Stan Douglas b. 1960
Suspiria
(2003)

Stan Douglas's latest work, the video installation Suspiria, 2002/2003, is as visually weird and conceptually sophisticated as anything he has ever produced. Titled after Dario Argento's classic horror film of 1977, the piece was created for Documenta 11 and made its debut there last summer. In Kassel, live surveillance footage of the empty, dungeonlike labyrinth beneath the Herkules monument (one of many follies in the area) was projected in the Fridericianum across town. Scenes from the Grimms' fairy tales, acted out by a contemporary-looking cast in the grotesque, translucent palette of a color television with bad reception, were superimposed at intervals on the black-and-white surveillance video; sporadic voice-over and fragments of music accompanied the actors' dialogue. The scenes themselves appeared in random rotation, and the number of possible permutations ensured that, over Documenta's one hundred days, the piece would never repeat itself. When Suspiria was presented in New York, the surveillance footage (now taped) and the fairy-tale scenes were also mixed so that, most likely, no two visitors saw the same sequence.

"One could say that Douglas's overall project involves modernism's promise and the nostalgia that results from its failure. With Suspiria the artist turns explicitly to a few historical moments of utopian aspiration. Referring to both Das Kapital (in which Marx repeatedly nods to a fairy-tale idiom of drama and transformation) and The Communist Manifesto (which famously opens with the "specter of communism" hanging over Europe), Douglas mines the Grimms' stories for economic and social allegory. The characters here--the innkeeper, the giant, the poor traveler, the long-suffering servant--act out cryptic vignettes centering on payment and debt while being confronted by alternately nightmarish or ecstatic visions. Each scene inexorably replaces the previous one in a roundelay that itself brings up ideas of exchange and entrapment. Douglas's ghosts are shadows of a future that never came to pass: the economic and social redemption promised by modernism; the end to alienation foretold by communism. The "ghosts" also point to the obsolescence of a medium, in this case Technicolor (Argento's Suspiria was one of the last films made in the West using this process)."