Vancouver photographer and film artist Stan Douglas will represent Canada at the 2021 Venice Biennale, the National Gallery of Canada announced Wednesday.
The artist, who divides his time between his hometown of Vancouver and a teaching post in Pasadena, Calif., will mount a solo show of new work in the Canada Pavilion for the 59th version of the art world’s Olympics. Through a career dating back to the 1980s, Douglas has reflected on urban life, history and technology, often looking at the way both historic events and media itself shape our identities and social relations. He is one of Canada’s best-known artists internationally and has shown in four group shows at the Biennale previously, as well as three iterations of the prestigious documenta exhibition in Germany.
His films have exposed social interactions by placing freighted encounters in a context that mimics the feel of commercial movies or advertising; his still photography has included elaborate restagings of historic events such as the Gastown riots of 1971. In Blackout, a series of digitally manipulated photographs he showed in Venice last year, he imagined a total blackout in New York, providing scenes of the darkened skyline and the looting that might ensue. He has also ventured into theatre: Helen Lawrence, his 2014 collaboration with screenwriter Chris Haddock, incorporated film into a stage play, a crime thriller set in Vancouver’s underworld in the late 1940s.
In Venice, his task will be to fill the awkward spiralling shape of the recently renovated Canada Pavilion, a small and airy structure of brick, wood and glass originally built in 1957. The jury who picked Douglas cited the relevance of his work to the global debates taking place in Venice, but the National Gallery can’t say yet whether he will be producing film, photography or even live performance.
“We are in early conversations,” said NGC director Sasha Suda, adding Douglas would make a proposal to the gallery in March. Since the gallery took over the Canada Pavilion selection process a decade ago, it names an artist first without any particular project or curator attached.