DAN GRAHAM: “Present Continuous Past(s)”

“Present Continuous Past(s)” by Dan Graham (1974)

This artwork is a room with mirrored walls, a video camera and a screen below the camera. The mirrors reflect present time, and the video camera tapes what is immediately in front of it and the entire reflection on the opposite mirrored wall.

The screen plays the recordings 8 seconds later, and if you can see the reflection of the screen in the mirror, it will be playing what happened 8 seconds before that. This mechanism produces the artwork’s perpetual effect.


1) Interactive – the audience completes the artwork by entering the room and appearing on the screen
2) Captures multiple perspectives, unlike paintings which are still images
3) Time-space distortion created by the time lag: time as a dimension that can be experienced in space

Concept and meaning

The time-lag creates this effect of self-consciousness. When one enters the room, one will react automatically to the mirrors – adjusting appearances and so on. However, the time-lag means that looking in the camera will only show 8 seconds later, and the inability to react automatically allows us to see ourselves in a natural state, or as how others would perceive us to be. This impression is something we rarely see and it makes the viewer self-conscious because he now knows how others perceive him (only in the physical sense).

In the artist statement, Graham writes that the artwork is about exploring other ways of seeing yourself and learning about yourself.


Perception usually takes place in the present. We are thus are not in the position of perceiving things past or future. Graham constructs a space that makes the phenomenon of constantly continuing presence available to experience by visualizing temporal distance in space.

**In the early phases of video art, people were more concerned with the possibilities of video in aesthetics and communications technology, and not really the confrontation with the individual experiences of perception.


1) Includes the viewer in the artwork, and every viewer that enters the room has his/her own experience. This makes the artwork unique to each and every viewer, because no one will experience the exact same feelings. While some feel self-conscious, others may be fascinated and find it plain fun.

Advantages of video art in general

2) Easily duplicated and reproduced – can be broadcasted and is available to a large audience.

3) Constantly changing images offer a new dimension, and it is now possible for artists to show things literally from their point of view.

4) Can help to capture certain qualities that painting and sculpture cannot e..g light

5) Ability to manipulate time (distorting time by making it faster/slower), perspective and colors, and add in special effects.


1) Because of its technological proximity with television, it was also commonly seen as an intersection between art and entertainment/ commercial mass communication. Hence, messages were not brought across clearly sometimes.

2) Some people regard it as technically less difficult and hence not as good as painting or sculpting. A blurring of boundaries between high art and commercial mass culture.


BY: Sean Jonat Yong Xin


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