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Stan Douglas, Monodramas (1991), Videostill

In terms of playing with the raw material of cinema, one particular virtuoso is the 1960-born Canadian artist Stan Douglas, who lives in Vancouver. Douglas has long counted among the most important video artists of the present day; he became known through his Television Spots, twelve short films ranging from fifteen to thirty seconds in length that he produced in 1987 and 1988 for a private Canadian broadcasting company and that were shown during the commercials, without any prior announcement. Douglas implemented a working principle that he was to later bring to a head in his Monodramas from 1991: short scenes whose dramaturgy recalls that of television, in which an atmosphere of "suspense" is invoked suggesting a plot sequence and using all kinds of effects, upon which: nothing happens.

The idea behind this can best be described using the example of Douglas' TV spot Answering Machine: a woman returns home from shopping. When she unlocks the door to her apartment, a telephone can be heard ringing inside. The woman enters, puts down her bags, and lights a cigarette. The phone continues ringing, but the woman doesn't pick up. The sequence ends with the answering machine switching on and the caller leaving a message. In the catalogue to Documenta 9, which accords Douglas' video images the "intensity of nightmares," one can read that "each spot is like the fragment of a narrative whose beginning and end both remain in the dark." They are the indicators of a crisis in meaning in that "they not only disrupt the chronological sequence, but also mutilate its meaning."

Robert Longo: Bodyhammers 1994,
Exhibition view: Galerie Hans Mayer, Düsseldorf,
Courtesy © Galerie Hans Mayer

Of course, this only functions because artists like Douglas Gordon and Stan Douglas can count on an understanding and initiated public that immediately recognizes their systems of reference. And in their case, this neatly constitutes the overwhelming majority of the population. What goes for the artist also goes for the average viewer: he or she has also been schooled on TV and movie films and knows which rhetorical cinematic means signify what, how tension is created, and how stories can be constructed in a plausible manner.

This is the only possible way to play with what Hollywood and the TV industry have set out into the world and the collective memory, and a video camera isn't necessary to do so. Sometimes a simple camera is enough, or even other, more traditional graphic means. In the case of Robert Longo, the New York-based painter, draftsman, sculptor, photographer, and performance and video artist who cites filmmakers such as Hollis Frampton, Michael Snow, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder as the most important sources for his ideas, it's ink and paper. Longo has a clear preference for strong images in which fascination and aversion intermingle, as in a disaster film - which they seem to have been taken from, in original scale.

Robert Longo, Colt

In 2003, Longo published a drawing series called Lust of the Eye: dark, nearly black images of monumental atomic mushroom clouds. For years already, Longo has repeatedly investigated strategies of subordination. His 1994 series Bodyhammers consists of illustrations of modern pistols and historical Colts - both of which are indispensable accessories of Western and cop films; the first thing that stands out, however, is their enormous size: the drawings range up to 2 meters high. Longo knows what people want to see, and at first the viewer can do nothing more than stand there in awe. This is exactly where Longo wants to take the viewer, because exaggeration is always the surest stylistic means for provoking the defensive reactions he so urgently seeks.

Philip-Lorca di Corcia: Barcelona 1995,
Courtesy © PaceMcGill Gallery

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