Stan Douglas: The Secret Agent

by Sue Hubbard

ScreenHunter_1774 Mar. 14 08.46It is said that the camera never lies – but that was before things went digital. At the Victoria Miro Gallery, Stan Douglas has created a number of disturbingly hyperreal images with the use of digital technology that give the illusion of documentary accuracy. These theatrical black and white mise en scènes explore the seedy underbelly of post-war North America before what the artist describes “as the sudden call to order and morality” that was achieved by peacetime prosperity. Based on archival photographs a hotel used to house World War II veterans has been transformed into The Second Hotel Vancouver, 2014, an uncanny image where Piranesi seems to meet Edward Hopper.

Small areas of cold white light glow against the foreboding brick walls of this looming Victorian Gothic façade with its dark stairwells and fire escapes. In the empty street below beams from a wrought-iron lamp post flood the crepuscular corners. Like a Christmas advent calendar there's the sense that behind every window of this building is a secret. If we look hard we can catch a tantalising glimpse of a coat hanging on a rack – who does it belong to? – an empty brass bed or a woman at an office desk, who might well be awaiting the arrival of a character from a Raymond Carver novel. Like some 50s film noir these lit windows draw us into the possibilities of the building's many hidden and possible stories.

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