WHEN THE WORK WAS NEW: Toronto New Work Shows 1984 and 1986
Program 1, Saturday March 11, 7pm.
Program 2, Saturday March 11, 9pm
Jackman Hall, Art Gallery of Ontario
Free tickets available online through the Art Gallery of Ontario website
When I was invited to make a selection of video from Vtape’s holdings to augment the current exhibition Toronto: Tributes + Tributaries, 1971-1989, two local initiatives provided a good place to start my research. Toronto’s New Work Show enjoyed two iterations in the mid 1980s: a four-day event that took place in August 1984 featuring work by 21 artists and a much larger version that took place in September 1986, with work by 47 video artists and 4 musicians and spoken word artists.
Both were initiated from within what we called “the community”, then a scrappy gang of d.i.y. enthusiasts committed to the electronic image but otherwise un-united. Not a uniform voice by any means but a loose group capable of a level of cooperation that resulted in these exhibitions. In both cases two artists – Randy Gledhill and Rodney Werden – were the catalysts, spurred to action by the perceived lack of screening opportunities facing all of us working in video along with the wealth of material being produced. With organizational assistance from Vtape, office space from Chromazone and some money from The Canada Council Media Arts section, these shows came together. A venue was secured (in both cases Theatre Passe Muraille), screening equipment located and a modest catalogue produced.
Inclusivity was a part of these shows; between the knowledge available at Charles St. Video where new work was produced and Vtape where new works showed up when they were ready for distribution, a list of artists was put together. Given the nature of this almost “open call” approach to programming, no one aesthetic style dominated, no one genre prevailed, no one theme was favoured. Documentary, either traditional or post-modern hybrid, experimental narrative, purely visual experiments, performance for the camera – all were part of the mix – a kind of pluriverse a la William James, where everything was possible. But the mix worked in all its contradictions; it was argumentative and fractious and impossibly intertwined in both ideological and physical ways but somehow the very unstructured structure supported it all and audiences found the work.
Finally, the very real conditions being experienced by media artists working in Toronto in this time period should be noted: censorship of film and video was being enthusiastically pursued by the provincial government through regulation, legislation and enforcement; projectors and other large-scale presentation equipment for video was, generally, not available; most screening opportunities were in galleries and museums not in theatre-type settings; and, perhaps most importantly, this was the era just before the rise of the media arts festivals that are so much a part of our environment today. (In 1987, just one year after the second New Work Show – 1987 – the Images Festival launched what has become a phenomenon in the city with over well 50 media arts festivals featuring specific genres, communities and now neighbourhoods as a focus.)
In the end, the selection presented here is not restricted to these two foundational programs of video art. After viewing all the titles in both the 1984 and 1986 New Work Show, I sought other works from the same period within the Vtape holdings to reflect the discussions of this era – or at least my memory of these. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
- Lisa Steele, Founder and Artistic Director Vtape
Richard Fung, Out of the Blue, 1991, 28:00
After a flea market was robbed, police disrupted a Scarborough church service, arresting 4 young people of colour. Julien Didier was twenty at the time and the oldest of the arrested. This tape follows his experience of the events.
Richard Fung is a Toronto-based videomaker and writer. His tapes explore the intersection of race, sexuality and representation, and his essays on cultural policy and politics have been published in many journals and anthologies. Richard frequently programs film and video, and has served on the boards and committees of many organizations. He has lectured and taught across North America and is the recipient of many awards, including Rockefeller and McKnight Foundation fellowships, The 2000 Margo Bindhardt Award and most recently The Bell Canada award for excellence in media arts.
Randy & Berenicci, Once Upon A Time, 1984, 18:30
From within the ruins of an amoral society, amidst relentless catastrophe, Randy & Berenicci take an ironic look at the cancer of greed and corruption.
Randy & Berenicci (Randy Gledhill & Berenicci Hershorn), in an oeuvre spanning more than 30 years, created a unique and evolving body of site-specific and time based art (performance, installation, video, public sculpture). They produced and presented their collaborative work internationally with an extensive history of recognition in art venues around the world.
Andrew J. Paterson, Alan Fox, How Many Fingers, 1981, 8:00
Unlike the music videos of the day, a narrative structure is applied to the genre, focusing on the dramatic possibilities inherent in the music and the song lyrics modeled on George Orwell’s 1984.
Andrew James Paterson is an interdisciplinary artist based in Toronto. Over a period of thirty years, he has worked with video, film, performance, writing, and music. He is best known for his video art.
Michael Balser (producer for Second Decade: PSA’s by David Finley, Zachary Longboy, Michael Balser, and Mike MacDonald)) AIDS PSA’s, 1993, 4 x 00:30
Four of the original 10 artists collectively known as Second Decade who designed and produced a series of 30 second TV spots produced at the Banff Centre for the Arts.
Michael Balser (1946-2002) was a videomaker, curator, producer, AIDS activist. His video work was often done in collaboration with Andy Fabo, produced in an inventive collage style. His later works continue to reflect his AIDS activism, including Toronto Living with AIDS, produced for cable starting in 1992; two compilations of AIDS Public Service Announcements (1993) for which Balser, in collaboration with the Banff Centre, enlisted the contributions of queer video artists from coast to coast; Positive Men (1995) a mosaic of dramatic scenes about a gay male community affected and responding, together with documentary portraits of PWAs; and the autobiographical “cybertour” Treatments—Adventures in AIDS and Media (1996).
Colin Campbell, Skin, 1990, 14:50
Skin is not a documentary, but an evocative and moving dramatization of women coming to terms with the pandemic that is AIDS.
Colin Campbell (1942-2001) produced over 50 video works that have been widely exhibited and written about. He received numerous awards including the Bell Canada Award for Video Art and represented Canada at the Venice Biennale in 1980 and at biennial exhibitions in Sao Paulo in 1977 and Istanbul in 1992, as well as at OKanada in Berlin (Akademie der Künste, 1982) and Documenta in Kassel, Germany in 1977. He curated video and performance programs in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Rio de Janeiro, and published texts in FILE and Fuse magazines, as well as the artist’s books The Woman from Malibu (1978) and Modern Love (1979), commissioned by Art Metropole, Toronto. Campbell was active in the artist-run centre movement in Canada, and one of the founding members (and for many years President of the Board of Directors) of Vtape.
Dennis Day (with Ian Middleton) Got Away in the Dying Moments, 1992, 4:30
The themes of mourning, urgency and healing are explored to suggest natural alternatives to the current treatments and attitudes in the AIDS crisis.
Dennis Day has produced a number of internationally-screened videos, marked by their strong use of editing, rich colors and humor.His work has been awarded a number of prizes including the “Prix à la Création Artistique du Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec” (Les Rendez-Vous du Cinéma Québecois, 2001), the “Bulloch Award” for best short film, at the Inside/Out Gay & Lesbian Festival in Toronto (1997), the “Videofest Award” (Berlin, 1995) and the “Young Director’s Award” (Geneva, Switzerland, 1988). Television broadcasts include PBS (USA), TV Ontario, CBC, Vision TV, (Canada), NHK (Japan) and Canal+ (France).
Youth Against Monsterz, Another Man, 1988, 3:00
A music video examines the politics of AIDS from a radical, gay/lesbian and polysexual perspective with funky political dance music of Mr. Tim and a focus on the critical analysis of lesbian activist Chris Bearchell, a founder of The Body Politic , as well as a spectacular guest appearance by the Rev. Jerry Falwell sporting the latest latex condom-wear. The work was originally shown on City-TV’s syndicated New Music Show.
Youth Against Monsterz was an Anarchist Community Theatre Collective in Toronto.
Jane Wright, Westinghouses, 1976, 4:00
This tape evokes time passing on a quiet afternoon.
Jane Wright is among the first generation of artists using video image processing in their work. Currently living in northern Ontario, she was Professor, Media Arts Department, Sheridan College, Oakville, and President of the A Space Board of Directors when the gallery succesfully challenged the Ontario Censor Board’s confiscation of equipment and artworks. Jane is a Quaker and served for ten years with Christian Peacemaker Teams on violence reduction projects in Burnt Church, NB; Baghdad, Iraq; Kenora, ON; Uganda, and most recently in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo.
Su Rynard, Absence, 1986, 5:30
Presented as a fragmented narrative, Absence hints at desire and our expectation of completion and disclosure.
In her early video art to more recent feature films, Su Rynard has worked across a range of approaches: dramatic, experimental, documentary and installation. Her interest in science, ecology and the human relationship with the natural world has informed and inspired her recent work.
Marnie Parell, Dinner, 1989, 4:00
Shot over a Thanksgiving weekend this film reflects the aimless happy warmth of a late fall road trip. The layering of images through multiple exposure reinforces a where-are-we-now feeling. This is evident in the soundtrack as it dials through pausing but never stopping for long.
Marnie Parell is a Métis filmmaker, writer and artist. Experimental, lyrical, pornographic and humorous, her work endeavors to expose what is hidden in the everyday. She attempts to reframe objects, scenes and stories in such a way as to make the familiar, or some aspect of it, seem new or strange thus creating the potential for reinterpretation. Currently working in new media, she is exploring the potential of fiducials and augmented reality, as well as interactive filmmaking.
Susan Britton, Freeze Frame, 1983, 2:00
Does life imitate MTV? In this brief psychodrama a thoughtful secretary contemplates cause and effects. The dream of personal liberation through technology.
Originally from Winnipeg, Susan Britton moved to Toronto after completing her BFA at NSCAD. Susan was one of the five original founding members of Vtape in 1980. She also co-founded the Cabana Club, an early venue for artists’ video and performance work. She left the Toronto video community in 1982 to set up a commercial video editing business in New York with several friends, later moving on to work as a writer and analyst. Susan returned to Toronto in 2006 and has a career as a business analyst in the financial services industry.
Rodney Werden, Say, 1978, 3:00
A stationary woman is asked to repeat words as commanded by a voice off-camera. Say……
Rodney Werden is a renowned photographer and film maker, and a central figure in the 1970’s video art movement. The works of Rodney Werden are thought provoking, often controversial and are notable for their thoughtful portrayal of the human condition. Rodney was one of the five original founding members of Vtape in 1980.
Paulette Phillips, It Depends, 1984, 29:30
The tape focuses on three women and a child to examine how we judge things by their appearance, how we draw conclusions with little information and are influenced by the order in which things appear to us.
Paulette Phillips’ film installations evolve from an interest in how the subject leaks out of structures like language and architecture. She constructs uncanny experiences that amplify our attachment to voyeuristic pleasure. Her work is in the collections of the National Gallery and the MOMA. Recent group exhibitions include: Tatton Park Biennale; The Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris; The Power Plant, Toronto, ZKM Germany, Kunsthaus, Graz, Austria, Heidelburg Kunstverein, Ludwig Museum, Budapest, and Palazzo della Papesse, Sienna. Her video Marnie’s Handbag 2008, premiered at the Tate Modern and toured with Rencontres Internationales Paris, Berlin, Madrid. She is a Professor of Art at The Ontario College of Art and Design where she teaches film and video production, installation practices and sculpture.
John Greyson, Perils of Pedagogy, 1984, 5:00
An attempt to examine the limited cultural role models available to the young gay man, both in the dominant culture and in the gay ghetto, the tape is a music video version of “To Sir With Love” slowed down to sound like Perry Como. The actor and director’s personal lives keep interrupting the process, and the dominant culture, in the form of questions, intervenes.
John Greyson is a Toronto film/video artist and activist. His multi-awarded shorts, features and installations include: Fig Trees (2009, Best Documentary Teddy, Berlin FIlm Festival; Best Canadian Feature, Inside Out Festival); Proteus (2003, Best Film, Diversity Award, Barcelona Film Festival; Best Actor, Sithenghi Film Festival); The Law of Enclosures (2000, Best Actor Genie); Lilies (1996 – Best Film Genie, Best Film at festivals in Montreal, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, San Francisco); Un©ut (1997, Honourable Mention, Berlin Film Festival); Zero Patience (1993 – Best Canadian Film, Sudbury Film Festival); The Making of Monsters (1991 – Best Canadian Short, Toronto Film Festival, Best Short Film Teddy – Berlin Film Festival); and Urinal (1988 – Best Feature Teddy, Berlin Film Festival). He co-edited Queer Looks, a critical anthology on gay/lesbian film & video (Routledge, 1993), is the author of Urinal and Other Stories (Power Plant/Art Metropole, 1993), and has published essays and artists pieces in Alphabet City, Public, FUSE, and twelve critical anthologies. An associate professor in film production at York University, he was awarded the Toronto Arts Award for Film/Video, 2000, and the Bell Canada Video Art Award in 2007. He is currently President of the Vtape Board of Directors.
John Watt, Scannex Man, 1981, 6:00
Industrial Track (Series) is an on-going series designed around existing electronically controlled surveillance systems and their controllers.. In, Scannex Man, Gordon Wahn, a representative of ‘Scannex Industries’ is an expert in the marketing of security systems. Here he describes the industrial applications of surveillance technology.
John Watt is among the earliest video artists working in Canada. He began making performance for the camera works in 1973 while he was a student at NSCAD. In 1979 Watt produced and curated “Television By Artists”, a landmark series of six commissioned television programs by artists. Watt’s interest in the advancement of video technology led him to becoming one of first commercial videodisc producers in Canada, directing four major installations for the Canadian Pavilion at Expo ’86. Watt’s video works have been extensively exhibited and are collected nationally and internationally in museums, galleries, expositions, festivals, broadcasts.
Jorge Lozano, Pt. One Untitled, 1984, 6:00
A silent march. An actor is killed by death squads in Columbia.
Jorge Lozano has been working as a film and video artist for the last 20 years and has achieved national and international recognition. His fiction films have been exhibited at the Toronto International Film Festival and at the Sundance Film Festival amongst others. He is a founder of aluCine, Toronto Latin Media Festival, and facilites self-representations video workshops for marginalized Latin and non-Latin youth in Canada, Colombia, and Venezuela.
Gary Kibbins,The Long Take, 1984, 7:00
In this work, voice over accompanies various forms of non-dramatic, acquired footage. It is divided into four distinct and interrelated parts: Film and Death; Sex and Death; Death and Law; and Sex and Law. The work’s structure suggests that a different understanding is required for each concept (“death” or “sex”, for example) as it reappears in a different context.
Gary Kibbins is a media artist and writer, currently teaching at Queen’s University. Until 2000 he taught at the California Institute of the Arts. A book of essays and scripts was published in 2005: Grammar & Not-Grammar: Selected Scripts and Essays by Gary Kibbins, ed. A. J. Paterson, YYZ Books, Toronto.
Craig Berggold and Clive Robertson, Up to Scratch, 1986, 5:30A multi-layered animated music video that extolls the power of dancing, with Robertson’s vocals encouraging all to get in the spirit of “the coalition beat” as the great Canadian landscape whizzes past.
Media artist Craig Berggold strives to combine social justice activism with a contemporary art practice. Currently, Craig is a PhD student in Cultural Studies and President of PSAC Local 901 representing Teaching Assistants, Teaching Fellows and Postdoctoral Scholars at Queen’s University. At Simon Fraser University’s Special Collections Library he is the lead researcher for The Canadian Farmworkers Union Archive Project.
Clive Robertson is an artist, activist, writer, publisher, musician, producer, teacher and collaborator. He most recently taught cultural theory and performance art at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario. Clive was one of the five original founding members of Vtape in 1980.