Glasgow International - Mark Cousins meets Douglas Gordon

Back to the Future

Photo: Marc Lilius

Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art returns this fortnight with a mouth-watering programme of work by over 50 artists in venues across the city, based around the theme ‘past, present, future’. Opening the festival, internationally renowned artist Douglas Gordon returns to his hometown with a new video installation that revisits his landmark work 24 Hour Psycho. To kick off our four-page festival preview in the magazine, filmmaker, cineaste and fan Mark Cousins talks to the Berlin-based artist about his inspirations, returning to Scotland and working with Rufus Wainwright

What will we see from you at Glasgow International?

It’ll be funny coming back and playing on my home turf, as it were. I suppose the Glasgow thing will be quite a trip down memory lane for a few old codgers like me. I’m back at Tramway and showing a REDUX version of ‘24 Hour Psycho’, 17 years after the first version. Oh, and there’s another wee thing we will show, too, called ‘Lookin’ doon wi his black, black ee’.

And are you and Rufus Wainwright working together?

Yes, and as if that wasn’t enough, on the other side of the city, Rufus Wainwright is playing at the Royal Concert Hall the same evening as we open at Tramway. I met Rufus some years ago when I was still living in New York. He was introduced as a friend of a friend and his boyfriend comes from the same world as my girlfriend and so on and so on. It wasn’t difficult to imagine that if Peter Pan met the Artful Dodger, the two of them might come up with some little scheme or craziness together. By the way, I’m not saying which one of us is the boy who never grew up or the Dodger! Rufus’ new album is just out and the tour will premiere a suite of songs to which I have made a suite of short films. I’ve been editing like a maniac since the beginning of March to try and get it all finished on time and I think we may have just about made it.
I also managed to shoot his album cover too. It’s been a busy year.

What about you and ideas? Take your work ‘Between Darkness and Light’, for example. It’s such a fab idea to project Song of Bernadette and The Exorcist on opposite sides of the same screen. You must have jumped out of the bath when you thought of that?

'Between Darkness and Light’, ah yes, the all-time favourite installation of Mark Kermode, no less. I was in Paris, 1995, I think, and I was supposed to install ‘24 Hour Psycho’ at the Centre Pompidou but, as usual, the French were on strike, so the curator at the centre offered to throw me a party and gave me some money to go and buy a few tapes to show at the party. I went out and tried to buy The Exorcist and King of Kings. I thought it would work well together. Anyway, I’m standing in line with the two VHS’s and realised I didn’t have enough money so I put them back on the shelf and ran out to a cashline. When I came back, you wouldn’t believe it, but someone had just bought King of Kings. Of all the gin joints in all of the world etcetera … So time was running out and I scoured the shelves for something else to show and found The Song of Bernadette. I’d never seen either film before, neither Bernadette nor Friedkin’s film but I took a chance on it and hey, it worked out pretty well, I think.

More then pretty well. The two films seem made for each other. As if they were meant to be that way. As if directors Henry King and Billy Friedkin got together over a bottle of whisky and planned a diptych, and only one person in the world – a Glasgow bloke with lots of tattoos – would discover their plan. It looks, in a way, like that’s one of the things you try to do in your art: find a form that had to be. Movie star photographs should have had their eyes removed (though there’s a violence, an almost stalker quality to those works that still freaks me a bit).

Ach, you know that no matter what you say about what you do, it always seems to be a bit fey or awkward or coy. But the truth is that I think if you work hard enough and are lucky enough then some works just happen to find you, in a way. As for the ‘blind star’ photographs, well, I should tell you that they were thought about a lot during the preparation for ‘24 Hour Psycho’ as I was milling around Glasgow Art School IT area. I had just about given up on the whole idea for this 24-hour film when a couple of pals of mine told me that there was this thingie wonderful Panasonic industrial VHS deck available and it had a ‘nonstopjog’ function. Well, that conversation saved my life, in a way. I ran home to make a T-shirt that said ‘NONSTOPJOG’ but found myself pinning up wee 10 x 8 black and white images of [Psycho stars] Martin Balsam, Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins etc around the alcove in the flat, exactly above my bed, actually. I fell to sleep all excited and must have been having crazy dreams as I woke up in the middle of the night and decided that I didn’t like all of these people ‘looking’ at me. Aye, right, I wasn’t up to no good in any case! But I took them off the wall and simply cut their eyes out. They never looked at me again and after we showed ‘24 Hour Psycho’ at Tramway, I never looked at them again either, at least not until I was invited to a group show in London some 10 years later. The show was called xxxxxx at Gagosian Gallery and I thought to myself, at the last minute, hey, this is perfect for all my old blind stars. After this show I spent the next few years doing more cutting, burning, tearing and ultimately reframing everything to idolise them all over again. A little bit of ‘kill yr idols’ and sort of voodoo that you know how to do too …

It looks to me like that head of yours is always buzzing, a bit of a wild place. Do you ever wish that you had a switch behind your ear that could turn your thoughts off? And another switch to turn your erotic imagination off? Wouldn’t life be calmer without either?

I don’t think there’s really any need to turn off, tune out, or drop in …
I think that a certain kind of workaholism is maybe a good balance for all the other types of ‘holisms that might be flying around. I do switch off eventually and I think I might be doing it more and more recently. Being a good family man and all that is something that makes you realise that ‘you’ ain’t always the most important or needy person in the world, as it happens. I suppose if you try to be as devoted a person to your family and friends, then any little ‘extra time’ you might carve out in a day … bring on the sherry and let’s A – party, B – watch telly C – read a guid book D – work hard or E – all of the above and sometimes all at the same time. Answers on a postcard please …

Douglas Gordon: 24 Hour Psycho Back and Forth and To and Fro, Tramway, Glasgow, Fri 16 Apr–Mon 3 May.

24 Hour Psycho Back and Forth and To and Fro

  • 3 stars

Douglas Gordon presents a collection of works incorporating themes such as complicity and duplicity, time and memory, and darkness and light. 'Part of Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art'.