Still from Stan Douglas, ISDN (2022) Algorithmic Two-Channel Video Installation with Sound. Image courtesy of the Artist. 


Stan Douglas, 2011 ≠ 1848 in 2022

Issue no5
Oct - Nov 2023

Curator and writer Monika Szewzcyk saw Stan Douglas' 2011 ≠ 1848 at The Polygon, a gallery which is located on unceded territories of the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), səl̓ilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), and xwməθkwəýəm (Musqueam) Nations in North Vancouver, British Columbia. It was some time after many saw the installation at The Venice Biennial of this year where Douglas "represented" Canada. In the series 1 WEEK/1 DAY/1 WORK she writes about a work which recognizes the need for 'a new science of the word'.

Said we’re welcome here but

That weren’t true

We’re not tryin’

That ain’t true

We’re all Violent

That ain’t true

Lie to your grandparents

Lie to you

Now how come you just hate on women

Bring pain on women, bring shame on women

Rape on women?

Once was a queen, now she’s a ‘bitch’

Misname our women

If they don’t win we ain’t winning

Less disconnect, more intellect

Don’t downplay their brilliance


So say Lady Sanity and TrueMendous in Stan Douglas’ ISDN (2022). This algorithmically recombined two-channel video work features the two Grime artists in a London studio, on one screen, and on another, two rappers named Youssef Joker and Raptor from Cairo’s Mahraganat scene (as in مهرجانات meaning Festivals). Each gives their own words to the power dynamics they experience every day. ISDN forms part of Stan Douglas’ 2011 ≠ 1848. The other part is a suite of four large photographic images depicting eruptions of popular resistance that took place on specific dates within the course 2011: in Tunis (January 23), in Vancouver (June 15), in London (August 9), and in New York (October 1). Douglas created these curiously intimate historical scenes from scratch using thorough research and the technology available today for such realistic reconstruction – working with cast and crew in Vancouver’s main stadium (to stage) and his own studio (to edit) amidst the Covid lockdowns of the past three years.

Still from Stan Douglas, ISDN (2022) Algorithmic Two-Channel Video Installation with Sound. Image courtesy of the Artist. 

I did not get to see these works at the 59th Biennale di Venezia, where Douglas “represented” Canada this year, with all the questions he brings to the traps of representation – splitting the show between the national pavilion, where the four pictures hung, and a fifteenth century salt depot in Dorsoduro, where ISDN was installed. Rather, I saw all the works together in Douglas’ (and one time my) hometown, at The Polygon Gallery, which is the co-commissioner of the work and the first host of its trans-national tour.

The gallery is located on unceded territories of the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), səl̓ilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), and xwməθkwəýəm (Musqueam) Nations in North Vancouver, British Columbia – so called since the nineteenth century, when Indigenous forms of belonging, expressed in ceremonial gift economies, were forcibly supplanted by a competitive and extractive colonial capitalist state system backed by European monarchies (the Spanish tried as well) and their police. If this persists, there is also increasing unrest. People subject to murderous violence, robbed of dignity or denied equal access to vital resources – including their own cultures – find voice.

Climbing the stairs to the main galleries of The Polygon, I was greeted first by a large black wall covered floor to ceiling in English and Arabic – all lyrics from the four rappers in ISDN. This was a beautiful bonus to what I know of the installations in Venice. (A note to my fellow curators – let us raise the standards of ‘wall text’!)

I’m interested in how the artist takes poetic license. Looking closely at his suite of images, it is difficult to locate the ‘center’ of action. The teeming, centrifugal, distributed details of Breughel the Elder’s allegorical country scenes come close to the effect and they are part of the artist’s stated inspiration. By reaching to these specific images painted in the late Middle Ages to put the ‘just past’ of 2011 in front of us in 2022, Douglas also makes space for imagining what European Enlightenment logic dismisses or worse still forgets. For me personally, seeing these links to the Low Countries on the West Coast, brought home a new sense of connection to and between both places.

How grounded, how connected do we need to feel to sew and reap seeds of social change? At home as he is in the recording studio, Douglas deftly reuses the ‘integrated services digital network’ or ISDN technology (once a popular communication standard, it is still preferred in the music industry) to link lyricists in Cairo and London. The underlying music is a combination of Grime and Mahraganat bass lines sharing 140-beats per minute. True synthesis – true dynamics – you cannot represent in language or visuals as much as you can feel it.

And so, a blurred still from ISDN that intimates a motion, an outstretched hand grasping a mic (passing a mic?), about to amplify a voice, is perhaps the best single image I can show with this telling of my most memorable aesthetic experience of 2022. In all its intricate and related parts, 2011 ≠ 1848 evokes that sense when you just start to intuit – because you cannot conventionally calculate – a fresh approach to a puzzling mathematical equation. Human problems require such ‘poetic condensations’ which are not solutions. This is partly what Sylvia Wynter may be after when she (amplifying Aimé Césaire) calls for “a new science of the word.”

Monika Szewczyk
is a writer and a curator

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 5 — 2023