Religion operated, and continues to operate, as an object lesson that demonstrates how artists can rewrite the history of the present according to their own enthusiasms.
‘surprisingly big littleness of the excerpt’.31 The opening images build a picture of Ann Lee as a case study in the condition of women in the making of the English working class. Paintings of silhouetted rooflines and foundry chimneys billowing black smoke (fig.6) as well as illustrations of factory workers stooping over machines are arranged into a sequence at a tempo too fast to grasp on initial viewing. Subsequent viewings reveal a giant weaving shed fitted with rows of power looms driven by