Stan Douglas’ riff on alternative realities has us seeing double
Coinciding with the announcement that the Vancouver artist will represent Canada in the 2021 Venice Biennale, his galleries in New York and London are staging a dual survey of his ambitious video installation Doppelgänger
History is fickle; those who write it are fickler still. The slippage between truth and fiction has been a long-standing preoccupation for the Canadian artist Stan Douglas, whose video installation Doppelgänger traces two parallel timelines, each as seemingly plausible as the other. Set in an alternative present, Doppelgänger is displayed across two square-format, translucent screens – both of which can be viewed from either side. A looped narrative unfolds in vignettes that depicts concurrent events occurring in worlds that are light years apart.
The protagonist, an astronaut named Alice, is teleported to a spaceship bound for a distant planet – as is her clone. Then, along with her ship the Hermes II, she returns suddenly and inexplicably. The aftermath of Alice’s mission ‘failure’ (in fact, she has arrived in a world where everything is the reverse of what she once knew) and her reception back on Earth plays out across the two screens. In one reality, Alice is lauded and received compassionately, where is treated to B12 vitamins injections and bed rest. In the other, she is considered a hostile alien, quarantined and interrogated.
Beneath the film’s retro-futuristic veneer and vibrant passages of colour – a stylistic nod to avant-garde cinema – lies a pressing message for our times. Douglas addresses the position of the ‘other’ in society through the lens of science fiction and quantum entanglement. The artist further magnifies viewers’ sense of displacement through overlapping vantage points and narratives, suggesting the possibility of infinitely diverging alternate realities.
Doppelgänger made its debut at the 58th Venice Biennale last year, and is now being staged in tandem – rather suitably – in London and New York exhibitions, at Victoria Miro and David Zwirner respectively. Additionally, Victoria Miro is presenting selected works from Douglas’ photographic series Scenes from the Blackout, in which the artist imagines the entropic effects of a total loss of power in present day New York, and how its denizens would react in the fallout. A panoramic view of a near blacked-out city is juxtaposed with glimpses of individual experience – ingenuity and lawlessness, altruism and malevolence. Douglas is holding up a mirror to our dysfunction, and it’s up to us to accept the reflection we see. §