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Amy Fung
Stan Douglas at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage and Presentation House
April 01, 2014

Beginning with Vancouver's archival images of Hogan's Alley and the Hotel Vancouver, two sites of a demolished and largely suppressed history within the city's ongoing penchant for speculative redevelopment, the narratives embedded in two new projects by Stan Douglas – the play Helen Lawrence at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage and the exhibition Synthetic Pictures at Presentation House – begin where the city archive ends.

Stan Douglas & Chris Haddock, Helen Lawrence

A play that unfolds through live filmmaking, Helen Lawrence is written by Chris Haddock and directed by Douglas, whose strength continues to lie in his meticulously researched and rendered photographs that become an all consuming background for the live ensemble. This "set" is an orchestrated choreography of computer-generated blue screen projections that bring to life Hogan's Alley and the Hotel Vancouver as actors weave in and behind the on-stage live feeds. The actualization of live bodies in these phantom locations is undeniably a strong concept. The play's multimedia filter is both an enhancement and a novelty that offers close-ups and angles to facial expressions normally reserved for filmmaking, but it loses its punch after the first ten minutes. The cast doubles as camera operators in between speaking parts; however, performing for camera and performing for a live audience are simply two entirely different art forms that never successfully intertwine. The film noir genre plays itself out with humdrum expectancy – including a femme fatale storyline and double crosses – but once your eyes become accustomed to seeing the action on and behind the screen, there is not enough narrative tension to break the experience out of its mould of being a traditional theatre performance, even if the fourth wall was a translucent screen.

Parallel to and in support of the play, Synthetic Pictures serves as both research material for Helen Lawrence and a divergent look at Douglas' history of image making through compression and abstraction. In particular, Hogan's Alley showcases distillations from Douglas's app Circa 1948, which constructs a digitally rendered reconstruction of Hogan's Alley and the Hotel Vancouver, creating parallel realities between the past and present, and redefining the creative capacities of the camera lens.

Helen Lawrence continues until April 13 at Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage before its international tour with stops in Montreal, Munich, Edinburgh, and Toronto.

Presentation House Gallery:
Stan Douglas: Synthetic Pictures continues until May 25.

Amy Fung is a writer and organizer who publishes nationally and internationally in journals, magazines, catalogues, and monographs in print and online. Her ongoings can be found at and on Twitter @anotheramyfung. She is Akimblog's Vancouver correspondent.



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