Fragments and multitudes: on three works
Often, it’s her face that we remember when we look back on the Groupe Intervention Vidéo (GIV) soirées. Her face and her presence. Standing before the audience, Anne Golden introduces us to artists and their videographic worlds. At each intervention, she celebrates GIV and the community that the centre represents. She traces the distance, weighs the time, nourishes our relationships. Her face, her presence, her voice. A tone that resonates and soothes in equal measure, in French as in English, like a night-time radio show we can’t switch off. Her face, her presence, her voice and her humor. Impossible to resist, a smile forms on your lips from the first glint of humor.
Face, presence, voice and humor. So many elements that inextricably link GIV in our minds with the remarkable personality of Anne Golden.
And yet, this isn’t what best defines Anne. It seems to me that there is a discrepancy between our perception and the way that Anne perceives the space given to her by GIV. During the discussions, we realize that, despite her apparent confidence, she is more inclined to take a step back to leave space for the videos, to better celebrate the artists and allow the collective to take over with as much freedom as possible.
When GIV colleagues and artists talk about Anne, this generosity is the first thing that comes up. A generosity that is translated into a rich, detailed, and enthusiastic knowledge about the works and the artists, videomakers and other activists, who form the fabric of GIV from near or far. An insatiable passion for video and its makers that also comes out in her abundant curatorial work.
Now, it’s up to us to do what she so excels at, in other words, remove ourselves slightly to celebrate her many talents as well as her work, and with the same affection that she always exhibits when presenting the work of others. We often say, rightly, that the history of an artist-run centre is built upon the stories of its members, who, collectively, construct the organization’s memory. This also applies when paying homage to its participants. Drawing on oral history, informal discussions and other memories, and in dialogue with GIV, I would like, in this short text, to look at three works by Anne – three steps in her videographic practice, each representing different facets of her personality, her activities and her passions. So many aspects, more or less known, more or less revealed, from behind a face, a presence, a voice and a sense of humor
When we talk about Anne’s arrival at GIV in 1987 (some say 1988), the rhythm of the conversation accelerates and the anecdotes multiply. There were protests, women’s marches, overnight stays in church basements, activism with a camera on her shoulder, shoots with artists, and passionate discussions. The landscape depicted blurs with the urgency of the time: feminist struggles unfolding in the streets as well and on video tapes during long editing sessions (pre-editing at GIV, editing at Vidéographe). At the centre of the activities, we find Anne and her friends and colleagues from GIV and elsewhere, who recorded this movement on video equipment that, although heavy and physically demanding, went with them everywhere. Anne appears in this tableau as much in front of the camera as behind it: she goes from meeting to meeting to speak to the people who inhabit these activist spaces. And particularly to women. While her work gives a voice to the artists and activists with whom she spends time, it stands out most of all for the silences and limits of her interlocutors; a particular and unique touch that characterizes her interpersonal and documentary approach. Many videos were born of these encounters, but so were solid friendships and enduring collaborations1.
LES AUTRES (1991),epitomizes this moment. This video gave a voice to members of the public and activists, opening up an important dialogue about HIV/Aids in Quebec and the absence of women in the discourse around it. The video exposed the media coverage’s racist and homophobic rhetoric and its omission of all policies for prevention. The people questioned speak concretely, without taboo, of the ways in which it is possible to overcome these omissions and deconstruct the stories. By contrast, between images of press cuttings, all relaying panic and scandal, we discover the work of different activists, practical advice about practicing safe sex, and also the voices of young people, who share their desire to better understand the situation and act accordingly. It is a strong and direct documentary that rightfully captures the importance and complexity of an event through people who took action to varying degrees, demonstrating the role that everyone can play to change the situation.
From this voice of the other, we move to a different type of engagement, embodied in more intimate and corporeal queer forms. This shift is not unlike the different renewals that took place at GIV in the 1990s. The artist-run centre, which in the 1980s became a space dedicated to promoting women’s work, has diversified the types of video it distributes, from documentary to video art; artists from outside of Quebec have been integrated into the catalogue, and national and international perspectives and collaborations abound. Feminist video is therefore pursued, while taking on new forms. This opening up is interpreted in Anne’s practice in a series of complex, raw, emotional, surreal and humorous works that explore intimacy, the body, and sexuality. Activism takes place in flesh – videographic and organic. Intimacy in embodied. Bodies are exposed, filmed and celebrated.
While the incredible FAT CHANCE (1994) and BROTHERS (1998) immediately spring to mind, it is nevertheless BIG GIRL TOWN (1998) that I am going to discuss here. The work takes a particular form of feminist video art that evades the traditional dichotomy between this medium and its cinematographic equivalent to offer us a story as engaging as it is funny. Drawing on codes from the genre of the Western, BIG GIRL TOWN stages a confrontation between the inhabitants of Big Girl Town and Thin Girl Town sparked by a mix up over a pair of jeans. A creaking humor flirts with body politics, releasing a coquettish confrontation: the enemies seduce each other in a folky dance and eventually reconcile their differences. Here the expanse and reach of Anne’s passion for cinema and video reconfigure in a joyful ode to her friends, her queer identity, her body and the backstreets of Montréal. ‘Godspeed big girls!’
What we also notice in BIG GIRL TOWN is a love for genre cinema. Western, science fiction, musical comedy, and horror, as well as more experimental and surreal cinematographic forms, occupy a privileged place in Anne’s work, whether we are talking about her videos or her curatorial projects. Because in addition to GIV, Anne also represents the Montréal Underground Film Festival (MUFF) and the Montréal Monstrum Society. So many affectionate manifestations of films in the strangest of forms. Collaborating on a programme with Anne will lead you to appreciate the story of an extra-terrestrial invasion told in song and executed with special effects dating back several decades, and raise an unsuspected passion for 1980s slasher movies. An emotional rollercoaster, rich with unexpected beauties, strange oddities, caustic humor, and, always, a solid activist base. This is reflected at GIV screenings La Voûte/The Vault, which, combining past and present works by different artists, have over the years had themes such as ‘Fermer l’œil’, ‘obsolete machines’, ‘Offworld’ or ‘Sinistres parasites’.
This taste for the uncanny, this troubling strangeness, can be spotted very early on in Anne’s video practice (My Heart the Tourist, 2001). But it is in the video series made from 2010 onwards that this passion pours out in a creative surge: 76 videos since 2011, orchestrating found footage, ghosts, monsters, and science fiction. Among this prolific production, we find in Pieces (2016) an energy similar to that of previous works, a delight in excess that, in this case, is packed with phantasmagorical imagery. Made up of a fast-moving chain of very short extracts from horror films, the video plunges us into continuous movement and plays with our cinephile memory before gradually distorting and fogging our sensory pathways. In a voyeur’s skin, we frenetically patch together this mass of disparate fragments. Psycho? The Excorcist? Did I spot the Dark Shadows series? Nothing is certain other than this movement that ceaselessly brings us closer to our memories, without ever reaching them.
The memories. In these few words, I have barely mentioned the nostalgia, memory, sleep, and archives, that enter Anne’s work in fantastic waves. So many spaces haunted by a certain melancholy that transcends time, at once joyous and sad. Is it modesty? Perhaps this territory is still to be prepared or explored? There are in fact many things to say and to write about Anne, about her work (as a videomaker and writer, but also as a teacher and curator), her actions and her voice.
Because this is just a partial homage. Behind a face, a presence, a voice and a sense of humor that we often associate with GIV, is a practice and personality with multiple dimensions. While various threads can be traced in her work between different grand themes (a constant dialogue between activism, humor and love for film and video), another common theme can be also observed: community. Anne takes precise steps backwards to showcase or evoke her friends, heroes, collaborators and protagonists. So many people who could contribute to the stories presented here, add a different perspective, fill in the gaps and build up the archives. So many voices that, I hope, will be heard, so that Anne Golden may continue to be celebrated.
- See also LES MARCHEUSES (Petunia Alves, Anne Golden and Stella Valliani, 1995).