Video and Its Discontents

February 6 – February 26

Television and videotape emerged in the second half of the 20th century as a massive circulatory system wherein all kinds of media could reach an unprecedented variety of audiences. With it brought an equally huge up-swell in popular culture that could be transmitted across continents and distributed on tape for repetitious home viewing. The works in this phase of the exhibition demonstrate an invigorated interest in how prime-time TV, cable news, and home-video culture reflect our collective anxieties, obsessions, and senses of identity. We see these materials refracted and re-cut to excavate what lies beneath their familiar images.

1: Mark Leckey / Fiorucci Made me Hardcore

A hypnotic collage assembled from video tapes recorded in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s all across Great Britain, Mark Leckey’s video both paints a portrait of underground nightclub culture in the UK and captures the “pulsing, ecstatic, out-of-mind glory of the dancefloor in a churning, heady rush.*” The video is a deeply personal, nostalgic, and semi-autobiographical work for Leckey that has also become a touchstone for modern video art for its skillful editing and intimate, authentic depiction of youth subculture.

*From Charlotte Higgins’ article and interview with Leckey in The Guardian (2015)

Learn more about Mark Leckey’s work and career on the artist’s website.

Fiorucci Made me Hardcore (1999, Mark Leckey, various analog tape sources transferred to digital video)

2: Ximena Cuevas / Cinepolis, La Capital del Cine

“Out of the archives, history is fiction of truth, inspired by the glamorous.” This declaration arrives early in Cuevas’ video, which catalogs the massive influx of North American commercial imagery saturating Mexican televisions, radios, and movie screens. Intercutting this iconography with audio and visual tropes from science-fiction films, Cinepolis creates an impending sense of invasion and dread where every aspect of our lives is seemingly controlled by overwhelming, consumerist forces.

Learn more about Ximena Cuevas’ influential body of work by reading this interview in Senses of Cinema (2000)

Cinepolis, La Capital del Cine (2003, Ximena Cuevas, various video sources transferred to digital video)

3: Jennifer Dysart /Caribou in the Archive

Exploring the space between personal and “official” histories contained in archival film and video, Jennifer Dysart’s thoughtful work entwines mid-20th century ethnographic footage of Indigenous communities shot by the National Film Board of Canada with her own Cree family’s home video material from the 1990s. The resulting piece highlights the distance between material created by those part of Indigenous communities vs. those outside of them while also bringing together the shared histories of Cree people. Caribou in the Archive self-reflectively follows the filmmaker’s journey through the revelatory and at-times harrowing process of transferring and capturing the sound and images held by her family’s VHS tapes, offering the audience a glimpse of this messy, static-filled process. While the footage shot by the NFB is crisp and formal, Dysart’s home movie is intimate and fuzzy, shot by and featuring the late Violet and Ross Woods hunting caribou. Where the voice-over in the NFB footage conveys authority and mimics the “voice of God” trope that was common in documentary films of the era, Violet and Ross’s video feels close and loving. Dysart plays these off each other, weaving them together with her own first-person narration via on-screen text. Furthermore, Dysart adds important corrections and additional commentary to the NFB footage regarding its depictions of First Nations individuals as part of the work’s credit sequence. Ultimately, Caribou in the Archive both unpacks and illuminates the process of its own creation while also calling for more inclusive archival practices that disrupt dominant national and regional narratives of history that often exclude those held by Indigenous people.

Read more about Jennifer Dysart’s work as an artist in residence as part of York University’s Archive/Counter-Archive project.

Caribou in the Archive (2019, Jennifer Dysart, VHS tape and 16mm film transferred to digital video)

4: Jennifer Proctor / A MOVIE by Jen Proctor

In editing together a diverse set of clips from YouTube and LiveLeak, Jen Proctor re-imagines Bruce Connor’s seminal found footage film A MOVIE (1958) for the digital era. In the 1958 original, Conner assembles clips from newsreels, westerns, soft-core pornography, travelogues, and other sources to create a dizzying procession of images depicting the triumphs and follies of the human experience. Depicting a wide scope of activities—from bombs dropping to cars crashing to bridges collapsing—A MOVIE splices together a tapestry of our collective fears, desires, and aspirations culled from popular culture, re-presenting them to the audience in a provocative and, at times, unsettling manner. Proctor, in an almost shot-for-shot remake, carries this method into the 21st century and explores how these historical and visual icons have both evolved and remained the same over the intervening decades. Proctor’s A MOVIE sources materials from the deep well of video content offered by the online world, commenting on the pervasiveness of material available for re-appropriation and how this ever-expanding flow of information continues to reflect the fears, desires, and aspirations of contemporary society—all of which are now funneled through social media channels, streaming video, and a global network of interconnected digital devices.

Watch Conner’s original side-by-side with Proctor’s remake to see these works in direct dialogue with each other.

A MOVIE by Jen Proctor (2010-2012, Jennifer Proctor, digital video, 11:45)

5:  Jesse McLean / Magic for Beginners

An extended examination of fan culture, longing, and obsession. Whether directed at celebrities, video games, or any other aspect of popular culture, McLean’s essay film unpacks the different ways individuals project themselves into the mediascape that surrounds them and how “movie magic” warps our collective sense of self. Ending with an exquisitely edited sequence of amateur performers singing Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from the blockbuster film Titanic (1997), Magic for Beginners offers a prescient glimpse at the coming tide of social media and our shared need for emotional connection.

Learn more about Jesse McLean’s work by visiting the artist’s website.

Magic for Beginners (2010, Jesse McLean, various sources transferred to digital video)

6: Evan Meaney & Amy Szczepanski / Big_Sleep™

Big_Sleep™ is a documentary and poetic essay-film taking place entirely within the space of the artist’s computer desktop. Multiple windows open to display video clips, text, images, and software, often overlapping and drawing the viewer’s attention to multiple places at once. The work explores the “archival urge,” or the collective desire to indefinitely preserve the films, photographs, documents, and other objects which constitute a record of the past, and the many challenges related to sustaining these collections in museums, archives, and other collecting institutions. Using the work of William Birch, one of the most prolific newsreel cinematographers of the 20th century, as a kind of case-study, Big_Sleep™ surveys the efforts of archivists to preserve motion-pictures using digital technology and reveals the inherently melancholy and existential nature of this labor. Through multiple voice-overs with experts in the field and the use of archival audio, viewers hear explanations of preservation and digitization processes alongside intimate recordings made between Birch and his family, infusing the technical challenges of preservation with a dimension of humanity and strong emotional themes. The paradox of digitization—that it both increases access to archival materials but puts it at great risk of loss due to file corruption and technological changes—begs questions related to how and if future generations will be able to access materials from our current moment and how “found footage” filmmaking will persist.

Additionally, as part of their larger project exploring archival practices, Meaney and his collaborators developed the Big_Sleep™ Media Encoder, a tool for preserving digital data in a permanently stable but permanently inaccessible file-format. This piece also serves a “software demo” of this process wherein the clips shown are also being encoded into this format.

Learn more about the larger Big_Sleep™ project by visiting the artist’s website

Big_Sleep™ (2015, Evan Meaney & Amy Szczepanski, digital video, 27:44)

7: Kent Lambert /Fantasy Suite

Lambert describes Fantasy Suite simply as “a meditation on mainstream American heterosexual romance.” But layered into this funny, at-times both cringey and beautifully absurd remix video is thoughtful commentary on masculinity and relationships which has only become more potent with the rise of social media and increasingly complex, nuanced understandings of gender and sexuality. Using footage from reality television mainstay The Bachelor, images from SkyMall magazine, and smattering of scenes from the romantic feature film Impact (2000), Lambert highlights some of the most salient tropes of these familiar consumer products while also making them strange through incisive editing and manipulating sound and speed. The juxtaposition between The Bachelor’s overly slick, commodification of romantic relationships with the feature film’s overwrought, cliche sincerity is glued together, both formally and figuratively, by a succession of products from SkyMall, pointing to the “fantasy” of happiness and well-being manufactured by consumer culture and imposed onto society at large. Viewers are invited to draw their own associations and connections between the three elements, while also having a good laugh along the way.

Kent Lambert has released several of his films openly online. You can see more of his work on the artist’s Vimeo page.

Want to watch the original Impact (2000)? You can steam it on Amazon Prime!

Fantasy Suite (2009, Kent Lambert, VHS tape transferred to digital video)

 8: Michael Robinson / Light is Waiting

Beginning with a typical sitcom setup during an episode of Full House, Light is Waiting abruptly splinters off into another dimension and shoots the viewer down a strobing, psychedelic wormhole. The normal rules of time and space seem to melt away as the characters from the iconic TV show re-emerge and mutate in this new reality. Faces and bodies multiply amidst a visually assaulting slew of distortions and refractions, making what was once familiar and generic into something strange and almost frightening. 

Learn more about Michael Robinson’s work and view more full videos by visiting the artist’s website.

Light is Waiting (2007, Michael Robinson, digital video)