Initially there is just blackness. As eyes adjust, two bridges cross over each other above the muddy river bank. In the darkness of the night, one road is well-lit by a relentless grid of street-lights, so strong that that they almost obliterate the lights of the solitary car crossing over it. Below, the other bridge is in darkness, the road not deemed important enough for street-lights with the beams of the one moving vehicle projecting far into the distance, driving to Bumtown. Given the emptiness of the night, this must be the early morning when everyone should be asleep in bed. Yet, along the riverside, in the shadow of the two bridges there are lights in occasional houses along the dark riverside of this poor crime-ridden community, where drunken parties fuelled with bootleg liquor, theft, corruption, poverty, prostitution and gambling are the life blood that keeps the economy going in areas forgotten and ignored by the city authorities until they decide to raise the insanitary houses to the ground and move the people elsewhere.
In the centre of the city, occasional white lights can be seen in a few windows of the tall apartment block with glimpses of people through the open curtains. The darkness of the city is also the darkness of the Second World War veterans who live here, housed here in the city after their moment of glory was over, forgotten, left to find a new life for themselves. What is happening in those rooms that are lit up while the rest of the block and the city sleeps?
Canadian artist Stan Douglas’s images have the rich visual texture of paintings but are digital images showing the detail of both the black night and the occasional white lights in a way that a camera cannot, drawing attention to the dark undercurrents in our cities, whether in apartment blocks or in poor crime-ridden neighbourhoods along river fronts
In contrast, the 53-minute long coloured film “The Secret Agent” played over six projectors tells a related tale of tensions and contradictions but with the ruling political classes, based on Joseph Conrad’s story set in the aftermath of Portugal’s “carnation revolution” which overthrew Europe’s oldest dictatorship in 1974.
While the audience watches emotionless, the action move across the room from screen to screen, telling a personal and political story with its twists and turns, all in the style of a classic Holywood movie of the 1950’s, suggesting how movies and real life are often intertwined in Douglas’ commentary on society.