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640 480 speaks!

Grand Gestures: An Exhibition in Three Parts by 640 480 video collective is showing at Gallery TPW, Trinity Square Video (TSV) and the public space in between.

September 6 – 13 October, 2007.

Each of the three projects uses the aesthetics of public memorials and museums to discuss the preservation of video and its inherent value system.

Beginning at TSV with an installation of hundreds of memorial pins made from VHS tape that recall Memento Mori, the visitor will then walk to Gallery TPW. Along the route ten “memorial” style bronze plaques have been installed, each containing a partial transcript from a personal video (sourced from Youtube). Finally, at Gallery TPW, these ‘throw-away’ memories are preserved into an everlasting state – as diamonds.

According to the collective, “As everyone knows, ‘A diamond is forever’ and now one’s memories can be too.”

The group met at U of T in 2001, when 640 480 began to form. Some members left, others came in later.

Now they are:

-Jeremy Bailey (MFA Syracuse Univeristy, 2006) CLICK HERE

-Shanan Kurtz (MFA Parsons, 2005) CLICK HERE

-Phil Lee (MFA, Goldsmiths London UK, 2004)

-Jillian Locke (BA, U of T, 2003)

-(in absentia) Gareth Long (MFA, Yale 2007) CLICK HERE

-and Patrick Borjal (BA, U of T, 2002)


VoCA: How did 640 480 form? Was it deliberate?

PHIL LEE: It was very deliberate, we were looking for venues in which to establish ourselves…

JEREMY BAILEY: A kind of structure, or framework for making art..

PL: It can be difficult for emerging artists, for video artists

JILLIAN LOCKE: it was also a way to pool equipment.

JB: We thought video art was marginalized back then, now I think it’s more common.

VoCA: Do you show as a collective, or as individuals?

JB: We each have our own solo careers – we only really work as a collective if we are asked to.

The work for TSV is about symbols, creating a myth for a concept. The inspiration came from newfangled ways of disposing of cremated remains, like turning ashes into diamonds.

VoCA: So you kind of equate the lost-moments of the old videocassettes with human ashes?

JB: Yes, we want to create the myth. It’s a concept. The show is a proposal for a concept.

VoCA: How did the commission come about?

JB/All: It was the first public art project for the galleries and their first co-production. They wanted to bridge the gap, literally and create a pathway between the two spaces, one in the new space on Ossington Avenue and the other across town in the 401 Richmond building.

We originally proposed making mini movie sets along the way that viewers could enter into. With the new idea, they still can enter into a throw-away moment, it’s a kind of naivete for the viewer.

VoCA: You participated in Photo New York a few years ago – how was your experience with that? Would you do other art fairs?

JL: We did Scope in 2003

PL: And Photo San Francisco last year..

SHANAN KURTZ: But we felt a bit out of place in San Francisco…it was a good experience, though. After Scope, we were offered a place in Photo NY. We have always been offered free booths, artist project space…

VoCA: Would you say it was worth it?

PL: Well the exposure is always good.

JB: Our pieces are very conceptual, we work with the context and how the viewer reacts to the piece.
So we might have been shooting ourselves in the foot…(by not showing ‘commercial’ work)

JL: Well, we went to Art Basel Miami Beach last year and there were some pretty weird installations there, like that booth that just had a cigarette pack on the floor.

(VoCA note: that was Swiss artist Urs Fischer at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise)

Urs Fischer’s installation at Gavin Brown’s booth, Art Basel Miami Beach, 2006. Image: 333cn.com

PL: Also Frieze, Zoo and the Armory are becoming more cutting edge, like MW Projects usually has some crazy installations…

VoCA: Most of you have done your Masters degrees in the UK or the US. How important is it for Canadian artists to go abroad?

JL: I think you have to leave, well, you’ve already left, haven’t you?

VoCA: Yes I did..

JB: I think it’s important, contemporary art is not local. You have to be aware of what’s going on..

PL: You can’t stay insular.

SK: I feel lucky to have been away and to be coming back. My perspective is different from when I left. When I went to NY I felt that U of T had been kind of Canada-centric.

JB: Toronto-centric…!


SK: Yes, being able to see shows by international artists and having their work talked about …and it was just amazing to see all those people.

JB: We need more exchange here (in Canada). If you’re not in dialogue, then no one’s listening.

VoCA: How does being in New York differ for an artist from being in Canada?

SK: The trajectory of people’s careers are different in NY.

JL: There’s a ‘waiting your turn’ mentality in Canada.

SK: Artists are allowed to develop here (in Canada).

JL: But there are two sides to the coin – you can develop in a vacuum.

JB: There needs to be a balance. For instance, the Banff Centre is a great place for artist residencies. It would be great if something like that existed in a city.

The Banff Centre, Alberta. Image: program-comprehension.org

VoCA: Also there’s Sagamie in Quebec, that’s similarly international, I think?

JB: I’m not so familiar with that one. But it amazes me that for all the galleries in Toronto, there’s so little attention paid (to contemporary art). Why do we always have such a local focus? Look at video representation agencies like Electronic Arts Intermix in New York. They show artists from all over.

VoCA: How do video representation agencies like Vtape in Toronto do in promoting your work?

JB: They do ok, but (the work is) mostly sent to screenings, not galleries. They aren’t really equipped to represent the current generation of artists. Why are artist run centres so specific? Why not just be Media Arts centres, rather than be so specific, video art or…?

TSV and TPW are two artist-run centres that are changing and expanding their mandates. TPW (The Photographer’s Workshop) in particular has widened their mandate beyond photography.

VoCA: I think of artists having two different models to pursue. Artists in the US may think Canadian artists are lucky due to all the artist run centres here, but Canadian artists can easily subsist at a certain level, never gaining attention, just showing regularly in places that few people go to…

conversely, in the US the model is more like a pyramid, where the best rise to the top, to international fame, but the rest suffer. Which is better?

JB: Exactly. I know artists who sleep in their cars between residencies in the US.

An American artist, perhaps? Image: consumerismcommentary.com

VoCA: How do you think the nature of video art is changing, vis a vis your own careers?

PL: Technology will always take a back seat to content and approaching single channel video. It’s how you utilize it. Technology is, for me, just a delivery method.

JB: For me, it’s a living media, although it hasn’t always been recognized that way. Artists like Miranda July, Derraindrop and others are doing really interesting things. It’s becoming a live performance media. Video is more and more accepted in galleries as a compliment to live installation.

Performance artist Miranda July. Image: bartnagel.com

SK: My background is sculpture, so I liked the collective because it had a different approach. It’s relatively recent for me. It’s trying to integrate video into installation – trying to make it more tactile…Using video as a sculptural element.

JL: I came to video from film theory – I kind of fell accidentally into video. I’m interested in video as more integrated, video as a tool. In reality tv, how video evolves within the mass media.

JB: We think of the TSV/TPW project as having humour built into it.

VoCA: That ‘s interesting because when I read the press release, I realized that the first part at Trinity Square Video, the buttons were very reminiscent of Memento Mori.

Of course Memento Mori have a long history within art, as ways for people to be aware or confront their own mortality. So there can be, for the viewer, a very serious element to this artwork. For me, that’s what makes it a good piece.

Isn’t best art always deeply serious, even if it is lighthearted and humourous…?

JB: Absolutely. And that aspect of it comes from the diverse perspectives of our collective…And there’s a sense of futility…


One Response to “640 480 speaks!”

  1. haden says:

    VoCA: I think of artists having two different models to pursue. Artists in the US may think Canadian artists are lucky due to all the artist run centres here, but Canadian artists can easily subsist at a certain level, never gaining attention, just showing regularly in places that few people go to…

    conversely, in the US the model is more like a pyramid, where the best rise to the top, to international fame, but the rest suffer. Which is better?

    My father (John Drainie) was one of the top actors in Canada in the
    1950s and 60s. He made a nice living here, but it is certainly true that had he gone to the US he probably would have done much better.
    As for visual artists today, I think your point is well taken.
    But for me as a buyer of contemporary art, the Canadian model works well. Artist here can work for years honing their craft and getting very good without the attendant publicity they might get in the US. This means that there is good quality work to be found here without the big price tags.

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