Douglas Gordon: sharpening video art

Article by Andrea Ongaro in Berlin // Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013

It’s not easy to define video art. The word video alone brings a multitude of technologies to mind, from movies to internet videos. Today, everybody is in the position to realize high quality videos – not necessarily good ones – thanks to the cameras we have. But when does it become art? Until the 28th of April Douglas Gordon gives us an example presenting his work at the Blain Southern Gallery under the title of ‘Sharpening Fantasy, 2012’.

Very often video art is deemed as ‘boring’, because it plays on repetition, slow sequences and fixed takes, strategically eliminating the entertaining qualities. Once the narrative elements are removed in favor of minimalist formal choices, the typical visual grammar of video art is what we obtain. Showing seemingly irrelevant and unconnected events that artists display in their work, far removed from a typical narrative structure, make videos non-dramatic and sometimes not so captivating.

Instead, we should step away from the common expectations that we have for the moving image, through watching movies or TV for example. We should approach art videos without looking for action or for the development of a story. Thus we can perceive the direct sensorial impact that we often overlook and really enjoy video art.

At the Blain Southern Gallery the set-up of the show is appropriately spacious to accommodate the charm of Gordon’s video installations. Beyond the videos, the artist uses words on the walls as well and the sound is an essential element in these works. The environment of the exhibition surrounds the viewer with various sensorial inputs, leading one into a different time and place. The video installations themselves create an intervention on the space and on ideas of formal installation, suggesting an experiential path guiding the viewer through the space.

Gordon has always investigated the grey areas between film, video and photography and his production aims towards the creation of ambiguous meanings. Deconstructing cinema formally and removing its narrative structure, the artist aspires to produce a shift in the perception of the medium. In ‘Unnatural History II (Scorpions)’, with similar scenes proposed on two different screens and with a slight time slip, he creates a sort of short circuit that makes us distrusting of our own memory. This introduces the visitors to the cinematic experience that Gordon produces in his own singular style.

Through the exhibition, the artist explores the concept of dualism, referring often to a perceptive, emotional or cultural polarization. In the ‘Unnatural History’ series, it is the clash between West and East. In ‘Sharpening Fantasy, 2012’, it is between dark and light. The latter is presented as a large-scale installation where sounds and images are deeply interwoven. The complete obscurity of the room strongly contrasts with the light of the rough, worked hands on the screens and the gleaming silver of the sharpening tools. The multiple monitors and their disposition, the room, the boldly contrasted images and the sounds contribute to create an involving space that fascinatingly disrupts our perceptions.

With ‘Full Circle’ we are dragged in a completely other scenario. A cityscape is showed at dusk with a slow moving view. After a while we find out the camera was moving in a circular motion, until it closed the entire circumference. The use of natural noises, coming from the surroundings of image, finishes the picture and carries us into another context. It gives us the chance to notice the discrepancy between our background and what we see, activating a dual connection between our experience and what we are experiencing.
This video art is everything except boring. The show is extremely entertaining and interesting for the experience itself. The way to approach Gordon’s works is to take the time to appreciate their raw aesthetic qualities, their interconnection and finally let yourself be involved.

Additional Information

Douglas Gordon: ‘Sharpening Fantasy, 2012’
Exhibition: Feb. 7 – Apr. 28, 2013
Potsdamer Straße 77–87, Berlin, click here for map

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