Visitors to the Douglas Gordon retrospective at ACCA from May 31 will find themselves walking straight into the middle of one of the most famous (circular) arguments in movie history. In Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, the 32-year-old Robert De Niro, playing nascent paranoid killer Travis Bickle, practises his tough-guy moves by interrogating himself in a mirror: “You talkin’ to me?” Gordon’s 1999 installation ‘Through a Looking Glass’ places the viewer uncomfortably between two screens playing the same scene: two Bickles locked in an aggressive standoff.
The piece is an example of the Scottish artist’s strategy at its simplest and strongest: tweaking an artefact from popular culture to affect the viewer in a new and powerful way. “He looks at how things can be shifted, slowed down, repeated, mirrored,” says ACCA associate curator Hannah Mathews, “to illustrate the construct of those things and make us conscious of how they’re built.”
Gordon, 47, is no stranger to these shores. He is currently exhibiting in the Biennale of Sydney – with a haunting piece involving two grand pianos, a vast gazing eye and the music of Rufus Wainwright – and gave the event’s keynote address in April. Back in 1996, the same year he won Britain’s Turner Prize, the Biennale showed ‘24 Hour Psycho’, Gordon’s signature work, in which the 107 minutes of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is projected at just two frames per second – an exercise in hyper-extended suspense.
The ACCA show presents six of the Berlin-based artist’s works from 1992 to 2013. For ‘Between Darkness and Light (After William Blake)’ (1997), two movies are projected onto opposite sides of a translucent screen so that they overlap. One deals with divine visions (1943’s The Song of Bernadette) and the other, demonic possession (1973’s The Exorcist). “It’s like a duel between good and evil,” says Mathews.
The show will climax with a text-based work that borrows from the tradition of the House of Horrors, inviting the viewer to consider what might be crossing their minds in the 30 seconds before death. “It’s a roller coaster,” Mathew says. “When you go into a good artist’s show, you hold on for the ride and are rewarded at the end.”
Photography and television monitors feature in other works, all of them utilising audience perception to create ambiguous scenarios. Gordon – a noted polymath who plays classical piano, acts in and directs films – actively fights against easy categorisation. “People always put you in a pigeonhole,” he told Vice magazine in 2011. “Why would you fly in on your own?”
Image: 'Through a Looking Glass' (two-channel video installation, 1999). Courtesy of Columbia Pictures. Photo: Ellen Labenski, Source: Guggenheim Museum.