Credit: Colin Davison (Bridgeman Images) via

Glasgow Greats: Douglas Gordon

By Archie Gibbs

 A new monthly column spotlighting visual artists hailing from our locale

With world class museums, galleries, and educational institutions, Glasgow has made its name in the last 30 years, on a global scale, as a hotspot for growing talent. These artists increasingly exhibit internationally, picking up countless accolades along the way. Kicking off this Spotlight Series is an in-depth look at one of the most celebrated British artists of the last 30 years, Douglas Gordon, who continues to show in blue chip galleries and biennials. 

Graduating from Glasgow School of Art in 1988, Gordon rose to fame in the mid-1990s, leading a microgeneration of artists who collated art and film. With the surge in digital media stemming from a de-manualising of film and video, young artists like Gordon saw the centenary of film as inspiration to take film as a subject and detach it from overproduced cinematography. Not only does his work allow the viewer to reconsider the presentation and experience of film, but it considers the medium’s physicality in a new light. 

Gordon most notably deconstructs film in his early work, 24 Hour Psycho, which premiered at Glasgow’s Tramway in 1993. By extending the Hitchcock classic from its original 110 minutes to 24 hours, the experience of a film with many classic visuals and narratives changes drastically. Infamous film events are paradoxically both monumental and meagre as viewers take in only a fraction of the film during a visit. The film’s reality is altered to a micronarrative as the unseen emerges, with the viewer finding the seismic in the miniscule. Visitors to the Tramway exhibition would enter a darkened room from either the front or rear and encounter the film from an inverted or traditional lens, making reference to the film reel’s inversion, whilst also commenting on an immersive film experience. The screen itself occupies the central position with visitors surrounding it, providing an alternative perspective to the screen as a vessel for content. 

The shock factor of co-opting a piece of visual culture so fervently revered as Psycho may seem tame on paper today. However, Gordon’s ostensible irreverence was, and is, rather anarchic in distorting an immortalised piece of cinema for investigative and “archaeological” pleasure. Constantly experimenting with the ways that film and video are produced and consumed, Gordon’s work concerns a sense of duplicity and memory, along with the relationship between technology, material, time, and more. The Glasgow City Art Collection acquired his “archival sculpture” Pretty Much Every Film and Video Work From About 1992 Until Now. This work came to fruition in 1999 as a constellation of box CRT televisions, simultaneously streaming his archive of video film and video works. As a visual representation of long term memory, the artist presents his oeuvre as an amalgamation of passed time, compiled realities and surreal overlaps. The physical work evokes the idea of IBM Computer factory meets 80s TV store, with the devices being as crucial to the experience as the videos themselves.

In a work merging two of Scotland’s most prolific pastimes, football and film, Gordon aimed to find an appropriate method of giving 21st century subjects the same ardent depiction as those in 17th century monarchies who occupy so much of national collections (think endless walls of aristocratic noblemen in the National Gallery, the Louvre or the Prado). In Zidane, un portrait du 21e siècle (2006), Gordon and fellow director Phillipe Parreno followed the France and Real Madrid star throughout the duration of a La Liga match against Villarreal, by using 17 synchronised and “phantom” cameras. With a running time of 91 minutes, the entire match at the Santiago Bernabeu served as a modern amphitheatre for a reverent and intimate portrayal of a 21st Century hero. The thrilling moments of the match, from a football perspective are neglected while Gordon captures the figure himself. An hour and half immortalised, the portrait’s dynamic sitter imprints the viewer with an awe comparable to representations of religious and royal figures from centuries past. There is a great a-ha moment, seeing Zidane on an extremely personal scale, a man on a pedestal for the 90 minutes he is on the pitch. The film is dark, yet luminous and intimate, yet public. 

The artist works with a wide range of media and narratives, with an keen eye for exploring mirroring, contrasts, opposites and the tension between memory and reality. This is an artist featured on cheeky techno-art songs (see Chicks on Speed, Art Rules, 2006) and someone who successfully got a 4-year old circus elephant in a Manhattan gallery for an exhibition just to “see what an elephant looks like lying down” (see Play Dead; Real Time (this way, that way, the other way), 2003). His work is permanently on view at the Artist Rooms in the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh and the Tate Modern in London, but his extensive collection of videos, prints and photographs are often on display in museums and galleries across Glasgow.  


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