The Artist as Stan Laurel

The collections of works that make up The Artist as Stan Laurel are concerned with how photographs (and representations) disappear. The film The Lucky Dog is linked to the effort to draw to a close a certain history of representation and picturing.

The Lucky Dog (which stars Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, together for the first time) was released the same year that Russian artist Alexander Rodchenko showed a series of paintings that, he claimed, would mark the end of the tradition of figurative painting. Both the film and the monochrome, however, share an uncertainty over their exact ‘birthdates’ – 1917? 1921? (though the monochrome might also have been ‘invented’ as part of the exhibition Arts incohérents in 1882); and both the film and the monochrome repeat a gesture and a project that will keep recurring in film, art and history in the twentieth century: that things don’t quite end as expected.

In the sequence used in the drawings and animation, Stan narrowly avoids being flattened by a tram. It looks like Stan is about to meet his end… but by some humorous, invariably silly and unanticipated event, he escapes the threat.

The photographed drawings black out the threat (the tram), but condemn Stan to repeat a gesture – in the animated clip he tries to pull something out of the bag, but never quite gets there. The end is never final enough.

To be true to the birth of the monochrome, then, it becomes necessary to destroy the drawings – so, they are burnt.

But the ash returns. Not as representational imagery this time, but as text on the gallery wall. And what is the text? Subtitles from the film that refer to the 1917 Russian revolution – Russian blowouts and bolsheviki candy.