Stan Douglas at the Venice Bienniale
One of the country's most acclaimed contemporary artists, Stan Douglas is representing Canada at this year's Venice Biennale, the prestigious art exhibition that brings together artists from around the world. Based in Vancouver and Los Angeles, Douglas is internationally known for his multidisciplinary work, which includes photography, multi-channel film, video installation and, more recently, multimedia theatre production. The Venice installation Stan Douglas: 2011 ≠ 1848, curated by Reid Shier, presents a series of works across two venues. The works are inspired by historical events of social and political turbulence, as seen in Europe in 1848 and within a global context in 2011. In his characteristic style, Douglas connects points of rupture within a global framework, rendering in minute detail and with technical ingenuity these historic moments of protest, riot and revolution.
The Canada Pavilion presents four large-scale panoramic photographs in which the artist has combined high-resolution photographic plate shots of various sites with complex staged re-enactments of major events of social unrest in cities around the world in 2011: Tunis, Vancouver, London, New York. The Tunis photograph captures the January gathering that defied the nighttime curfew in protest of the country's corrupt regime and led ultimately to the onset of the Arab Spring. In June, mayhem broke out in the streets of Vancouver when fans took to the streets following the loss of the Canucks to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup final. In London in August, the riots that erupted at the Pembury Estate in the eastern borough of Hackney, following the police killing of Mark Duggan, would ignite the spread of similar events across the UK. In New York City in October, the march by Occupy Wall Street protesters resulted in some 700 arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Douglas' works explore confrontations between citizens and the police arising from political or social pressures that drive segments of society. "Over the past two years, as Stan Douglas has developed a project that investigates and reimagines events of 2011," says exhibition curator Reid Shier, "the percussive events of that year continue to reverberate. The resulting works – which speak to the paths that have led to this moment – are emblematic of the artist’s acuity in bearing witness to conditions that are rapidly unfolding, and to the critical and creative imagination with which his art describes histories pixelated through lenses that remain in constant flux."
At the Magazzini del Sale no.5, Douglas is showing the two-channel video installation ISDN, a fictional collaboration between musicians in London and Cairo that blends Grime, which emerged in London in the mid-2000s, and Mahraganat, festival music that simultaneously became popular in the Arab world. Borne out of popular discontent, these genres, as Douglas points out, “would literally become the soundtrack for youthful revolt.” As in previous works such as Hors-champs and Luanda-Kinshasa, Douglas’ latest film intertwines music with visual imagery, creating layers of sound and rhythm that resonate back and forth. The title stands for “integrated services digital network,” a now outdated communications standard that transmits data, voice and video across telephone lines.
From their improvised studios, London rappers Lady Sanity and TrueMendous trade verses with Cairo performers Raptor and Youssef Joker against a back track of their respective musical styles. Produced through the modular combination of multiple music tracks and effects, the pulsing rhythms in ISDN move through a game of call-and-response that thwarts the parameters between what is seen and what is heard in astonishing and unprecedented ways.
In: 2011 ≠ 1848, the artist explores connections across time and space that may – or may not – exist. The themes of upheaval and unrest and the interplay of reality and fiction create a dialogue in Douglas' works that offers viewers myriad and timeless entries to these specific moments in time.
Stan Douglas: 2011 ≠ 1848, commissioned by the National Gallery of Canada and curated by Reid Shier, is on view in the Canada Pavilion and the Magazzini del Sale no.5 at the 59th Biennale di Venezia until 27 November 2022. The work is presented in partnership with the Canada Council for the Arts and the National Gallery of Canada Foundation. The Gallery acknowledges the collaboration and support of David Zwirner and Victoria Miro. The installations are accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with texts by Reid Shier, Erika Balsom, Ma'an Abu Taleb, George E. Lewis and Samir Gandesha, available from the NGC Boutique. Share this article and subscribe to our newsletters to stay up-to-date on the latest articles, Gallery exhibitions, news and events, and to learn more about art in Canada.