From the Journal of Doris C. – Anne Golden

Golden

 

From the Journal of Doris C.[1]

November 2013

I received an email from La Centrale. The gallery will turn 40 in 2014. I began thinking of all the exhibitions I’ve seen at the gallery over the years. I also participated in at least four workshops. I offer these short excerpts from my journal that refer to my initiation into the video medium, thanks to La Centrale. I have been making videos since 1975. I have collaborated with several other artists on social issue documentaries. The documentaries we made were created collectively. In the works I made on my own, I focused on more experimental forms. I’ve created 20 or so videos since 1975. These journal entries discuss my first time making a video with two other artists and with the community group Comité citoyen du quartier Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.

February 15, 1974

I’ve been hoping to take a video workshop again. I saw a program on video art at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal and I wanted to see more.

The workshops that are advertised are probably all great, but I know there will be guys there. I tried one once. There is something about picking up a camera with men around that just makes me crazy. Or, it makes them crazy. First of all, I could never really get near the camera. And when I did, I got incessant comments. One guy kept asking ‘do you want me to hold it for you’ when I finally was able to touch the camera. There was one other woman in that same workshop. She didn’t come back after the first day.

March 4, 1974

I went to buy Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell at Phantasmagoria. I saw a flyer for this workshop at the art gallery Powerhouse called The Video Techniques.[2]  I stole the flyer from the bulletin board at Phantasmagoria. I got excited because I knew that Powerhouse was a gallery that showed art by women. I rushed home. I called right away. The workshop starts in April and I can’t wait. Now that I have my spot, I’ll go and put the flyer back up.

April 3, 1974

As the workshop got underway, I discovered that I was not the only one who had so-so experiences with mixed workshops. There were eight of us, all women, plus the instructor, Marie. She taught us about the history of video and the cathode ray tube and Nam June Paik and Vidéographe and Vidéo Femmes in Québec City. Marie showed us basics. The camera was quite heavy. We all took turns holding it and shooting something just to get the hang of it. Marie told us about people like Jean-Pierre Boyer and Steina and Woody Vasulka, who used these machines to attack the video signal.[3] We are going to do some of that tomorrow.

April 4, 1974

We spent quite a bit of time playing with the video signal provoking feedback. Some of the images started out as regular objects but were so transformed that they looked abstract. I loved it. There is equipment that can produce feedback, but Marie showed us how to do it just by using the camera and monitor. The image from the camera is delayed a bit as it travels through the recording system. Basically, we pointed the camera at the monitor to see what happened. I could have spent hours doing that.

Marie put us into teams of two. Every team got a chance to go outside and shoot a little segment. While one team was doing that, the rest of the participants watched videos selected by Marie. Some of the videos she showed us were documentaries, some were fiction and some were examples of the stuff I really like, the videos that have lots of crazy effects.

When it was my turn to use the camera, I was paired with Catherine. We decided to do a vox pop, asking people on the street what they thought about a topic. She taped first and I accosted passersby and asked them if they would be okay answering a question on camera. Some guy asked us which TV station we worked for. I was vague. I just said ’independent,’ but he couldn’t seem to get over the fact that this ‘news team’ was made up of two women. He answered our question, though. We asked people if the government was doing enough for the poor. He said ‘More than enough,’ but other people said ‘Not nearly enough.’ When it was time to switch, Catherine asked the question in French and we got responses and some comments to the effect ‘I don’t speak French.’ Typical. We shot about three minutes in all. I liked the heft of the camera. When each team had had their turn, we watched all of our images. I was blown away. We all shot different things and saw what we taped instantly. I wasn’t the only one who was impressed. One woman made Super 8 films and she liked doing that, but you had to send the film away to be developed or learn to do it yourself. Marie talked to us about the sense of immediacy that video technology provides. People can tell their own stories now.

April 5, 1974

On the last day of the workshop, Marie asked all of us if we planned on making videos. I hadn’t thought about that at all, but someone had. Catherine told us about a community group (Comité citoyen du quartier Hochelaga-Maisonneuve) in her neighborhood that was actively protesting the building of apartments that would mean lots of trees being chopped down. The construction would mean that a park would become smaller. One member of the group owns a video camera. Catherine turned to me and invited me to come with her to the next meeting and get involved. I said yes immediately. So, there was my plan to continue with video. We both liked the idea of being something like independent journalists. Marie suggested a bunch of work we should try and see like VTR St-Jacques and Global Groove.[4] I’m glad I took notes when we were watching videos during the workshop. I read over my notes and saw that I hadn’t written about shots or editing very much. I mostly talked about how the videos made me feel. It’s hard to describe. There is a kind of utopia. I don’t know. There is something about hearing someone talk in a voice that doesn’t sound anything like Radio-Canada types. When I save up enough money, I’m going to buy my own camera.

June 1974

I went to meet Catherine in a church basement in her neighbourhood that the Comité citoyen uses for their meetings. She introduced me to Pierre, the guy with the video camera. He bought the camera with his brother. He has been teaching himself. He’s excited to work with us because he seems to see us as professionals.

September 7, 1974

Catherine and I borrowed Pierre’s camera to do a vox pop outside the church before the meeting. This time, our questions were about the building of the apartments, the permits and the fact that no one from the city was answering any questions. We got a lot of good stuff. At the meeting, someone from Ville de Montréal attended. M. Blanchard. The guy looked really nervous when Catherine started taping him. He asked what news organization we were with. I said ‘independent’. He was some lackey sent out with no background information on the development or on the mood of the community group. Someone needs to be accountable. When we looked at the footage, he was visibly nervous and taken aback by how angry people were. 

October 12, 1974

Pierre, Catherine and I each have jobs. I work in a library. Pierre teaches two classes at Collège Bois de Boulogne. Catherine is a social worker. We are each putting some of our earnings into producing our video. We are taping every meeting. We have also gone to the homes of two members of the Comité, Francine and Marcel. We did more formal interviews with both of them, but we also took shots of them following their routines. Marcel has lots of plants and flowers that he tends in his apartment. Francine has three children and works at a local store. We taped her serving her kids’ lunch. She is worried about the fact that it looks like the park will be cut in half if the construction happens. There isn’t another park for miles.

November 1974

Things have moved very fast. We have been working hard because we don’t see the point of waiting a year to finish the video when everything is happening right now.

Catherine and Pierre and I showed a rough version of our video to the Comité last night. We asked for their opinions, what people felt worked or didn’t. Most of them liked it. I don’t think we’ll ever have a better audience. Everybody laughed and exclaimed to see herself or himself on a monitor. One comment was that it was a bit long. The three of us are going to meet to talk about whether this one interview should stay in or be cut. We all have to agree to make the change. The footage with the guy from the Ville de Montréal is cool. You can see him get more and more uncomfortable. It’s palpable.

January 1975

There are signs that construction will be underway soon. People are disheartened. Some went to the construction site to protest. Catherine and I took the camera and shot images of the protest. The action is part of the story, too. We may have lost.

We keep thinking we are done, but there are more meetings or more protests to shoot. I make the suggestion that we should work with what we’ve got. We’re going to take a few days to think about it.

Catherine traveled to Toronto. She saw this video Birthday Suit – with scars and defects.[5] She tried describing it to me but stopped. She said she couldn’t do it justice. I will have to see it for myself. 

February 1975

Despite ongoing protests, the construction has begun.

We agreed to take out an interview and do a tighter edit overall. We shortened the video by 7 minutes so now it is 37 minutes long. We presented what we think is close to the final version to the Comité. The reaction was very good. Catherine always says that we need to make work from the inside, because we are involved and part of the story, and not from the outside. We presented two possible titles for the video to the comité; Pas permis and Construire à tout prix. It was close, but the second title received more votes. Francine stood up and said that she liked the video but she thinks there is too much of her and her children. ‘It’s not that I don’t want to be a star, but all that stuff with me slows things down.’ The assembled members of the Comité discussed her comments and eventually agreed with Francine. Catherine, Pierre and I are disappointed, but we understand the criticism.

March 2, 1975

Pierre, Catherine and I shaved off about 90 seconds of the sequence with Francine. That makes it sound easy. You don’t really shave things off in a video. It took us three days. I also felt that our second shot should have been our first shot of the video, but changing that would be too time consuming. We would have to start from scratch or be extremely precise in changing the shots.[6] No one wants to risk it. We are using the Sony AV-8650 to edit. Pierre and his brother bought it to be completely independent. Pierre would like to try to make a living by renting out their equipment and taking contracts to make videos. Catherine and I had to learn how to use the AV-8650. We sat on either side of Pierre and watched what he did and then we started doing it, too.

March 20, 1975

We organized another presentation. There are comments, but no suggestions or criticisms.

April 1975

Catherine and I have contacted community organizations around Québec. We have two screenings booked. Pierre, Catherine and I will present our video, describe the events as we saw them and answer questions. We worked really well together. We have also invited Francine and Marcel to join us for screenings so they can share their experiences, too. Pierre and Catherine are talking about future projects. I would love that. I also want to make different work, something experimental. I called up Marie, the workshop instructor from Powerhouse, and asked her how I could get access to one of those signal-attacking machines for a video I would like to make.

 

In November 2014 as part of its 40th anniversary, La Centrale will present a program of videos and films (Digging the Archives) that reflects its first decade and its long engagement with the video medium. In April 1974, Powerhouse offered a workshop entitled ‘The Video Techniques’. These journal entries are fiction, but the text refers to the long-standing tradition of social engagement through video in Québec (and elsewhere).

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] In homage to video pioneer Doris Chase (1923-2008), I named this character Doris C.

[2] The gallery was incorporated under the name of Galerie et atelier la Centrale Électrique / Powerhouse Gallery & Studio. The name ‘Powerhouse’ was in regular usage until the nineties.

[3] Steina and Woody Vasulka are early practitioners of video art. Jean-Pierre Boyer is a Montréal-based artist who invented the boyétiseur, a video synthesizer.

[4] VTR St-Jacques (1969) is part of Challenge for Change film series produced by the National Film Board of Canada. It is directed by Bonnie Sherr Klein and is a terrific example of video as community activism. Global Groove (1972) is by Nam June Paik and demonstrates the maker’s love for the medium with a riot of special effects.

[5] The video is a seminal work by artist, educator, curator and co-founder of V tape, Lisa Steele.

[6] Video editing at this time was analog. If artist-editors made a mistake or wanted to change something in their video, they had two options: start from scratch or insert a new shot over an existing one and hope for the best.

Anne Golden is an independent curator and writer whose programs have been presented at Musée National du Québec, Edges Festival and Queer City Cinema, among others. She has written for FUSE and Canadian Theatre Review. Golden has participated in numerous panels on curatorial practices, independent distribution and, more recently, horror films. Golden is Artistic Director of Groupe Intervention Vidéo (GIV). She teaches in the Creative Arts Department of John Abbott College. Golden has made fifteen videos including FAT CHANCE (1994), BIG GIRL TOWN (1998), FROM THE ARCHIVES OF VIDÉO POPULAIRE (2007) and THE SHACK (2013).