At the reception/catalogue launch for SPIRIT IN THE LANDSCAPE (a traveling exhibition of experimental films curated by Richard Kerr), Art Gallery of Ontario Director William Withrow announced the building of a film/video screening room or small gallery, with a seating capacity of 30 , which will be adjacent to the contemporary rooms in the new Stage III wing of the AGO. "Congratulations & Three Cheers" to the AGO for this decision and the commitment to experimental film that this space implies -acknowledgement that certainly contemporary art includes the media arts! It remains to be seen, of course, how the space will be utilized, how acquisitions will be made, what the relationship will be between this area and the film department which is under the directorship of Cathy Jonasson.


I spoke to Cathy about the new space, about the SPIRIT IN THE LANDSCAPE initiative, and, in general, about the development of the film department. Cathy described the gallery as being in a state of flux now as it develops new strategic plans in the light of funding realities (that is, lack of funds) and in terms of its goals. The new film/video space attests to the gallery's commitment to showing experimental film in a gallery context in an on-going basis, so that whenever people come to the AGO, they will be able to see some film or video work. The room will be available for use by both Cathy Jonasson and Philip Monk, curator of contemporary art. Film is now still part of the Education department; its next logical step is to move into curatorial. In this way, Cathy continued, film can be dealt with as an art form like the others about which the gallery can educate the public and assist in their engagement with the work.


The AGO has a very large and good education department, and Cathy expressed strong concern on the part of the gallery for how to introduce experimental film to the many school tours that come through the gallery. In this context it is important that film will now be situated right in the gallery.


The new gallery facility will mainly show films from the gallery's collection. The gallery has, of a total of 200 films, about 100 artist's films. But it has been a collection in limbo and contains obvious gaps. With the new space, there is an impetus to collect. SPIRIT IN THE LANDSCAPE also functioned in this way. In order to tour this exhibition ( an important aim of the AGO is to get film not only beyond its doors out into Ontario but throughout the country as well ) the prints had to be purchased.  The publication of a catalogue, written by Bart Testa, is another important aspect of this project for Cathy. It will facilitate confidence and understanding in galleries taking on the show as well as, of course, provide documentation, dialogue and historical material. In the Stage III audio-visual area there will also be a small projection room, accessible for study purposes, class use, or press screenings. The Jackman Hall will still be used for special, curated series intended for larger audiences. The AGO with Cathy Jonasson seem to be carefully bringing into existence a workable and well thought out film department.


Following the reception, Stan Brakhage presented a lecture with slide and film components to end the Spirit in the Landscape series. I used the occasion to ask him about his recent move to Canada, his interest in Canadian landscape painting and film, and about his own current work. Stan has applied for landed immigrant status because, as he puts it, this is where he and Marilyn Jull want to raise their child-to-be!. (Congratulations to Stan and Marilyn on their recent marriage, and Best Wishes to you both!)  Stan spoke of a real featural difference he observes in the faces of children here, an openness that even when troubled becomes not fractured but inquisitive, a difference of quietude and assurance that he notes as well in Canadian paintings and films. Brakhage's involvement with Canadian painting, specifically with the Group of Seven, goes back 25 years. He is a great enthusiast of their work(he has been trying for years to arrange showings of these paintings in the U.S. where unfortunately and perhaps suprisingly to us The Group of Seven is unknown ) and acknowledges Tom Thomson's influence on his films. Brakhage sees Thomson's brush strokes as a script, as directions or suggestions of how to shoot, to move his camera!  Brakhage went on to acknowledge influences from other Canadian filmmakers, various Canadian aesthetics his work is in dialogue with: Ellie Epp's NOTES ON ORIGINS (one of the films he showed during his talk), Richard Kerr's THE LAST DAYS OF CONTRITION, Rick Hancox's LANDFALL. He mentioned that his recently completed Faust film, a modernization of the Faust legend, ends in Faust 4 with a range of the mind through landscape which was inspired by Bruce Elder's filmwork or, at least, in a dialectic with it.He cited Rimmer's ALONG THE ROAD TO ALTAMIRA as instructing him in how to deal with monuments,  and my film, TRANSITIONS, as how to make an interruption to the 'drama,' an interruption that allows the land or ground or present moment to come rushing in. And the only thing for a modern-day Faust, the closest to heaven that he can give to Faust, the only thing one can do with drama when it draws you into a past nostalgia is to interrupt it, just stop it, this "loaded dice for doomsday" and "let the drama be absorbed by the land, by actually inhabiting thought grounded." Brakhage has moved to Toronto in the hopes of finding a place where he can work on his ARABIC, EGYPTIAN and ROMAN Series, films which make equivalences of "moving  visual thought processes - dangerous work, in that it taps areas of the mind that are not usually exposed, are usually sub-conscious; and so I am seeking some cultural peace - so much of current social pressures delflect from the deeper growth of the spirit."


In his address for SPIRIT IN THE LANDSCAPE, we were treated to some of the Brakhage spirit as it came alive in a reciprocity with the paintings of Thomson, MacDonald, Varley, and Harris and the films of Jack Chambers, Ellie Epp, Keewatin Dewdney and Mike Hoolboom. He didn't determine meanings for us, but in sharing his responses to formal issues ( a representation of space not as in  Renaissance perspective and chiaroscuro but  space itself as the artist confronts it, a two dimensional canvas) and his enthusiasms (MacDonald's 'curleque strategy,' Harris's brickwork sky, Thomson's weird clouds, Epp's human heartbeat in a figureless scape and subtleties of light) and in simply presenting the slides and films in contiguity, he created a space for seeing both the paintings and the films in their individuality and with fresh eyes. It was an enjoyable evening, and made me ashamed of my initial flag-waving reaction of who-is-this-American-to-tell-us... But, perhaps, as one audience member responded: it takes someone from 'away' to help us see what we have. Our hope can be that soon we can appreciate foreign acknowledgement without needing it so. Welcome to Canada, Stan!


This article originally appeared in Cinema Canada, May 1988.