Eyes of the Other
My friend and artist, Doug Stone, just packed up his art show, which he presented at the coffee shop at the end of my street.
Neighbourhood coffee shops are their own unique social system. Like neighbourhood bars everyone who spends time there has a different story, everyone came from a different place, but the common thread is: you want to get out of yourself, out of your head, out of your mood—you want to connect with something beyond yourself; at least this is the case for me. So I go there simply to shake myself out of a certain disposition.
I have been going to Mercury since it opened in 2005. Over the years I would see different faces again and again. Over the past few years I have gone to Mercury more often; hoping to get out of my head, with a desire to be less isolated in how I live my life. So, what was once a smile and quick “Hello” might turn into a conversation.
On one occasion I got talking with Doug—the artist who just packed up his show. Our conversation quickly led to me telling him about an independent experimental documentary I am working on called Motet. “This film” I told him “is about the process of making art and not the end result.” He was interested and told me he was an artist and I quickly realized I should interview him for my film—he said yes.
Tonight I arrived to film Doug just before 5pm—he was going to take the show down at 5:30pm. I order a coffee and muffin, said hello to Ki, one of the baristas who works there. It had been a slow night, both Doug and Ki said.
In the previous months leading up to the November show, Doug had designed and made a series of shopping bags, on which he printed the phrase “Shut Up Doug.” This came about as a joke between him and one of the baristas—Ash—who works at the coffee shop. This seemingly flippant comment became the seed of an entire body of work. And, as chance would have it, I began filming Doug (in what is now becoming The Doug Stone Series) right when he was printing the bags.
The stamp he designed and made would go beyond the craft involved in making the bags, it soon entered his work as a painter—ultimately printing the “Shup Up Doug” statement onto some of his canvases. (I must admit, I was surprised how well this worked; although Doug was not as convinced. Either way it was fearless.)
In filming Doug I have watched him in his process. This started with filming him for Motet and continued and evolved with filming for The Doug Stone Series. At certain times during filming I’m sure he thinks, “This guy is crazy, what is he doing?” as I’m sure others who see me filming think. And in fairness this is a voice I hear too! What am I doing?
The truth is, it’s not about what is “happening” or what’s “not happening” it’s about how we unconsciously assume a certain style and narrative approach to what “happening” is and means, and that these ways of seeing, of understanding, limit how we experience life because we cut out what does not fit. Sexism, racism, classism, and so on, are all descriptors of exclusion, all defining who is “in” and who is “out.” This is the case in art, as we decide what is “sellable” what is “meaningful” and so on. But when you watch the process, when you watch a person make art, and you do hope it/they will succeed, you must also realize that this desire—for success—is the desire for the work to meaning something I the eyes of the Other—to be affirmed by others—and insodoing your struggle is recognized.
After all the bags were down and as we walked down the street together (Doug and I live quite close to one another) he said, “That month went fast” talking about the length of the show at Mercury, which was for the month of November. I said to him, “I sometimes think we make art because it is the only way we can slow life down. Without it everything just rushes by.”
I asked him how he felt about the show, he said “I have mixed feelings.” He wished it had taken off more, been more popular, and then said, “But I always wish that.” (I do too.)
Watching Doug take the shopping bags off the wall was a sad moment. As he took the bags down people came in, ordered a coffee; some made comments to Doug, some didn’t. I could see people passing by outside, some looked in; cars passed, streetcars passed, people on bikes passed. The refracted light broke against the blackened glass, merging the life inside the coffee shop with the life outside the coffeeshop. We were on a planet looking out at the universe, seeing ourselves and others all enfolded in an embrace of lights and shadows.
In the reflection, I watched with my camera, Doug patch the holes he had made in the wall with the pins that had once tacked up the “Shut Up Doug” bags. He said, “I don’t think it is nice to leave the holes in the wall for the next artist to have to deal with. That’s not how I role”
Then we walked down the street, me with my camera gear, him with the remaining bags.