Peter Doig

The metaphor of “cultural translation” has been a favorite theme of cultural criticism and art discourse for some time. And in fact the processes of appropriation and translation, and their attendant displacements of cultural and contextual meaning, do belong to the defining experiences of contemporary life. In Peter Doig’s exhibition “StudioFilmClub,” which traveled to the Kunsthalle Zürich after being seen in Cologne, the metaphor of cultural translation played several key roles: The Scottish-born painter who now resides in Trinidad presented seventy-six hand-painted film posters displayed in a transitional space that communicates with the movie theater housed in the same building as the museum. Doig’s sketchily painted posters originally served a concrete communicative purpose: to publicize the weekly film presentations at StudioFilmClub, which Doig has been running, along with artist Che Lovelace, in Port of Spain, Trinidad, since 2003. A kind of hybrid byproduct created not solely under the aegis of art, the posters open exciting possibilities for cross-pollination—not just between Doig’s painting and the collective image reservoir of film history but between cinemas of diverse places, eras, and genres, such as Black British Cinema, Caribbean productions, and Western independent films; and, finally, between the function that the film posters filled in the communicative and social context of StudioFilmClub and their transfer to the museum, where they provide both a documentation of the activities of the group and a kind of subjective archive of cinematic history.

One of the first posters that Doig painted for his film series advertised Marcel Camus’s Black Orpheus (1959). Here we see the outline of a solitary figure in a canoe, a motif familiar from Doig’s paintings: An Orpheus on reflective water, evoking Cocteau’s motif of the mirror as the portal to the underworld, to the unconscious. As in this instance, most of the posters bear an associative relationship to the film in question, playing on existing images and remembered visual experiences, reflecting formal and thematic concerns that can now be played through anew. Direct visual quotation or painted film stills are rather scarce, though the poster for the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski (1998) depicts the film’s protagonist in the house of his millionaire namesake as he gazes at a wall of photographs and certificates as though it were picture gallery. And it is, of course, no coincidence that Doig chose exactly this scene from a film that, in its pronounced reflection on genre and media, walked an idiosyncratic tightrope between independent and Hollywood film, thus constantly negating the possibility of an “authentic” image. Images, in all their seductive power, are in the last analysis always an excuse for further images, which can then take their own often unpredictable paths.

“Cinema as a ‘creole’ medium,” writes the exhibition’s curator, Alice Koegel, is “a medium on the move, which sends off cultures in the form of themes, techniques, and talents along many different routes.” In many ways, Doig’s exhibition sends the viewer on imaginary “travels”; it invites one, accompanying the posters, to follow his subjective turns and painterly interpretations through the history of film. And it also serves as publicity for the ambitious film series that Koegel, together with Doig and Lovelace, has organized in conjunction with the exhibition.

Astrid Wege

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.