Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Douglas Gordon

Douglas Gordon was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1966, studied at the Glasgow School of Art 1984-88, and then at the Slade School of Art, London, 1988-90. He was awarded the Turner Prize in 1996, the Premio 2000 at the Venice Biennale, 1997. He also undertook a DAAD International Artists Programme in Hanover and Berlin, 1997-8. Gordon lives and works in New York.

Gordon's work explores major themes, in particular ethical dichotomies such as religion and faith, good and evil, innocence and guilt, life and death. Gordon often uses his body as a ground for debate, exploring how contradictory human nature can be, and involves the viewer in the manner of a confessor and witness to his investigations. He examines the way in which meaning is communicated and how perception is defined by collective consciousness.

A Divided Self I and II, Douglas Gordon

This work consists of two monitors showing two arms wrestling with each other, one hairy and the other smooth. At first glance it looks as though two people are wrestling with one another but as you watch it becomes clear that the two arms belong to the same person. The battle between the two arms suggests an internal battle, the good self represented by the smooth arm and the evil self by the hairy arm.

Monster (1996)

In the rarely seen video Monster (1996), Gordon�s face becomes grotesque through the application of strips of transparent adhesive tape. Both author and character in this work, Gordon draws on the cinematic trope of a man�s encounter with his mirrored double. In two other works, the artist appropriates iconic �alter-ego� moments from classic films: the transformation scene in Rouben Mamoulian�s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde figures in Gordon�s Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1995�96), and the famous �You looking at me?� sequence performed by Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese�s Taxi Driver becomes the basis for the 1999 work through a looking glass.

10ms‾ � (1994)

The dynamic between memory and bodily motion is another theme Gordon explores in his work.

10ms-1 uses silent film footage made during the First World War. It shows a soldier, dressed only in his underwear, who seems to be recovering from an injury. He makes a couple of unsteady steps before falling over. Once on the ground, he tries to stand up, but repeatedly fails. The jerkiness of his hapless movements is exaggerated by the slow-motion projection. The title refers to the speed at which an object falls under the pull of gravity.

The film has been transferred to video and is shown in a repeated loop, locking the soldier into an endless cycle of struggle and failure. Watching it can be at once compelling, frustrating and strangely voyeuristic. As Douglas Gordon has said: 'You can see that what is happening on screen might be quite painful - both physically and psychologically - but it has a seductive surface. What do you do - switch off or face the possibility that a certain sadistic mechanism may be at work?'

The man's outwardly healthy appearance makes the forces responsible for his collapse ambiguous. He may be suffering from a spinal injury or from shell shock, but it is equally possible that he is an actor involved in a clinical reconstruction for teaching purposes. In another work made around the same time, Gordon used a medical demonstration film in which a case of hysteria was staged, and he has acknowledged an interest in the way that such ambiguous documentation opens up questions about truth, perception and representation.

Tattoo (I) and Tattoo (II)

The dark undercurrents found in the film projections recur in photographic works such as Tattoo (for Reflection) (1997), a photograph of a man's back tattooed with the word Guilty. The word is inscribed backwards on his left shoulder but is legible in the reflection of an adjacent mirror. Trust is the subject of works such as Tattoo (I) and Tattoo (II) (both 1994), photographs in which the phrase Trust Me is shown tattooed on the artist's arm. One is not sure if the words are those of a close confidant or the utterance of a con man.

Black Spot Series

In one of the "black spot" series, Gordon has taken thirteen Polaroid photographs of his left (sinister) hand and enlarged it to a monstrous scale where image of the hand spans up to three feet. This process of one hand taking a photograph of the other produces a fragmented, duplicitous self-portrait. In the second "black spot" series, Gordon enlarged a detail of his marked hand, to create a landscape of foreboding and jeopardy.

Croque Mort

Croque Mort (2000) extends Gordon's interest in using his own body as a ground of investigation as, here, he has photographed his newly born daughter. Repetition is also an ongoing interest in Gordon’s work, and this series of seven photographs provides a powerful self-contained visual installation. Indeed, the works are installed in a wholly red room, like a cinema room with its red carpet, or like the inside of a womb. A ‘croque mort’, or undertaker in French, was the person who as legend has it, would bite the feet of the recently deceased to check whether they were effectively dead, hence the appellation ‘the one who bites the dead’. In this series, Gordon’s daughter playful bites her own feet and fingers, but with the extreme close up and with the addition of the sinister title, what is simply a newborn’s natural checking of its physical existence actually turns into a reminder of our physical mortality. What could be a sentimental series of images of a baby is turned into an unexpected experience.

Assignment 3: Due October 2

Part 1: The Question

The first challenge of this assignment is to formulate a question that will be presented to the class. The question must be political in nature. Yes, I said political in nature. This definition may help:

I. involving or characteristic of politics or parties or politicians; "calling a meeting is a political act in itself"- Daniel Goleman; "political pressure"; "a political machine"; "political office"; "political policy"

II. of or relating to your views about social relationships involving authority or power; "political opinions"

III. of or relating to the profession of governing; "political career"

In order to help you develop a question, your question can be situated/contextualized within one of the themes artists often explore (this list is generated from the PBS Art 21 series).

Examine the politics of these themes.

place - question commonly held assumptions about land, home, and national identity

spirituality -
question commonly held assumptions about faith, belief, meditation, and religious symbols

identity -
question commonly held assumptions about stereotypes, self-awareness, portaiture, and what it means to be an artist

consumption -
question commonly held assumptions about commerce, mass media, and consumer society

loss & desire -
question issues such as war and peace; the loss of community and the desire for connection; and the age-old human longing for perfection

power -
challenge authority, oppression, and control

memory -
topics such as the veracity of history, the nature of interpretation, subjective versus objective truth, and the ways in which objects and images from the past embody cultural memory

romance -
the role of emotion, regret, fantasy and nostalgia

protest -
work to picture war, express outrage, and empathize with the suffering of others

ecology -
pose questions about the relationships between nature and culture

paradox -
address and respond to contradiction, conflict and ambiguity, and examine the relationship between mystery and meaning in art

Please be prepared to state your questions. Consider your question as an artwork in of itself. What question can you devise that will truly engage an audience?


Part 2: The Body as Material

Your artwork must be directed towards posing the question to the audience or attempting to answer it -- provide a solution. The only catch is that you must use the human body as an integral element of the piece. This is open to your interpretation but consider the fact you will be challenged to express how your work uses the body as material to uniquely pose your question.

This work can manifest itself as a photograph (single image or series), a video, an audio piece, a live performance that is documented in class, or a combination of these things.

Please use some of the blog entries as motivators but also feel free to formulate your own interpretation of how to use the body as material. Do not perform any action that could cause you or others severe physical harm.


Helpful Postmodern Techniques of Questioning

I thought these postmodern techniques, terms, genres and ideas may help some of you generate a piece.


* Alterity is a philosophical principle of exchanging one's own perspective for that of the "other".

* A lack of personal identity.


* An aporia is a philosophical puzzle, paradox, or impasse often used in conjunction with 'deconstruction'.

* A state of wonder and awe due to contemplating the mysteries of life and the universe.


* Bricolage is a processes by which traditional objects or language are given a new, often subversive, meaning and context.

* Art technique where works are constructed from various available materials ("found items" or mass-produced "junk").


* A form of emotional cleansing, first described by Aristotle, which occurs simply from the passive act of viewing a tragedy.

* A postmodern analogy is that the media's focus on violence is the method by which society cleanses its collective psyche.


* Term used in Marxist economics when economic value is assigned to something not traditionally considered a commodity.

* Examples of commodification include: ideas, culture, identity, and even the human body.


* Term attributed to Jean Piaget, who described how knowledge is assimilated and internalized during the process of learning.

* Postmods contend that the process of matching internal models to the real world is inherently colored by the bias of the observer.


* Cybernetics is a process by which a biological organism enhances its abilities by the integration of technology.

* So called "cyborgs" are a common feature of science fiction (Popular examples include: Robocop and the Borg).

* In postmodernism, much philosophical weight is given to this merging (and interdependence) of man and technology.

* Many consider there to be similar impact due to reliance on everyday items like glasses or hearing aids.


* Dadaism was a cultural movement which attempted to reject and destroy the prevailing standards in art through anti-art.

* It was a reaction to the horrors of World War I, which its followers believed was due to the reason and logic of the modernists.

* Dada strove to have no meaning and its works are often described as random or without organization.

* Ironically, Dada became an influential movement in modern art (examples include Duchamp's "readymades" found objects)


* Deconstruction is a term coined by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida for a process of critiquing literature and language.

* It analyzes the built in bias of language and questions its ability to represent reality.

* Critics see deconstruction as oversimplified and "sloppy" intellectual approach to attacking modernism.


* Dystopias are societies usually characterized by decay and/or oppressive governments.

* Relevant authors include Kurt Vonnegut and William Gibson

Flattening of Affect

* Flattening of affect is a scientific term describing a person's detachment and lack of emotional reactivity.

* Used in the postmodern literature to describe technology's dehumanizing impact.

* A key example is the move 2001, where the main characters lose their humanity whereas the computer HAL gains "his".


* Hyperreality is a symptom of postmodern culture where a person loses their ability to distinguish reality from fantasy.

* The hyperreal world is often thought of as an idealized enhancement of reality, much preferable to the real life equivalent.

* Present day examples could include reality television, pornagraphy, or multi-player online games.


* Kitsch was originally a German term used to categorize art that is considered an inferior copy of an existing style.

* Art (often commercially mass-produced) that is done in bad taste or tries to be overly campy or sentimental.

* From Baudrillard: "one of that great army of 'trashy' objects, made of plaster of Paris or some such imitation material".


* Modernism is associated with the period of the mid 20th century.

* It is associated with constant change in the pursuit of progress, achievable through rationality and logic.

* In contrast, Postmodernism takes a less optimistic view where constant change becomes the status quo and progress obsolete.


* Panopticon is derived from the Greek opticon (see) and pan (all).

* A type of prison designed to allow the guards to observe all prisoners without their knowledge.

* The goal is to convey a feeling of "invisible omniscience" over the minds of the prisoners.

* The panopticon is a symbol in many dystopian novels, most notably George Orwell's 1984


* Pastiche is a tongue-in-cheek imitation or tribute used in literature, art, music, movies, etc.

* Performed with respect to, or in homage to, other works (as opposed to parody which is done in ridicule or sarcasm).

* A popular example is the cartoon The Simpsons, known for its pop culture references and recycled plots.

Punctuated Equilibrium

* A theory in evolutionary biology by which otherwise slow evolutionary change happens during sporadic periods of great change.

* Postmodernism analogy of technological or cultural change, often used in conjunction with "tipping point" or "singularity".


* A simulacra is a copy of a copy, so far removed from its original, that it can stand on its own and even replace the original.

* Term defined by Jean Baudrillard in "The Precession of Simulacra" from Simulacra and Simulation
"It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.... substituting the signs of the real for the real".
Examples included Disneyland, psychosomatic illness, and the Watergate scandal.

* Another example is the cartoon Betty Boop, who has now become an icon for the long forgotten actresses she was based on.


* Semiotics is the study of signs, symbols, and how meaning is constructed and understood.

* Linguist Ferdinand de Saussure proposed the deferentiation between the spoken word (signifier) and mental concept (signified).