The Long Time was a major exhibition of 21st century art by Lisa Steele and Kim Tomczak in photography, video and installation. The exhibition included …bump in the night (Vancouver), Becoming…, The Miniatures series of video objects and the premiere of Before I wake…, the trilogy that was in progress since 2000. The final segment Entranced (2012) was commissioned by On Main and completed an epic journey to the other side. The exhibition curated by Paul Wong featured the work of long-time collaborators Steele + Tomczak who have produced an extraordinary body of work investigating aspects of the self for over 30 years. The two are recipients of the 2005 Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts, and have received honorary doctorates from UBC Okanagan and Steele from OCAD University for their significant contributions to contemporary life, art and politics.
Central to this exhibition was the long awaited Before I wake… trilogy. This multi-screen installation brought together for first time the three video components “We’re Getting Younger All The Time”, “Practicing Death” and “Entranced”. This monumental love story searches for the fountain of youth, surrenders to the idea of eternal sleep and crosses the threshold of the hereafter. It is poignant, chilling and deeply personal.
…bump in the night (Vancouver) was a series of life-size photo-text panels featuring students from the Native Education College. Previous versions include Caen (France), Stuttgart (Germany), Barrie and Toronto (Ontario). This site-specific project was presented in partnership with InTransitBC (Canada Line) at Broadway-City Hall Station and in the storefront windows at 1965 Main Street.
Becoming…, started during an artist residency at VIVO Media Arts Centre in 2006. This series of urban architectural studies juxtaposes the nouveau with the retro. Vancouver, the city of glass, was presented alongside studies of Berlin, Toronto and Montreal.
The Miniatures was an ongoing series of small-scale video frames of loops, 1 to 1.5 minutes in length that play silently on small digital frames. Each combines scenes from the natural world with political slogans – Make Love Not War, Blood, Stand Up, Power, Free Speech and May 68. The Vancouver exhibition included a new miniature, “Extraordinary Rendition”.
The 88-page full-colour book includes essays by Felix Vogel, Jim Drobnick, Jennifer Fisher, Michael Turner and Paul Wong. Published by On Main, edited by Paul Wong. (ISBN: 978-0-9694777-5-4)
This project was produced by On Main. The exhibition and parallel events were co- presented by VIVO Media Arts Centre. The VIVO Crista Dahl Media Library and Archive featured a special selection of Steele+Tomczak’s 20th century work including publications, ephemera and early video works. This collaboration kicked off SWARM 2012 the annual festival produced by PAARC (Pacific Association of Artists Run Centres). We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, BC Arts Council, City of Vancouver, Rick Erickson, VIVO Media Arts Centre, grunt gallery and In Transit BC.
Sept 7–29, 2012, Wed-Sat 12-6pm
1965 Main St, Vancouver, BC
Free Special Events:
Sept 6, 7-10pm public opening as part of SWARM 2012
Sept 6, 10-1am Video Bar+SWARM afterparty
Sept 8, 3-3:30pm and 7-7:30pm: Artist and Curator’s Tours
Sept 8, 8-10pm: “In Camera” talk with Lisa Steele, Kim Tomczak, Michael
Turner and Paul Wong
Sept. 26, 7-9pm: “No Reading After The Internet” with Michael Turner
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an essay by Paul Wong
I have known Lisa Steele and Kim Tomczak for a long time, both individually in the 1970s and together as a collaborative couple since the early 80s. They have been key figures in the artist-run centre movement and media arts scene as artists, cultural activists, educators, distributors, and curators.
They have been a part of my artistic journey from the very beginning.
I first encountered Lisa in Vancouver at the 1973 Matrix International Video Conference. This seminal event brought together the pioneers of the burgeoning independent media, electronic and video art fields, positioning Vancouver as an important center for the networking and development of radical approaches to experimental, non-commercial explorations of the then-new medium – video. This was the first of many strategic meetings over the next decade where I would get to hear Lisa’s views. From Toronto, her feminist art politic was intimidating, a sharp contrast to the laid-back collective style of Vancouver. This was my awakening.
I knew Kim in Vancouver. He was part of PUMPS (1975-80), a vibrant group of emerging artists who occupied an industrial building in the downtown eastside located four blocks from Video Inn (VIVO) where I worked and played. We forged a friendship and an approach to sharing ambitious ideas about presenting our art.
Over the next couple of decades I would cross paths with Steele + Tomczak in interchangeable roles as directors of artist-run organizations and artists. When we saw each other, in between conference sessions or festival screenings, we seldom talked about our own art practices. More likely we talked about larger cultural and political spheres and where we, as artists, belonged in the greater plan for changing the world. We were dreamers full of good intentions.
Somewhere, somehow we all found ourselves in the 21st century. We woke up to the new millennium and the promise of the global digital world. In the blink of an eye and the click of a mouse we had rapidly segued from linear (analog) time to non-linear digital space.
In 2005, after I took a short hiatus from travels to Toronto, I returned several times and with each visit I would hear rumors about Steele + Tomczak’s most recent projects. They appeared to be everywhere, displaying works on major urban screens, traveling internationally, creating public art commissions, producing site-specific installations, and exhibiting in major museums and commercial galleries. They had clearly embraced the digital age. My interest was tweaked: I just had to know what these two were up to!
In 2010, I made a formal studio visit – as formal as you can get with old friends over a home-cooked meal and wine. This is what I love to do. To be with artists in their studio is a rare and beautiful moment where we can share truth and beauty. They talked; I listened. They showed a wide-range of completed works and projects in various stages: fragments of ideas, samples of scenes, and collections of images. They were making works for screens of every shape, size and context.
What was clear is that they had made a conscious shift away from their previous mode of production that had involved the laborious research and writing of complex narrative scripts, and the even slower development required to fund such expensive film style productions.
Now they were embracing digital possibilities – a renaissance of sorts. From the studio came a prolific outpouring of interdisciplinary works. This was exciting stuff but what grabbed my attention was the work-in-progress: ….before I wake. At that time they were still in the planning stages, considering going under hypnosis for the final chapter of the long-planned trilogy. This took my breath away. My voyeuristic tendencies attracted me to this unknown. This was risky business and a dangerous game. This was a dramatic venture into the hereafter to address a dark and intimate issue: when the other is dead and gone – no longer here.
I wanted to see this work completed. In 2000, they made We’re Getting Younger All the Time and in 2003, Practicing Death. It had taken seven years to come up with the third component of the trilogy, Entranced, and another two years to complete production of the video. I am proud to premiere the completed installation work ….before I wake.
For the Long Time I have included three other works: Becoming…, …bump in the night (Vancouver), and The Miniatures. These are part of the larger continuum of Steele + Tomzcak’s oeuvre. As artists, they have spoken as one voice for over thirty years. Each work in this exhibition speaks to the other.
This exhibition and publication are the result of that studio visit and inquiry. Since then this has developed into a major creation, exhibition, and publication project that has involved a great many collaborators. This project represents our history, links and passages.
We are in the early stages of the development of digital culture. With this outpouring of work, Steele + Tomczak continue to stake out new territories. Despite the mainstreaming of media art (anything that involves new technology), video art remains largely misunderstood within contemporary and popular art audiences. The works of Steele + Tomczak are not throwaway YouTube moments or Facebook gestures. We live in a multi-screen universe where not everything needs to be reduced to the size and scale of a mobile phone screen (the virtual feed). There is more to video art than 10 second clips. This is sophisticated, mature work.
It has been a privilege to get to play with Steele + Tomzcak and to work with the dozens of contributors who have been instrumental in making the Long Time real. This is an artist-driven initiative. It has been an organic process and fitting that this project be presented by two of Canada’s leading media arts organizations: On Main and VIVO Media Arts Center, both of which I helped to found. Becoming… Steele + Tomczak’s reflection on the built environments of contemporary cities started during a residency at VIVO in 2006. This major exhibition by Steele + Tomczak attests to the continued validity of these non-profit institutions and the role they play supporting innovative art making.
Although the Long Time focuses on new work by Steele + Tomczak, there is a direct link to the history of video art throughout, both their own and that of all of the practitioners who were and continue to be active within the field. The Long Time is the result of 40 years of experimental successes and failures, conceptual and technical.
Contained within these pages are the contributions by noted writers Jim Drobnick and Jennifer Fisher (Toronto), Michael Turner (Vancouver), and Felix Vogel (Berlin). Their elucidating perspectives give entry points to further reading and understanding the work. We have also included an interview transcript in which Steele + Tomczak talk about their collaboration and provide insights into their work and a transcript of Entranced.
With this exhibition and publication we hope to enlighten audiences, now and in the future. The book is a rarity in this day of online textual white noise. Although we have a rich and prolific video art history in this country, it is an illusive discourse when it comes to publishing. We hope that this publication will encourage continued scholarly examinations of not only the work of Steele + Tomczak but the larger field of media arts in general.
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