Edinburgh has been fortunate that Stan Douglas was able to introduce the exhibition of some of his work at The Fruitmarket Gallery (running til 15 February).
Hard on the heels of the presentation of ‘Helen Lawrence’ as part of the Edinburgh International Festival, here Douglas talked about both his earlier and more recent work.
An innovative artist of international standing and repute, discussion ranged from Douglas’ Weegee-inspired photo series ‘Midcentury Studio’, of which perhaps the most well-known image – ‘Suspect’ – is used in The Fruitmarket Gallery’s promotional material for this exhibition, Douglas’ film ‘Der Sandman’, a highlight of Doumenta X in 1997, and shown as part of this exhibition, as well as other elements of the exhibition, including the video installation Video, re-imaginings of both Orson Welles film version of Franz Kafka’s ‘The Trial’ and of Samuel Beckett’s film ‘Film’, some work from the previously mentioned ‘Midcentury Studio’ series, ‘Corrupt Files’, a series of large tonal images taken from ‘readings’ of corrupted digital files originating from the making of ‘Helen Lawrence’, as well as larger images associated with both ‘Helen Lawrence’ and works subsequently drawn from it, ‘Hogan’s Alley’ and ‘The Second Hotel Vancouver’.
The background to some of these works emerged in discussion, which ranged over Douglas’ thoughts on the nature of time, simultaneity and our varying experiences of time passing in relation to our own lived experience and as history, as well as on the nature of history itself.
Although temporality appears to be a recurring concern for Douglas, place also figures, in particular his native Vancouver.
Although a much-travelled artist who has lived and worked in Europe, particularly in Germany, Douglas’ vision seems very much rooted in the experience of a middle-class Canadian child observant of, and perhaps a little obsessed by, the darker sides of his hometown in the immediate post World War Two era.
This close interest has unquestionably influenced and given impetus to several of Douglas’ projects, including ‘Helen Lawrence’ and its ‘spin offs’.
While perceptions of class have often been a feature of Douglas’ works, it is only recently that issues of race and gender have begun to find a place in his work. Given Douglas’ own background and, one presumes, the limited opportunities it may have afforded to confront those issues, this is perhaps unsurprising, although more recent work perhaps reflects a willingness to engage more fully with them.
One question from the floor referenced ‘Corrupt Files’ in the context of art within corporate spaces and the relationship of art to the varying whims of purchasers and their differing tastes and demands. Always a territory rich in contradictions and confusion, it is nevertheless one that all professional artists negotiate with different degrees of success.
It is a large part of Douglas’ achievement that he continues to innovate using a variety of media in challenging ways yet manages to retain and enlarge audiences for his work.
Stan Douglas - The Fruitmarket Gallery, 7th Nov 2014 - 15 Feb 2015
'Stan Douglas' - essays by Simon Baker, Mieke Bal and Fiona Bradley, Fruitmarket Gallery 2014 £15.00