From Anne Golden's Archives
A screening, a publication, some 50 works available on DVD or online… for the first time, I have access to videomaker Anne Golden’s abundant body of work. My exploration begins with the curious literary work that is From the Archives of Vidéo Populaire (2016). Across the page, a conversation takes place that interweaves the intimate and uninhibited words of four founding members of the artist-run centre Vidéo Populaire (VidPop) and others who had gravitated around the group. As I read, the format of a documentary video springs to mind: the ‘interviewer’ remains outside of the frame, invisible and inaudible, addressed by the protagonists within the camera’s lens. Even without a narrative, the witnesses’ transcript generates a plot as, together, the interlocutors reveal and reconstruct the story of the centre since its founding in the 1970s.
In reality, From the Archives of Vidéo Populaire is a polyphonic novel, a fiction inspired – I believe – by a video produced by the American artist Eleanor Antin in 1987: From the Archives of Modern Art1. This work brings together filmic documents about the life of a black ballerina who had an eclectic career between Russia and the United States: extracts of Eleanor Antinova, the artist’s alter ego, are intercut with explanatory (and at times impertinent) commentary by the archivist who discovered the recordings. Antin constructs a character from phony archival documents and reveals, with humor, the ways in which the image is fundamental to historic proof and artistic value. Twenty years after Antin’s work was made – and well before FROM THE ARCHIVES OF THE VIDÉO POPULAIRE – Golden produced an eponymous video (2007), portraying VidPop members’ meetings, filmed over 20 years of the centre’s ‘existence’: we hear (the character of) archivist Rose Creswell2 telling the story and we meet Lydia Cartwright, Maurice Aubert, Carl-Yves Dubé and Terrence O’Meara. Like her feminist predecessor, Golden focuses an amused and critical eye on the characters and on the myth of the artist, while adapting it to the Quebec video art milieu and its idiosyncrasies.
Such archival work can be seen across Golden’s practice. While her early work involved the production of videographic imagery, in her more recent creations, she often manipulates archival footage. From the end of the 1990s to the mid-2000s, Golden put herself in the picture while bringing together members of her artistic community. In this work, we can see important actresses who helped to shape the Quebec video art milieu, including Lorri Millan, Cheryl Sim, Cathy Sisler, Deborah Vanslet and others3 ; such works have become a testament to the Montréal queer, feminist scene. Experimental works of fiction such as BROTHERS (1998), BIG GIRL TOWN (1998), LES AVENTURES DE PONYGIRL (2000), SITE (2002) and SOMME (2004) share the documentary spirit of pioneering works THE OTHERS/LES AUTRES (1991) and LES MARCHEUSES (1995), which address the notion of the ‘other’. Because, while Golden gives visibility to her peers in the literal sense of the term, she also represents their distinct experiences of the world with codes borrowed from genre film and video.
In SOMME (2004), for example, insomnia is explored through the adaptation of certain conventions of the psychological thriller; the artist talks of her loss of a sense of reality, her strategies of adaptation and a slow metamorphosis as sleep escapes her4. During her nocturnal patrols, ‘patient gola250861’ wanders around a dark forest – evoking the bewilderment and unease of the Italian poet Dante – and comes across people walking in single file like automatons or sleepwalkers, a sort of foretelling the imminent dissolving of the self and of the line between fact and fiction. This disturbing experience is translated through superimposed images or their abrupt interruption, evoking the confusion or brief thought association we experience on the brink of sleep.
LES AVENTURES DE PONYGIRL (2002) explicitly references the codes of the ‘origin story’ and appears to be an opportunity for the artist to reflect on her practice with a small dose of self-depreciation. The succession of short tableaux lists the powers of this little girl on pony-back, black and white photographs of whom are shown at the beginning of the video: a ‘heavy weight’, a capacity to evoke the past and inhabit the night, a passion for lists and collections… The work brings together some recurring motifs in Golden’s work, offering clues of a particular way of being in the world, from the crossing of dark streets to extending beyond the genre’s prescribed frame or slenderness. A stubborn strangeness seems to adhere to the figures, objects, and world that the artist represents, following the example of Ponygirl, who shows what she is made of against a background of extra-terrestrial sounds.
Using an approach that is simultaneously intimate, humorous and fragmented, the videos give life to hidden stories, bodies and ordinary experiences. They constitute, to borrow the words of Sam Bourcier (2020), a living and performative archive, in the sense that they produce a sensitive memory of the lives and histories of the artistic and LGBTQ community to which Golden belongs. But it’s through video art that the artist resists erasure and the pathological, criminal and stereotyped representations created by the dominant discourse (Bourcier, 2020). In fact, Golden does not have recourse to the most explicit registers of militance or activism that favor narrative consistency or testimony5; instead, she privileges the tableau form and a fresco arrangement in a single and uninterrupted shot. The artist exploits the fragment and slices her plots into a series of short scenes, brief moments and freeze frames. She gives ‘visibility to things that have none’ (Parfait, 2001, 337): to interior discourses, hesitations, obsessions, and desires, to what reveals and asserts itself with hidden or insistent feelings6.
With its airs of protest, FAT CHANCE (1994) precisely encapsulates this practice. Created at the dawning of Golden’s career, the video presents a series of tableaux in which the artist’s body is shown, manipulated and loved. ‘I love my body’ the naked artist repeats into the camera lens while eating fruit, stretched out on the food-covered floor, playing with her flesh and curled up in a lover’s arms. Between the dining room, the living room and the side street, Golden gives herself uncompromisingly to the screen and celebrates a desiring body. FAT CHANCE is both a rebellion and a wish; the work denies the stigmatization of overweight bodies and lesbians and brings with it hope of a future open to difference. The videomaker infuses the image with the ‘possibility of future’ (Parfait, 2001, 337) thanks to the pleasure and the power of the depiction (Freeman, 2010, xxi).
This pleasure in representation is manifested as much in the form as in the content of Golden’s work, and this is true of her entire corpus. To my mind, what Nicole Gingras qualifies as ‘mobility’ in her presentation speech at the Robert-Forget Award (2022), reflects the ‘heterogeneity’ of a practice in which we sense this exploration and, above all, an inclination for play. In addition to the literal expression of desire and pleasure – the ‘I love my body’ of FAT CHANCE, the surprising flirtatiousness of the cowgirls in Big Girl Town, indeed the brotherly love in Brothers – Golden’s work is marked with a humor that emerges from the shifting of norms and from the creation of unprecedented comical situations played out in a hyperbolic manner by the actresses, whether in the roles of sleepwalkers, Marxists, lovers, gardeners or extras.
The series of works made between 2011–15 signal a transition in the artist’s practice: Golden’s voice and body disappear in favor of a silhouette, a subjective framing and a more emphatic manipulation of the videographic material. For all that, Golden does not lose interest in cinematographic conventions and the art of intrigue. She explores the expressive and evocative nature of image and sound to generate atmospheres or meanderings as charged as they are ambiguous. In School Drama (2011), the artist puts together different shots of a high school that she combines and unites with a diffuse and disturbing soundtrack. The videomaker’s gaze stops on a locker, a bunch of scattered chairs, a stain on the floor, a deserted hallway. The sound, a protagonist in its own right, impregnates the rather banal images with uncertainty, encouraging viewers to pay careful attention to the succession of shots and their semantic supply, as if to detect the mystery of a plot that is hinted at.7
In a similar way, Sortie (2015) explores the rooms of a site that has been deserted. The slow-moving camera sweeping the rooms is accompanied by an electronic sound that at times recalls the rhythm of breathing in a diving suit. The sense of enclosure is intensified by the numerous views filmed through a window, a keyhole, or a partition, echoing this person seen from the back, observing the outside world through a closed window. Golden forefronts sound – and its absence – in her practice to create a narrative tension, as well as the suggestive power of the image. In works such as After the Experiment (2014), Écrans (2015) and The Witch (2015), to name just a few, the artist makes full use of effects such as superimposition, fading and flashing to bring out the spectrums in the windows’ reflections, in the darkness or on a nearby surface. The image is unstable: it translates the artist’s interior world, its distortions of reality and its imaginary figures.
From 2017, Golden started excavating the Prelinger archives, a collection of American films made on the subjects of education, industry and advertising, dating from 1903 to today.8 Golden watched and sampled these works obsessively. To date, she has produced more than 50 videos from this vast collection, making thematic and aesthetic edits with the images. The artist has removed herself again, only allowing her presence and her intentions to be known through her meticulous selection of extracts, collaged in an impressionist fresco. The editing is more prominent in this body of work as it confers rhythm and movement on Golden’s ‘remix’. This way of working befits her sensibilities: since the beginning of her career, she has enjoyed using the fragment as material. In Specks (2020), the editing is made evident through the stripped back image and plot. The speckled film referred to in the title has been overexposed and faded, and is interspersed with snapshots of ‘American life’: a child, a film star, a man, a landscape. The viewers are blinded as much by the light as by the speed of the sequence of images – denying all access to their contents – which emphasizes the materiality of the film archive and its beauty. The crackling of the images and the complex colors of the light lend the archive a tangible presence.
In THE ORDER (2020), the sequence of shots is slower, allowing the viewer to appreciate the compositions and they ways in which the images resonate with each other. The regular ringing of a bell accompanies religious processions of priests or young girls, now in communion, now participating in a wedding. The bodies are organized in space and in the image, creating a striking visual coherence. But the harmony of the ensemble is broken by the frail body of a small boy inspected by a camera, or of another, enveloped by the darkness under a crucifix. The minimalist sonic landscape makes a distressing impression again and incites the spectators to scrutinize the image and be suspicious of it. The composition evokes surveillance and the constraints of dogma and clerical life.
This body of work continues Golden’s critique of norms. The Prelinger archives provide ideal material as its films have been made for promotional or educational means. They document ‘American life’ and reflect its conventions and ideals: the nuclear family, the suburbs, the great outdoors, modernization… visions that the artist critiques and scrutinizes. Removing the images from their original framework and recontextualizing them has the effect of revealing their uniqueness and plastic beauty. They now articulate themselves in a different way, conjuring potential plots and tensions and criss-crossing them in silence: they reveal hidden and aborted lives, violence and hope.
Perusing Anne Golden’s archives reveals a body of work that is very consistent despite its diversity. Citation and appropriation distinguish her practice and lends it a critical and humorous dimension. She introduces a fertile tension to her works in which the subject cited – a cinematographic norm, a social convention, even an image – dialogues and is reconfigured. The feminism of her early documentary works (1991 and 1995) is translated in a play of resonance and evocation that makes viewers aware of the way images work. Her sensitive and curious gaze depicts a fundamentally strange world without cynicism or bitterness; in fact, what emerges from this relentless imaging of reality, its spaces and its phenomena, is pleasure.
This inspiration has not been confirmed by the artist, but besides its title – citing without evoking Antin’s original work – Golden’s work appropriates its approach as well as certain formal processes, such as the insertion of text between the scenes, and the explanatory language about the archives.
This archivist and videomaker is also evoked in Site (2002), in which Golden explores the otherwise active site of the Lesbian Aversion Therapy Clinic through video archives produced by Dr John Smalls in 1967. The troubling atmosphere of the first few minutes, engendered by the scrolling of text and black and white images of a deserted place, is substituted by color images of the same place welcoming a lesbian community and, later, the amusement park Dykeland, entirely occupied and animated by lesbians. Once again, the fictional nature of the archives employed by the artist is revealed with humor and allows the viewers to reflect on the legitimacy of dominant stories and the way they are told visually.
After watching Anne Golden’s archives, I listed 23 actresses and videomakers who made an appearance, including Pauline Alves, Pierre Beaudoin, Marik Boudreau, Lyne Brisson, Erika Caurvoisier, Isabelle Chagnon, Gina Couture, Nikki Forest, Jackie Gallant, Lisa Graves, Nelson Henricks, Patricia Kearns, Fanny Obadia, Dana Mcleod, Lorri Millan, Hope Peterson, Megan Richards, Katharine Setzer, Cheryl Sim, Cathy Sisler, Myroslava Tyzkyj, Deborah Vanslet and Sarah Williams.
The artist claims to experience temporal leaps, hear objects, and see Mr Tourbillon appear in broad daylight, an imaginary friend until then confined to the night and the world of dreams.
With the exception of the aforementioned documentary works The Others/Les Autres (1991) and Les marcheuses (1995).
In The Archive of Lesbian Feeling (2003), Ann Cvetkovick rightly situates the ‘fragment’ at the centre of the queer archive, whose objects and recorded histories concern affect, the sensitive, and politics (242).
Mon cœur de touriste (2001), produced 10 years earlier, anticipated this series of videographic essays, exploring empty spaces normally full of life, such as a fair, a school, a hospital, city streets and suburbs.
The Prelinger archives were founded in 1983 by Rick Prelinger. Today the foundations of the archives comprise more than 11,000 digital videos, nearly all of which were derived from film, as well as an important collection of amateur films. Most of the videos and documents have been made accessible to the public domain https://archive.org/details/prelinger?tab=about