New York and Paris

Douglas Davis

Whitney Museum Of American Art and Centre Pompidou

Double Entendre is the most recent and the most dramatically ambitious of the highly personal performance pieces that Douglas Davis has been developing since the mid ’70s. Broadcast live from the Whitney in New York and the Centre Pompidou in Paris on May 16, 1981, it uses elements of theater, television, and video to investigate the nature of love. A contemporary man (played by Davis himself) and a woman (Nadia Taleb) are the main protagonists. They tell their story in a dialogue that unfolds in a sequential but repetitive narrative structure; when Davis, for example, speaks in English and a few times in French in New York, Taleb repeats in French or English in Paris (or vice versa, when Taleb takes the initiative). Whatever the language, the words are printed on the video screen, allowing the audience to see and hear the speech simultaneously, and doubling the impact of the messages. The notion of doubles is a theme that runs throughout this love story, whose full title is Double Entendre Two Sites Two Times Two Sides (For Roland Barthes). Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse served as inspiration here—a passage from the book introduces Double Entendre.

As in other Davis pieces—Four Places Two Figures One Ghost, 1977, and Left-Center-Right, 1979, are examples—what’s at issue is interpersonal communications in this age of instantaneous, electronic messages. Using satellite transmission and live (at the time) and taped audio and video, Davis draws attention to the ways and means of the mass media, while pointing out that these needs exist not only for sending public messages from one point to another, but also for private intimate communications from one person to another. In this drama the complex information technology of today is used to tell the story of a relationship as, in 30 minutes, it goes through the stages of attraction and passion, separation and union. Psychological and sexual tensions abound in the taut and richly associative dialogue.

All is not talk, however. There is action. The man, acting on his feelings, races out of the Whitney. Leaping at a television camera in the street, he appears to zoom off like Superman; in the next shot on the screen he seems to have landed in Paris, as if he had crossed the Atlantic in a flash (in fact we see an actor, his “double”). There, he chases and captures the woman. The two of them embrace; she is totally enveloped by him. The two have become one as we are left with an image of the man’s back.

Double Entendre as a video experience is the opposite of the usual commercial-television fare, but, emotionally charged and engaging, it is also entertaining. And the last quality, in particular, is all too rarely encountered in video productions by artists.

Ronny H. Cohen