The mirror lies. It gives us back an inverted image of ourselves opposite to the one we present to the world. “The parting on the right becomes the parting on the left.” as the popular song has it. This parallels the difference between our self-image and the image others perceive of us. We can never see ourselves as others see us. This is just one of the psychological phenomena that Stan Douglas explores in his intellectually demanding, visually alluring and occasionally comic video installation, Doppelganger at Victoria Miro, Wharf Road.
Facing two screens you seem to be following the parallel stories of a woman astronaut and her doppelganger whose stories, at least to begin with, are mirror images of each other. We see them being teleported onto a spaceship but after many years, in which we assume all contact is lost, they attempt to regain contact with mission control. Here a crucial divergence develops. Her password to prove her identity is LIVE REIFIED TIME. This satisfies the ground controller and leads to an unproblematic debrief on her return to earth. However her doppelganger is not so lucky as the password’s mirror image palindrome is EMIT DEIFIER EVIL. In the inverse universe this is heard as satanically inspired. She is treated as a potential imposter and a threat and the debrief includes a consideration of “euthanasing” her. Douglas hopes this will cast light on the “othering” of migrants. It also evokes the hoary parental urban myth about disreputable heavy metal recordings that encoded satanic messages on vinyl records played backwards.
It is difficult to convey the mind scrambling experience of trying to disentangle the stories as we have to do this having seen them presented twice on split screens. But what makes this so enjoyable is the clear visual signposting of the differences and the humorous undertow of satire. I particularly like the candy striped space capsule parachutes seen from below in one version and sideways in the other. A joke about distinguishing marks that might verify the identity of the astronaut is repeated in the two versions with slightly different inflections.
The sci -fi cliches, both visual and linguistic, that Douglas incorporates give the otherwise serious content a tongue-in-cheek fillip. Like the rest of his work this video installation is so compelling I would happily sit through many iterations confident in the knowledge that new subtleties would become apparent. Looking back over the past 25 years I have come to realise that Stan Douglas is unique in his understanding of the potential of moving image art can presented on multiple screens. He is one of the most intelligent, thoughtful and original moving image artists we have.