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Time is Memory, an Interview with Allan Graham

September 24, 2009

The following is an interview I did with Allan Graham, also known as Toadhouse, in 2003, for a Canadian magazine called Espace:

Allan Graham was born in 1943 in San Francisco, California and later moved to New Mexico, where he has lived for most of his adult life, exhibiting continuously at both galleries and museums, from Santa Fe, to New York, to Switzerland and Italy. His works are in several major collections, both private and public, noteworthy among them being that of the Villa Menafoglio Litta Panza, a public space created by the collector Panza de Biumo in Verese, Italy with the organisation FAI.

‘Non-conceptual.’ This is the first word that comes to my mind when confronted with the work of Graham. His art is not so much the art of the idea, as the art of what the idea indicates and what it cannot possibly say – visually or verbally. Whether it be the two bronze coffee mugs sitting alone in an empty room (TIDE: two ideas defining emptiness), the word-groups pasted as bumper stickers on vintage automobile bumpers (Toadhouse), or the wooden doors painted with a palette knife (Pre-hung: for those who suffer form), Graham consistently points to what is on the other side of thoughts and concepts.

‘Time is Memory’, last exhibited at SITE Santa Fe, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is one of his most interesting pieces and consists of, in Graham’s own words, “16 death poems by 16 Zen Buddhist masters, 16 zafus (meditation cushions) and 16 reading lights connected to a central hub which is then connected to a solar electric computerised tracker. The poems, zafus and lights form an oval or circle on the floor with the solar electric tracker on the roof of the building. Weather, light shifts and human consciousness create a sensitive flux to the room’s events. Rising with the sun, flowing with the weather and then setting into darkness. The zafus are to be sat on, the poems are to be read and change to be experienced.”

The death poems used in the piece were composed by the various Zen masters just before they died, and are Graham’s renderings from various translations that he has read.

The following interview took place toward the end of January, 2003.

Brendan Connell. A lot of your work, and obviously ‘Time is Memory’ in particular, has what I view as a Zen Buddhist theme. Many contemporary artists use the same type of ‘minimalist’ aesthetics found in traditional Zen Buddhist art. But do you think, visually, a piece of artwork can have the same sort of affect as say, a Zen Koan, – an enlightenment effect?

Allan Graham. From a Zen standpoint art is only the pointing finger. Multiplicity, simultaneity and connections that become too vast for our logic or reason to hold onto have been my ‘focus’ for many years. That is my connection with Zen. But it also occurs in say, Sufi (Rumi), even in the most resent science – a beyond-self related comprehension. Physical details in art are just the language. I have no loyalty to a style or subject but there are reoccurring loops that feel like a part of me, whatever I do. Read the rest of this entry »