The leading Scottish artist Douglas Gordon has an extensive new exhibition at Prague’s Dox gallery. Blood, Sweat, Tears features photographs, abstract statements printed on the walls and above all video, the medium with which Gordon is most closely associated. Among the works at Dox is a brand new version of perhaps his best known piece, 24 Hour Psycho, a greatly slowed down treatment of Hitchcock’s classic movie.
Why has Douglas Gordon called his first exhibition in the Czech Republic Blood, Sweat, Tears?
“Blood, Sweat and Tears was really a kind of a warning to the institution of what to expect during the installation period. Because quite often the installation of the exhibition is pretty intense. There has been blood spilled in the past, there are often tears, and there’s a lot of sweat involved. So it was really a warning to them – if you work with Douglas Gordon this is what you can expect.”
How much sweat was there this time?
“A Not so much from me, but from my team, I have a very good team that I bring with me…and a lot of sweat and probably some tears from the people here in Prague.”
I understand as well that you were in contact for several years with Jaroslav Anděl, the artistic director here, before this exhibition came about – what took so long?
“Yes, Jaroslav contacted me I think through a mutual friend [Czech artist and lecturer] Pavel Buechler…Pavel was an old friend of mine from 20 years ago. I think good things take time. It took a little bit longer for Dox to open than we thought originally. And then I had a baby, and things like that…real life gets in the way.”
For his part Jaroslav Anděl says Dox are glad to be finally hosting this Douglas Gordon show. And he makes a perhaps surprising link with a Czech 19th century scientist.
“Obviously we are very excited, because Douglas Gordon is one of the most respected artists in the world. Also there is a connection to the local context. The connection is that Gordon is focusing on the issue of perception, especially the perception of moving images. And it was a great Czech scientist Jan Evangelista Purkyně who was the first to study the issue of apparent movement, and that was the basis for the rise of this new technology of moving images.”
Do you think Douglas knows Purkyně?
“No of course not, he doesn’t…he had not known about Purkyně’s work, but he of course knew very much about film. And what he did for example with Hitchcock’s films relates very much to the archaeology of new media, the rise of the moving image, and so on.”
Gordon, who is 42, has had over 100 solo exhibitions around the globe. In the café at Dox, he says he finds the 3,000 m2 converted factory space in Prague’s Holešovice a top class venue.
“The space is great, the large hall and the tower…I think it gives a good opportunity to show different types of work. There aren’t very many places in the world where I could show an eight metre by four metre screen. And in one of the big spaces here in Dox it’s very comfortable.”
One of the pieces that’s running on one of those screens now is a new version of 24 Hour Psycho. What’s new about the new version?
“I kind of got to the stage where I realised that some smart-arsed kid was probably going to run my 24 hours backwards. If you’re obsessed by time and slowing things down and going into a different way of…thinking, then it makes sense to run your life backwards and forwards at the same time, if you can. So, yes, I wanted to try and explode my own mythology.”
It’s a kind of split screen version going backwards and forwards?
“Yes. I like the idea…with 24 Hour Psycho there’s always this challenge for the viewer to stay for 24 hours. Now there’s a nice challenge for some people that you have to wait 11 hours, nine minutes and 59 seconds for both the films to be the same.”
Outside the world of art galleries, Douglas Gordon is probably best known for the film Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, which he made with the French-Algerian artist Philippe Parreno. The trippy documentary, which was premiered at Cannes three years ago, trains 17 cameras on French football legend Zinedine Zidane for a whole game. The project arose when Gordon and Parreno were both featured in a group show in Jerusalem in the mid 1990s and got talking after a kickabout.
“We thought, why don’t we do something together? What if we make a feature film? Why not make it based on a football player? We kind of used Jean-Pierre Melville’s The Samurai as an idea that you can follow a character, even though the action is going on elsewhere…Why not use football? It’s a great metaphor for life. So we said, what if and why not? And Zidane said, why me?”
When he did agree how complicated was it to actually make it?
“It took us from 1996 to 2002 to contact him. Because he moved from Juventus to Madrid…we had to start to see how we could get to him on a personal level, rather than just go through the lawyers at Real Madrid. We eventually did have to go through the lawyers at Real Madrid, who were fantastic.
“But it was a very tough thing to pull off. You know, six year of planning, 90 minutes of real time action, and then about 18 months to edit it.”
The Zidane film is being shown by Prague’s kino Oko during the exhibition. Getting back to Dox, the walls and other spaces feature many somewhat cryptic lines like “It’s all about you” or “It’s not all about you”. What are such statements, if you will, all about?
“They unfortunately are the things that rattle about in my head, every day. They’re very self-reflexive…mantras of how you live your life, from being a small person in a big world to being a father in charge of a family or whatever…I like the elasticity of life.”
Blood, Sweat, Tears runs until the last Sunday of September.