VHS? 8 mm? Slide shows? The avant-guard festival, which has always had two feet planted in the future, is starting to look positively retro
Apr 05, 2007 04:30 AM Peter Goddard
Against a perky, cartoonish soundtrack, semi-transparent figures flutter back and forth across an empty field in a three-minute video. The figures seem windblown on their way toward a small house, almost as if they're part of the landscape that's revealed through their ephemeral bodies.
This short, called Demonstration of Indianness #31 (2006) by Adam Garnet Jones, is one of the neatest pieces at the Images Festival's program of shorts tomorrow at the Joseph Workman Theatre (1001 Queen St. W.). The 10-day multidisciplinary art fest gets underway today.
But it's how these images came about that says volumes about this year's festival. Images is having its 20th anniversary and is beginning to show just about every year of its age.
Using 8mm film shot originally in the 1950s by his grandfather, Garnet Jones constructs a sweetly poignant look at the way his family's identity was recorded way back when. For the artist, identity and technology define each other. The work's poignancy is due to its reliance on an older technology.
Much the same can be said with the entire Images Festival, offering some 130 works in just about every media imaginable at 25 venues across the city until April 14. Look around at some of the festival's prevailing media; it's not just the digital, wireless technologies you might expect, but the obsolete: videotapes, 8mm film, even slide shows. In fact, the festival that has always had two feet in the future is now looking positively retro.
Coming of age when imaging technology was first becoming truly portable and relatively affordable – Sony's first consumer camcorders were the hot item with artists in the late 1980s – early Images Festivals offered one-stop shopping for all that was considered cutting-edge art.
Now the pressure is on the festival to embrace the instant, seemingly non-stop evolution of digital technology.
"The festival is not afraid to go where people are already," says director Scott Miller Berry. "From the beginning the impetus at the festival was to infiltrate a particular system in a way that may surprise people."
In the late `80s, Images was its audience's main source for new ideas formed by new technology. Now the opposite is true. The festival – its ideas, energy and even to some degree its direction – is being challenged by its increasingly techno-savvy audience. In response, a good many of Images' best programs, such as the "Projections" series at the University of Toronto, present new uses for proven, familiar technologies.
Surveillance video forms the basis of Dutch artist Lonnie van Brummelen's Grossraum (Gallery TPW, 56 Ossington Ave., today to May 5), a triptych of silent, 35-mm film showing border-crossing points between Ukraine and Poland, at the Spanish Ceuta district in Morocco and at the "green zone" dividing Cyprus.
There's even the festival's equivalent of your basic evening of showing family snapshots. Hitoshi Toyoda's meditative Nazuna (Sunday, 4 p.m. at the National Film Board, 150 John St.) offers a silent, live slide presentation with 500 images of simple things from everyday life.
A somewhat retro feel can be detected throughout a good many other programs too, most notably with tonight's gala, Seven Easy Pieces by Marina Abramovic, 9 p.m. at the Royal Cinema (608 College St.).
Shot by Babette Mangolte, a New York experimental filmmaker, the 92-minute film documents Abramovic's gruelling live seven-hour re-enactments of some of the most heralded but rarely witnessed performance pieces from the `60s and `70s.
With the rotunda of the Guggenheim Museum as her theatre-in-the-round, Abramovic pushes her body – and the imaginations of her somewhat bemused audiences – to extremes. For one performance, the unseen Abramovic recreates Vito Acconci's famous Seedbed performance from 1972 in which he masturbated for hours on end while sequestered in a cramped space beneath a New York gallery. In Abramovic's case, her repeated live and successful attempts to achieve orgasm, while hidden beneath the rotunda floor, are broadcast in a highly public way via the museum sound system.
Among the many difference between the two events is their public reception. In 1972, Acconci's aggressive orgasmic excesses were entirely in synch with the Me Decade, porn-satiated `70s. In stark contrast, Abramovic's efforts seem wickedly old fashioned, in a handmade sense, when contrasted to the Internet's ability to suggest instant sex with nothing more than a finger flick to click a mouse.
The Images Festival originated with artists using emerging technologies in their quest for intimate expression, even if the artists involved were often funded by one level of government or another. The irony of state support was not lost on all the young radicals involved with early festivals, allowing everyone that nice, illicit sense of getting away with something.
Well, here's an update on the irony front. It may be the least private expression and most widespread of all technologies – the Internet – that will give the Images Festival a chance to see 20 more email@example.com
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