Stan Douglas The Secret Agent, 2015, Six-channel video projection with sound Courtesy the Artist, David Zwirner, New York / London and Victoria Miro, London
Stan Douglas The Secret Agent, 2015, Six-channel video projection with sound Courtesy the Artist, David Zwirner, New York / London and Victoria Miro, London

Stan Douglas shoots a spy film

The artist retells Joseph Conrad’s novel The Secret Agent on the turbulent streets of 70s Portugal

European espionage might have inspired Hollywood for decades, yet it's a less common source of creative stimulus for fine-art filmmakers. Stan Douglas looks set to change this. The Secret Agent, which runs 2 February – 24 March, at the Victoria Miro gallery, 16 Wharf Road, in London, is inspired by the 1907 novel by Joseph Conrad, which followed a seedy agent provocateur at work in Edwardian Britain.

 

Stan Douglas The Secret Agent, 2015, Six-channel video projection with sound Courtesy the Artist, David Zwirner, New York / London and Victoria Miro, London
Stan Douglas The Secret Agent, 2015, Six-channel video projection with sound Courtesy the Artist, David Zwirner, New York / London and Victoria Miro, London

Douglas, a Canadian photographer, filmmaker and fine artist, takes all the political intrigue of Conrad's book, yet transfers the story to '70s Lisbon, setting his series of short films in a period known as P_rocesso Revolucionário Em Curso_, or Ongoing Revolutionary Process, a kind of political interregnum which ran from the overthrow of the country’s right-wing dictatorship in 1974 until the country’s democratic elections in 1976.

 

Stan Douglas The Secret Agent, 2015, Six-channel video projection with sound Courtesy the Artist, David Zwirner, New York / London and Victoria Miro, London
Stan Douglas The Secret Agent, 2015, Six-channel video projection with sound Courtesy the Artist, David Zwirner, New York / London and Victoria Miro, London

During this period left-wingers fought the right in a kind of dirty war, similar in ways to the United Kingdom’s Troubles in Northern Ireland, or Italy’s Years of Lead.

Douglas has looked at the grubby politics of Portugal's colonies in the past, most notably in his 2014 film and exhibition, Angola Disco; indeed, it this earlier project piqued his interest in the recent history of this old colonial power.

In The Secret Agent he combines Portugal's historical record with Conrad’s characters and scenarios, to create a six-screen video show, which builds up a stylish sense of foreboding, without ever presenting clear conclusions or resolutions to the viewer – a perspective that many in 1970s Lisbon would have shared. 

 
 

Stan Douglas The Secret Agent, 2015, Six-channel video projection with sound Courtesy the Artist, David Zwirner, New York / London and Victoria Miro, London
Stan Douglas The Secret Agent, 2015, Six-channel video projection with sound Courtesy the Artist, David Zwirner, New York / London and Victoria Miro, London

For more on the show, which transfers to David Zwirner at the end of March, go here. For greater insight into this innovative and important artist, look out for a copy of our monograph; for more on innovative filmmaking, try Take 100; and for more on fine-art photography get Photography Today.