Scene: Sep­tem­ber 1975; Van­cou­ver Small Claims Court; Diana Dou­glas in the wit­ness box after being sworn in by the judge.

Judge : Your name please.

Dou­glas : Diana Dou­glas.

Judge : Miss or Mrs.?

Dou­glas : Ms.

Judge : Par­don?

Dou­glas : Ms … M…S…

Judge : What does that mean?

Dou­glas : It means that I feel that it is not rel­e­vant whether I am mar­ried or not.

Judge : Um…You mean you are a nonen­ti­ty…

From a dis­tance of over twen­ty-five years, it may seem hard to believe that this scene between a judge and a cit­i­zen occurred dur­ing Inter­na­tion­al Wom­en’s Year, at the height of the wom­en’s move­ment. For a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the law to say that women were either Miss or Mrs. and noth­ing in between, under­scores the lim­i­ta­tions put on wom­en’s roles with­in soci­ety and the prob­lem of sym­bol­ic dom­i­na­tion that women had to con­tend with. A wom­an’s social role had tra­di­tion­al­ly been defined in rela­tion to that nat­u­ral­ized insti­tu­tion, the fam­i­ly. Fou­cault tells us that juridi­cal sys­tems of pow­er pro­duce the sub­jects they sub­se­quent­ly come to rep­re­sent”. The judge’s use of the word nonen­ti­ty” is sig­nif­i­cant in terms of the phe­nom­e­no­log­i­cal issues that were being dis­cussed with­in var­i­ous cul­tur­al fields at the time–the idea that one’s body was an expe­ri­enc­ing enti­ty in-the-world. The juridi­cal pro­jec­tion of nonen­ti­ty” onto Dou­glas uncov­ers deep-seat­ed essen­tial­ist views. Cul­tur­al law projects ready­made fem­i­nine attrib­ut­es onto women, then som­a­tizes them as a meta­phys­i­cal sub­stance” inher­ent to woman”.

When women attempt to shed these social fab­ri­ca­tions, per­form­ing roles as sub­jects rather than objects they are dis­rupt­ing the sex­u­al divi­sion of mate­r­i­al life, the very stuff on which the polit­i­cal econ­o­my of cap­i­tal­ism is based. This dis­rupts the repet­i­tive flow of day to day col­lec­tive social habits. Accord­ing to Judith But­ler our iden­ti­ty is con­struct­ed tem­po­ral­ly by repeat­ed and rit­u­al­ized per­for­ma­tive acts, a reen­act­ment of a set of mean­ings already social­ly estab­lished and sim­ply repro­duced as nat­ur­al: If gen­der is insti­tut­ed through acts which are inter­nal­ly dis­con­tin­u­ous, then the appear­ance of sub­stance is pre­cise­ly that, a con­struct­ed iden­ti­ty, a per­for­ma­tive accom­plish­ment which the mun­dane social audi­ence, includ­ing the actors them­selves, come to believe and to per­form in the mode of belief. If the ground of gen­der iden­ti­ty is the styl­ized rep­e­ti­tion of acts through time…then the pos­si­bil­i­ties of gen­der trans­for­ma­tion are to be found in the arbi­trary rela­tion between such acts, in the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a dif­fer­ent sort of repeat­ing, in the break­ing or sub­ver­sive rep­e­ti­tion of that style”   ( The­atre Jour­nal , vol.40, p. 519).

In the 1970s many women artists in Van­cou­ver were prac­tic­ing this dif­fer­ent sort of repeat­ing” using var­i­ous per­for­ma­tive strate­gies with­in video and per­for­mance art. These strate­gies were in many ways an exten­sion of the spir­it of the times. The­o­ries of lan­guage and com­mu­ni­ca­tion (e.g. Sear­le’s per­for­ma­tive speech acts) and phe­nom­e­nol­o­gy (Mer­leau Pon­ty’s lived expe­ri­ence and his plac­ing of the body at the cen­tre of expe­ri­ence) were based on the idea of sen­tient agents act­ing with­in a social­ly-con­struct­ed envi­ron­ment. Simone de Beau­voir also used a phe­nom­e­no­log­i­cal approach in her fem­i­nist clas­sic The Sec­ond Sex . The days of Carte­sian sub­ject­hood, as psy­chi­cal­ly tran­scen­dent, divorced from the phys­i­cal body, and epit­o­mized in West­ern art by abstrac­tion, essence, and genius, were begin­ning to recede into the mod­ernist past. Lived expe­ri­ence was found­ed on the cor­po­re­al. The sep­a­ra­tion of all fields into essen­tial cat­e­gories was being decon­struct­ed and recon­fig­ured. The tra­di­tion­al divi­sion of labour on which het­ero­sex­u­al rela­tions were enforced and nat­u­ral­ized, crum­bled as women sought agency out­side the con­fines of the domes­tic sphere, the fam­i­ly unit.

In Van­cou­ver, from about 1968, the new media of per­for­mance and video art were devel­op­ing at the same time as the fem­i­nist move­ment and the begin­ning of artist-run cen­tres. With­in these cen­tres one had free access to equip­ment and stu­dio space, and found one­self part of a sup­port­ive com­mu­ni­ty of artists prac­tic­ing diver­gent dis­ci­plines. For one of the first times in his­to­ry, many women found an alter­na­tive space to that of the home where they could live and work as artists. Col­lab­o­ra­tion meant the coop­er­a­tion of bod­ies per­form­ing with­in a com­mu­nal space, but it also meant tak­ing part in an inter­na­tion­al net­work, as with cor­re­spon­dence art and video dis­tri­b­u­tion net­works. Fund­ing for these col­lab­o­ra­tive ven­tures was increas­ing­ly pro­vid­ed for by the Cana­da Coun­cil. Also in 1968, the C RTC was insti­tut­ing com­mu­ni­ty access cable pro­gram­ming, thus sig­nalling for many artists, the pos­si­bil­i­ty for a more inclu­sive dis­tri­b­u­tion of infor­ma­tion and cul­tur­al expres­sion.

It may seem para­dox­i­cal that such a het­ero­ge­neous array of media and agents should have come togeth­er at the same time to form such unpar­al­leled oppor­tu­ni­ty for artists in Van­cou­ver. A body-cen­tred art prac­tice worked in tan­dem with new forms of tech­no­log­i­cal repro­duc­tion (video), avant-garde artists often found sup­port from the cul­tur­al estab­lish­ment (the Cana­da Coun­cil, the Van­cou­ver Art Gallery), and video artists some­times had assis­tance in pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion from broad­cast tele­vi­sion (Cable Ten). Women artists were at the fore­front of this new activ­i­ty in the 70s. A par­tic­u­lar­ly wide vari­ety of com­mu­ni­ties, counter-cul­tur­al, and activist strate­gies were formed by, and made avail­able to women . The 70s sig­naled a moment of his­tor­i­cal rup­ture for soci­ety and cul­ture. Not only were the cat­e­gories of Miss and Mrs. torn asun­der; so were those of   tra­di­tion­al art prac­tice, recep­tion, and dis­tri­b­u­tion. Although oth­er cities in Cana­da could vaunt a sim­i­lar cul­tur­al cli­mate, Van­cou­ver’s social and cul­tur­al sit­u­a­tion was unique.

The peri­od cov­ered here, from the late six­ties to the end of the sev­en­ties has come to be known cul­tur­al­ly as the Cana­di­an renais­sance”. The suc­cess of Canada’s cen­ten­ni­al cel­e­bra­tions, espe­cial­ly at Expo 67 in Mon­tre­al, gave the nation a cul­tur­al pres­ence on the inter­na­tion­al stage, seen as excelling in the fields of tech­nol­o­gy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions. The key nation­al cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions of the CBC, the Cana­da Coun­cil, the Nation­al Film Board, and Tele­film Cana­da were instru­men­tal in forg­ing a nation­al iden­ti­ty in an attempt to unite a small pop­u­la­tion across a vast ter­ri­to­ry. Rad­i­cal changes were brought about in the arts in large part due to the Cana­da Coun­cil (estab­lished in 1957), with its arm’s length dis­tance from gov­ern­ment inter­ven­tion. With­out access to such fund­ing, work space and equip­ment would have remained inac­ces­si­ble to artists wish­ing to exper­i­ment with new tech­nolo­gies and approach­es to mak­ing art. The pres­sure to cre­ate mar­ketable art works was alle­vi­at­ed by the pres­ence of artist-run cen­tres, open­ing the way for a more social­ly-engaged prax­is. While most com­mer­cial gal­leries were still steeped in mod­ernist par­a­digms, the artist-run cen­tre began an inves­ti­ga­tion into inter­dis­ci­pli­nary approach­es to new and tra­di­tion­al media. The gov­ern­ment encour­aged the use of this new tech­nol­o­gy in the cul­tur­al realm, for it served to strength­en Canada’s image and rep­u­ta­tion glob­al­ly. The even­tu­al insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of artist-run cen­tres and alter­na­tive com­mu­ni­ty groups, set up through var­i­ous fund­ing pro­grams, was also a way of keep­ing more activist, oppo­si­tion­al groups under wraps: The lessons of the Roo­sevelt era in the U.S., which saw the absorp­tion of the rad­i­cal move­ments of the 1930s through mea­gre but wide­ly acces­si­ble state fund­ing, were not lost on the Trudeau gov­ern­ment, itself a prod­uct of pop­ulism and the mass media” (Van­cou­ver Anthol­o­gy, p. 63).

Van­cou­ver had always been iso­lat­ed geo­graph­i­cal­ly, and it was only with increased air trav­el and broad­cast com­mu­ni­ca­tions that there was a turn toward a more nation­al and glob­al per­spec­tive. Van­cou­ver’s sup­posed lack of his­to­ry, it’s pro­found­ly mul­ti­cul­tur­al sta­tus stem­ming from a con­stant influx of immi­grants, per­haps made peo­ple feel that there were few­er home­spun tra­di­tions con­strict­ing their iden­ti­ty. Peo­ple tend­ed to come to Van­cou­ver with an image in their minds of the last fron­tier, a land bur­geon­ing with unlim­it­ed resources and oppor­tu­ni­ties, fac­to­ries imple­ment­ing the ideals of progress and inno­va­tion, not to men­tion its rep­u­ta­tion as lotusland–a wel­fare and drug cul­ture. One came for eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ty and a lifestyle. Because Van­cou­ver was a periph­er­al city, not a cen­tre in the mod­ern sense of the word, it was very much at home with the idea of net­work­ing, incor­po­rat­ing inno­v­a­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tems, as a way of keep­ing in touch with the world, in turn draw­ing the world to it. Its dis­persed, elu­sive iden­ti­ty, and its new econ­o­my of dynam­ic ser­vices” in the 70s, made it war­rant the title of post­mod­ern city”.

The utopi­an impulse to blur the bound­aries between art, life, and tech­nol­o­gy began in the ear­ly six­ties when a new gen­er­a­tion of artists was break­ing away from the lyri­cal region­al­ism of land­scape paint­ing asso­ci­at­ed with Van­cou­ver. In 1961, a giant leap into the inter­na­tion­al are­na of art took place at the Uni­ver­si­ty of British Colum­bia, under the guid­ance of B. C. Bin­ning and June Binkert. The Fes­ti­val of the Con­tem­po­rary Arts took place every Feb­ru­ary for the next 10 years (1961–71). These col­lab­o­ra­tive events includ­ed works by a host of promi­nent local, nation­al and inter­na­tion­al artists and poets (most­ly from New York and Cal­i­for­nia: Cage, Cun­ning­ham, Hal­prin, Rauschen­berg, etc.). The fes­ti­vals were ini­tial­ly inspired by the surge of post­war artis­tic ener­gy first released by the abstract expres­sion­ists in New York” (Alvin Balkind), but in the end it was the anti-estab­lish­ment prac­tices of inter­dis­ci­pli­nar­i­ty and exper­i­men­tal play that were de rigueur , in the areas of music/sound, poet­ry, dance, hap­pen­ings, film, the­atre, instal­la­tion, etc. The fes­ti­val act­ed as a cat­a­lyst for the emer­gence of a new kind of artis­tic prax­is, of an inter­na­tion­al rather than region­al or nation­al char­ac­ter.

In 1966, a group of artists and archi­tects, many of which had par­tic­i­pat­ed in the activ­i­ties of UBC’s art fes­ti­vals, decid­ed to cre­ate an artist-run cen­tre where col­lab­o­ra­tion and new elec­tron­ic media would sig­nal the dawn of a new utopi­an con­scious­ness. With some local finan­cial sup­port, and $40,000 from the Cana­da Coun­cil (the first artist-run cen­tre ever to be fund­ed), these artists bought film and elec­tron­ic equip­ment and found­ed Inter­me­dia in 1967. The space was essen­tial­ly a demo­c­ra­t­ic one, uphold­ing an open door pol­i­cy to any­one who want­ed to exper­i­ment with mul­ti­me­dia. The first video por­ta­pak was intro­duced to Van­cou­ver artists via Inter­me­dia in 1968.

With­out a doubt, the most impor­tant col­lab­o­ra­tive activ­i­ties to come out of the late six­ties were that between Inter­me­dia and the Van­cou­ver Art Gallery under the aegis of Antho­ny Emery and Doris Shad­bolt. The VAG’s Spe­cial Events pro­gram­ming and three con­sec­u­tive years of   Inter­me­dia week-long fes­ti­vals (1968–1970), were the prin­ci­pal venues for new explo­rations in per­for­mance art. It was one of the only spaces avail­able where artists Gath­ie Falk, Eve­lyn Roth, and the Helen Good­win’s dance troupe could real­ize their per­for­mance works. Such vis­it­ing artists as Ann Hal­prin, Yvonne Rain­er, Deb­o­rah Hay, and critic/curator Lucy Lip­pard were espe­cial­ly inspi­ra­tional to these artists. The VAG and the Van­cou­ver Pub­lic Library also played an impor­tant role in ini­ti­at­ing and spon­sor­ing wom­en’s art events such as Women in the Arts that pre­sent­ed per­for­mances and dis­cus­sions.

In 1968 Deb­o­rah Hay held work­shops at the Dou­glas Gallery and Inter­me­dia in what was then called dance-ori­ent­ed live per­for­mance”. Orig­i­nal­ly inspired by the Black Moun­tain Col­lege exper­i­ments and hap­pen­ings from the 50s, Hay’s work­shops sought to incor­po­rate body move­ments from every­day life into per­for­mance: From my work with artists, I learned to appre­ci­ate the way non-dancers respond­ed with­in the con­text of a per­for­mance. I nev­er asked them to exe­cute move­ments that they did not do in every­day life.” 1968 her­alds the dawn of per­for­mance art as a dis­ci­pline in its own right in Van­cou­ver. Before this time, artists and dancers would exper­i­ment with sound, mul­ti­me­dia light shows and instal­la­tions, more or less in an impro­vi­sa­tion­al man­ner, with­out any sol­id idea except per­haps a McLuhanesque notion of glob­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion and counter-cul­tur­al com­mu­nal­ism. Women had been tak­ing part in these col­lab­o­ra­tive inter­me­dia events, espe­cial­ly as dancers and poets, but they were often ignored and giv­en sec­ond place with­in mul­ti­me­dia events. While col­lab­o­ra­tive per­for­mance was an alter­na­tive to and a cri­tique of indi­vid­u­al­is­tic (male-dom­i­nat­ed) modes of art pro­duc­tion, this rarely meant that women were grant­ed an equal place with­in that com­mu­ni­ty. After Deb­o­rah Hay taught dance per­for­mance work­shops in Van­cou­ver a whole new direc­tion was tak­en in per­for­mance-based works by women.

The use of rep­e­ti­tion with­in these dance-relat­ed per­for­mances was direct­ed toward cre­at­ing a new type of audi­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion. The process of per­for­mance was made trans­par­ent through the use of vari­a­tions on rep­e­ti­tion, as con­sti­tu­tive of the social rhythms of the body. The audi­ence would relate to per­form­ers through their use of mun­dane move­ments and non-hier­ar­chi­cal rela­tions between dancers. This type of per­for­mance would reflect the every­day lives of all mem­bers of the audi­ence, impli­cat­ing them in a non-hier­ar­chi­cal fash­ion. Bod­ies repeat­ed the same actions so as to allow the audi­ence to see these move­ments. The use of rep­e­ti­tion also evokes what Judith But­ler calls iden­ti­ty insti­tut­ed through a styl­ized rep­e­ti­tion of acts”. In phe­nom­e­no­log­i­cal terms, the body is dis­played not only as being in-the-world, or as a sen­su­ous and expe­ri­enc­ing enti­ty, but in a state of per­pet­u­al becom­ing: The body is under­stood to be an active process of embody­ing cer­tain cul­tur­al and his­tor­i­cal possibilities…the acts by which gen­der is con­sti­tut­ed bear sim­i­lar­i­ties to per­for­ma­tive acts with­in the­atri­cal con­texts” (p. 521).

Works per­formed by such dancers as Helen Good­win and The­Co used every­day move­ments such as peo­ple slow­ly mov­ing along a wall, or dance” move­ments where each mem­ber would exe­cute one of a num­ber of sep­a­rate activ­i­ties in a con­tin­u­ous rep­e­ti­tion: one per­son rolling them­selves in paper, one per­son walk­ing with sponges attached to their feet, anoth­er per­form­ing actions with an umbrel­la, etc. From the very start, Helen Good­win had been very active with­in the UBC Fes­ti­val for the Con­tem­po­rary Arts and had been a found­ing mem­ber of both the Sound Gallery and Inter­me­dia. Her work was in close col­lab­o­ra­tion with musi­cians and mul­ti­me­dia artists with­in these com­mu­ni­ties. The Anna Wyman dancers pre­sent­ed a more pro­fes­sion­al dance per­for­mance sit­u­a­tion, employ­ing every­day, repet­i­tive move­ments with­in their dances, set to elec­tron­ic music by mod­ern com­posers such as Stock­hausen. They also per­formed at the VAG dur­ing Inter­me­dia fes­ti­val events.

Eve­lyn Roth com­bined per­for­mance and video art in a thought-pro­vok­ing way. Cos­tume design is usu­al­ly con­sid­ered sec­ondary to the­atri­cal pro­duc­tion or social life. Yet the sar­to­r­i­al dis­plays social codes, set­ting up hier­ar­chies between sub­jects. Through cro­chet­ing and don­ning video­tape gar­ments Roth came to embody a per­sona dur­ing the 70s. As a bag-lady-cum-fash­ion mod­el, she some­how ele­vat­ed the idea of being a mun­dane pub­lic media fig­ure into the realm of art. She is best known for her per­for­mances in cro­chet­ing recy­cled video tape into gar­ments, hats, car cov­ers, gallery awnings. The action of cov­er­ing bod­ies, cars, and build­ings in used video­tape could be con­strued as a com­ment on the tech­nol­o­giza­tion of bod­ies and spaces, our entrap­ment with­in the very medi­um of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that we use to try to tran­scend our bod­ies. The use of cro­chet­ing with­in the con­text of art also placed val­ue on wom­en’s work.

One of the most acknowl­edged per­for­mance artists to have come out of this Intermedia/VAG col­lab­o­ra­tion was Gath­ie Falk. Her per­for­mances began with­in the con­text of Hay’s work­shops. Every­day, task-relat­ed activ­i­ties and repeat­ed objects played a cen­tral role in her art­work, sig­nal­ing the   repet­i­tive nature of wom­en’s domes­tic work and the fetishiza­tion of women into objects of desire.

Falk’s girl-child cos­tumed per­sona (white blouse, pinafore, mary­jane but­toned shoes) seems to rein­force the idea of masochis­tic entrap­ment that Falk with­in her work. Her use of eggs (with its ref­er­ences to fer­til­i­ty) is abject and dis­turb­ing in two of her per­for­mances: Eighty-eight Eggs (in which she is pelt­ed with eggs by the audi­ence) and Some are Egger than I (where she bats around ceram­ic eggs cro­quet-style until she hits a raw egg; by some absurd log­ic she then pro­ceeds to eat a boiled egg; this action is repeat­ed eight times). The impact of Eighty-eight eggs as a per­for­mance relates to masochism: she is egged by the audi­ence as if in reac­tion to a bad per­for­mance, and yet she per­forms noth­ing. This being egged before the fact” becomes a state­ment unto itself, imply­ing per­haps inad­ver­tent­ly that this is how women feel when they are dis­cour­aged from express­ing them­selves or put down pub­licly if they do attempt to play roles that are con­sid­ered inap­pro­pri­ate to their nature. The slap­stick nature of audi­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion falls short of the mark, turn­ing into pathet­ic spec­ta­cle.

Anoth­er exam­ple is Red Angel where a winged Falk sits atop a com­mode while five record play­ers with ceram­ic par­rots on them, do a musi­cal round of row, row, row your boat”. Falk her­self repeats the same lines last. The idea of being a bro­ken record, dri­ven to repeat the same lines over and over like a par­rot, reflects her role as woman trapped with­in the vicious cycle of repeat­ed acts, as a woman pas­sive­ly dis­play­ing her­self as a dec­o­ra­tive orna­ment, repeat­ing what she is taught to say. Once the musi­cal round is fin­ished, a woman wheels in a wash­ing machine, removes Falk’s gown, wash­es it, and then leaves the space. Falk then repeats the exact same open­ing sequence. The per­for­mance repeat­ed a sec­ond time is how­ev­er pro­found­ly dif­fer­ent. The repeat­ed sequence speaks of entrap­ment. The angel fol­lows the motion of a tech­nol­o­gized con­trolled rhythm, just as wom­en’s work is con­trolled by the tech­no­log­i­cal rhythms of home appli­ances.

As a body-based art form, per­for­mance had its roots in ear­ly 20 th cen­tu­ry avant-garde art. In the 1920s (in Europe), and again in the 50s and 60s (in the U.S.), a type of the­atri­cal­i­ty’ formed itself in oppo­si­tion to the mod­ernist myth of the autonomous work of art, legit­imized by the art insti­tu­tion, cre­at­ed by the male genius’ artist. The pro­to­type was Picas­so in Europe, Jack­son Pol­lock in Amer­i­ca. Amelia Jones in Body Art: Per­form­ing the Sub­ject has point­ed out that the fas­ci­na­tion with Pol­lock­’s per­for­ma­tive process of action paint­ing, first seen in pho­tographs from the late 40s and ear­ly 50s, was down­played by the­o­rists such as Green­berg. They empha­sized prod­uct over process in the work. In reac­tion to mod­ernist crit­i­cism, min­i­mal­ist artists made work that Michael Fried char­ac­ter­ized as degen­er­at­ing away from art and mov­ing toward theatre–what lay between the arts. Pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with dura­tion, where­by the behold­er became impli­cat­ed in the art work, was con­sid­ered anath­e­ma to for­mal­ist crit­ics. In an iron­ic ges­ture pop art ele­vat­ed mass media for the view­er. Sub­se­quent­ly, con­cep­tu­al art ele­vat­ed the philo­log­i­cal notion of art as idea in the form of instruc­tion sheets, card files, and even pho­tographs of dead­pan per­for­ma­tive acts (or the result of these acts). These prac­tices favoured the dema­te­ri­al­iza­tion of the object.

Video art and per­for­mance art by women could be seen in part as a cul­mi­na­tion of, and a reac­tion against many of these strate­gies. (In many ways, one could see fem­i­nist strate­gies as one of the major vital forces behind post­mod­ern turns in art.) The process-ori­ent­ed, per­for­ma­tive aspects of action paint­ing, the inclu­sion of the behold­er and of dura­tion with­in the art­work, the dema­te­ri­al­iza­tion and ephemer­al­i­ty of the work, were ele­ments that were retained from the art strate­gies of the 50s and 60s. But the pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with for­mal­ism and infor­ma­tion at the expense of fig­u­ra­tion or the body was con­sid­ered to be for­eign to wom­en’s expe­ri­ence. Hav­ing always been rel­e­gat­ed to the sta­tus of imma­nence rather than tran­scen­dence in the Carte­sian tra­di­tion of West­ern thought (transcendence/mind/male vs. immanence/ body/ female), women were rel­e­gat­ed to the realm of the cor­po­re­al, weighed down by their biol­o­gy. Thus the impor­tance for many women of rep­re­sent­ing their bod­ies and life expe­ri­ences with­in art works. One of the main rea­sons women turned to per­for­mance and video in the late 60s was that it was still unchart­ed ter­ri­to­ry. While men had made a his­to­ry for them­selves in the more tra­di­tion­al media of paint­ing, sculp­ture, film, and pho­tog­ra­phy, video and per­for­mance was so new that women felt they could tru­ly make the medi­um their own, make it speak for them with­out the his­tor­i­cal bag­gage of male prece­dence.

The chief social reac­tion to the end of the war in the 1950s, a time of unpar­al­leled eco­nom­ic wealth aris­ing from a war-fuelled econ­o­my, was a soar­ing mar­riage and birth rate. Fam­i­ly became a sacro­sanct insti­tu­tion. In Cana­da, as in the U.S., tele­vi­sion was to become the ide­o­log­i­cal chan­neller of such a vision: Mem­bers of the Fowler Com­mis­sion viewed tele­vi­sion as a uni­fy­ing source for the reju­ve­na­tion of fam­i­ly, serv­ing as a head­quar­ters, a gath­er­ing place, enhanc­ing fam­i­ly encoun­ters in the home and strength­en­ing the moral fab­ric of the nation…what was strik­ing about this focus on the fam­i­ly was not only the reifi­ca­tion of the home as the source of moral order, but the way in which tele­vi­sion was con­tex­tu­al­ized as a fix­ture not of com­mu­ni­ty, nor of the indi­vid­ual, but of the fam­i­ly unit” (Dot Tuer, Fam­i­ly: An Exam­i­na­tion of Com­mu­ni­ty Access Cable in Cana­da”, Fuse , Spring 1994, p. 26).

By the 60s a new strain of ide­ol­o­gy, in the form of the movie star, the rock star, the media icon, and artist genius, tout­ed indi­vid­u­al­ism as the reli­gion. Giv­en the social­iz­ing influ­ence of tele­vi­sion, dis­tor­tions of real­i­ty deter­mined how peo­ple per­ceived them­selves and one anoth­er. The coin­ci­dence of the six­ties gen­er­a­tion with the media cul­ture boom meant that youth devel­oped a nar­cis­sis­tic rela­tion­ship with new arche­typ­al role mod­els. As the hege­mon­ic struc­tures of broad­cast and press infor­ma­tion began to belie their moral­i­ty and truth-val­ue, artists took Mar­shall McLuhan at his word and took on the role of per­cep­tion experts” and edu­ca­tors of the future”. Video’s phe­nom­e­nol­o­gy, its for­mat and its inher­ent real time” aes­thet­ic, con­nects it to tele­vi­sion. For this rea­son, using video as a new form of glob­al media, became a way of express­ing dis­il­lu­sion­ment with tele­vi­sion’s biased, manip­u­la­tive nature.

One of the great advan­tages of video was its repro­ducibil­i­ty, exchange­abil­i­ty, synced audio-visu­al porta­bil­i­ty, low-cost reusable tape, and instan­ta­neous record and play­back capa­bil­i­ties” (Paul Wong). The medi­um was very much in tune with the times, with the idea of a free-float­ing dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tem of ideas dash­ing across the globe, set­ting up a net­work of col­lab­o­ra­tive projects by artists made through the process of exchange (mail art), of spe­cial inter­est groups not bound by the stric­tures of space and time. Per­for­mance and video artists fought against the alien­at­ing effects of tele­vi­sion in two ways: through iron­ic pos­tur­ing and through social-activism.

1973 was an extra­or­di­nary year for video art in Van­cou­ver. There was the Matrix con­fer­ence that gave rise to Video Inn/Satellite Video Exchange Soci­ety (through the dona­tion of 120 tapes by artists who par­took in the Matrix con­fer­ence); the Pacif­ic Vibra­tions Exhi­bi­tion at the VAG show­cased video and per­for­mance works; the Wom­en’s Film and Video Fes­ti­val gave rise to Reelfeel­ings, a wom­en’s film and video col­lec­tive. It was also the year that the West­ern Front came into being. That year a group of artists found them­selves home­less thanks to the raz­ing of old build­ings to make way for new more expen­sive ones. Rents had also been hiked and they were look­ing for hous­ing alter­na­tives. Need­ing a home and stu­dio space, and no doubt inspired by Inter­me­dia and New Era Social Club, not to men­tion the Maple­wood Mud­flats com­mu­ni­ty in Dol­lar­ton, these artists came up with the idea of pool­ing their mon­ey togeth­er and estab­lish­ing a com­mu­nal liv­ing space. Found­ing mem­bers Michael Mor­ris, Vin­cent Trasov, Kate Craig, Eric Met­calf, Glen Lewis, Mo Van Nos­trand, and Hen­ry Green­how set up the West­ern Front. Unlike pre­vi­ous artist-run cen­tres, the West­ern Front was much more selec­tive in terms of the facil­i­ties’ con­di­tions of use. Equip­ment and stu­dio space was reserved for them­selves, select friends, and artists-in-res­i­dence

Fluxus type activ­i­ties began when Image Bank was formed, a mail art net­work inspired by Ray John­son’s New York Cor­re­spon­dance School of Art. In keep­ing with the lat­ter activ­i­ties, West­ern Front artists took up pseu­do­nyms and per­son­ae that stuck with them for years: Dr Brute and Lady Brute, Mr. Peanut, Flakey Rose Hip, Mar­cel Idea, etc. These in turn became future roles with­in cabaret events. This use of larg­er-than-life” media-style per­sonas was at once play­ful and crit­i­cal inspired as much by Dadaist strate­gies of the 1920s as by the glam­our stereo­types of mass media. The use of pseu­do­nyms was based on the fan­tas­ti­cal idea of being able to change life into art or rather, art into lifestyle. It was also a com­ment on the fac­tic­i­ty of the so-called norms of iden­ti­ty tai­lored to every­day life as pro­duced under cap­i­tal­ist modes of pro­duc­tion.

The con­struc­tion of per­sonas was also very much about lib­er­at­ing one­self from the stric­tures of nation­hood and geog­ra­phy. Cre­at­ing a new per­sona and being known as that per­sona had a some­what trib­al or totem-like ring to it. Demar­cat­ing one­self from the sta­tus quo became a polit­i­cal state­ment steeped in irony. It sig­naled being part of a dif­fer­ent trib­al com­mu­ni­ty, one bound by rela­tions oth­er than kin­ship ties. For women it was a way of crit­i­ciz­ing the struc­ture of the nor­ma­tive fam­i­ly rela­tions. Com­mu­ni­ty and pub­lic agency were seen as break­ing the bipo­lar cat­e­gories of home/work, private/public, husband/wife, life/art. Trap­ping one­self with­in a per­sona was about break­ing free from this social­ly-reg­u­lat­ed som­a­tized prison.

These extrav­a­gant high camp ges­tures were thus based on a will to form a com­mu­ni­ty out­side of the usu­al roles of dai­ly life, they lit­er­al­ly want­ed to unmask the alien­at­ing effects of tra­di­tion­al roles on every­day life. By mak­ing their lives a pub­lic spec­ta­cle, they were also becom­ing fic­tion­al embod­i­ments of cliched glam­our images, par­o­dy­ing the ubiq­ui­tous Hol­ly­wood and TV star. Being a West Coast city, Van­cou­ver quite nat­u­ral­ly has a cul­tur­al dia­logue going on with a place like LA. The West­ern Front par­tic­i­pat­ed in (and the Image Bank helped orga­nize) the Dec­ca Dance in Hol­ly­wood in 1974. It was a par­o­dy of the Acad­e­my Awards that attract­ed hun­dreds of per­for­mance artists.

Kate Craig orga­nized the West­ern Fron­t’s video pro­duc­tion stu­dio in 1976. In 1977, she estab­lished and curat­ed the Artist-in-Res­i­dence Video pro­gram. Her strong admin­is­tra­tive role with­in the soci­ety, her lead­ing role in video pro­duc­tion, and her promi­nence as a per­for­mance and video artist in Van­cou­ver, all con­tributed to the for­ma­tion of a strong pres­ence of local, nation­al and inter­na­tion­al women artists at the West­ern Front. Some of the women who have been more direct­ly involved with the West­ern Front over the years have been   Jane Elli­son, Daina Augai­tus, Eliz­a­beth Van­der Zaag, Karen Hen­ry, Annette Hur­tig, Susan Milne, Babs Shapiro, Cor­rine Wyn­gaar­den, Eliz­a­beth Chit­ty, Mar­garet Dragu, Mary Beth Knech­tel, Judy Radul. Craig’s per­for­mance of Back up in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Mar­garet Dragu, reflects a panoply of activ­i­ties and nar­ra­tives, gen­der stereo­types, and new roles enact­ed by women. With­out being overt­ly polit­i­cal, they play out the lifestyles of school girls, pool-hall tough girls, sci­en­tists, upper-class debu­tantes, and domes­tics.

This mer­cu­r­ial role-play­ing reflects Craig’s incli­na­tion towards adopt­ing quite a vari­ety of per­son­ae in her art-as-lifestyle. She was one of the Soni Twins, one of the Ettes, and at one point she iden­ti­fied her­self with the colour pink (via an exten­sive pink wardrobe). Her most last­ing alter-ego how­ev­er was Lady Brute, a female stereo­type based on leop­ard-spot­ted accou­trements. In her own words, Craig says that: Lady Brute was…very much a part of Dr. Brute, a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Eric Met­calfe in terms of our mar­riage and our lifestyle togeth­er. Lady Brute was a mask, a point of focus, where you could step one pace behind and use it in a very spe­cif­ic way with­out nec­es­sar­i­ly becom­ing that person…One of the won­der­ful things about Lady Brute was that there was a stand-in at every cor­ner. If   I wore the leop­ard skin it was only to become a part of this incred­i­ble cul­ture of women who adopt­ed that cos­tume”.

Craig based at least two videos on her per­sona Lady Brute. Through the Image Bank mail-art direc­to­ry she acquired a huge col­lec­tion of leop­ard skin para­pher­na­lia and gar­ments. The fash­ion state­ment asso­ci­at­ed with faux fur and mimet­ic ani­mal pat­tern­ing seems to sig­nal female aggres­sion and ani­mal sex dri­ve. As a sign-sys­tem it serves to mask the alien­at­ing effects of the col­o­niza­tion and exoti­ciza­tion of the female body, ground­ing it in a rever­sal of predator/prey fan­ta­sy. In the video Skins (1975), Craig doc­u­ments her­self mod­el­ing her Lady Brute wardrobe. She dress­es and undress­es in front of the cam­era, tak­ing on dif­fer­ent pos­es and stereo­typed atti­tudes for each cos­tume. The female stereo­types named in the video sound­track describe the type of woman Craig becomes in each new out­fit. Her mul­ti­ple incar­na­tions as Lady Brute under­line the par­o­d­ic nature of the video, as it traces out the many fan­ta­sy con­struc­tion that dom­i­nate wom­en’s lives.

Craig was also involved in col­lab­o­ra­tive per­for­mances as one of the Ettes, an all-women song and dance group. Dur­ing the Mr. Peanut 1974 may­oral cam­paign, this group of women were cheer­lead­ers, play­ing out the ado­les­cent fan­tasies of being sym­bols of reward or objects of plea­sure” asso­ci­at­ed with sport­ing events. Their pres­ence on the polit­i­cal scene cast an absurd light on the may­oral cam­paign, where the elec­toral process became framed as lit­tle more than a game per­formed by aris­to­crat­ic nuts out to score the most points, based on the best rhetoric and spec­ta­cle val­ue. The Ettes includ­ed Mary Beth Knech­tel, Suzanne Ksi­nan, Lin Ben­nett, Babs Shapiro, Helen Tuele, Judith Schwartz, Bar­bara Best and oth­er guests. They also came togeth­er as the Cocanettes and Infinettes at A Space in Toron­to, and as the Vignettes for a media-hype style per­for­mance for the Amy Van­der­bilt Debu­tantes Ball . The scan­dal sur­round­ing Amy Van­der­bilt’s death inspired this per­for­mance and ball. Lat­er on a lot of the same and some new mem­bers, came togeth­er to form the Girl’s Club. They would get togeth­er for infor­mal wom­en’s meet­ings over din­ner when vis­it­ing women artists came to town. At oth­er times they would turn out for media events. This com­ing togeth­er of indi­vid­u­als into loose­ly formed col­lab­o­ra­tive groups reflect­ed a cer­tain opti­mism and real com­mu­ni­ty spir­it. Spon­ta­neous per­for­mances in a wide vari­ety of pub­lic con­texts could affect peo­ple in unfore­see­able ways, for instance, as when the 1974 Mr. Peanut won 2, 685 votes in the may­oral cam­paign. Work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly meant that no one per­son would steal the show.

Ear­ly video has often been den­i­grat­ed by main­stream fac­tions using such epi­thets as dumb, bor­ing, nar­cis­sis­tic, lewd, bad­ly made (Jan Pea­cock, Video Re/view , pp. 144–160). This had much to do with the nature of ear­ly video tech­nol­o­gy and bud­get con­straints. Con­tent was quite often priv­i­leged over form. A raw aes­thet­ic cer­tain­ly con­veyed its own message–“this is not TV; this may even be crit­i­cal of TV; this is pre­sent­ing some­thing that TV would nev­er show you”. Most artists work­ing in video want­ed to counter the seduc­tive aes­thet­ics of tele­vi­sion that catered to a mass audi­ence. A lot of ear­ly video­tape was used in a doc­u­men­tary fash­ion, as a way of spon­ta­neous­ly record­ing the surge of unprece­dent­ed artis­tic col­lab­o­ra­tion going on at the time. Doc­u­men­tary was also the medi­um of choice for works made by activists, fem­i­nists, and com­mu­ni­ty groups in con­junc­tion with cable pro­gram­ming, edu­ca­tion and con­scious­ness-rais­ing being the focus.

In 1973 the Matrix Inter­na­tion­al Video Exchange Conference/Festival was orga­nized by Michael Gold­berg, Patri­cia Hard­man and Noelle Pel­leti­er. The con­di­tion of admis­sion to the con­fer­ence was the dona­tion of a favourite video­tape. This in turn, became the foun­da­tion for the Video Inn library and the Satel­lite Video Exchange Soci­ety. This was meant as a way of set­ting up a glob­al net­work of com­mu­ni­ca­tion between artists and com­mu­ni­ties and was a reac­tion against the cen­tral­ized mass media of broad­cast tele­vi­sion. As one of the first major inter­na­tion­al video con­fer­ences, Matrix attract­ed some of the most promi­nent video artists in the field. Unlike the West­ern Front Soci­ety, Video Inn (known as Video In after 1987) mem­bers were com­mit­ted to social activism and edu­ca­tion through the uses of video as a com­mu­ni­ca­tions and infor­ma­tion medi­um. Like the West­ern Front how­ev­er, it had an almost famil­ial struc­ture” (Dia­mond, p. 56) and in the ear­ly years col­lec­tive din­ners were a par for the course. The strong pres­ence of women (Renee Baert, Shawn Preus, Jeanette Rein­hardt, Bar­bara Stein­man, Peg Camp­bell, etc.) meant that there was much col­lab­o­ra­tion with wom­en’s groups in putting on the Wom­en’s Arts Fes­ti­val (1974), Con­cep­tu­al Wom­en’s Art Tapes from Europe, Japan and North Amer­i­ca (1975), Women and Video Art (1976), Rape (1977), Video Inn Wom­en’s Inter­na­tion­al Exhi­bi­tion (1977 & 1978), Fem­i­nist Tapes (1979), Wom­en’s Media Nights (1979–1985). At Video Inn the equip­ment depart­ment and work­shops were also large­ly run by women, sig­nal­ing a strong fem­i­nist pres­ence that attract­ed women artists to the medi­um.

Unlike film, video pro­vid­ed a more imme­di­ate form of expres­sion and greater dis­tri­b­u­tion pos­si­bil­i­ties for women. At a time when spread­ing the word” was essen­tial to the strength­en­ing of wom­en’s posi­tions with­in soci­ety, video pro­vid­ed a fast and some­what inex­pen­sive means for doing this. Many of the women asso­ci­at­ed with Video Inn made tapes that dealt direct­ly with wom­en’s issues. Peg Camp­bell made many video­tapes about wife bat­ter­ing. A Rule of Thumb (1977) for instance refers to the Com­mon Law Doc­trine that, until 1897, allowed a hus­band the right to beat his wife pro­vid­ed he used a switch no big­ger than his thumb”. The video reveals the extent of wom­en’s suf­fer­ing with­in abu­sive rela­tion­ships, aggra­vat­ed by a lack of con­cern over vio­lence against women with­in a patri­ar­chal struc­ture. In asso­ci­a­tion with Reelfeel­ings, Bar­bara Stein­man made Breast Exam­i­na­tion , an edu­ca­tion­al tape where she teach­es a group of women how to go about the pro­ce­dure. Her inter­est in edu­cat­ing women about health issues extends into the con­tentious issue of abor­tion in Dr Mor­gen­taler Speaks from 1974. As well as being one of the found­ing mem­bers and admin­is­tra­tors of Video Inn and long-time man­ag­ing edi­tor of Video Guide, Shawn Preus has made works about the harm­ful and alien­at­ing effects of tele­vi­sion on the psy­che and on envi­ron­men­tal con­cerns such as pes­ti­cides and recy­cling. All of these videos cov­ered social con­cerns relat­ed to women and the envi­ron­ment that were not aired on tele­vi­sion.

In 1970 the report of the Roy­al Com­mis­sion on the Sta­tus of Women in Cana­da was pub­lished in response to the resur­gence of the wom­en’s move­ment, espe­cial­ly promi­nent in the urban cen­tres of Van­cou­ver, Mon­tre­al, and Toron­to. It was a very pro­gres­sive doc­u­ment that made 167 rec­om­men­da­tions on how to pro­mote gen­der equal­i­ty. The imme­di­ate response of many Cana­di­an women and wom­en’s groups was to begin imple­ment­ing the report’s rec­om­men­da­tions. Pay equi­ty, day care, the right to abor­tion, pro­tec­tion against vio­lence, sex­u­al abuse and harass­ment, equal oppor­tu­ni­ty to high­er edu­ca­tion and high­er skilled jobs–these are amongst some of the key rights and issues that were being addressed by women. So far this paper has dis­cussed the par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in artist-run cen­tres only where both men and women worked side-by-side on video and per­for­mance-based works. From about 1973 on how­ev­er, there was also the rise of wom­en’s art orga­ni­za­tions, focused on activism and formed with the inten­tion of edu­cat­ing women about their rights.

In Dar­ing Doc­u­ments: the Prac­ti­cal Aes­thet­ics of Ear­ly Van­cou­ver Video”, Sara Dia­mond out­lines the many doc­u­men­tary prac­tices of wom­en’s art and media orga­ni­za­tions. Most of these orga­ni­za­tions hoped to reach a mass audi­ence with their work, some­times secur­ing Cable 10 or Co-op Radio as a venue. The activist video work made by these wom­en’s col­lec­tives was in reac­tion to the exclu­sion of wom­en’s issues and their rep­re­sen­ta­tion with­in his­to­ry and con­tem­po­rary mass media. The low qual­i­ty pro­duc­tion val­ue of many of these video doc­u­ments reflects the empha­sis on con­tent over tech­nique, their refusal to abide by the rules of aes­theti­ciza­tion of con­tent, but most of all, it reflects the need, with­in a lim­it­ed bud­get, to pro­duce as much infor­ma­tion as pos­si­ble so as to make an imme­di­ate impact on wom­en’s lives.

In 1973 the Sta­tus of Women Action Coor­di­nat­ing Coun­cil of B.C. spon­sored the Wom­en’s Alive Group to pro­duce a tele­vi­sion series broad­cast on Chan­nel 10. In the same year, Women and Film film fes­ti­val began at the Pacif­ic Cin­e­mateque. Lat­er, these fes­ti­vals were orga­nized by ISIS, a wom­en’s media dis­tri­b­u­tion and pro­duc­tion cen­tre. Reelfeel­ings began as an attempt to cre­ate a wom­en’s film and video fes­ti­val in Van­cou­ver, one sim­i­lar to the one orga­nized by Marien Lewis in Toron­to. This wom­en’s col­lec­tive exist­ed between 1973 and 1977, pro­duc­ing most­ly film, but also video, pho­tog­ra­phy, and sound. One of Reelfeel­ings’ main goals was to pro­vide pos­i­tive images of women with­in a nar­ra­tive for­mat. In 1975 Reelfeel­ings began a week­ly half-hour pro­gram on Co-op Radio. One of the group’s best known films, writ­ten by Ardele Lis­ter, was So Where’s My Prince Already?, where anti-mat­ri­mo­ni­al state­ment is expressed with humour and anger. Tra­di­tion­al­ly con­sid­ered as a wom­an’s high­est goal, mar­riage and moth­er­hood are sized up and unmasked for what they are often real­ly worth.

Women in Focus began in 1974 in asso­ci­a­tion with the UBC Wom­en’s Office. It began as a pro­duc­tion cen­tre cre­at­ing a week­ly pro­gram on fem­i­nist issues at Cable Ten, a local cable sta­tion. Along with Metro Media and Pumps, it was one of the few instances where an artist col­lec­tive was grant­ed pro­duc­tion assis­tance from broad­cast­ing. Under the aegis of Mar­i­on Bar­ling, Women in Focus used high­er pro­duc­tion val­ues to address the expe­ri­ence of oppres­sion of women and the absence of their expe­ri­ences rep­re­sent­ed in media and art. They cre­at­ed a week­ly pro­gram designed to inform a wide audi­ence on the need and the pos­si­bil­i­ties of social and eco­nom­ic change for women. Strad­dling the arts and wom­en’s col­lec­tives, Women in Focus often had prob­lems get­ting suf­fi­cient fund­ing, but in 1985 it received fund­ing from the Sec­re­tary of State and lat­er from the Cana­da Coun­cil.

After its clo­sure in 1992, Women in Focus’ tapes were donat­ed to Video In. Most of the works pro­duced or cir­cu­lat­ed by Women in Focus were cen­tered on edu­ca­tion in the areas of sex­u­al har­rass­ment, rape, wife bat­ter­ing, abor­tion, his­to­ry of the suf­frage move­ment, and work­ing con­di­tions for women. Rape is a Social Dis­ease and It’s not your Imag­i­na­tion are among the most pop­u­lar of Women In Focus’ pro­duc­tions. It’s not your Imag­i­na­tion dis­cuss­es the degrad­ing expe­ri­ence of sex­u­al harass­ment in the work­place. Harass­ment had dev­as­tat­ing eco­nom­ic effects on women, in terms of job per­for­mance, self-esteem and even hold­ing onto one’s job. This con­scious­ness-rais­ing tape is an exam­ple of the type of mate­r­i­al that could be used in future to lob­by for wom­en’s rights in the work­place.

Most of these orga­ni­za­tions were formed with a uni­fied fem­i­nist voice in mind. Most women were white, mid­dle-class, and het­ero­sex­u­al. There­fore, much of the focus was on wom­en’s domes­tic lives, with­in het­ero­sex­u­al rela­tion­ships rather than the estab­lish­ment of alter­na­tive lifestyles, out­side of these often con­strain­ing rela­tion­ships. If any­thing, these films con­cen­trat­ed on women achiev­ing more inde­pen­dence and self-suf­fi­cien­cy. Dis­crim­i­na­tion along racial, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, and class lines with­in the gen­der con­text were rarely addressed until 1980.

Amelia Pro­duc­tions began in 1980 as a wom­en’s video pro­duc­tion col­lec­tive and last­ed for eigh­teen months. They used the Cable 10 cable­vi­sion facil­i­ties and equip­ment from Simon Fras­er Uni­ver­si­ty. They cre­at­ed four­teen tapes which the group called Occu­pa­tion­al Videos”. In these works they focused on doc­u­ment­ing women in the work place, their strikes, protests and their take-over of build­ings in an attempt to bet­ter their qual­i­ty of life.   In the attempt to por­tray and encour­age a uni­fied polit­i­cal voice amongst women, Amelia Pro­duc­tions tend­ed to video­tape con­fronta­tion­al events such as T.W.U. Tel (1981) and Con­cerned Abo­rig­i­nal Women (1981). T.W.U. Tel por­trays the tele­phone oper­a­tors’ occu­pa­tion of the province’s major tele­phone cen­tres in reac­tion to a con­tract dis­pute and in order to pro­vide bet­ter ser­vice for the pub­lic. B.C. Tel man­age­ment had been cut­ting ser­vices and staff so as to increase rev­enue. Amelia Pro­duc­tions cov­ered the wom­en’s side of the sto­ry, not seen on net­work news. Con­cerned Abo­rig­i­nal Women por­trays the occu­pa­tion of the Depart­ment of Indi­an Affairs (DIA) build­ing by one hun­dred First Nations women, their arrest, and sup­port activ­i­ty sur­round­ing the event. These women demand­ed that an inquiry be con­duct­ed into the DIA’s poli­cies. The DIA’s poli­cies had had destruc­tive effects on their bands and their entire peo­ple. One by one, the women described their atro­cious liv­ing con­di­tions, the increased rate of sui­cide, sex­u­al and alco­hol abuse, the abuse by priests and nuns, the ster­il­iza­tion of young women, their lack of jobs despite teacher and con­struc­tion work­er train­ing. The con­trol over resources by the DIA was dri­ving them off of their land, forc­ing them to move to the city.

Amelia Pro­duc­tions was the first wom­en’s col­lec­tive to address how gen­der issues were often insep­a­ra­ble from oth­er forms of discrimination–class, race, and sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion. Much of their work was based on the effects of tech­nol­o­gy on wom­en’s lives. It reflects the changes in the wom­en’s move­ment, away from strict­ly mid­dle class white wom­en’s prob­lems to that of more oppressed groups: work­ing class women, First Nations women, and les­bians ( Les­bians against the Right ). The blind spots encoun­tered with­in films and videos by Reelfeel­ings and Women in Focus, their decid­ed­ly uni­fied, white, mid­dle-class, and het­ero­sex­u­al stance, was called into ques­tion by a more inclu­sive per­spec­tive of Amelia Pro­duc­tions.

Some time in the ear­ly sev­en­ties, a group of artists, shar­ing a com­mon neigh­bour­hood around Main Street in Van­cou­ver, came togeth­er to form Main­street Inc. These artists were Deb­o­rah Fong, Car­ol Hack­ett, Jeanette Rein­hardt, Mar­lene McGre­gor, Mary Jane Way, Charles Rea, Ken Fletch­er, and Paul Wong. All were also mem­bers of oth­er com­mu­ni­ties such as Video Inn, Pumps, West­ern Front, etc. Unlike a lot of the col­lec­tives or artist-run cen­tres, Main­street Inc. seemed cyn­i­cal towards the notion of uni­fied com­mu­ni­ty spir­it and dis­il­lu­sioned with the idea of greater social change. The insu­lar­i­ty of their group is described at the start of their video 4” as a maze of rivalling inter­re­la­tion­ships, an end­less cycle of break­ing up and mov­ing in togeth­er amongst them­selves:   “…Jean used to go out with Ken. Paul had a crush on Jean. Kevin moved in with Jean. Kevin used to go out with Ann. Mar­lene lived next door with Don. Jean and Kevin moved out…”. This is hard­ly the typ­i­cal het­ero­sex­u­al fam­i­ly struc­ture that men and women tend­ed to grav­i­tate toward. Yet they were all prac­ti­cal­ly like fam­i­ly, some hav­ing grown up togeth­er since ele­men­tary school.

Their artis­tic strate­gies were anar­chic, dis­play­ing social crit­i­cism through aggres­sive and self-destruc­tive behav­iour. As the S.S. Girls (Sis­ters towards Slut­hood), Deb­o­rah Fong, Car­ol Hack­ett, Annasta­cia McDon­ald, and Jeanette Rein­hardt per­formed a semi-auto-bio­graph­i­cal por­trait of their rela­tion­ship with one anoth­er in the faux cin­e­ma-verite video, 4”. While they did not dis­play stereo­typ­i­cal gen­der roles, their tough girl, self-indul­gent, self-destruc­tive, often lewd and rude behav­iour, dis­tanced them from the fem­i­nist stances of the 70s. Their lifestyle and fash­ion-con­scious dis­play of a sex, drugs, booze, and punk rock ethos, revolt­ed against mid­dle-class fam­i­ly val­ues. Their bod­ies dis­play excess as they swear, drink, do a striptease, talk about them­selves and one anoth­er immod­est­ly, and exhib­it vio­lent behav­iour toward men who screw them around. While Paul Wong is cred­it­ed with direct­ing the video, I am more inter­est­ed in the S.S. Girls as an all woman per­for­mance group, how they per­form the very embod­i­ment of their lives and lifestyle for the audi­ence. The S.S. Girls were also amongst the many local solo and col­lab­o­ra­tive women per­form­ers at the Liv­ing Art Per­for­mance Fes­ti­val of 1979.

Between 1975 and 1985, the Main­street Drag Balls were orga­nized by Main­street Inc. These were part of the ongo­ing tra­di­tion of cabaret-type per­for­mances that began at the West­ern Front with their tra­di­tion of cos­tumed per­sonas, cross-dress­ing, and par­o­dy. But in the case of the drag balls, there was a def­i­nite homo­sex­u­al, bisex­u­al, and trans­ves­tite ele­ment that was not part of the ear­li­er cabaret tra­di­tion in Van­cou­ver. In many ways it seems that the advances made by fem­i­nists on the cul­tur­al front were inspir­ing oth­ers to take up their own cause, on the grounds of sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, race and class.

1983 has rep­re­sent­ed a piv­otal moment in Van­cou­ver’s cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal his­to­ry. The B.C. Social Cred­it Par­ty’s eco­nom­ic pro­gram of restraint exe­cut­ed severe cuts to edu­ca­tion, medicare, social pro­grams, human rights, amongst oth­er bud­getary mea­sures. Nan­cy Shaw has described how col­lab­o­ra­tive and inter­dis­ci­pli­nary prac­tices were dele­git­imized in 1984 under finan­cial pres­sures, reflect­ing per­haps a symp­tom of a rad­i­cal­ly altered social cli­mate” (Van­cou­ver Anthol­o­gy, p. 86). With the tight­en­ing of the Cana­da Coun­cil’s purse strings, art orga­ni­za­tions became pro­gres­sive­ly bureau­cra­tized. More orga­ni­za­tions com­pet­ed for the same dwin­dling funds. This is hard­ly con­ducive to the col­lab­o­ra­tive, opti­mistic spir­it of the 70s. At the end of this decade, def­i­n­i­tions of fem­i­nism changed to include oth­er, broad­er instances of dis­crim­i­na­tion, as doc­u­ment­ed by Amelia Pro­duc­tions. This con­cern with iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics con­tin­ued through­out the 80s with the video and per­for­mance works of such artists as Cor­rine Wyn­gaar­den, Sara Dia­mond, Judy Radul, and with the cen­sored video Con­fused: Sex­u­al Views, a col­lab­o­ra­tion between Paul Wong, Jeanette Rein­hardt, Gina Daniels, and Gary Bour­geois.

Fem­i­nism taught us that dom­i­na­tion insin­u­ates itself into all sys­tems of (re)production and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, in lan­guage and in new modes of tech­nol­o­gy. These sys­tems are instru­men­tal in the for­ma­tion of new sub­ject posi­tions. Women increas­ing­ly aban­doned the home front in the 70s for new mod­els of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty and par­tic­i­pa­tion in the pub­lic domain. Since the 80s, new strate­gies have been cre­at­ed for deal­ing with this sense of home”, iden­ti­ty, and belong­ing, in the shift­ing realm of race, sex­u­al­i­ty, and class dynam­ics. When notions of gen­der, class and nation­al­i­ty were seen as con­tin­gent to one’s iden­ti­ty, one could find strength in build­ing new par­a­digms of com­mu­ni­ty and new lan­guages to artic­u­late dif­fer­ence. In light of dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy, gen­der, sex­u­al­i­ty, class and race could be seen to be less bound by the alien­at­ing rela­tions of pow­er that per­vade day-to-day bod­i­ly con­tact. The cyber­net­ic idea of using dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy to free one­self from the prej­u­dices attached to the body sounds empow­er­ing. Yet one can­not help but be sus­pi­cious of the homog­e­niz­ing effects of new imag­ined, non-cor­po­re­al iden­ti­ties. Not only do notions of dif­fer­ence get erased and ignored, but those who have no access to these net­works are exclud­ed from pub­lic” life alto­geth­er. In light of the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion and the crum­bling of our nation­al cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions, artists need to find new sup­port struc­tures and strate­gies to fight the cor­po­ra­ti­za­tion of cul­ture.

First Pub­lished in Cana­di­an Art Mag­a­zine , Toron­to, 2001.