Snapshot Review of the 2010 Int’l Experimental Media Congress & 23rd Images Festival

The International Experimental Media Congress & 23rd Images Festival April 7 - 11, 2010, Toronto, Canada - There was a playfulness apparent from the outset: John Greyson interviewing Yvonne Rainer. It began with a video tribute both silly and spot on, marking the opening keynote of the International Experimental Media Congress. More than 200 of this non-industry’s best minds, most dedicated artists, and astute academics converged to address the frontiers of film as an art form [participants list here].

As Rainer and Greyson talked about the arc of her work they were interrupted by periodic elements of performance - a typist, women pulling words from their mouths, interjections from the audience - that added another dimension in illustrating Rainer’s approach to making art. The conversation became distracted at times, as creative risk can sometimes derail, but the message was clear: there is life, play and risk in the avant-garde; we were not here for just an analytical dissection of a styles, history and concepts.

I was in attendance with David Dinnell, the AAFF’s Senior Programmer, a week after the conclusion of our 48th festival. This was 20 years since Toronto hosted the last Film Congress, back then focused on film solely in its celluloid form. The media landscape has clearly changed for filmmakers in those two decades. And yet in some respects it remains the same.  When Barbara Hammer reprised her projector performance “Available Space,” first performed in Toronto in 1979, she still captivated the audience with her in-the-moment approach to art on the edge.

Fortunately the 23rd Images Festival, running concurrently with the IEMC, provided us with more opportunities to experience both the history and present of avant-garde film and media. A screening of Thomas Chomont films was a highlight, with newly restored 16mm prints of this influential maker’s 1960/70s dream-like, personal works exploring gay male sexuality and states of existence. These were presented by UCLA Film & Television archivist Ross Lipmann (who also restored the Kenneth Anger prints recently screened at the AAFF). His post screening commentary and comparison screenings illustrated the high degree of artistry and collaboration involved in this type of restoration work.

Choreography was a theme throughout the Images Festival and the closing performance was an excellent culmination event: The Monkey and the Mermaid. Toronto-based artist Shary Boyle teamed up with singer/songwriter Christine Fellows from Winnipeg to transform St. Anne’s church into an imaginative realm of multimedia. Boyle’s talents were channeled through overhead projection with live drawing, layered movement of transparency images (hand drawn by Boyle) and movements where she even grabbed the projector and guided images across the church’s gorgeous domed ceiling.

Moving image art outside of the black box cinema was another focal point of the Congress and Images Festival. Panelists at the Congress discussed the challenges of presenting film and video art in bright white spaces usually not designed well for sound. Yet the possibilities of multichannel, large scale exhibition and gallery world credibility often set filmmakers into motion to overcome the potential pitfalls of “white box” institutional sanitizing.

Via the Images Festival we had plenty of opportunities to experience film and moving image art outside of the cinema’s black box setting. More than a dozen installations were peppered throughout Toronto in galleries, studios, museums and alternative spaces. Untitled Seven by Emma Hart and Benedict Drew at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art was well worth the visit. A series of uniquely customized musical instruments, featured on a center stage, were performed with film and video equipment (e.g., DVD player trays ejecting periodically to press keys on a harmonium). The variable and randomly pleasing cacophony was heightened by a handful of light-based visuals, including live video feedback channels.


The most rewarding exhibitions I found were at The Power Plant. The Ryan Trecartin Any Ever exhibition provided plenty of opportunities to immerse oneself in the oeuvre of this new breed video artist. Trecartin has become a rising star for his hyper-kinetic media worlds that mash together ingredients of Jack Smith, John Waters, MTV, internet slang and Jerry Springer.  Whereas Trecartin’s videos are almost a sensory assault, Podwórka by Sharon Lockhart invites the viewer into her nuanced, observational work. Similar in style to her acclaimed Pine Flat (which screened at the 45th Ann Arbor Film Fest), Lockhart uses long takes on a stationary camera to enter the everyday lives of youth in Łódz, Poland. Her minimal editing and strong sense of position within the frame reveal a well-considered relationship with this community. While Podwórka served as a counterpoint and relief to Trecartin’s work, it too commanded our attention with Lockhart's unblinking vision.

For a more complete review of all four exhibitions at The Power Plant, check out Whitehot Magazine’s review.

The 2010 International Experimental Media Congress website
The 23rd Images Festival website

-Donald Harrison
AAFF Executive Director


Posted on May 21st, 2010