Author: Doyle, Michael
Date published: April 1, 2012
Stan Douglas: Abbott & Cordova, 7 August 1971 Stan Douglas, with contributions from Alexander Alberro, Nora M. Alter, Serge Guilbaut, Sven Lutticken and Jesse Proudfoot, 115 pgs, Arsenal Pulp Press arsenalpulp.com, $40
In 2008, Vancouver artist Stan Douglas produced a substantial, major motion picture style photograph for a redevelopment project in the Downtown Eastside. Today, that 30-by-50 foot image, with the curiously disconnected title of "Abbott & Cordova, 7 August 1971" looms over the entrance of the old Woodward building in the heart of the downtown district The complicated, yet eerily beautiful scene shows the clashes between pro-marijuana hippie protestors and police on the fateful night of the Gastown Riots over 40 years earlier. In this elegant 114-page monograph from Arsenal Pulp, the artwork is both preserved and dissected. Not just a historical flashpoint in Vancouver's conflicted socioeconomic history, the image also works as a metaphor for the ills of modern urban society.
The accompanying essays by academics and artists do a tidy job of exploring the themes in Douglas' work, while never shying away from the tougher questions surrounding the artistic community's own part in gentrification, subsequent class division and the privatization of urban space. Unsurprisingly, the interview with Douglas himself binds together the various issues and ideas the piece raises. When asked about his recollection of the riots and how he thinks this event affected the city, Douglas is blunt about the role of memory and the amnesiac (and thus cyclical) nature of socioeconomic strife. He also suggests that at its core, this image is about a representation of an idea of "the Past" and that its inherently cinematic and granthose nature is meant to trigger a dialectic response in the viewer. Rather than creating a straightforward response to this all but forgotten historical moment the viewer is left with lingering and unsettling questions. An unabashed cynicism about modern-day civic engagement is at the core of what makes "Abbott & Cordova, 7 August 1971" so devilishly hypnotic and disquietingly uncomfortable. (Michael Doyle)