Born in 1960 in (Canada)
Lives and works in (Canada )
Liste expositions

Interview - 01/11/1994


Stan Douglas was born in Vancouver, Canada, where he later did his studies at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design. He made his first multimedia installations and videotapes in the early 1980s, while working as a disc-jockey in the nightclub Faces. He began working with photography as well in 1983.

His first solo exhibition took place in 1987 at the Art Gallery of Toronto, where he presented the installations Songs of Experience (1985), Panoramic Rotunda (1985), Onomatopoeia (1985-1986) and Overture (1986), as well as the series TV Spots (1987). Among the solo exhibitions which followed, in Canada, the US and Europe, are: Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver (1988), Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris (1991), Musée national d'art moderne-Centre Pompidou, Paris (1994), ICA, London (1994), DIA Center for the Arts, New York, with Douglas Gordon (1999), Vancouver Art Gallery (1999), Art Institute of Chicago (2000), Basel Kunsthalle (2001) and the Serpentine Gallery, London (2002). Douglas has also participated three time in Dokumenta (1992, 1997, 2002), in the Venice Biennale (2001) and in a number of major group exhibitions such as 'Passages de l'Image' at the Musée national d'art moderne-Centre Pompidou, Paris (1990) or 'The Projected Image' at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1991.

A prominent member of the Canadian art scene, Douglas joined the staff of the Or Gallery, an art centre run by Vancouver Artists, in 1987 and organised a 1990 lecture series there around contemporary art in British Columbia, which gave rise the following year to the publication Vancouver Anthology: The Institutional Politics of Art. At present he lives and works in Vancouver.

In his multimedia installations and videotapes, Douglas seeks to redefine the viewer's position in relation to film and television by interfering with their technical parameters and conceptual foundations. Through montages of images, sounds and texts which break with the languages of film and television as defined by the entertainment industry, his work offers the viewer new models for apprehending these media, and in particular the conditions of the film screening and the construction of the narrative. The artist's analysis of the basic elements of film and television thus lead the viewer to become aware of their traditional codes.

This approach is to be found in the TV Spots (1987-1988), a series of short videos lasting only 15 to 30 seconds, which were conceived to be inserted during the ad sequences regularly interrupting the programmes. Starting out from the principle that the cultural construction of the subject is determined by the technology inherent to each medium and intrinsically tied to its own existence within a physical and temporal space, Douglas disrupts the traditional flow of images and narrative in these videos in order to destabilise the viewer. Thus, the TV Spots systematically contradict the codes of traditional adverts: no product is promoted, there are no spectacular effects, dialogues are nonexistent, narratives remain unfinished. Far from meeting any of the viewer's expectations, the TV Spots introduce a break in the familiar flow of the programme.

The same principle of a discourse parallel to the conventional one is exploited in the ten videos of the Monodramas series (1991), which are mini-stories of 30 to 60 seconds intended to be presented in the same conditions as the TV Spots. Like the latter, they are shot in real time and use none of the classic effects of the television narrative. Time this seems to be slowed down, while the plots, with their linear narrative structures, leave the viewer disappointed because of their useless, empty content.

Contemporary with these two television projects, Douglas curated the exhibition Samuel Beckett: Teleplays, organised at the Vancouver Art Galley in 1988. Presenting a series of works which Beckett did specifically for television, this exhibition travelled throughout Canada as well as in the United States, Australia, France and Italy between 1989 and 1992.


While the TV Spots and Monodramas analyse the viewer's expectations about television, Douglas's installations essentially focus on the relationship between the constituent elements of film and he viewer's consciousness. The film medium, but also slide shows which emphasise the mechanics of film (a succession of images, cf. Jazz, 1981; Deux Devises: Breath & Mime, 1983), allow the artist to examine the principles underlying the construction of the narrative and its implications for the viewer. In Overture (1986), for example, Douglas combines images from a black-and-white documentary made by the Edison Film Company in 1899-1901 with a sound montage of excerpts from Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time to disrupt the unfolding of the narrative. The documentary shows a journey in the Rocky Mountains filmed from a train, where sequences of hurtling down the mountains alternate with passages through dark tunnels, while the fragments of Proust's text, read in voice-over (by French video artist Thierry Kuntzel) evoke fleeting transitions between wakefulness and sleep, as well as the degrees of consciousness and perception of time which accompany these transitory states. The screening and the narration operate in parallel, to the extent that the text stops when the train enters the darkness of a tunnel. The viewer is thus subjected to different states of perception engendered by the alternation of visual sequences with sound and those which take place in the dark and in silence, like the different states described by Proust. The concepts of discontinuity, fragment and hollowness expressed through the montage of the images and the text, recur throughout Douglas's work, as with the installation Hors- champs (1992), which shows two filmed versions of a jazz concert, one edited from a conventional point of view while the other shows the musicians during their breaks, keeps the fast scanning of the camera and so on, so as to disrupt the continuous flow of the narrative.

In terms of their content, Douglas's film installations often channel the viewer's gaze towards the weak points of Modernism. Through the evocation of specific historical events and local stories, his films call into question certain ideals of the 'modern' world. In Pursuit, Fear, Catastrophe: Ruskin B.C. (1993), the projection of a 16-mm black-and-white film accompanied by music played on an electronic piano, he uses the story of the mysterious disappearance of a Japanese worker living in Ruskin, British Columbia, a town named in honour of the 19th–century British art critic and social reformer John Ruskin, to bring out the failure of the latter's Utopian theories. The piano accompaniment – a score by Arnold Schönberg – alludes to the early days of cinema when, in the absence of dialogues, music was used to underline the film's narrative and emotional trajectory.

The installation Der Sandmann (1995) also deals with the experience of a modern project and its dissolution, namely the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. Win, Place or Show (1998), meanwhile, denounces the urban constructions of the 1960s and 1970s which were supposed to improve the living conditions of the most disadvantaged populations. The installation Le Détroit (2000, the title refers to the original French name of the city of Detroit, Michigan), which repeats the spatial configuration of Hors-champs, uses a film in the form of a thriller to evoke the decline of Detroit, a city which has come to symbolise urban danger resulting from confrontations between its different populations. Douglas has also treated Detroit's decay in a series of photographs dominated by ruins and abandoned construction projects which overshadow any human presence. The installation draws its inspiration from two works: Shirley Jackson's 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House and an 1883 chronicle by historian Marie Hamlin entitled Legends of Le Détroit. Le Detroit is thus yet another example of Douglas's fairly systematic use of existing elements such as archival images, musical scores and literary fragments corresponding to the juxtaposition of image, sound and text in the cinema.


Frédérique Baumgartner

Translation: Miriam Rosen