Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Douglas Gordon's "Play Dead"

I had never heard of Douglas Gordon before stumbling upon his show at the MOMA in 2006. It was one of the first video installations I had ever been to, and it was the first time that video in the fine art setting felt really accessible to me. I haven't been nearly as affected by a single other video as I was when turning the corner and coming face to face with his piece, "Play Dead."

Projected onto two massive screens, it literally took my breath away. It's the first time I can remember ever feeling confronted by art. A silent film shot from a low angle, it centers on an elephant and is set in an empty gallery (the Gagosian, to be exact). The camera circles the elephant as it is prompted to lay down, then sit, then stand again. When talking about the project, Gordon said, "...one of the beautiful things with film and video is that it can imbue a sense or sensibility that doesn't actually physically exist." Looking back at it, that is exactly what gave me pause when entering the space. The elephant on the screen was seemingly to scale; impressive, majestic and powerful on screens that offered the only source of light in the giant space that contained them. The animal felt present.

As the elephant shifted, preparing to sit, or rolled on its side, trying to get up, the lack of sound gave it a feeling of weightlessness. The omission of this very important quality (sound) is to intentionally leave out one of the most important characteristics of any video that seeks to ground itself in "reality". So to omit sound is, in a way, to do away with showcasing elephant the animal, and to offer elephant the image. The sense of the elephant.

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