A Divided Self I and A Divided Self II 1996 is a two-channel video installation displayed on two monitors. The work shows a close-up of two arms, one hairy and the other smooth, fighting each other on a bed sheet. In the first video the hairy arm has dominance, while in the second it is the smooth arm that defeats its opponent. As the videos develop it becomes clear that both arms belong to the artist, and that he is wrestling with himself. As the title indicates, the battle between the two arms suggests an internal battle between two halves of the self; however the source of the self-inflicted torment remains a mystery.
The work makes reference to a passage in the novel The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde of 1886 by Robert Louis Stevenson, in which the author relates the physical transformation that occurs in Dr Jekyll when he takes the draught that turns him into Mr Hyde:
in one of my more wakeful moments, my eyes fell upon my hand. Now the hand of Henry Jekyll … was professional in shape and size: it was large, firm, white and comely. But the hand which I now saw, clearly enough, in the yellow light of a mid-London morning, lying half shut on the bedclothes, was lean, corder, knuckly, of a dusky pallor and thickly shaded with a swart growth of hair. It was the hand of Edward Hyde.
(Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, New York 1987, p.112.)
References to The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and the literary tradition of split personality established by Stevenson and other Scottish authors such as James Hogg have appeared in some of Gordon’s other works. For instance, the video installation Confessions of a Justified Sinner 1995–6 (Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Paris) takes its title from Hogg’s novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner of 1824, while making use of scenes taken from Rouben Mamoulian’s 1931 film adaptation of Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Inscribed within this tradition, A Divided Self I and A Divided Self II takes its title from the Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing’s pivotal and controversial treatise on mental illness, The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness of 1960. In this book Laing argued that psychosis is not a medical condition but an outcome of the ‘divided self’ or the tension between the two personas within us: one our authentic, private identity, and the other the false, sane self that we present to the world.
Gordon often uses his own body as a ground for debate, exploring how contradictory human nature can be, and involves the viewer in the role of both confessor and witness to his investigations. For example, during the late 1990s, following the release of A Divided Self I and A Divided Self II, Gordon made a series of single and double screen videos, including Hand and Foot (Right) and Hand and Foot (Left) 1995–6, Left Dead 1998, Dead Right 1998 and Blue 1998, featuring parts of his body doing something or having something done to them. This series of videos displays a fascination with doubling, mirroring and reflection and portrays the artist turning against himself – wrestling, constraining and disfiguring his own body.
Based in Glasgow and New York Gordon works in various media including film, text, photographs, video and various types of installation. He has become best known for works made using existing film footage – both documentary and fictional – altering its pace, context or scale.
Douglas Gordon, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles 2001.
Superhumanatural, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh 2006.
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