Thursday, February 15, 2007

an article about the films of Joyce Wieland

As I talk to University of Western Ontario film professor Michael Zryd over the phone in preparation for this article, I find myself remembering my own days as a film student a decade ago.

And as Zyrd and I talk about Canadian artist Joyce Wieland's film retrospective - which kicks off its cross-Canada tour at the London Regional Art and Historical Museums this month - I find myself wishing that I'd been able to see these films as a student.

When I was in school there was a lot of lip-service paid to feminist theory, especially to the idea that women have a unique and valuable story to tell about the realm of the "personal" - the intimate day-to-day domestic activities that, in the past, have tended to make up much of women's lives.

As Zryd speaks, I begin to visualize Wieland's films in my mind, and all of a sudden I realize that Wieland's work may be the perfect example of one of feminist theory's pet subjects: the intersection of the "personal" and the "political."

Wieland was a prolific artist in a variety of media, creating paintings, drawings, mixed-media constructions, and quilts as well as films, over the course of her career.

Before her death last year at the age of 66, she had left a permanent mark on the Canadian and feminist art worlds. She was noted for being the first living female Canadian artist to receive solo exhibitions at both the National Gallery and the Art Gallery of Ontario, and was awarded the Order of Canada in 1983.

She began making short films in the early 1960s while living with then-husband Michael Snow in New York City.

Zyrd, who contributed an article to the book The Films of Joyce Wieland, which is accompanying the retrospective, emphasizes that most of Wieland's films - which can best be described as experimental - are quite intentionally humorous. They also exhibit incredible variety in their subject matter, encompassing comedy, personal meditations, formal/structuralist studies, and documentaries, as well as one narrative film.

Most of the works being shown at the LRAHM on three consecutive Thursdays beginning October 7 are quite short - eleven minutes or less in length - and all are being shown in the format intended by the artist, i.e. on filmstrip, not video.

Examples of Wieland's other artwork from the LRAHM's permanent collection will also be on display.

Personal and political (even patriotic) combine most poetically in 1968-69's Reason Over Passion, a combination "landscape film" (shot from Wieland's own cross-Canada journey by car and train) and documentary of Pierre Elliot Trudeau at a Liberal convention. The result is an unforgettably complex nationalistic statement that will leave the viewers pondering their own relationship to Canada.

October 7, 1999
copyright 1999, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

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