Michael Workman

DOUGLAS GORDON; ORGANIZED BY RUSSELL FERGUSON: WITH ESSAYS BY MICHAEL DARLING, RUSSEL FERGUSON, FRANCIS MCKEE, AND NANCY SPECTOR; INTERVIEW BY DAVID SYLVESTER o MIT PRESS, 2001

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Scottish artist Douglas Gordon, by “invoking choices of faith in God or the lure of the devil,” embraces dramaturgy as his subject. Perhaps best known for installations involving films by Martin Scorsese, Alfred Hitchcock, and others, Hollywood is suitable terrain for his oft-brutal explorations. A story from Gordon's youth in which “a police crackdown on gang violence in Glasgow resulted in a ban on any knife or sharp object three inches or longer” offers a clue as to the spatio-temporal approach to physicality that Gordon employs in his search for the details behind which the devil lurks. Disembodied, tattooed limbs are the subject of one series, an ink-blackened thumb, shot from nearly every imaginable perspective, is the subject of another.
13 digital C-prints entitled hand with spot are also included in this volume, apparently a simulacra for the meditation on the punctured palm of Christ. However, Gordon's “puncturing,” like the psychological or physical rupture apparent in many of his other works, remain mere flesh-deep, Hollywoodized versions of pain and suffering that tumble into psychopathologisms bereft of experiential substance. Each action for Gordon, this volume seems to suggests, is potentially mere make-believe, regardless how unerring the punctuality of the grace sought. At times his work reads as if actual pain and suffering could simply be rejected as impediment.
Gordon's retreat into film seems insistent in ranging subjective guilt as a register of Populist imagination, especially noting how his choices center on films employing tropes of Romantic derangement and lost love. As meditations on love and aggression, denial, and the obsessions of fornication, Gordon tirelessly struggles to articulate his version of a private life besieged by nearly occult urges and impulses. As he tells us in Russell Ferguson's essay “Trust Me”, “what's bad . . . is to break trust with someone. That's the worst thing you can do, if you do it intentionally.”
At the heart of his investigation is a guilt-wracked reflection here reproduced as a number of off-color stills taken from numerous video projections. As a way of making viewers observe the classic Hitchcock film over and over again, we are reminded in numerous critical (though clearly sympathetic) essays, 24 Hour Psycho gave us the experience all at once. Gordon recalibrated the John Ford film The Searchers to play over a period of five years, for all practical intents and purposes eternalizing John Wayne as the epitome of rugged self-regard in his search for a lost niece.
Finally, as a study of the American Gothic ambivalence between wilderness and civilization, Gordon produced a split screen installation using the Scorsese film Taxi Driver as an example of the consequential disillusionment that follows. His installation Through a Looking Glass placed the viewer between two images of Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) talking to himself in an aggressive dialogue interrupted only by the intentionally interloping presence of the viewer. Our witness, Gordon seems to say, is as disruptive as the goading presence of evil in maintaining the separation between man's pre-Conceptual state and his modernized self. An accusation that leaves the viewer, much like readers of this challenging volume, to decide for themselves how to react.


Michael Workman
Chicago, Illinois
2002