ON (EXPERIMENTAL) FILM
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.
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
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
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.