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Medium and Meaning

By Rhizome

Few contemporary artists understand the nature and potential of their medium, in both a technical and conceptual sense, as well as the Canadian artist Stan Douglas. Past Imperfect - Works 1986-2007 curated by Hans D. Christ and Iris Dressler, at the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart, in Stuttgart Germany is a retrospective that captures his rich oeuvre. One of Douglas' best works, 'Der Sandman,' (1995) pairs Freud's text on 'The Uncanny' with E.T.A Hoffmann's eponymous story, and uses two 360˚ panning shots and film loops to echo the texts' concerns with repetition, recollection and time. 'Monodramas,' (1991) broadcast as commercials on television in British Columbia in 1992, was a series of familiar and slightly frustrating mini-narratives (30 and 60 seconds in length) that exploited the uneasy relationship between video as artistic medium and as tool of the mass media. Perhaps no work exemplifies his use of the technical to enhance the conceptual than the stunning video and audio installation 'Nu·tka' (1996). Douglas creates a haunting rumination on colonialism and First Nations culture through the use of video interlacing, a CRT technique that displays images as a series of alternating horizontal lines. Intertwining the odd and even fields of the video image, over the video's duration Douglas syncs and unsyncs two distinct images of the Nootka Sound in British Columbia, and adds a similarly disorienting soundtrack of voices reading the diaries of Spanish and British explorers. Using qualities inherent in the medium, he simultaneously fractures and melds his images and audio to create, not only a sublime landscape, but also mediation on contemporary land claims issues in a long contested area. The exhibition Past Imperfect continues until January 8th, and is accompanied by a catalog with writings by Douglas, Christ and Dressler. - Caitlin Jones

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