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Unnatural History II (Scorpions)
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For Douglas Gordon, "Sharpening Fantasy" marks a new level of involvement with viewers… as well as the beginning of a new chapter in Berlin.
In public, the Glaswegian bursts with energy. He is a magnet for people, barely finishing a sentence with one while simultaneously being greeted by another, yet his sincerity shines through. Meeting him privately in his studio, conversation goes much deeper.
“In the 1980s, Glasgow had virtually nothing. There was no idea that any gallerist was even going to come to see your show. I think there was some bitterness from some people, but other students saw this as a total liberation because they kind of had an idea that they would move on later...and then, things did change a little bit.”
Perhaps best known for video works such as 24-Hour Psycho (the Hitchcock classic slowed down to last 24 hours), Gordon cemented his career by winning the Turner Prize in 1996 and representing the United Kingdom at the Venice Biennale immediately after in 1997. He has had solo presentations seemingly everywhere, including the Deutsche Guggenheim and Akademie der Kunste in Berlin.
Although Gordon’s initial success could be viewed as “right time, right place” by some cynics, it comes in part from the learning process he gained during his studies and through his current role as a teacher. “I think that I got great examples from the staff, from the professors that taught me, and then my peer group in Glasgow. I’m still very close to them.”
Involved with Berlin for over a decade, Gordon moved here permanently in November – “My feet were metaphorically on the ground, but physically almost never” – and this change has put him in a more introspective frame of mind. For his newest group of video works Sharpening Fantasy (2012) currently on view at Blain Southern, Gordon travelled to Tangier to film traditional knife grinders at work in different locations of the Kasbah. “I think that the piece is about something that will happen again. And you can imagine what it is, but the responsibility is yours. That’s the reason there are no knives. The only knives that are there, that are present, are already in some kind of visual jeopardy because it is clearly a fantasy situation with these twin guys.”
Gordon’s work in the past has shown a subtle emotional distance from the viewer. “The thing about the individual and the artist and the glass screen… I know this might sound crazy, but when I lived in New York, I was in the supermarket and somebody said, ‘Don’t let the kids lean on the sneeze guard.’ I suppose art is a bit like sneezing in public: you have the gallery to stop it from actually getting on the meat.”
With Sharpening Fantasy, Gordon has finally removed this glass screen. However, he says that instead of this making him more vulnerable, it’s the other way around. Visitors do not simply enter the exhibition space; they fall into it. The sound samples of elements from the city (bells, praying) and knife grinding awake something in the memory, while Gordon intuitively plays with the adding and removing of subtle but important elements in the composition.
For the past 20 years, Gordon has released relatively few works, adding weight to what he does produce. Most recently, in 2012 he presented Pretty Much Every Film and Video Work From 1992 Until Now on 93 video monitors at the Akademie der Kunste. “I always add on to it. I initially showed it in Poland in 1998 or 1999 and there were only 25 or 35 monitors. Now when I go into a space like that and see a hundred monitors I always think, ‘My God, I’ve overdone it.’ But then you cut it down: 1992-2013 is 21 years. I only make four works a year. You sort of make yourself feel good and then whip yourself back into action and then you make yourself feel good.”
Another interesting project was the show “Vanity,” curated for the Deutsche Guggenheim in 2005, where he opted to work with pieces by other artists. When he was unable to borrow Titian’s portrait Saint Sebastian from the Hermitage Museum, he commissioned a reproduction from the Internet and then organised the Guggenheim to acquisition it (for €200). The act in itself ended up being the centrepiece of the exhibition’s concept of narcissism.
Public art such as the Munster Sculpture Project (in which he participated in 1997) has played a role in Gordon’s views on art as “unequivocally public”, as well as his belief in the idea of residual influence. “I always thought you could have one foot in and one foot out of a gallery. Don’t build a cage for yourself, because there’s going to be so many people who are going to want to put you in one anyway. Just sit quietly in the cage and work your way to get out. And then go back in…”
Douglas Gordon – Sharpening Fantasy Feb 7-Apr 28 | Blain Southern, Potsdamer Str. 77-87, Mitte, U-Bhf Kurfürstenstr., Tue-Sat 11-18