Johan Grimonprez exhibition at Fruitmarket Gallery
Johan Grimonprez’s first major British exhibition showcases work exploring Gothic doubling, the doppelganger and coincidence, as Liz Shannon discovers
The Fruitmarket will have executed something of a coup by the end of the month, becoming the first British gallery to exhibit Johan Grimonprez’s latest work, ‘Double Take’. Its origins can be found in the artist’s best-known film, ‘Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y’, nominally a cultural history of airplane hijacking that is now often noted for its apparent ‘prediction’ of terrorist tactics on 9/11, which will be exhibited alongside two earlier works. ‘Double Take’s roots can also be located in ‘Looking for Alfred’, a work that explores notions of doubling, the doppelganger and uncanny coincidence: themes that infused the work’s conception.
While searching for an Alfred Hitchcock lookalike for a film role, Grimonprez met Ron Burrage. ‘Burrage eerily resembles Hitchcock in profile. Then all these coincidences fell into place. They were both born on the same day. Burrage used to work at Claridge’s, where Hitchcock used to stay, and went on to work as a waiter at The Savoy Hitchcock’s favourite restaurant where he would serve Cary Grant, James Stewart, all the actors that Hitchcock used to work with. All of these upside-down things seemed an interesting story to make a film about.’
Like ‘Looking for Alfred’, ‘Double Take’ revolves around Hitchcock and is constructed from a mixture of film, television and documentary footage. Fact and fiction merge, with doubling again emerging as a significant theme. Grimonprez is intensely conscious of historical shifts, particularly in politics and technology, and this is also reflected in his work. ‘“Double Take” deals with a history of the early 60s, the early rise of television and how fear has become commodified and has fed into the theatrics of politics, which has played out over television.’ The figure of Hitchcock and the artist’s use of doppelgangers are also significant. ‘I wanted to use the lookalike as a metaphor for how we end up with lookalike politics,’ says Grimonprez. ‘That whole Cold War paranoia reflects what is going on today.’
A complex, multi-layered work, ‘Double Take’ is based on a story by Jorge Luis Borges, whose narrative was adapted for the film by the British novelist and artist Tom McCarthy. A second series of fortuitous, if lesser, coincidences accompanied the origins of this collaboration. ‘Together we came up with the idea of adapting the Borges story,’ says Grimonprez, ‘and later on that became part of “Double Take”. I wanted to work with a fiction writer, and he was a very good choice. Tom said: “I was inspired by ‘Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y’ to write my novel Remainder”, and when I began working on ‘Double Take’ I had read Remainder, so that kind of inspired the film. It went back and forth: his work informed mine while ‘Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y’ informed his. There was an affinity.’
Despite being best known for his work in film, Grimonprez considers this to be just one aspect of his practice. ‘An exhibition is part of a toolbox for me. A film is part of it, a book, an installation, curating, teaching. For me, every work and every narrative has to find its own format: it’s not narrowed down to being a filmmaker, it’s all part of the practice.’ Perhaps this open attitude encourages uncanny coincidences that inflect Grimonprez’s work.
Johan Grimonprez, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, Sat 22 May–Sun 11 Jul.