Critics’ Picks

Stan Douglas, Luanda-Kinshasa, 2013, video, color, sound, 6 hours 1 minute.

Stan Douglas, Luanda-Kinshasa, 2013, video, color, sound, 6 hours 1 minute.

New York

Stan Douglas

David Zwirner | 525 & 533 West 19th Street
525 & 533 West 19th Street
January 9–February 22, 2014

In Luanda-Kinshasa, 2013, a six-hour-and-one-minute video, Stan Douglas revisits some of the major ideas that have informed his work to date: the video loop as a mechanism of the Freudian uncanny; the past as a construction of the present; imagined and failed utopias; and the discursive and historical nature of media technologies. Continuing his long-standing involvement with music—seen most recently in Disco Angola, 2012—Luanda-Kinshasa purportedly documents a 1970s-era recording session at the legendary Columbia Records studio in Manhattan, which closed in 1981. But if Disco Angola explicitly connected the popular and the political, here music seemingly takes center stage. With a visual and aural crispness that belies its documentary pretense, the video seduces with an intimate (if coolly objective) view of an interracial band laying down hypnotically rhythmic tracks with a Benetton ad’s worth of instruments. But when viewed long enough, it becomes apparent that each new track soon finds its way back to a familiar beat: In fact, the total length comprises improvised variations of only two songs, which are named in the work’s hyphenated title (and reference the capitals of Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, respectively).

The resulting tension between variation and repetition returns us to the question of politics, if only elliptically: These poles align with the imperatives associated with musical self-expression (a synecdoche for art in toto) and with the imperatives of the recording industry (that is, capitalism). More broadly, by presenting a disciplined, even monotonous musical performance bracketed by a closed circuit of microphones and headsets, Luanda-Kinshasa underlines Douglas’s interest in the cultural and technological contours of the self. The challenge is to not view the improvisations and displays of emotional feeling (especially as manifested by the only female member of the band, drummer Kimberly Thompson, who steals the show) as moments of resistance or “authenticity” but as an effect of a thoroughly situated subjectivity.