Douglas Gordon’s I had nowhere to go (2016) is a ninety-seven minute film/projected image installation, in which experimental filmmaker Jonas Mekas is heard via voice-over reading passages from his 1991 autobiography of the same title, while his image intermittently appears out of the dark blankness that the black screen of the work is governed by. The work shows almost nothing. Yet in doing so, the film brings Gordon’s previous interventions in cinematic history and materiality to a new point.
Gordon is known for redefining expectations for the moving image and the relationship between sound, text, image, and the human portrait; consider, for example, 24 Hour Psycho (1993), his video installation that stretched the duration of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) from 109 minutes to twenty-four hours by projecting two frames per second instead of twenty-four. By contrast, telling the story of Mekas, the founder of Anthology Film Archives, in New York, means to reflect on the history of avant-garde cinema in which Mekas is a key figure, and introduce Gordon’s own aesthetic decisions to its imperatives—the rejection of linear narrative, persistent sound/image correspondence, suppressing the darkness that lies between the frames. As such, the work reflects the historical position of Gordon’s own oeuvre.
In historical terms, the diaristic passages read in the film describe Mekas’s life as a teenager in occupied Lithuania during World War II. Focusing on the memory of the war as told by a bodiless voice enables Gordon’s work to raise the question regarding the (un)representability of the catastrophe of the war, and furthermore, to participate in the cinematic discussion initiated by Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 film Shoah, which avoided using archival images of World War II in favor of spoken testimonies. Gordon, born in 1966 in Glasgow, and now living in Berlin and Glasgow, indeed turns spoken testimony into a definitive nonimage, while the few visual sequences that the work includes demonstrates its disobedience of the distinction between information and aesthetics.
Following Gordon’s (and Philippe Parreno’s) Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2006), I had nowhere to go also continues the artist’s practice as an innovative, and to some extent iconoclastic, portraitist. Yet, while Zidane dismantled the persona by means of over-visibility, Gordon’s current film portrait does so by means of under-visibility, which not only obscures appearance on the screen but also questions the viewer’s sense of self and integrity, rendering the differences between history and phenomenology, selfhood and otherness, indiscernible.