‘Nothing Comes Out of a Void’: Watch Artist Stan Douglas Remix Miles Davis With Afrobeat to Create His Genre-Bending Multimedia Art

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21
Production still from the Art21 "Extended Play" film, "Stan Douglas: Channeling Miles Davis." © Art21, Inc. 2017.

Vancouver artist Stan Douglas has based his career around the idea of remixing—using kernels of music, history, and memory to invent new and unique works of art that often defy easy explanation. 

One of Douglas’s most personal and ambitious works, Luanda-Kinshasa, is currently on view as part of artist Jason Moran’s show at the Whitney Museum in New York. The six-hour work casts a contemporary set of musicians inside a replica of the famed Columbia Records’ 30th Street Studio in New York, where Miles Davis recorded his last studio album, On the Corner, in 1971. 

In an exclusive interview with Art21 in 2017, Douglas explains that he was inspired by Davis’s experimentation on that record, incorporating funk, rock, jazz, and even Indian classical music. Then, Douglas thought,What if you brought in Afrobeat as part of that mix he was doing?” 

Stan Douglas, Luanda-Kinshasa, 2013. Video, color, sound; 6:01 hours. © Stan Douglas; Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York

Stan Douglas, Luanda-Kinshasa (2013). Video, color, sound; 6:01 hours. © Stan Douglas; Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner, New York.

Of course, Davis himself never did, but for Douglas, it’s the possibility that’s most exciting, the utopian ideal that drives him to make art.

“I want to go back to these possibilities of ‘What if there’s another way of considering history?'”

For Douglas, that means finding inspiration everywhere. “Nothing comes out of a void,” he says, citing his own early experiences as a DJ and encountering Miles Davis’s music as influences on this work.

“Utopia means ‘no place,'” he says in the Extended Play video. “It’s a place that you may strive to get to, but you can’t necessarily get there.” That won’t stop him from trying though.

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s Extended Play series, below. Stan Douglas’s work is on view as part of the “Jason Moran” show at the Whitney, through January 5, 2020.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship Art in the Twenty-First Century television series is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s education programs at Art21.org.


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