I am not really a movie buff. I’m not. I can’t quote famous movies; I can’t recognize famous actors; I can’t really even think of the last time I went to see a flick. It’s a source of shame and embarrassment for me in many ways – believe me. It’s also probably why I don’t know a lot of information about FAVA (Film and Video Arts Society of Alberta), whose mandate is to promote film and video arts in Alberta. However, what I can tell you is that as someone who works almost exclusively with two-dimensional imagery and techniques, I am pretty intrigued by moving pictures – that is, using film and video to create an environment that doesn’t necessarily include a linear narrative. Which is why, when I learned that Lethbridge-based David Hoffos and Edmonton's own Christopher Payne were holding a video installation course at FAVA, I was interested in checking out how people use the mediums of film and video to speak to their viewers. And it’s also why I think it’s great that the workshop participants were given the excellent opportunity to showcase their short experiments in the Front Room space at Harcourt House, which opens up the world of FAVA and experimental video arts to the public.
The Waiting Room exhibits the video-based experiments of the five workshop graduates: Maya Jarvis, Conor McNally, Heather Noel, Aryen Hoekstra, and Malorie Urbanovitch. Upon climbing the many stairs of the Harcourt House building, I noticed a sort of projector-type object pointing towards the outside window, onto the street. Turning around, Malorie Urbanovitch’s moving image of a man endlessly climbing a ladder projected onto the night sky (with help from a sheet of frosted mylar) shocked me a little, but in a good way; the work is an excellent example of how just the simplest of images can be made uncanny, unexpected and unreal when they are moving. Video installation gives the artist the opportunity to play with the viewer’s point of view in ways that motionless work just can’t offer; it can create an environment that we recognize as closer to our own reality (since our reality is never completely still). I was excited to see more.
The Front Room space of Harcourt House has dimmed the lights to provide an eerie and necessary backdrop for strategically placed portions of projections, video, props, and sound. The first work in front that catches your eye is that of Maya Jarvis, who allows us glimpses into family histories inside a monitor cleverly masked as a picture frame with her piece, "Family Grace". It seems Jarvis is attempting to create a sense of passage of time as well as the idea of family rituals (such as sitting around the table together for a meal) as stagnant and unchanging in our memories.
Around the corner, Conor McNally invites us to experience snow plowing and cellos on an entirely new level in "Be Heldscalla". The work reads like a narrative of repetitive actions as well as illustrating the concept of disorientation; throughout the piece, you are not entirely sure of exactly what the image is in front of you.
Heather Noel’s "Water Vs." uses a fish tank, complete with gravel, rocks, and plant life, as a looking glass – you peer down into the top of the tank to witness another world as projected from below the clear-bottomed container. The video beneath portrays a more vivid, animated version of a fish tank than the dormant one which hosts it, providing an interesting duality which asks the viewer to decide which “reality” is more alive.
Malorie Urbanovitch’s second work in the show, "The Count", suggests the viewer to sit in a chair in front of a television that flashes consecutive numbers counting up from one in an erratic and random manner. It seems Urbanovitch is playing with our sense of rhythm here, which forces the viewer to surrender their themselves to the whims of the random count. This holds our attention throughout the duration of the video as we are held in suspense over how the count will reveal itself.
Aryen Hoekstra’s "The Bathers" conjures a sense of creepy motel shower stalls while water flows peacefully away down a drain, projected from behind onto a sheet of glass. Hoekstra certainly succeeds in creating a confusing and slightly uncomfortable environment for the viewer; our natural inclination as human beings is that of curiosity, and this piece has no shortage of objects to look behind and things that are hiding.
While I was enjoying the sights and sounds of the gallery, I spoke to Deanna Kayne, programming coordinator at FAVA, about the workshop. She was very enthusiastic about the outcome. She also noted that while setting up at the gallery, proper installation tactics became paramount; the participants had to consider each aspect of how their works would be viewed, which included placement concerns and site-specific obstacles, right down to hiding cords and plugs to create as seamless an environment as possible.
The exhibition isn’t polished or perfect. The works are clearly not final statements. Rather, this show is meant to be a kind of question mark; it’s the product of experimentation and collaboration with people from several different backgrounds (artistic or otherwise) to see how they can manipulate one’s sense of space and reality through the use of video and installation. As well, the participants themselves had little to no experience with video or film technologies; for all, it was the first time they had attempted to express themselves through moving images. Regardless, the exhibition shows us something really crucial: the fact that moving imagery – be it through film, video, projections, animations, or otherwise – is an exciting and volatile medium that is available to basically anyone who has an interest in creating these dynamic environments.
- J.S. (Edmonton)