After Words, VUCAVU’s final #EyesOnVU 2017 curated film selection, was created by guest curator and Toronto-based filmmaker Francisca Duran. In this program, you will find her essay and a film program that combines a cross-section of Canadian experimental filmmaking. Duran has selected five films from VUCAVU's catalogue and her accompanying essay discusses how these artists reflect on and react to their real and/or imagined worlds through film, archives and moving-images. Through her program, Duran invites the viewer to consider how the subjects of these films utilize a visual language that communicates meanings that are often, beyond words.

 
Photo of Franci Duran, by Michael Barker (michaelbarker.ca)

Francisca Duran
Filmmaker


"After Words"
Essay by Francisca Duran

Francisca Duran (M.F.A. Film York University, B.A.H. Film Studies Queen’s University) is a Toronto based experimental media artist. Her moving image work combines digital and analogue formats and explores the intersection points of memory, history, politics, authoritarianism, technology, texts and familial and public archives. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in numerous film festivals, galleries and group screenings, and has been supported by Arts Councils.

Born in Chile in 1967, Francisca came to Canada as a refugee immediately following the 1973 military coup that ousted elected president Salvador Allende. She grew up in middle-class North Toronto and has lived in the UK, Vancouver and Kingston. Francisca has worked as a graphic designer, as adjunct faculty in GTA universities and colleges and as an arts administrator. Francisca continues to receive professional development from artist run centres like LIFT and Gallery 44.

After Words 
Essay by Francisca Duran


Program Notes
This program consists of five experimental films made by women between 1973 and 2016. These works are representative of and have influenced landscapes of moving image artwork in Canada. The final arrangement is not chronological. Rather, they are positioned so that the program ends up in a space I think of as being after words or just beyond the conventions of language. Together, these films have resonance and reciprocity.

All the pieces deal with the idea of looking back and as such the deaths of these moments, as of course all lens and time-based media do. All of the works address recovery of some kind, the unearthing of truths and of a recurring past even if inaccessible, ephemeral, lost. Words may fail and transform when fears abound. Traces remain when authorities attempt to hide their policies and actions or when an illness takes someone away. Artists may locate and make sense of these evidences and present a point of view outside the prescribed or normative means of production.

Each of the works poses questions about politics, place, aesthetics, craft and the means of production. The inquiries are woven into the form of the piece by processes of intricate, laborious transformation. They are outsiders, outliers. Formal decisions are shaped by both a reaction to and rejection of mainstream aesthetics and also the reality of financial limitations that come with working outside the mainstream.

Words may fail and transform when fears abound. Traces remain when authorities attempt to hide their policies and actions or when an illness takes someone away.
Still image from "Solidarity", Joyce Wieland, 1973 (CFMDC)

Still image from "Solidarity", Joyce Wieland, 1973 (CFMDC)

Solidarity by Joyce Wieland

Solidarity documents a demonstration held in support of striking workers at Kitchener’s Dare Cookie Factory in April 1973. The workers, 95% of whom were women, were striking for humane working conditions and equal wage distribution. This poetic film is a perfect distillation of a moment, its own microcosm and museum. The word solidarity is superimposed and centred on-screen and remains there for the duration of the film, anchoring aural and visual elements. The audio consists of ambient crowd noises, lively protest chants and a speech delivered by a Toronto Strike Committee member. As Wieland’s camera meanders through the crowd, the perspective is low, observant and intimate: blistered dirty feet, dress shoes, work boots, sandals, walking shoes, sneakers, dog feet, a baby carriage wheel, puddles, grass, concrete, litter, raindrops. In beautifully choreographed transition shots, she takes us up on a wooden stage and splits the field by framing feet at the bottom and a few faces up high. By reducing individuals to mostly their feet she emphasizes and celebrates the collective and shared work of the group assembled, and rejects the notion that oppressive structures are toppled by individual heroics alone.

Joyce Wieland (1931–1998) was an experimental filmmaker, mixed media artist, feminist and one of Canada’s most significant artists. Her body of work includes writing, drawing, painting, lithography, collage, textile art and over twenty films. Wieland had a difficult childhood that was marked by poverty. Born in Toronto to British immigrant parents who struggled to make ends meet, she was orphaned at the age of ten when her mother died (her father had passed away four years earlier). She studied visual art at Central Technical School, where she met and was influenced by painter Doris McCarthy. She worked as a graphic artist and animator before dedicating herself solely to her own art. Wieland’s practice was informed by history, politics and ecology. She questioned the accepted norms of patriarchal structures as well as the distinction between materials of high art and those of the domestic and of craft.

By reducing individuals to mostly their feet she emphasizes and celebrates the collective and shared work of the group assembled, and rejects the notion that oppressive structures are toppled by individual heroics alone.

Confessions of a Compulsive Archivist by Mary J. Daniel

Confessions of a Compulsive Archivist is an autobiographical documentary about the filmmaker’s mother’s cognitive decline from frontotemporal dementia. Confessions of a Compulsive Archivist uses found footage, cameraless animation and direct address voice-over in this portrait of imagination, loss and recovery. Daniel describes her attempts to sift through and order her own and her mother’s archived items, and this painstaking activity acts as a metaphor for grief and loss. Daniel made Confessions of a Compulsive Archivist  as part of her MFA thesis and it is a component of Pictures of Things That Aren't There, a series of autoethnographic works. The series and its economies (handmade, ultra-low budget, recovered materials) can be considered an ode to Daniel’s mother’s “make-do” ethos, cultivated by her own coming-of-age in post-World War II England.

Confessions of a Compulsive Archivist has three parts. In the first part, Daniel presents digitized head-and-tail slates and outtakes from the first film she made at Simon Fraser University. The second part is animated and consists of digitized physical objects: 1960’s and 1970’s sewing patterns that Daniel has been tasked with sorting through. The slowly paced animation allows us to inspect details on the sewing pattern sleeves: a gloved hand, a skirt pleat, the typography, symbols and halftone printed textures. Daniel tries to decipher her mother’s cataloguing system for these patterns. In the third section, Daniel ties the previous two sections together and includes childhood and adult photos of herself; these act as counterpoint to the feminized gestures and postures of the women on the pattern sleeves. The juxtaposition of film slates (reference system for the editor), outtakes (what isn’t in the film) and dated sewing patterns alludes to what might have been left unresolved in Daniel’s and her mother’s relationship. The analogue/digital translations and the film’s DV timestamp build mnemonic archival strata. Daniel provides context:

I always had in mind, while making Confessions of a Compulsive Archivist, that the piece would age in ways I could not imagine at the time. And considered the unknowable new layers of obsolescence that would inevitably accrue over time to be part of the piece.… As for the thinking I was immersed in at the time in and around the mind—in particular its imaginative capacity, and my mother's loss of that, with her particular form of dementia.1

Mary J. Daniel (b. 1963) is an artist and queer and is currently based in Toronto. Daniel was raised in a middle-class, North Toronto suburb by her British working-class immigrant mother and her Irish and Loyalist descended father. She holds a BA in film from Simon Fraser University and an MFA in film production from York University. Daniel has also worked as a producer, writer, cinematographer, editor and educator. Daniel’s moving image practice includes short and feature-length films that fall under the umbrella of “hard-to-categorize works focusing on the artistry and poetry of mundane phenomena.”2 Her work has screened nationally and internationally at cinematheques, art houses, universities, micro cinemas and film festivals.


1 Duran, F. (2017, July 12). Email Interview with Mary Daniel.
http://www.cfmdc.org/filmmaker/5565

I always had in mind, while making Confessions of a Compulsive Archivist, that the piece would age in ways I could not imagine at the time. And considered the unknowable new layers of obsolescence that would inevitably accrue over time to be part of the piece.…
Still image from "Girl From Moush", Gariné Torossian, 1993 (CFMDC)

Still image from Girl From Moush, Gariné Torossian, 1993 (CFMDC)

Girl From Moush by Gariné Torossian

Girl From Moush is an impressionistic documentary about a young woman’s deep-rooted connection to Armenia, the homeland she has never been to. The film is a moving image and aural assemblage, reminiscent of Schwitters’ or Picasso’s collage work. The visuals consist of irregular and overlapping light shards that flicker by, complicating our effort to grasp the content: book pages, paintings, churches, a woman, a bearded man…. The images are accompanied by a layered soundscape of Armenian folk songs, archival recordings, and a recurring phone call by the filmmaker as she unsuccessfully tries to reach someone in Armenia.

Torossian describes the relationship between the specific and the general as they relate to the image and the icon:

Having images around the house as most diaspora families do, I would say they relate more to a collective consciousness that is specific to the diaspora. That relationship between diaspora and homeland is obviously evolving, changing with Armenia’s independence from the Soviet Union. For me, the images nurtured my imagination so that it became part of a broader consciousness that transcends place or nationality.3

The film’s moving-collage effect was achieved by cutting super 8mm and 16mm film, taping this footage onto transparent film and then rephotographing the result. These images are of the artist, photos of Armenian churches in vast landscapes and the artistic and literary objects that Torossian grew up around. The recurring image of the bearded man is of dissident filmmaker Sergei Parajanov, who was jailed under Soviet rule for his poetic and surrealist filmmaking practice and his homosexuality. Armenia was occupied by the Russian, Ottoman and Soviet empires before it became a republic again in 1991. The specific meaning of the content and its historical significance may be only truly readable to the Armenian diaspora, but the film is mesmerizing nonetheless and the intersection points where familial and public archives overlap are always spaces of meaning.

Torossian made Girl From Moush in 1993, before she had been to Armenia, and I have always read this film as one crafted of fragmented bits of transgenerational trauma from where memories are always inaccessible. People whose ancestral lands are occupied and those of us who have been exiled can relate to these feelings of disassociation, dislocation and loss. The film speaks to me of to the overlapping histories of what migrants have brought to Canada, of what is imposed on indigenous peoples, and the violence ordinary peoples are subjected to by the powerful and greedy in the name of ideologies and nationhood.


Glassman, M. (2010). "Way Back Home: Finding the Girl from Moush in the Girl from Toronto". Retrieved July 13, 2017, from http://www.cfi-icf.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1105899&Itemid=1081&lang=fr

The film speaks to me of to the overlapping histories of what migrants have brought to Canada, of what is imposed on indigenous peoples, and the violence ordinary peoples are subjected to by the powerful and greedy in the name of ideologies and nationhood.
Still image from "In Still Time", Leslie Supnet, 2016 (Winnipeg Film Group)

In Still Time by Leslie Supnet

In Still Time is an abstract film that critiques our inability and unwillingness to comprehend and act upon the horror and injustice of the Syrian war and humanitarian crisis. It argues through its form and structure that this hesitance is due partly to the flood of distant and mediated images and sounds that saturate the media. 

In Still Time is constructed of visually ambiguous forms consisting of halftone dots and pixels. Visual continuity is created through shape similarity, shifting planes and colour fields. These images have been obscured through a process of re-animation and are contextualized by an audio collage of interviews collected from a variety of online sources. Supnet selected representative and iconic catastrophic images from print media, YouTube and online broadcast news sources. These images were printed on a colour laser printer onto US letter paper with several strips of 16mm clear film taped onto it. The film strips were then reassembled and rephotographed. These translations give the visual material its unique appearance.

The collaged soundscape contains recordings of: the funeral of a Khalidiya district martyr, an interview with human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh, an Al Jazeera report about the 2009 drought in Syria, an interview with Fouad Ajami about the uprising in Syria, a Democracy Now interview with cyber activist Karam Nachar, a Barbara Walters interview with Assad, and a Human Rights Watch interview with a refugee about the necessity of dangerous ocean crossings. The images include: a female farmer on her arid land, a bullet-riddled mural of Assad, a child suffering effects of a chemical attack, ruined buildings, a White Helmet member carrying a child, and Aylan Kurdi, the toddler who drowned in the Mediterranean in 2015. These images are not identified on-screen or in the end credits. The tension that Supnet generates by contrasting abstract images with discernable audio is effective. It points to our impulse to make sense of visuals and alerts us to the content of the audio. It also cements the implied proposition that abstraction through transformation and juxtaposition is a credible artistic response to violence and repression. Or as Supnet says of the film, “I am literally taking a closer look at these images before they fade into the background, and investigating how the catastrophic image is consumed.”4

Leslie Supnet (b. 1980) is a Filipino-Canadian moving-image artist currently living in Toronto. Supnet was born and raised in the north and west ends of Winnipeg. Her parents immigrated to Canada from the Philippines in the 1970’s for work. Supnet holds a degree in applied mathematics from the University of Winnipeg and an MFA in film from York University. Supnet’s work uses analogue, digital and lo-fi animation techniques to make experimental psychological narratives and imagined portraits of near and desired futures.


4 Supnet, Leslie. (2016). In Still Time. MFA Thesis.

as Supnet says of the film, “I am literally taking a closer look at these images before they fade into the background, and investigating how the catastrophic image is consumed.
Still image from "Afghanimation", Allyson Mitchell, 2008 (CFMDC)

Still image from Afghanimation, Allyson Mitchell, 2008 (CFMDC)

Afghanimation by Allyson Mitchell

Afghanimation is an animated protest film criticizing Canada’s military role in Afghanistan. The film was made as homage to Joyce Wieland’s political artwork criticizing foreign policy, and in its motivation and form returns us to Wieland’s aesthetic and political impulses.

Afghanimation is a stop-motion animation assembled from 35mm digital stills and transferred to 35mm film format. The visuals feature a performance by the filmmaker that begins with a woman’s eye (a detail on an Afghan war rug) and ends with a wall covered in Canadian newspapers current to the shooting date. The performance documents the covering of the war rug first by a handmade blanket then by the newspapers. War rugs are made by anonymous and usually women weavers in Afghanistan and the surrounding regions. They arrive in Europe and North America through “alternative” trade routes and are sold to collectors. The central motif on the carpet is a woman and the secondary icons are weapons of war. The war rug is suspended on a colourful and garish handmade blanket (an afghan). Mitchell places blanket bits on the war rug and first covers the woman then the weaponry by “re-stitching” this blanket until the war rug is completely covered. Mitchell then repairs torn newspaper until the blanket disappears. Intertitles alternate between ambiguous texts and political statements. A layered audio mix of singular effects, voice-over and music such as Paper Planes (by M.I.A./Diplo) accompanies the visuals. This performance has been run in reverse, refusing a standard convention of time-based media and giving the motion in this piece an anxious, jittery quality.

Mitchell describes the origins of the work:

Afghanimation was commissioned ten years ago by CFMDC for a program called ReGeneration whereby people were asked to make a film in response to foundational work in the collection. I was paired with Joyce Wieland. There is an obvious connection between our practices and its interest in gender, the domestic and the political and, I hope, our senses of humour. After considering Wieland’s body of work I chose to re-articulate her film Rat Life and Diet in North America. This is an experimental short in protest of the Vietnam war and the military industrial complex. This was 2007 and the Canadian military had been in Afghanistan since 2001 but had increased its presence in 2006. I was not conflating this military effort with that of Vietnam but there were, of course comparisons. Canada went to Afghanistan under the guise of peacekeeping and stabilization. They were there to thwart Al Qaeda. The Harper government [at the time] was bent on increasing military presence and the stories we were hearing in the news were suspicious and confusing. It felt timely to make the connections between Wieland’s protest film and as a method of creating discourse.5

Allyson Mitchell is a Toronto artist and educator working in a variety of media including sculpture, installation, textile art and animation. Her work has been exhibited at numerous galleries including Tate Modern, AGO and Andy Warhol Museum. I asked her to describe her background and its relevance to her practice: “I was born in Scarborough, Ontario and lived in Oshawa, but I grew up mostly in Port Perry, Ontario. This is Treaty 20 land and currently inhabited by the Mississaugas of Scugog Island. I am a third generation settler of British and French ancestry and have privileged citizenship in this country through settler inheritance and the displacement of Indigenous people. Like many people, I have a mixed class background. My biological family began as working class and moved to upper middle class. I am upper middle class and white. I am also a queer woman and an artist. I have an M.A. and a PhD in women’s studies. Currently, I am a professor and I teach gender and women’s studies. As an artist I am trained through activist/artist community and artist-run centres like LIFT (Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto) and Trinity Square Video in Toronto. I grew up in a family of makers and credit most of my early aesthetics and learning to Girl Guides and Brownies.”


​5 Duran, F. (2017, June 22). Email Interview with Allyson Mitchell.

This is an experimental short in protest of the Vietnam war and the military industrial complex. This was 2007 and the Canadian military had been in Afghanistan since 2001 but had increased its presence in 2006. I was not conflating this military effort with that of Vietnam but there were, of course comparisons.

After Words. Program Notes.
References

Art Gallery of Ontario. (1987). Joyce Wieland catalogue of the exhibition. Toronto: Key Porter Books.

Duran, F. (2017, July 12). Email Interview with Mary Daniel.
Duran, F. (2017, June 22). Email Interview with Allyson Mitchell.
Duran, F. (2017, June 22). Email Interview with Leslie Supnet.

Daniel, Mary J. (2006). Pictures of Things That Aren’t There. MFA Thesis.

Glassman, M. (2010). "Way Back Home: Finding the Girl from Moush in the Girl from Toronto". Retrieved July 13, 2017, from http://www.cfi-icf.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1105899&Itemid=1081&lang=fr

Lind, Jane, ed. (2010.) Joyce Wieland: Writings and Drawings 1952-1971. Erin, ON: The Porcupine’s Quill.

Supnet, Leslie. (2016). "In Still Time". MFA Thesis.

Zemans, J. (n.d.). "Joyce Wieland". Retrieved July 13, 2017, from http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/joyce-wieland/

Allyson Mitchell. (n.d.). Retrieved July 13, 2017, from http://www.allysonmitchell.com/bio.html

Armenia. (2017, July 12). Retrieved July 13, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armenia

Mary J. Daniel. (n.d.). Retrieved July 13, 2017, from http://www.cfmdc.org/filmmaker/5565

Gariné Torossian. (2017, June 30). Retrieved July 13, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garin%C3%A9_Torossian http://www.cfmdc.org/filmmaker/862

Joyce Wieland. (2017, July 12). Retrieved July 13, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joyce_Wieland

Weavings of War: Fabrics of Memory (curated by Ariel Zeitlin Cooke). (n.d.). Retrieved July 13, 2017, from http://museum.msu.edu/?q=node%2F395