It is hard to look away from the painfully slowed-down frames of blistered silver film in Douglas Gordon’s 10 ms−1. A silent, looped video projection on a large tilted screen depicts a man, who falls to the ground in an almost balletic dive, and then appears unable to get up. His awkward attempts to stand are frustrating and pathetic. The environment is hard and stark – one can make out what looks to be a hard bed to the right-hand side. He is wearing only underwear, adding to his vulnerability; his pale, quite useless limbs appear to thwart him as he tries different ways of getting to his feet. This work follows 24 Hour Psycho (1993), which also employs slow-motion process, and is perhaps Gordon’s best-known work. However, whilst the material appropriated for that work, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), is almost archetypal, part of the reason 10 ms−1 is so effective is because the source footage is unknown.
The large scale of the projection renders the figure life-sized to us. The tilting of the screen upsets our own balance somewhat, so we approach the figure in the footage as an equal, identifying with his sorry plight. The man is clearly in distress, inviting our pity and sympathy. Repeated attempts and failures, however, begin to wear on us, and discomfort provokes us to consider what we are watching. Caught in an endless cycle of build-up and failure, we separate ourselves from him. We begin to wonder what is wrong. He looks healthy enough. We might discover that the found footage dates to the First World War, adding a new layer of pathos and historical weight to our reading of what we see. Is the problem, then, psychological? Madness induced by the horrors of war, or shell-shock? Why is there a camera watching this man in the first place, and why will no-one assist him? It may occur to us that the event is staged – a medical document or training video.
Indeed, the objective, fascinated gaze that this film encourages of us might be termed ‘medical’. As Gordon has commented in an interview, ‘Fear and repulsion and fascination are critical elements in both the world of this science [neuropsychology] and the world of cinema.’ Two other specifically analogous works, made by Gordon shortly after, broached similar themes. Hysterical (1994–95) features another very questionable piece of footage, in which a young woman is provoked into a fit and then restored, for the benefit of the camera. In another, Fuzzy Logic (1995), we witness the last twitching movements of a dying fly. What impels us to watch these images, feeling horrified yet strangely cold and clinical, is the question at the core of these works. In every one, the subject of the film is a prisoner to the camera, just as we the viewer, are prisoner to the film, locked in a cold embrace. Interestingly, the more we might emotionally disconnect from what is happening on screen, the more we are drawn to examine the texture of the antique footage, and to consider film in and of itself. As Raymond Bellour has succinctly commented, ‘Gordon lends the cinema a voice that could say: I am dead but I am still alive enough to tell you this.’ What this particular piece of footage might remind us is that there is a quality deeply inherent in the fabric of film, that contains the following uncomfortable message, and wills us to obey: ‘Look. Look. Look.’
(C) Laura McLean-Ferris 2009
1 Private collection and Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg. Edition of 2.
2 ‘Attraction–répulsion’, Gordon interviewed by Stéphanie Moisdon-Trembley (1996), in Douglas Gordon, Déjà-vu: Questions and Answers, Volume 1, 1992–1996 (Paris: Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 2000), 110.
4 Edition of 3.
5 Raymond Bellour, ‘The Instant of Seeing’, in Douglas Gordon, exh. cat. (Lisbon: Centro Cultural de Belém, 1999), 27.