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Donny and Bob, the two protagonists of Douglas's double-projection video installation, are caught in a perpetual loop. They engage in a rambling argument involving the news, radio, conspiracy theories and horse racing, which eventually degenerates into a physical fight. The action repeats approximately every six minutes, though with each repeat the film is re-edited by a computer. Using multiple camera angles, Douglas has created enough footage of the brief episode to ensure that the same combination of shots will only occur every 20,000 hours - or once in over two years. This structure has arisen in part from Douglas's interest in the playwright Samuel Beckett (1906-1989): 'I have used repetitious structures from certain musical forms, but much of the repetition derives from Beckett. Almost all of Beckett's plays have this kind of double structure where something happens at the beginning, and the same thing happens at the end - only differently, which I regard as a confrontation with the mechanical world. Something you cannot do with live performance, with humans, is to make them repeat themselves identically.' (Douglas quoted in Stan Douglas, 1998, p.18)
The narrative consists of six moments, in which the two men tell a joke, detail a conspiracy theory, examine the betting columns in a newspaper, have an argument, toss a coin and, finally, fight. At these moments the computer selects which variation of the scene to play. In the coin and fight sections there are more than twice the number of possible variations than at other points in the film. Additionally, in these sections, Douglas changes the function of the 'vertical seam' caused by the double-projection. Its initial role is one of dividing the two men and giving them their own on-screen space, but this changes to one of a 'chasm' into which the protagonists frequently disappear when they move 'off-camera' on both of the abutting screens.
The scene takes place in a replica of an apartment building originally designed in 1950 for a redevelopment scheme in the Strathcona district of Vancouver. Such schemes were intended to solve the problem of low-income housing, particularly for seasonally employed single, male workers. This project, however, was never completed. Douglas's simulation is equipped with 1950s modernist furniture, made in Vancouver and designed for mass-production, though in reality available only to the few. By combining these examples of unrealised utopianism, Douglas examines the divergence between the promises of modernism and its reality. He explains that almost all of his works 'address moments when history could have gone one way or another. We live in the residue of such moments.' (Stan Douglas, 1998, p.29)
Reflecting Douglas's engagement with the technical and psychological structures of mass media, Win, Place or Show was inspired by a ground-breaking Canadian television drama, The Clients, broadcast in 1968, and is set in the same year. In his film, Douglas deliberately disrupts convention, exposing how television and film try to retain the sense of reality by imposing an invisible 'proscenium' on the orientation of the staging and cameras. If this orientation, narrative and spatial continuity are played with, as Douglas does in this piece, the illusion is exposed. Win, Place or Show addresses urban regeneration, television and mass production as abstract systems that while utopian, can also become modes of control or of social exclusion.
The video installation is in an edition of three, with other editions in the collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada and De Pont Foundation for Contemporary Art, Tilburg, the Netherlands. Douglas produced two accompanying works that are also in the Tate Collection, a photographic triptych Untitled (Set for Win Place or Show: East View, West View, Overview) 1998 (Tate P78413) and a series of eight photographs, Strathcona Series 1998 (Tate P78414-P78421).
Lynne Cooke, Sianne Ngai, Nancy Shaw and Neville Wakefield, Double Vision: Stan Douglas and Douglas Gordon, exhibition catalogue, Dia Center for Art, New York 2000, pp. 7-9, 12-31, reproduced on cover, frontispiece, pp. 12,17, 22, 26, 28 in colour
Diana Augaitis, George Wagner and William Wood, Stan Douglas, exhibition catalogue, Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver and Foundation for Contemporary Art, Tilburg 1999, pp. 37, 89-90, 106-120 reproduced on cover, pp. 92-93, 112-113 in colour
Carol J. Glover, Diana Thater and Scott Watson, Stan Douglas, London 1998