With an international reputation for his photographs and film and video installations, Canadian artist Stan Douglas represented by David Zwirner uses innovative techniques to blur the boundaries between visual art, cinema, and television. For its presentation at The Studio Museum in Harlem, this exhibition consists of film work and a series of photographs inspired by his recent trips to Cuba.
The film work, Inconsolable Memories, presented at the 2005 Venice Biennale, is a tribute to the 1968 Cuban cinematic masterpiece Memories of Underdevelopment, directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea. Alea’s film portrayed the alienation of a character named Sergio, a bourgeois intellectual swept up in the changing social climate of Cuba following the Bay of Pigs invasion and the missile crisis of 1962. Douglas’ film transports Sergio to 1980 and the Mariel Boatlift, when Fidel Castro allowed thousands of Cubans to escape the island on a procession of boats arriving from Florida. Through Douglas’ use of two 16mm loops projected simultaneously onto one screen, past and present overlap. The photographs, shot over the past two years, describe Havana’s recycled urban architecture: villas are now schools; banks are now motorcycle lots. Immaculate and technically flawless, the prints are in stark contrast to the ruin and entropy they describe.
Both documentary and fictional footage combine and recombine to unravel the experience of film and confront each viewer with existential questions about time. Douglas involves viewers in an absorbing phenomenon in which the usual signposts are shifted, things veer in and out of synchronicity, and we can safely lose our bearings. Ultimately, Douglas’ works speculate in a new way about how contemporary consciousness is shaped by history and the moving image by burrowing into the technology of film and projection and finding there intimations of our future.