Images Blog 3 Andrew James Paterson 5/4/08
It's one thirty on Saturday afternoon, and I'm about to embark on the Off-Screen tour for the galleries in the 401 Richmond complex. I'm somewhat curious why only those off-site installations. Why not extend the tour to Diaz Contemporary and Inter-Access and TPW. But I guess temporal factors are involved (that word again - time!) and these are galleries and not rep cinemas or whatever, so these installations will be up past the last date of the Images Festival. But they are just as much part of the festival as the International Shorts programmes and the Live Images performances (which are often of a musical character).
The first stop of the tour is at V/Tape. I decide to wander from the tour right near its top or head or whatever. I can't stop thinking about Steven Cohen's video Maid in South Africa, on exhibition at V/tape. This commissioned performative work provokes unsettling questions about authorship, subject/object relationships and/or dynamics - all in relation to legacies of apartheid, slave labour, and a whole lot more. It is, I believe, provocative and audacious, and it has ruffled quite a few feathers. Class, race, slavery, colonialism, exaggerated gender-performance, Oedipal displacement, and general messiness officially abolished but still prominent - this is a seriously explosive recipe that Cohen has concocted.
Cohen, a queer white South African artist now based in Lyon, was commissioned to do a performance by a French performance organization. In response, he returned to his family home in South Africa and contracted his former nanny as a performer in a ritualistic dance/improv on servitude. This now eighty-four year old African woman was, according to Cohen, the woman who raised him. Wearing a costume comprised of Cohen's own finery, she performs her chores in rather minute detail. I was oddly reminded of Chantal Ackerman's opus Jeanne Dielman, Jeanne Dielman, but Maid in South Africa is both rococo and raunchy. Her rituals are accompanied by hard rock and dub versions of 'If You Don't Want to Fuck Me, Then Baby Fuck Off" by Jayne (Wayne) County. Borders between choice, contract, patronage, top, and bottom get more than a bit hazy here.
Downstairs at Wynick/Tuck, there is an exhibition mixing painters and filmmakers, curated by filmmaker Barbara Sternberg. O the same walls we can see painters working with not only film/video influences but also video sources (Monica Tap) alongside filmmakers such as Rose Lowder and Fred Worden who achieve rich painterly aesthetics through processing and layering. Many of the prime experimental filmmakers not only were but still are painters.
I began picking up on Laurel Woodcock's Walkthrough, a series of text interventions throughout the 401 and The Gladstone intended to mix cinema )narrative variety) and everyday life and locations. Woodcock's interventions follow the rules of script dialogue and directions, instructions and/or rules either violated or simply ignored by most of the exhibiting artists in the highly-experimentalist festival.
The second shorts programme of the evening, Ruptures Restructured, was quite tightly curated and thus effective. The works by renowned artists like Sternberg, John Price, Philip Hoffman and Jennifer Reeves (among others) were very melancholic in tone and timbre. It was as if the filmmakers were doing all that remained possible to them with their out-takes and archives of both original and found stocks, in response not only to the deaths of individuals but also a projected (pun sort of intended) obsolescence of film itself as both source and exhibition material. Reeves' dual projector 16mm. work, Light Work Mood Disorder, was breathtaking for both its exactitude and its imagination or freedom.
On Sunday I miss the International Shorts programmes as well as the Copyright panel (apologies to Laura U. Marks). Instead, I embark on the Performance bus to the Art Gallery of York University and the Blackwood Gallery at U.of T. Mississauga. One of my favourite artists, Robert Lee, is also a passenger, so we catch up and compare. I am impressed by the beauty and clarity of Saskia Olde Wolbers sculptural images that comprise her projected videos Trailer and Deadline. However, I find myself losing the spoken text running parallel to her images. There is no montage in these works that forces me to evaluate or creatively read sound in relation to picture. I don't find the voice-over cutting into the pictures and provoking me to re-evaluate the pictures. These are probably not the artist's intentions, in all fairness. I do find myself wondering how many viewers watch these two very beautiful videos from beginning to end, as if they were movies because they are in fact movies. But one could enter and leave at arbitrary points if not registering the text chronologically or narratively. The thing is, once there is time, then there is narrative. Paintings and sculptures have narrative, because it takes time to look at them, whether superficially or thoroughly. And sometimes I would rather watch the movies theatrically - one arrives in time to get a good comfortable seat and then watches the work in assembled sequence.
Triple Bill, by Vancouver-based Isabel Pauwels, takes over the Blackwood Gallery with its texts and its low-fi location sound. Triple Bill documents three of the artist's explorations of a cinematic underworld that itself is now endangered. Pauwels takes her recording apparatus to three notorious Vancouver porn cinemas, one of which in particular is as much a crack den as a host-space for free-fall furtively liberating sexual play. These architectures may not be officially Men Only, but such signs are immaterial here. The actual films are themselves largely immaterial, in comparison to the other exchanges and rituals. However, the artist was there and gallery-viewers may have also been there but they are certainly not there now. The gallery may have been converted to a mini-cinema, but with reasonably-comfortable folding chairs against either daylight or natural light. Natural light is not an option in any porn-underworld.