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  • Belinda Keyte

Artist Research - Week 7: Douglas Gordon

If you want to find the truth in something, take it apart piece by piece, then put it back together with the detail of a forensic scientist. —Douglas Gordon

Douglas Gordan is a contemporary Scottish artist that was born the same year as me, 1966. I was reminded of him when thinking about my performing of Kirsty MacColl’s ‘All I ever wanted’. Through his performances, installations, photography, and video art, Gordon appropriates cultural sources to make us look differently at things. Or relook at them in another context.

He investigates moral and ethical questions, mental and physical states, as well as collective memory and selfhood. I love him for his titles. The 1st image I saw of his was the burning photograph of Jimmy Dean and the title was something like ‘you & me & me & you’ (its actually really hard to research or find this image anywhere on the internet). I appropriated this image for my 2nd year undergrad workbook. My 1st ever photoshop composition.

I was told to look at him in my undergrad degree as apparently he sang the entire album ‘The best of Lou Reed & The Velvet Underground’ (For Bas Jan Ader) , 1993–1993 (hehe). Its been auctioned off and I can’t watch it, but I saw snippets of it later in the YouTube documentary video I watched last. The video work is described as Gordon lying on the ground (I note from the still with headphones on and what looks like ‘walkman’ cassette tape player?), eyes half-closed, listening to a recording of The Best of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. If Gordon hears the music, the viewer only perceives the sound of his voice whispering the words. It is up to the viewer to ‘mentally reconstruct the orchestration, left out of the picture’, but I don’t get it, as ‘the best of’ indicates the most famous sings off this already iconic band. I mean, I don’t need to reconstruct anything as its already in my sonic / aural memory. I get, as I read on, the reference to Bas Jan Ader and that’s its about ‘showing us a feeling of incommunicability and the same unfathomable melancholy’. But is AINT incommunicable if its way famous stuff that all of my friends with any interest in music know, verbatim.

Douglas Gordon 'Back and forth and forth and back' 2017

Look, it’s interesting that he extended Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho (1960) from its original 110 minutes to 24 hours. But it kinda gets ‘samey’ this engagement with opposites and time. And it’s not what I signed up for, as an artist to research.

Pretty much every word written, spoken, heard, overheard from 1989 . . . , an installation of more than eighty text-based works at Tate Britain, London, in 2010 earned him a Commandeur dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Republic. He was awarded the Turner Prize when he was 30yrs old. And all these accolades are pissing me off a bit. I’ll reserve my research of how many woman have won the Turner prize to later. I know of a few.

I do think his video work is worth looking at. In Non-Stop (2018) Gordon’s eye opens and closes slowly, the retina reflecting a series of single words extracted from signs, names, and places around the Soho area, where he lived in the late 1980s. So the eye is literally and metaphorically reflecting, literally and metaphorically, on the Soho that used to be known for its nightlife, media culture, indie music venues, and underground performance. Yet the video doesn’t live up to what is promised. I don’t get that it is an eye opening and closing nor the retina reflecting anything. I see neon sign flashing on a 10sec loop. No human presence at all, as we don’t even know if the artist is behind the camera at all.

There was a 15 min YouTube video he does on designing video installations. It starts off with him playing The Verves ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ and I get glimpses of the performance aspect of his work. And also hearing how people actually believe they see stuff in his video (the close up of arms conducting the music to Hitchcock’s video) that wasn’t there, because of the cinematic experience. I start to get Gordon and why he is important. but only because ity is him talking about his work and not some gallery, publicist, art critic or whatever. I alsways prefer to hear it from the person that made the work, rather than have it forced upon me. Actually the reason why the only class Gordon didnt like at school was this. And I guess its why he eventually felt he had to get behind the camera and make his own voice heard.

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