Douglas Gordon makes videos, installations, photographs and text pieces, using both found and original material, in an attempt to lay bare the ambiguities of human life. In Gordon’s world nothing is good or evil – but both at the same time. Gordon’s religious upbringing made him deeply aware of human beliefs and he uses these throughout his work. In addition his interest in psychoanalysis led him to explore the complexities of the human mind and especially the nature of schizophrenia. Gordon explores the degree to which we are all subject to shifting identities. He uses techniques of doubling and mirroring in works including Divided Self I and II (1996), a video showing a smooth arm and a hairy arm wrestling.
In 24 Hour Psycho (1993), Gordon takes Alfred Hitchcock’s famous 1960 film Psycho and slows it down so that it runs for twenty-four hours. This key work is deceptively simple, but has devastating consequences, exposing the way that memory works in the flow of our consciousness. Everyone knows the plot of Psycho and can anticipate what will happen, but in Gordon’s version, this is constantly frustrated, since the future never seems to come.
The text installation List of Names (1990–ongoing) also explores the role of memory. The artist attempted to remember everyone he had ever met. In a way, it is a self-portrait, since we are what we remember. Likewise, a work such as Pretty much every film and video work from about 1992 until now. (1999), an array of video monitors showing a lifetime of Gordon’s creative achievements, is a series of windows into his mind. In Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2006) – a video installation that Gordon made with Philippe Parreno in 2006 – all the cameras used to make the work are trained on its subject, the footballer Zinedine Zidane, rather than the game itself.
Gordon had begun this move towards exploring the inner world of other people in Feature Film (1999). In that work he concentrated his camera on the hands and face of a conductor. We do not see the orchestra. Gesture and facial expression are the only clues we have to what is going on in the conductor’s mind – all except, of course, for the music. This is the element that engenders those movements and allows us special insight.