Bodies Engaged

“Bodies Engaged” features tapes centred on performance. Renouer (1987, 9:30), which is cited as Emmeline Debay’s first experiment with video, employs imagery as a visual metaphor for the questions which the artist poses to herself, as she attempts to literally and figuratively unravel the truth. The repetition of frames focusing on knots and strings and extreme close-ups of the artist’s face, married to her careful movements and gestures, create a dramatic tension which holds the viewer captive until the conflict is finally resolved.

Caroline Langill’s Nora (1997, 3:16), from the “Sexual Collusions” program, is a hauntingly beautiful exploration of the overwhelming power of the intimate relationship between mother and child. In this piece, Langill juxtaposes close-ups of a child breast-feeding with footage of a fetus in utero, and speaks to the connection between consuming desire and interdependence. So much stronger than simple biology, Langill proposes that the daily rituals which ensure the survival of the one also serve to nourish and replenish the other.

In the section entitled “Narrating Selves,” Rob Thompson’s tape is a macabre fairy tale played out in the form of recollections by the owner of a bar. Throughout Club ViviSEXtion (1997, 15:00), the hypnotic voice of the narrator recounts the story of her journey from her father’s farm to her mother’s establishment in the city, where she pieces together a relationship with her mother through the remnants of her existence: the bar, the patrons, her papers. Assuming her mother’s role as proprietor, her admiration and even love of the bar’s quirky clientele allow her to come to terms with her own difficult past.

The four works in “Locating Evidence” are documentary in nature, but open up this category to allow for interesting twists and turns. Ngair Blakenburg and Deanna Cadette address the complexity and consequences of fixing female racial identity in their tape The Skin I’m In (1994, 37:38), which features interviews with five women of varying perspectives and ages. What unifies the women is their frank and sometimes poignant discussion of being of mixed parentage. In a candid and often unedited style, the artists not only enable their subjects to speak freely about their personal convictions, but they also refreshingly turn the camera on themselves, and participate in the discussion.

“Moving Targets,” as the title suggests, hinges on the thrill of speed. This pleasure is evident in apparent physical motion, such as in Shawn Sutherland’s A Misty Memory (1984, 6:18), in which stills of urban scenery are superimposed onto a rhythmic skateboard journey through the city. Sandspit to Dildo (1989, 27:00), by Chris Mullington, covers distance on a much grander scale – a frenetic cross-Canada tour. Using dizzying editing and sound, travelling at a breakneck pace through big cities and remote settlements, Mullington’s imagery depicts a country peopled with incredible diversity and excitement.

“Intricate Relations” creates a space for the narratives and recollections of women. The power and beauty of video as a means for storytelling is especially evident in works such as The Thickness of Guidance (1998, 4:10) by Donna James, which blends atmospheric images of waves on the beach and a lush garden with the sound of recollections between generations.

“Strange Attractors” provides the viewer an opportunity to feast on what a local community has created over the past two decades. This is a significant strategy for the telling of local history: a forum for seeing and discussing work. As local history, it acknowledges the contributions of the area’s production centres, such as SAW video and Daimon. From documentary to fiction, and all that lies in between, “Strange Attractors” is an important and rare occasion to see new works and to revisit first forays into the medium.

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