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
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.