Stan Douglas is a Canadian artist who has exhibited internationally, for example with Documenta IX, Documenta X, Documenta XI, and at the Venice Biennale in 1990, 2001 and 2005. Known for film installations characterized by elaborate mise-en-scènes and sophisticated montages that deal with happenstances, obsolete technologies, lost or “failed” utopias of the 20th Century, besides to reflect on technical and social aspects of mass media.
Stan Douglas creates complex mix of fiction, reality and narrative exploring the influence of the media on our understanding of reality. In fact while we may recognise the literary, filmic or musical references, along with the stories, places or even characters appropriated in these complex works, expectations are often frustrated because Douglas is interested to offer us the story from different point of views giving us an opportunity to reflect on a way out of a global and unilateral perspective.
From 2 February until 24 March 2016 Victoria Miro will hold The Secret Agent, a solo exhibition by Stan Douglas, featuring the UK premiere of a new multi-screen film installation along with a series of large-scale photographs. Saturated with information, and yet rejecting easily consumable messages, these works place the viewer within the charged atmospheres and ambiguous political and social intricacies of 1970s Portugal.
Starting from a story originally written by Joseph Conrad in 1907 Douglas has retained the characters and the plot, but transferred them to the turmoil of Lisbon soon after the Carnation Revolution in 1974. The period known as PREC (Revolutionary Process Underway) that followed stood in many ways outside dominant constructions of ‘history’ itself, which at the time ran firmly along geopolitical contours demarcated by the Cold War. The multi-screen installation gives us different points of view as I told before and the alternation of the projections gives us an idea about the process of reconstruction behind every historical story.
This immersive six-screen work implies the latent impact of unresolved past moments on the present, and even on our sense of futurity. Conclusions are withheld from the viewer, however, even as multiple viewpoints tantalisingly suggest the possibility of privileged access to the truths of a complex situation. Somehow, the work’s proliferating images instead prompt a sense of disorientation which perhaps echoes the experiences of the film’s protagonists as they weather the throes of revolution.
The sense of social transition is equally present in the photographic works that comprises the second half of the exhibition. Where The Secret Agent is made in the mould of the classic Hollywood thriller, these works borrow from film noir, a genre that reflected the tough-talking nihilism and veiled anxieties of a generation traumatised by war and which has served as an enduring source of inspiration for Douglas.
The darkly hyperreal quality of these images is the result of digital rendering – a means of image-making foreign to both the naked eye and the camera lens, which departs from logics of documentary accuracy even as it makes possible an almost hallucinatory sharpness of detail. These panoramic mise-en-scènes first appeared in Helen Lawrence, a ground-breaking cinematic theatre production that plunged into the seedy underbelly of the immediate post-war period in North America, before what the artist describes as ‘the sudden call to order and morality’ of peacetime had fully taken hold.
Based on archival photographs of a hotel used to house war veterans (The Second Hotel Vancouver, 2014), a decades-established squatting community (Lazy Bay, 2015), or a lawless neighbourhood populated by the disenfranchised and rife with gambling, bootlegging, and prostitution, where black musicians and corrupt politicians partied in the small hours (Hogan’s Alley, 2014), these works explore the loaded meeting points of the structural and subjective, directly experienced and mediated, specificities of places.