Stan Douglas

Stan Douglas: Le Détroit, 2000

Stan Douglas, born in Vancouver in 1960, is one of the most accomplished Canadian artists of the younger generation, who made names for themselves internationally in the 1990s. His intricate installations work on different spatial and thematic levels, yet they always link the identity of the selected venue and persons with a highly nuanced form of pictorial mediation. Frequently, they have some bearing on collective memories or make reference to an apparently forgotten local or regional history. From Douglas’ early short television dramas set in mysterious suburbs to the spectacular installation Der Sandmann which he presented to the public at documenta X in Kassel in 1997, Stan Douglas has shown himself to be a keen observer of psychological states and processes of social alienation.

The film installation Le Détroit, to be shown for the first time in Europe in the glass-roofed room of the Kunsthalle Basel, takes the viewers to the heart of a city that is haunted by dilapidation and unemployment and divided into strict social hierarchies. Over a six-minute sequence we follow a young black woman as she searches in an abandoned house for something that remains a mystery to us. Slowly advancing camera angles take us in rectangular images through untidily left rooms awakening uncomfortable feelings. The narrative ends where it began, and from where it is restarted over and over again in an endless loop. The short story alludes to the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, 1959. Douglas also draws individual motifs from the Legends of Le Détroit edited by Marie Hamlin in 1884. And although sporadically the black-and-white film is reminiscent of historical documentary film, the setting and the contemporary figure immediately bring us back to the present.

Le Détroit is a double projection on a semi-transparent screen. This gives rise to an interplay of blurred and reverse effect: the black-and-white film on the one side becoming superimposed with its white-black negative at a minimal time interval. The symbolic negative underscores the social tension generated in a place marked by traces of racially motivated conflict. Simultaneously Stan Douglas explores the potential and impact of film work. Le Détroit hovers on the borderline between narrative film, documentary contribution to the history of a place, the recording for posterity of a ghostly myth, socio-political statement, and of course an installation destined for a museum.

A catalogue to the exhibition will be published by Schwabe Verlag. Texts: Boris Groys / Terence Dick. German/English.