A large-scale multi-media installation Phantom by Scottish artist Douglas Gordon is a tender and sublimely beautiful return to humanism in art.
On the stage in the darkness sits a grand piano; ashes and remains of a burnt one scattered around it. A large screen suspended above the stage projects, in the extreme close-up, an image of an eye encircled in black kohl, slowly opening and closing, shedding tears. An anthem to a beloved, sang in the exhaling voice of Rufus Wainwright pierces the space. In the corner, across the room a large mirror reflects the scene. The mirror initially deceives (we suppose the room extends) and this jolted expectation and surprise pulls us deeper into the work as we become more attentive to its multi-layered and multi-dimensional meaning.
The scene is powerful and mournful – dimmed light, tender music, and excruciatingly slow motion of the eye hypnotize us and take us to the brink of emotion. We find ourselves intimately connected to the eye and this experience of hypnotic connection firmly plants us into the space; entrapped by the intensity of the feeling we are unable to move. We ourselves become a mirror reflecting the scene back – our eyes water and we too are about to break into tears. The state of profound empathy fits with the theme of the 19th Biennale of Sydney where the work is shown (You Imagine What You Desire) as we find ourselves imagining the state of the sorrowful other.
The time spent with the piece is solemn yet the work could also be described as spectacular and sensational – the environment is immersive and we are fully absorbed by the sound, the image, and the overall atmosphere. The scene is sublimely beautiful but even this seductive beauty functions as a vortex that sucks us in; we are never allowed to stand at a safe distance marveling the aesthetic quality of the work but are thoroughly encircled by it and made its integral part.
[TEXT: IRA FERRIS]