Douglas Gordon’s “Phantom”

Merve Ünsal

January 11, 2012
Galeri Mana, Istanbul
November 26, 2011–January 14, 2012

Upon entering Galeri Manâ’s large doors, the viewer is greeted by almost complete darkness. A wooden stage is setup with a projection screen diagonally dividing it into two. On the side closer to the door are the remains of a burnt piano and a new Steinway, glaringly juxtaposed. A heavily made-up eye appears on the white background of the projection screen as Rufus Wainwright’s voice and music fill up the space.

Douglas Gordon’s first exhibition in Turkey, “Phantom,” hits its first notes on a self-conscious stage, the namesake work. The different elements of the installation (sound, objects, lighting, visuals) slowly unfold for the patient viewer. Gordon’s collaboration with Rufus Wainwright is elegantly simple—the eye that appears on the screen is Wainwright’s and bears witness to Wainwright’s album, All Days Are Night: Songs for Lulu, partly written in response to his mother’s death in 2010. The make-up is a nod to the hyper-awareness of publicly processing grief, loss, and memory. The highly aestheticized eye not only takes in the music and the situation, but also the viewer pacing the space, entranced by the beautiful and the lost, the personal and the public, the theatrical and the intimate.

The works in the upstairs gallery complement this ground-floor installation in a familiar, understated way. The thirty-three images crowded along one wall are from a series of four hundred photographs recording the artist’s personal life. The selection from this “comprehensive” work critically points back to the very way in which these images are meant to provide a self-portrait of the artist: by selecting only a part of this series, the thirty-three images become rooted to a very specific time and place, taking on new hues in relation to the physical and aesthetic tones of Phantom (2011). Having viewed Phantom first, it’s impossible, at first, to look at anything but the naked eye in one of the images. Other body parts intermingle with flowers and quotidian objects—and it’s a much-needed breath of simplicity after the intensity of Phantom. While Phantom is an enveloping experience that consumes the viewer in a choreographed contemplation of loss and memory, I am also Hyde (1962­–2011) is constituent of thirty-three articulations of the familiar “I am here.” “Hyde” maybe thus refers to the dark side of the artist’s own creative impetus.

On the adjacent wall, Self-Portraits of You + Me is a deceptively plain work. The artist set fire to parts of black-and-white photographs of celebrities, such as Brigitte Bardot and Jean-Paul Belmondo, to create gaping holes in which viewers then see themselves in a mirror. The mutilation is neither irreverent nor about the destruction of iconography. Gordon’s alteration, rather, seems to stake a claim—the eyes that identify a person are burned through to make space for the mundane, the non-fame. The icons are thus humbled de facto by the act of glorifying the non-icon.

This series is book-ended by a large window overlooking an abandoned, burned building opposite the gallery. Although one cannot really read an exhibition via external elements, to point out the visual mirroring of Gordon’s work (especially in the specific context of layer upon layers of historical, cultural, social loss) is too tempting. In a city haunted by its own histories, Gordon’s contemplation on loss and memory is not just poignant—it is reflexive.

Music, Installation, Photography
Death, Memory

Merve Ünsal is a visual artist based in Istanbul. In her work she employs text and photography, possibly beyond their form.

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Galeri Mana
January 11, 2012

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