Po-Mo Collage: 'Canada's media art history and false claims'

How the Po-Mo Era has become cut and paste meta-history

From the writings series: Persistence of Memory

by Al Razutis (2004, updated 2010)


History is an accumulation of facts and interpretations. Works that are created /exhibited constitute 'historical facts' which cannot be 'erased' by critical interpretation except in the all too common practices of 'selective re-writing of historical chronologies' which assign importance (or conversely offer dismissals) to events and authors chosen by a critic, academic, or curator to favorably illustrate his / her thesis. This academicized and selective history is nothing new. Add Post-Modern collage and appropriation techniques to the mix and you get a meta-history of assemblage proportions.

To ignore pioneering works based on gender (as happened in modern painting), race (ism, through the ages), sexual preference (one of the current hegemonies), or falsify authorship (with false claims of authorship or accomplishment) is to 'fabricate' a history of any particular art. History, then, becomes an accumulation of 'selected' (exclusive) facts, arranged according to who has the megaphone, based on subjective or institutional collage, and resembling the Po-Mo junkheaps of scrambled signifiers and signifieds.

Most of what you read today in film classes or curated exhibitions is derived from 'official' academic reading lists and publications that have been cultivated by cliques of academics and critics bent on preserving 'themselves' as guarantors of history and meaning. The semiotic-psychoanalytic idelogical lists of the 80's have been replaced by other lists of the academic present. The internet guarantees that no single list can dominate the world of media arts.

'Why don't you let it go?' (refering to my disaffection with the Canadian media arts scenes) has been uttered to me by a number of morons who have found accomodation to be their calling. (To 'let it go' is to confer authenticity to critical and historical fraud through silence. To 'let it go' is to join the legion of networked cowards, and to let the cultural criminals live happily ever after in their retirement plans.) No, these issues are not 'moot'; they continue to affect film and video creators now and in the future. Hegemony is like a disease. Either cure it, stamp it out, or become ill with it's effects. And Canada is one sick puppy of a country, it's generous government subsidized media scenes once genuine, now afflicted with fraudulent histories and phony accomplishments, giving 'Governor General Awards' to phony accomplisments. And no amount of PR is going to change that.

Institutions are typically 'faceless', their histories hidden behind anonymity (the academic preference not to name names but debate 'issues'). Here, names are named. It is important to put a face on the history of cultural hegemony in Canada and elsewhere.


In the 'Canadian Experimental Film' of the 80's (when I was also an 'academic' prof.) a select group of academic opportunists co-opted the experimental and avant-garde film scene (it's history, meanings, valued works and filmmakers, distribution and curating on a national and international scale) in the 80's. This co-optation dominated the film conferences, government grants, curating and export to festivals of the late 80's and early ninetees. The experimental and avant-garde film scenes collapsed under such 'masters' and have not come back except as new wave fragments divorced from the 60's - 80's films and their histories. The main academic proponents of this 'Canadian Nationalist' opportunism, Bart Testa and R. Bruce Elder, were rewarded with appointments to juries, grants, publications and curated - exported exhibitions. Their subsequent apologists and revisionists have been some of their students, curators like Jim Shedden of the AGO, administrators at Canadian Images Festival like Chris Gehman - and this 'Kanadian practice' is further commented on in the on-line essay Response to Experimental Film Congress.

The Vancouver film history has also been blighted by chronologies which omitted the original founders of the Pacific Cinematheque Pacifique. Werner Aellen (who, founded and incorporated, and first presided over this institution, along with Directors Emery, Shadbolt (both from the Vancouver Art Gallery), Collier and Tougas (who was appointed manager), is nowhere mentioned and wasn't even invited to the '25th anniversary celebration' of the Pacific Cinematheque. This record is presumably now undergoing correction with the assistance of Jim Sinclair of the Pacific Cinematheque.

In every cultural scene there are the 'network players' who come together under one ideological or cultural-theoretical banner to become the 'philosopher historians' of cultural taste. It happens in every country, in all times. The Canadian experimental films that were appointed as true 'Canadian' in the 80's were curated by the Toronto theorists of the Canuck 'wilderness', as examples of the 'photographic image and alienation' psycho-babble (of the Canadian 'theoretical tundra') game. These 'example works' (by Snow, Elder, etc.), and theoretical posturings by Ron Burnett and Cinetracts, were continuously exported to the Europeans in government funded exhibitions and publications of the properly 'Canadian' experimental films. Check out the lists, check out the subsidized exhibitions funded by Canada Council for historical reference .

Where is the 'Canadian Experimental' nationalist cinema (of Elder and Testa) or any 'nationalist' chauvinist theory of cinema now? In the trash heap of cultural theory. In the antique store of failed conceits. Most Canadian eX filmmakers who benefited from this 'cultural elitism' (and Cinema Canada cover shots) are too embarassed to admit to it now. They're probably waiting for retirement in some film college, being proper 'leftists', doing the politicallly corrected anti-globalization dance to secure favor from the 'now'.

Where are the proponents of 'Feminist - psychoanalytic - semiotic -structual - linguistic' theory, the 'politically-correct' gender-preference chauvisnisms (remember 'Fuse' magazine? Or Ron Burnett's Cinetracts?), or Freudo-Marxian cultural 'deconstructionist' theorists now? Tenured, promoted, awarded, and on their way to a well-paid retirement, but first (on their way out) also spouting nonsense about the 'pan-capitalist globalization', 'new media', and making 100K and up.

They have no shame and assume that we have no memory.

These films (on this site) are a reminder of a refusal to participate in the 'official Kanadian' (or American, for that matter) 'canons' of avant-garde history cooked up in film theory. They are the facts of creation that 'spit in the face of institutionalized art' (including all of their 'meta-histories').

'Experimental Film Theory' in Canada (Bart Testa, Bruce Elder, Seth Feldman, etc.), Psycho-Semiotic Film Theory (Laura Mulvey, Constance Penley, Kaja Silverman, etc.) wreaked havoc in Canada and in the U.K.. Promoted by 'amateurs' (neither Silverman, nor Mulvey, nor Penley were actually psychologists or trained in psychology or film) these prescriptive theories succeeded in co-opting film practice in favor of 'New Narratives' (Nationalism in Canada, Freudo-Marxism in the U.K., and a network of US and Canadian schools). This co-optation served only one purpose: promotion of individual academic careers. It mattered little to their creators that the theories were short-lived and abandoned after a few years. They got their jobs, grants, and promotions. Their disciples likely sit on the juries that are considering film and 'new media' applications for grant support, and their 'blacklists' are their only strategy of survival.

These film works (cited here on this site) were created in opposition and in spite of those hegemonies.

Film Historical writings - backgrounds: (by Al Razutis)

  • 'Recovering Lost History: Vancouver Avant-Garde Cinema 1960-1969'

  • 'Critical Perspectives on Vancouver Avant-Garde Cinema 1970-83'

  • 1980's Canadian Avant-Garde Film Theory - Politics - section - (Opsis, 1984, Canada)

  • Manifesto: Razutis Aside' (2002)

  • Index of Critical Writings on Film


    In experimental video, a number of well-funded and fraudulent histories have recently emanated from Vancouver (Canada)-based authors assigning false authorship to video art practices in the 70's - 80's to insiders of government funded arts groups such as 'Western Front', 'Video In', on their way to their local curating outlet, the Vancouver Art Gallery. These two organizations, one founded by non-sexist gay artists (the WF), the second by socialist documentarians (Video In) were themselves changed and co-opted into what they are today: sites of professional opportunists playing the 'queer video nation' game for grants or simply rearranging the past to foreground themselves.

    It is noteworthy that the use of 'video' by both the Western Front (Morris, Lewis, Metcalf, Craig) and Video In (Goldberg) was initially in the form of documenting performance or social-political subjects. Both organizations were dominated, in their early days, by artists that were opposed to 'video synthetic' (video synthesis) explorations, kinaesthetic and synaesthetic use of the video medium, and that task was largely left to us (at Visual Alchemy) who pursued the synthetic exploration via custom-built video synthesizer, bio-feedback experiments, and film-video hybrids (Lee-Nova and Razutis - Hybrid 1973) and other synaesthetic video works by Razutis and others.

    The historical contributions of Intermedia artists working in media and performance will soon be recovered, if not archived. The fabricated chronologies that currently pass as 'history' will be revealed for what they are and perhaps Vancouver arts will recover some of the 'memory' that it lost in the careerism of the 80's.

    The authors of official media histories (as published by galleries and government funded institutions) are successful parts of that 'geneology of curating' ( WF - VI - VAG - National Gallery ) that has venerated their insiders / impostors, and paralyzed and misrepresented the west-coast media scene throughout the 90's and onwards. They have elevated art appropriated from others over innovative works, and they have ignored a number of pioneering videomakers (Byron Black, and many others) that were the true pioneers in experimental video, performance, poetry.

    The Vancouver history impostors (Hank Bull, Paul Wong, and the late Kate Craig, to name a few) got their appointments to juries, grants, awards) and they of course dispensed the same. Mr. Bull claimed (in Video In publications) that he was a 'pioneer in telecommunications art' at the Western Front in the 70's, while the truth was that he was a part-time pianist at the Front; the late Ms. Craig was credited with 'pioneering video curating' in Vancouver and at the Front, while everyone who was active then knows that she was little more than a 'bad fashion' model for Dr. Brute and a maker of a few videos.

    Cut and paste po-mo culture doesn't recognize 'fact' as anything but useful 'stuff' in the capacity to be re-arranged, where cause and effect have lost their relationship, where signifiers are freed from their signifieds. What better point then, in this essay, to insert the contents of 'Artscanada - the issue of video art' (1973), particularty those contents that pertain to activities in Vancouver acknowleded by their 'non-curating' contributors in 1973:

    click/enlarge - large enough to read - in separate window - Artscanada - the issue of video art - 1973 - content strip pertaining to Vancouver video history - 2.5 mB JPEG

    The 'awards prize' for meta-historical recognition goes to Paul Wong, video artist, no longer 'confused' about how to get a medal, who successfully re-wrote the history of Video In, first crediting himself in place of Mike Goldberg with founding the Video In organization (in multiple publications by that org), later attaching himself via curating sycophants as being 'instrumental in the founding of' (Canada Council) 'video art in Vancouver'. He received a medal for that: a Governor General's Award (May 2005) was given (by way of Canada Council, wink, wink) for 'pioneering video art' in Vancouver. Wong was born Nov. 20, 1954. How is it that, by 1970, when video art is already flourishing in Vancouver (since Intermedia 1968 a number of artists have been making videos), that then 15 year old Wong in Prince Rupert, BC has 'founded' any video art in Vancouver? How is it that in the 1973 issue of Artscanada - the issue of video art (above), there is no mention of the 'pioneer' of video art in Vancouver, a certain Paul Wong (who would have been 18 at the time - just out of high school)?. You'll have to ask the Canada Council (where Wong was big-time in 'advisory boards') and their 'peer review' process those questions. But the answer is already stated.


    The underground film scene was nearing its end in the late 60's and into the early 70's. Vancouver's Intermedia Film Co-op Catalogue - issues 1 & 2 - were the last that could properly be called 'underground'. Experimental video was in the hands of people who invariably used it (in Vancouver) for poetic (Gerry Gilbert), documentary (Mike Goldberg), musical (Don Druick), performance (Western Front), synaesthetic (Lee-Nova and Razutis), videosynthetic (Razutis) and early digital (Liz Vanderzag) 'pioneer' purposes. In the video 60's there was no Paul Wong, no Video In, no Western Front, no Pumps, and no Metromedia either. And any claims to the contrary seem only to benefit the revisionists in their teaching, grant subsidized careers and the cultural amnesia that follows.

    It is important to remember that the two organizations in Vancouver (Western Front and Video In) always featured in Vancouver 'video art' history were set against synthetic use of video ('synaesthetic' cinema, as Gene Youngblood once termed it), and only later did they become self-proclaimed and illegitimate 'pioneers' of this process (when the video grants started flowing). Nowhere can the Western Front or Video In works from their early days prove otherwise. The camera was a 'recording device' of performances or social events. Their present-day use of synaesthetic technologies (compositing, montage, collage, fragmentation, fx, etc.) in modern editing / fx bays is a matter of fashionable amnesia.

    Synaesthetic video (analog video synthesizers based on analog audio synthesizers, as were developed at Visual Alchemy by Razutis and Armstrong) is now commonplace. Much of digital compositing owes its existence to the film optical printer aesthetics and audio synthesizer aesthetics and technology. The synaesthetic pioneers have been ignored in favor of posturing revisionists who are good at 'networking' (obligatory, in Canada).

    Grants, awards, jury appointments, teaching gigs, the perks of resume fraud are endless. And that's the 'cultural industry' that exists when 'state subsidy' and grant funding agencies create a species called 'professionally well-connected artist/curators' who sit on each other's juries and write each other's 'histories' and of course cook their resumes.

    They have no shame and assume we have no memory.

    Does it matter? Only to those who regard history (and authenticity) as something other than a self-promoting and rhetorical strategy. (No wonder 'cinema rhetoric' is big in neo-theory land...) Canadian media history, however, is like a mall display: advertised and exported in any manner, at any price, for world (especially U.S. and European) consumption with the motto 'Can do'... and with opportunist categories like 'Queer Video Nation' (Paul Wong, Yeung, and Video In 1990's).

    Over the years, the policy concerning these retired works (on this page) has been consistent: none of these films or videotapes will ever be screened in any events associated with the Vancouver Art Gallery or Art Gallery of Ontario. It is obvious what interests those institutions have represented for decades.


    The re-manufacture of personal and cultural histories to benefit a few 'state' artists and commissars of 'kulture' was once a feature of the old USSR where state and culture, and all other things, were 'one'. However, in socially minded countries like Canada networks of artists have created a 'Official Kanadian' industry of medals, awards and metahistories that rival any such state dominated culture. Internet libraries on the spider-crawled web, such as these, are effective antidotes to the hegemony of curated/institutionalized (be it avant-garde or art) interpretations which confer the label of 'official history' on any given practice. They allow the reader to access the unofficial histories and arrive at their own evaluations and conclusions. History is a narrative of facts interpreted by those who make it their 'purpose' to interpret, for personal or social gain, for love or hate, for celebration or vengeance. History constantly mutates in it's DNA of 'facts' and 'meanings'. The facts of creation can be obscured, forgotten, but never erased.

    XA.R.(Al Razutis), 2004 (updated 2010)

    For manifesto essay on these films, see 'These Films, This Site'' - who is the subject 'I' of these works.

    For what you didn't learn in film school: see Film Studies 101 - hegemony of marxian - psychoanalytic 'film theory'.

    Index of Critical Writings on Film

    Avant-Garde Film and Video - main page