The Canadian artist Stan Douglas replays and plays with what has been and what might have been, re-enactments and re-imaginings creating what he calls ‘speculative history’. ‘Stan Douglas: Mise en Scène’ at Munich’s Haus der Kunst is a major survey of the artist’s work over the last six years. And Douglas has been busy, indeed.
The standout is 'Luanda-Kinshasa' (2013), a six-hour video-imagining of an early-1970s recording session Miles Davis might have, and probably should have, had at Columbia’s long defunct 30th Street Studio (or The Church). It's also where Davis recorded Kind of Blue, Dylan laid down Highway 61 Revisited and Glenn Gould recorded Goldberg Variations, twice but 25 years apart. Douglas faithfully recreates the studio.
He also recruited a crack team of musicians including Senegalese percussionist Abdou Mboup, Indian tabla player Nitin Mitta, and American drummer Kimberley Thompson, togged them up in authentic 1970s gear and let them play the better sort of jazz fusion. Miles, it seems, never turned up for this session. As the title suggests, Douglas has a particular fascination with the hope and disappointments of post-colonial Africa in the 1970s and the film suggests all this glorious possibility.
It’s a theme that reappears in ‘Disco Angola’ (2012), imagined photo-reportage from Studio 54-era New York and post-independence Angola. ‘Midcentury Studio’ (2010-2011), meanwhile, imagines the output of a Canadian Air Force man who becomes a press photographer in post-war Vancouver. He wanders a city that Douglas has faithfully re-created in his smartphone app, 'Circa 1948', also on display.
The app allows the user to wander the streets of the city - Vancouver, not Munich - and pull up remarkable 3-D renders of his or her exact location exactly as it was in 1948. Not sticking there though, Douglas has also planted dialogue in certain locations, part of a complex and non-sequential narrative. In Munich, the app experience is scaled up in a 9ft high, 12ft wide box, allowing you to walk a city a long way away and a long time ago.