Canadian photographer Stan Douglas is showing just two new works at Victoria Miro, but they’re huge: giant aerial shots that scream London – red buses, sprawling LCC estates, sooty treetops and 130-quid-fines-for-entering box junctions – the city we all know and inhabit, day in, day out. Which is part of Douglas’s point. Because it’s not that city: this is London mid-riot. There are knots of people in the streets, lines of police, small fires burning.
Douglas chose two flashpoints from the summer 2011 riots, Mare Street and the Pembury Estate, and recreated them. He re-shot the locations from a helicopter, then mapped contemporary source material on to the images: news video and still shots, and evidence off the internet. The results are like those museum dioramas of battlefields. You could never have got such a perfect overview at the time. And I think the term is crucial. Douglas’s elegant – even beautiful – pin-sharp pictorial renderings don’t just operate on a visual plane. The ‘overview’ is political and historical as well.
As in a lot of his work, he invites you to examine what appears to be a moment seized from confusion and contradiction, to hover above it serenely in your chopper of hindsight and assess it at your leisure. He knows – and wants you to know – that this isn’t how history unfolds. History is messy and silly and regrettable and repetitive. You could spend ten minutes here, or a week. You could even ignore the riot stuff altogether and just spot the street you used to live on. Whatever: you’re part of it, like it or not.