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Berlin's Demons and Devils: Interview with Douglas Gordon
by Jennifer Osborne and Stephanie Berzon

Berlin, Aug. 2013: Douglas Gordon invited a circus elephant named Minnie inside the Gagosian Gallery late at night (when you can get away with transporting an elephant around) in New York City and circled her with a camera. The ethereal video work shows Minnie lying down to play dead and rising again to walk around the room; a scarce documentation of the discomfort felt in a wild mammal amidst a vulnerable state of rest. 

In Glasgow, Gordon was born and educated in the fine arts. Hereturned there after moving to London to graduate from the Slade School of Art. His most lauded artwork 24 Hour Psycho – a less-appropriated, more-manipulated take on the Alfred Hitchcock classic by reducing the film to two frames per second, rather than the usual twenty-four; a rebirth of the motion picture with a clinging of every detail to the eye  was first exhibited in the spaces of Tramway of Glasgow. He has exhibited in Washington DC, Tel Aviv, Portugal, Los Angeles and Paris. He lived in France and he represented Britain at the 1997 Venice Biennale. In New York in 2006, he had a retrospective at the MoMa, Timeline. He fell in love with his current Israeli girlfriend on the stage of Manchester's opera house during an event that he also contributed to. He followed her back to Berlin, where they both now reside and raise their daughter.

If a soul junction between Young Werther and Lemuel Gulliver existed to create an archetype of a restless artist, Gordon has fulfilled it in previous years. However, in rather another expected breaking of ground in the contemporary art world, Gordon is now building walls in a city that he now declares as his home. In the following interview with Jennifer Osborne, he talks about his interest in demons, the formation of a new Yiddish and the struggles of Berlin.
Douglas Gordon in his studio; photo by Jennifer Osborne.

Jennifer Osborne: How did you come to live in Berlin?

Douglas Gordon: I was born in Glasgow in 1966 and the first time I visited Berlin was in 1989, just after the wall came down. And the whole theatre of the city made an impression on me. So I kept coming back. And when I won the Turner Prize (in 1996) from London, I thought the best thing to do was to get out of Dodge City. I then won another prize and went to live in Hanover. And then after another prize, I moved to Berlin in something like ’97 or ’98.

JO: Is there something special here, other than life circumstances, that brought you here?

DG: I come from a very basic place so Berlin compared to Glasgow is kind of spectacular in a way. I like it, and I love the fact that there are ghosts around every corner. And I love the fact that there are demons under every sidewalk. I like this city because of all of these ghosts and these demons and these devils. I suppose we hope there are going to be angels somewhere. When I was a student in Glasgow, of course I saw Wings of Desire, which is all about this. But Wim Wenders’ film is based on angels and I’m much more interested in devils and demons. I like Berlin because it’s a struggling city. It’s a city with discomfort embedded in its DNA. People always came to Berlin because of its liberalism. There is a tolerance here, which you don’t find in other places. I really love the people in Berlin.

photo by Jennifer Osborne


JO: Are there any venues or landmarks in Berlin that you find remarkable?

DG: When I fell in love with my girlfriend Ruth, she was part of an assemble at Volksbühne. I come from a background that has music, but I’m not classical in any way. And I don’t know much about theatre and certainly don’t know much about opera. But Volksbühne theatre is architecturally beautiful and incredibly interesting. In the film The Lives of Others all of the intrigue and bizarre sexual propositions that are going on are in the Volksbühne. As I said before, I like Berlin because it is full of ghosts and the Volksbühne has this kind of Post-Former-East idea of theatre and performance, as it features the work of playwrights such as the Marxist Bertolt Brecht.

JO: But there is a darkness here too, correct?

DG: At one time, in Berlin, people had been taken out of apartments and disappeared. I don’t like the idea to live in an apartment building where people were disappeared. We know that the world moves on but the discomfort of that is part of the make-up and part of the character of the city and I like a little discomfort.

Douglas Gordon in his studio; photo by Jennifer Osborne.


JO: Do you find inspiration in Berlin?

DG: I am not inspired by what you would call a city. Inspiration is a word I despise. I come from a religious background, so I detest that “stuff”. I think your work comes from your conversation. And I can’t speak German, so where does that put me? Berlin is full of stuff that I don’t get in to. I am 50% alien. My girlfriend and my daughter have a primary language which isn’t mine and that is Hebrew. My daughter also speaks English (because of me) and German with her friends at school. I like the idea that my daughter has other Jewish friends, and they’re speaking German and English. I think there is the possibility of the reinvention of language – as in a sort of new Yiddish.

JO: Would you ever move back to Scotland?

DG: I didn’t really leave.


—Photos and interview by Jennifer Osborne, introduction by Stephanie Berzon



ArtSlant would like to thank Douglas Gordon for his assitance in making this interview possible.

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