Personal Perspective

Intermedia had grown so large by the winter of 1971 that special interest groups had developed, and different people had acquired their own equipment. We submitted an enormous proposal to LIP (Local Initiatives Program) for a grant that would hire something like 79 artists. I think we ended up getting 12 salaries, which were shared among different projects, including Video Inn, Granville Grange, Image Bank, New Era Social Club and Intermedia Press. So it was at that point that all those different groups went their own way.

It was becoming increasingly difficult to find space to work, and the nature of the work was changing. So when the Western Front building became available we decided to buy it. In the sixties, the Vancouver Art Gallery had been very good about sponsoring project that weren’t hard art. In the seventies, with the performance work that was going on, the beginning of video, a place like the Western Front was ultimately suitable. In fact, I think the building itself had a tremendous influence. It made it easier to do certain kinds of work.

The first formal programming we did was though an Explorations grant. There was a music series organized by Martin Bartlett, and a performance series which included a project with General Idea and a film with Byron Black—all projects that were very much a part of networking. From the beginning the Front was, and still is to a great extent involved with a large community that isn’t regional or national, communicating with artists from, in, a much larger context.

The correspondence school was at its height when we bought the Front. Because we had a building, the work could change from the mails into something more concrete, artists could come and actually do projects. A number of people, when they heard what was going on, just arrived; Wihlloughby Sharp, Robert Filliou, Marion Lewis, and D-Anne Taylor who were organizing the Women’s Film and Video Festival in Toronto. The place was packed right from the start.

The endless paperwork required to maintain an artist run centre, the bureaucracy, had always been a problem. It is the worst part of running the Front. I get very upset at the amount of money that has to be spent on overhead, printing costs, which have gone up so much. One principle that we have always had at the Front is that artists get paid. It’s been a continuous struggle to redirect money so that as much as possible goes to the artist. That’s why our salaries have always been so low.

Certainly there is the issue of the amount of time required for organizing events, and working for others; it obviously gets in the way of our work. But you also have to understand my attitude. I could never selfishly devote my time to my own ideas. That’s part of what the Front is about, communication with other people in a collaborative communal sense, in a neighborhood. It wouldn’t make any sense to me to work on my own. I don’t relate to the world that way. I consider working on videotapes with other people very much a part of my work. It’s the ideas that are exciting, the production. I have no intention to be famous; it doesn’t interest me.

The concept of group effort is very much a part of the politics of the Front. How do you define politics? The Peanut campaign was certainly overtly critical of the political process, but how one organizes ones life is also political. Its just a little more subtle than a lot of people would like it to be.

I don’t think that there has been anybody at the Front, ever, who aligned themselves with any political faction. Perhaps you could say that the Front is apolitical. Nobody belongs to the Anarchist Party of Canada; nobody even belongs to the unions. Their position had nothing to do with indifference; everybody had very strong ideas about where they stand.

Its very easy for an outsider to analyze work from the Front and see it as critical of the general culture, but I know with my own work, and my attitude to the Front, it’s not so much a critique, as it is an alternative, a way of dealing with one’s life 24 hours a day, how one relates to the outside world or to one’s community. The motivation behind a lot of the work is very positive; it’s about being able to find resources—people, buildings, and facilities to actually produce something new. It’s never been a school, there’s never been a manifesto, there’s never been a over affiliation, except with other artists.

There’s a tremendous freedom in Vancouver, much less of a burden of history and culture than there is in eastern Canada. This has had a tremendous influence on me and, I would think, on a lot of people in Vancouver, especially those who’ve grown up here. You feel so completely free of that continuous influence of European culture. There’s such a strong influence of Asian culture here: colour, food, it can’t help but affect you. The landscape has an influence on anybody who gets inside it: going up to the Sechelt Inlet, digging clams, collecting oysters, fishing, cooking outside; people have been doing that for thousands and thousands of years.

Lady Brute game me the opportunity to focus on one concept over a long time. I worked around it, but it was the first point of discipline. Lady Brute was also very much a part of Dr. Brute, a collaboration. It was never my idea. I used the idea in my own way and I think my use of it was often very distinctive, but it was definitely a collaboration with Eric Metcalfe in terms of our marriage and our lifestyle together. Lady Brute was like a mask, a point of focus, where you could step once pace behind and use it in a very specific way without necessarily becoming that person. I never felt I was Lady Brute. 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. I was never trying to, in using that image, push anything that was myself. It was a way of exaggerating something that already existed in the culture. Besides it’s always fun to put on a costume. The Lady Brutes were definitely image-bound. They still are.

One political stand that the Front has taken concerns artist-run centres. We have always been in the forefront of making them a reality, and we have been very successful in organizing with other centres, as artists controlling their own production and presentation space.

One of the criticisms of work in Vancouver is that there isn’t enough criticism. Personally, I am not inspired by standard art criticism. First of all, I am not a professional artist in the sense that I feel responsible to the history of art. I never studied art, I never went to art school, and I don’t know the lineage of western art. I approach other artists’ work in terms of what interests me, if it give me ideas to feed on, f it expands my senses in some way that excites me so I can continue to explore those ideas. I don’t spend a lot of time analyzing the work ad wondering where the ideas come from. What it means, etc. That’s not to say I’m not very discriminating, it’s just a more intuitive process. It’s not important to me that the work is beautifully made or the technique superb. It’s the idea itself.

Ideas don’t have to be completed. Take something like the shadow plays, by the last performance the work becomes finished but do you want to keep repeating that? Then it’s time to do something else. I think a lot of artists spend a long time developing an idea in private then producing many versions of it, a hundred paintings of ten paintings that are basically saying the same thing.

I would never produce for the market. Eric Metcalfe produced a lot of very remarkable objects but he can never sell them. They’re just a little too eccentric.

From Personal PerspectiveVancouver: Art and Artists 1931-1983. Ed. Luke Rombout. Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery, 1983. 261-262