Paris

Douglas Gordon, Phantom, 2011, stage, screen, burnt piano, black piano, monitor, HD video. Installation view.

Douglas Gordon, Phantom, 2011, stage, screen, burnt piano, black piano, monitor, HD video. Installation view.

Douglas Gordon

Yvon Lambert Bookshop

Douglas Gordon, Phantom, 2011, stage, screen, burnt piano, black piano, monitor, HD video. Installation view.

Three different interventions made up this Scottish artist’s recent exhibition: some neon writing, a photographic installation, and a video installation. The neon piece, Unfinished, 2011, installed in the gallery entrance, carried the words JE SUIS LE NOMBRIL DU MONDE (I am the navel of the world). The neon was fractured right in the center, and fragments were visible on the floor. While it was turned on, the words were difficult to read, and thus it became a metaphor for an active subjectivity that is nevertheless conscious of its own limitations.

The other two works were perhaps exemplifications of this self-consciousness. I Am Also Hyde, 2011, is a collection of more than three hundred photographs of various dimensions, all enclosed in identical black frames and affixed to the mats with exposed adhesive tape. The photographs completely covered the four walls of one room, calling to mind Wolfgang Tillmans. The contrast between the frames and the deliberately thrown-together way of affixing the images set the work off from Tillmans’s, however, and the relationship between the images and the artist’s experience is more direct. In a certain sense the installation revealed a hidden facet of Gordon’s practice, one more intimate and tied to his everyday reality than we are used to in his work. For the most part shot during recent sojourns in France and Israel, the photographs in part reproduce previous works by the artist, but mainly enter into the real time of his existence, with depictions of children, food, objects, and places. A mirror at the back of the room doubled this bombardment of banal images and virtually amplified the installation’s dimensions.

This was not so much Gordon’s Mr. Hyde as his Dr. Jekyll, the self seen in the light of “normality.” The large installation in the adjacent room, Phantom, 2011, was immersed in darkness, evoking the opposite principle, the dark side, the unconscious, the accursed part of oneself—Mr. Hyde in person. A large screen was placed on a sort of platform made of wood planks. In front of the screen was a grand piano that would probably never be played because the pianist’s chair was overturned on the floor, while the burned remains of another piano were visible. The sense of destruction that emanated from the objects contrasted with the ecstatic calm of the image that appeared and disappeared on the screen. The image was that of a human eye ringed in black, slowly opening toward the viewer, then closing up, protected by the eyelid: a strongly ambiguous image, because that eye, whose appearances repeated on the screen, sometimes at different points, sometimes at the center with a single image, seemed to take on a life of its own, like a strange animal or an alien creature.

There was a sound track running, like the images, in a loop, with the voice of the singer and composer Rufus Wainwright performing a song as melancholy as the installation itself. The eye in the video, it turned out, was his. Completing the cycle that the images and sound constructed, a second video was installed on the ground in a corner; it began playing every time the voice stopped singing, and in those few minutes showed the piano as it burned. Again a mirror doubled part of the space, as well as the people who found themselves there, and it was hard to say whether the effect was more alienating or agonizing.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.