While poles apart visually, the two series excerpted in Stan Douglas’s 14th solo appearance at David Zwirner through April 7 have more in common than may initially appear; both are products of sophisticated processes of manipulation, and both position the photographic medium as an arena in which the staged and the real (however that’s defined) are not simply pitted against one another, but are fused into new and confounding wholes.
For the first series, Blackout (2017), Douglas staged incidents from an imaginary but all-too-believable New York emergency, tracing the various effects of a large-scale loss of power on the city’s population and infrastructure. In ten rather painterly shots, the artist presents familiar scenes of isolation and camaraderie, theft and rescue, drawing on accounts of comparable real events, including the 1977 blackout and Hurricane Sandy. It’s a method that he’s used several times before as a way to explore how unexpected shifts in living conditions affect our relationships with our surroundings and each other, but here the lighting (or lack thereof) makes the experiment visually as well as psychologically satisfying. As figures emerge from and return to darkness and the familiar nocturnal skyline seems to vanish, light is made to feel more and more like a precious resource; the action in these charged scenes often unfolds under something like a spotlight, with all the theatrical intensity that implies.
In the second series, DCT (2016-ongoing), Douglas manipulates the photographic process in a different way, treating digital color as a painter would a palette. The title is an acronym for “discrete cosine transform,” a term for an informational sequence used in the processing of a JPEG file. Inputting chromatic and other values himself as opposed to relying on automated assistance, the artist has arrived at a set of abstract designs that occasionally suggest Ben-Day dots, but which ultimately float free from any recognizable imagery. Printed on gessoed square panels (another link to painting), radiant segments of pure color interlock and overlap, springing into existence where two forms meet, again throwing the relationship of a photograph to any stable and/or external reality into fascinating doubt.