Toronto International Video Art Biennial

  • North-South-East-West at TranzTech 2003, Int’l Video Art Biennial, Toronto Canada.


    Blasting the Past: TRANZTECH 2003, The Toronto International Video Art Biennial, featured digital images from Thompson’s North-South-East-West in September 2003.

    “The 2003 Biennial presents an extraordinary array of local and international artists’ and curators’ work from 15 countries, through screenings, performances, installations, exhibitions and a symposium. Gauging the current of our times, and examining the resonances of the past, the works presented in the Biennial explore a complex assortment of themes: explorations of fear, cloning, ritual and technological anxiety intermingle with visions of justice, beauty, silence and new narrative structures. From the many collaborations of Tranz Tech participants with each other, the presentation of newly commissioned works, youth focused events and accessible ticket prices, Tranz Tech continues its commitment to providing a platform for the exchange of ideas amongst artists and art organizations and the support of diverse audiences within the Toronto arts community.


    TRANZTECH REVIEW by Irma Optimist about the October 10, 2003 VALID – WAR – INVALID by Pekka Luhta PERFORMANCE at Latvian Hall, 491 College Street Toronto, Ontario

    For this installment of Fado’s ongoing International Visiting Artists series, we feature solo performances by two Finnish artists who incorporate digital media in the form of video projection. Video has been a staple component of performance art since the technology became accessible to artists with the development of the Portapac in the 1970s. The refinement of projection technologies and the widespread availability and affordability of video recorders has accelerated the dialogue between these two time-based disciplines. What was once a complex and technically challenging relationship has rapidly become relatively commonplace, and the ability to accommodate basic video projection is now standard for most performance art producers.


    Video’s strength is its ability to conjure up images that are not readily at hand: recording what has passed, moving through faraway spaces, or manifesting images that are beyond the everyday laws of physics and logic. By contrast, performance art’s strength is that it offers the opportunity for performer and audience to breathe the same air. In performance, the artist can respond spontaneously to the exigencies of the moment.

    Contemporary artists have employed a wide range of strategies and have a variety of reasons for combining these two distinct forms. In the case of Irma Optimist and Pekka Luhta, two artists whose works inevitably rely on interactivity and improvisation as key artistic tactics, video projections become the fixed supporting player in an unpredictable larger action. The projections serve as an emblem to reinforce the underlying intentions that compelled the performer to engineer this unstable moment of communion with his or her audience.


    While the two artists have distinct and highly individualized practices, they deploy a similar strategy that provides a coherence for their pairing in this series. Both present performance works that stage an intersection of the deconstructive impulses of intellectual or emotional energy (theory in process) with the reconstructive impulses of the material or physical reality of their bodies (theory in practice). They are fearless in their willingness to mine the charms and foibles of their bodies to provide metaphors that demonstrate, disseminate and at the same time problematize theoretical concepts.


    For Irma Optimist, who leads a double life as a respected professor of advanced mathematics, female sexuality is the tactic of choice in her performance art works. Using various personas, from sex kitten to the mythical huntress Diana, she seduces, captivates and captures males within her audience in order to explain mathematical formulae. For Pekka Luhta, a prosthetic limb provides the departure point for setting up complex readings of cultural and social theory. Both present works that hint at a slightly surrealist sensibility, employing rapid-fire humour and high-impact visual imagery. A sense of fun generated in the moment where artist and audience come together cushions the later, deeper impact of serious thought that remains.

    TRANZ TECH Backgrounder

    From our original core group of just four organizations in 1999, Tranz Tech has evolved to include the participation of 21 organizations in 2003! This group includes some the most vital artist run centres, collectives, festivals and galleries in Toronto and beyond. In addition to the organizations that participated in 2001, Tranz Tech would like to welcome eight new organizations: Ed Video, famefame, Hard Press Collective, Inside Out Toronto Lesbian and Gay Film and Video Festival, New Adventures in Sound Art, Ping, terminus1525 and Year01.


    TRANZ TECH is a three-day video festival focusing on a new generation of artists working in electronic media; artists drawing from the history and practice of video art, in both its immediacy and its hands-on approach. This strategic alliance of four of Toronto’s foremost artist-run video centres and exhibitors declares a vision which is both startlingly new and deeply referenced. TRANZ TECH features screenings, performances, installations and artists’ talks, premiering works from London, Paris, Amsterdam, Japan and beyond. Pleasure Dome, Trinity Square Video, Vtape and the curatorial collective VVV (Dara Gellman and Leslie Peters) put their heads and their individual resources together and came up with TRANZ<—>TECH, a 3-day event with the audacious sub-title of TORONTO INTERNATIONAL VIDEO ART BIENNIAL that promised to deliver video screenings, performances, installations, talks and parties. And deliver it did.


    Here’s a quote from the introduction to the catalogue: “This Biennial declares our interest in and commitment to a new generation of artists working in the electronic media, artists who are referencing the history and practice of video art, its immediacy and its hands-on approach. This Biennial recognizes a vision which is both startlingly new and deeply referenced. “This is Toronto’s first international video art biennial. It literally sprang to life this summer when we came together with various curated programs of international and Canadian video art – mostly produced by emerging artists. This spring, V tape had an international curatorial intern – Stefan St-Laurent – in London, Paris and Amsterdam seeking work by young artists. VVV (Dara Gellman and Leslie Peters) had been working with Jan Schuijren of Montevideo in Amsterdam to produce an exchange between Canada and the Netherlands. Pleasure Dome had been approached by artist/curator Nelson Henricks with a program of work from the found-footage collective Cane CapoVolto, who are based in Sicily. And Trinity Square Video wanted to screen a program of recent tapes from Scotland which artist/curator Nikki Forest from Montreal had selected in Glasgow. “From there our ambitions grew. Jan Schuijren proposed a screening of a program he had recently assembled from the collection of Montevideo in Amsterdam. Tom Taylor (Pleasure Dome) tracked down Tadasu Takamine (of Inertia fame from last year’s Images Festival), who was going to be in Windsor at Artcite in October. Jorge Lozano (Trinity Square Video) got in touch with Mistress Cybernoski (a.k.a. new media artist Sheila Urbanoski) to present her tour of web-based art. Lisa Steele (V tape) invited French artist Bertrand Lamarche to set up his installation TORE (with the support of YYZ Gallery). VVV engaged three Toronto artists (Karma Clarke-Davis, Louise Liliefeldt and Leslie Peters) to present installations during the event; Montreal-based Perte de Signal offered their curated program of international work, Zone d’emergence. And finally, Jan Schuijren proposes Jeroen Kooijmans’ installation piece Work for display.”



    One important development for TRANZ<—>TECH 2001 was that it was the first year that new works were commissioned specifically for the Biennial. This included The Story In 6 Parts, a collaborative exquisite corpse video project commissioned by the Art Gallery of Sudbury. Charles Street Video also showed a commitment to audio-based art residencies with Scream/Whispers, a multifaceted series of site-specific audio installations that were augmented by audio performances. And lastly, Trinity Square Video presented TRANZ>SEX>TECH, a collection of six commissioned works that claimed to “mix and mutate” toward new sexualities.Below is a block quote from the introduction to the Biennial’s catalogue, as well as a link to a scanned PDF of the publication for those interested in more information on any of the specific works that were included in the festival:“Collaborative presentation efforts are an important aspect of this year’s TRANZ<—>TECH 2001, offering local audiences artists and exhibitions that would otherwise have not been available. F2F, an important presentation of Finnish new media artists organized by the Finnish Foundation for the Visual Arts in New York is a co-presentation of InterAccess, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Design Exchange. Pleasure Dome, Mercer Union and Artcite/House of Toast have come together to bring the Portland-based phenomenon Miranda July to Toronto. VVV is being sponsored by YYZ to present Videocentric, an  international programme that interrogates the intersection between landscape, performance and video. Gallery 44 is hosting video installations by Antonia Hirsch (Vancouver) and Catherine Elwes (UK), and Women’s Art Resource Centre is collaborating with the Centre for Aboriginal Media to present One Broke, a mixed media installation by Cynthia Lickers. Trinity Square Video is the location of a FADO-sponsored interactive web-based performance by Louise McKissick.


    As well, there are installations by Leslie Peters (VMAC Gallery hosts), Tom Sherman ( Vtape) and a web-based work by French artist Patrick Bernier (also presented by Vtape).The important work being done in single-channel video remains at the core of the Biennial. At a point of intense technological development, video art can be either effect-full or baldly plain, but content and purpose remain the touchstones of the artists who continue to define the art form as vibrant and relevant. Trinity Square Video presents Crossing Over, an international programme addressing post-80s Europe curated by Nina Czegledy and Iliyana Nedkova. Vtape presents Creeped Out, a selection of edgy Toronto artists’ video curated by Lisa Steele and Light Structures, a programme of recent UK video curated and presented by London sensation Dryden Goodwin. The Images Festival sponsors Minor Star, Montreal video curated by Nelson Henricks with a nod to “Warholianness”. Recent Belgian Video is present by Argos Video Distribution in Brussels, The Irresponsible Truth: Three Recent “Documentary” Videos, presented by Artcite/ House of Toast and curated by Jeremy Rigsby features work from Thailand, Lithuania and Beirut.For the audiophiles, there is a theremin performance by Henry Kucharzyk and Peter Hannan, a performance with you-know-what by Women with Kitchen Appliances, and Babble, an interactive video/audio performance by Montreal-based Paul Litherland (with Alexander MacSween) – all sponsored and/or commissioned by Charles Street Video. And Array_1, a new performance by _badpacket_, with audio by PROJECT, is presented by InterAcess.”