16 June 1984 - 5 July 1984
Opening Reception 16 June 1984 8pm
VIDEO INSTALLATION A FORUM FOR PUBLIC
Artculture Resource Centre, Art Metropole, The Funnel, Mercer Union, Music Gallery, YYZ, Impulse Magazine, Lacemakers Gallery, Video Inn, the Western Front and other organizations and individuals are pleased to announce their co-sponsorship for the world premiere exhibition of CONFUSED: PART II, THE INSTALLATION “SEXUAL VIEWS” by Vancouver artists Gary Bourgeois, Gina Daniels, Jeanette Reinhardt, and Paul Wong.
The co-sponsors are presenting the exhibition at the premises of A.R.C, 658 Queen Street West, Toronto June 16 to July 5, 1984 — opening June 15th 7 – 10pm. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Friday 12 to 6pm.
CONFUSED: PART II is a photo-text and multi-channel video installation presenting a provocative and informative series of 27 interviews on sexuality. Within the installation the 27 tapes are shown in three groups of nine, one week at a time.
It is the mandate of this exhibition project to encourage the artistic exploration of the social questions raised through the representation of human sexual experience and the debate and discourse around it.
Paul Wong was invited to present this work at the Vancouver Art Gallery in February of this year. Two days prior to the scheduled opening of the installation the VAG’s director abruptly cancelled the exhibition resulting in concern and outrage across Canada. As justification for this action, the director offered the opinion that the work was not art and that it was likely to offend the gallery’s audience.
In response to the cancellation two public preview screenings of some of the tapes were presented in April, and this Toronto exhibition has been organised.
The sponsors agreed to this action in support of Paul Wong and the other producers, to state that there is no question the CONFUSED is art, and in defence of the public’s right to choose, according to their own interests and preferences, to view or not view this work in its intended form of presentation, and to exercise their own artistic and moral judgments.
AS AN ACT OF PUBLIC PROTEST against the existing and proposed (Bill 82) film and video censorship, and the actions of the Ontario Board of Censors against artists’ work, the sponsors of this exhibition will not submit the video-tape element of this installation to the censor board for prior-approval.
Although each of the sponsors employ different strategies in confronting and combating censorship, we have agreed to this act of public protest for the following reasons:
– We believe that it is entirely inappropriate to subject artists’ work to prior censorship and maintain that the Theatres Act was never meant to interfere with arts activities – Film and Video are the only art media subject to prior-censorship by a government body – The censor board prohibits exhibition of film and video based on arbitrary standards which have no basis in law – The censor board has been declared unconstitutional by the courts – Proposed legislation (Bill 82) presents even further problems for the arts.
In order that this protest may be as broadly based as possible the sponsors listed here are calling for others from the community at large to sponsor and/or support our actions through this exhibition.
In addition to the sponsors listed above a complete list of confirmed sponsors at time of this release is:
S. L. Simpson Gallery,
United Media Art Studies,
Toronto Community Videotex,
The Body Politic,
The Young and Restless Talk Sex
John Bentley Mays
Globe and Mail, April 1984
FOR REASONS that have nothing to do with art, Paul Wong’s Confused: Sexual Views is probably the most talked-about work of video art in Canada these days.
Wong, 29, is among the busiest outré young video artists in Vancouver, and that fact would have guaranteed a thoughtful, critical audience for Confused, which was commissioned as the curtain raiser for the Vancouver Art Gallery’s new video exhibition space.
But the piece’s nation-wide celebrity was assured in late February, only hours before its scheduled premiere, when VAG director Luke Rombout saw portions of the work for the first time and decided the 9 hour assemblage of 27 taped interviews had no aesthetic merit, and might be indecent and offensive to boot. Whereupon he cancelled its first screening.
The artist returned fire immediately with a legal action intended to force the gallery to show the work. (He lost.) Next came angry public meetings by local artists and supporters, a community campaign aimed at wresting apology and redress from the gallery, some hot dialogue about the artistic issues involved, and the passage of some polite wrist-slapplng motions at the gallery’s annual general meeting in March.
The controversy continues, and it is too soon to tell what the final consequences of Rombout’s decision will be. But no one in Toronto need wait any longer to make up his mind about the videotapes that caused the director to make the Canadian art world’s most famous sudden death decision of 1984. Selections from Confused: Sexual Views will be screened tonight at 8 at The Funnel Film Theatre, 5071 King St. E., and on Monday night at 8 at the Rivoli, 334 Queen St. W. The programs will be different each evening and will add up to about one-third of the work.
The artist will be at both screenings, which are being sponsored by a number of artist-run centres and organizations, Including Art Metropole, Artculture Resource Centre, Mercer Union, The Funnel, A Space, The Music Gallery, YYZ, and Forbidden Films, a Toronto group opposed to film and video censorship.
To make this large work, Paul Wong and co-producers Gary Bourgeois, Gina Daniels and Jeanette Reinhardt first recruited 23 men and women (heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual) who were willing to talk on camera about their various sexual styles, preferences and attitudes.
As Wong explained in the March issue of Video Guide, getting them wasn’t easy. “We were very concrete about what we wanted and we wanted people to be very direct. We were quite surprised that so many people refused us. We were even more surprised that we couldn’t find any older people willing to talk to us.” Result: a sample population that features, for the most part, the young and the restless and the talkative.
Next, Wong put his subjects in front of a colour video camera, fixed at head-and-shoulders range, and ran down a list of topics with them.
The list is revealing. No attempt is made at Kinsey-like breadth or objectivity, nor is the approach one of cool curiosity about the ways other people do it. With headings such as abortion, pornography, religious sex education, the first time, and cross-over experiments (straight men trying gay sex, etc.), each interview appears to have been limited to Paul Wong’s urgent personal agenda, as revealed In his own taped interview. This entire project can plausibly (if simplistically) be read as Wong’s ransacking of his friends’ lives for ways to deal with the guilt, personal dissatisfaction, and sexual ambiguity on his mind as he prepares to bid his 20’s farewell.
After finishing the many hours of interviewing, Wong snipped out all the questions, then stitched together the responses of each subject into a snappily edited, glittering visual fabric. Subtitles flash on the screen at the odd moments when the viewer could use a hint about the topic being addressed. Other wise, the tapes present people – each is identified in program notes by first name only – who are just talking, and not a naughty bit in sight.
But why should we be Interested in that?
In a statement drafted before the cancellation, curator Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker (who was coordinating the premiere for the gallery) said of the piece: “I confront human experience that is not my own, but which deeply moves me…. I am ultimately overwhelmed by a sense of the dignity and honesty of the people who face me. I am impressed by their desire for truth, their vulnerability, their willingness to risk.”
This response is surely as astonishing as the raciest thing said by any subject. I suspect that if the viewer is overwhelmed by a single aspect of these tapes, it will be the brittle, contrived artificiality of the sex talk throughout, not the honesty.
We watch Wong’s subjects adopting frank and honest poses, instead of being frank and honest. We watch them pretending to be risky and open, while they dodge nervously in and out of undergrowths of psychological cliche potted from movies, sex manuals, group therapy sessions, lonely hearts columns and teen romance magazines. The final outcome of Wong’s exercise seems to be not truth, but a huge and fantastic fiction assembled from the vacant cultural opinions and images inside the speakers’ heads, signifying little except the odd, dry emptiness of the correspondents themselves.
These are telling documents of contemporary consciousness, and revelations of narrative, though not for Wong’s reasons. It is interesting to note, in fact, how utterly the work itself has overturned the intentions of its maker.
Wong intends that we value his celebration of honest dialogue in a world presumably dishonest and rigid about sexual discourse. But if there is a message In Confused: Sexual Views, it is that the ceaseless yakkity-yak about sex in contemporary society (mass media, therapy, pornography, even art) may be destroying the very possibility of having sex.
After listening to several minutes of confused self-analysis, evasion and silly sexual optimism – all of it cast in some popular or clinical discourse about sexuality – the viewer will not be surprised to find the speaker giving a cheer for masturbation, and even quiet huzzas for celibacy. Only in complete sexual isolation can all the obsessive dreams, the fantasies, the sheer hankerings promoted by mass culture come true at last, in the paradox of complete sexual untruth.
What are we to make of Luke Rombout’s stated reasons for cancelling this tape’s premiere?
His contention is that this long depiction of people talking does not constitute a creative act, and has no relation to visual art, are particularly difficult to understand. Wong’s work is a continuation and integral part of the history of Canadian video art, which began in 1969, when just about the first Canadian tapes by artists were created at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. From that beginning until the mid-l97Os, the central impulse in video art was a hunger for visual and conceptual truth, which painting was then believed unable to contain or deliver.
By baldly portraying themselves, by simply presenting their ordinary stories and lives on tape, such artists as Colin Campbell, Lisa Steele and John Watt, and the influential American visitor Vito Acconci pioneered a style which aspired to complete transparency. They sought to transcend the whole language of craft, brilliance and consumerism that had grown up around painting. And they succeeded, by the mid-I970s, the most authoritative visual rhetoric of Canadian video was situated firmly in the discourse of truth and clarity, and far from the old-fashioned discourse of sculptural and painterly objects.
The situation has become far more complex since then, and the hope for transparency in early video has been displaced by the accomplishment of a variety of narrative styles. Nevertheless, issues of truth and fiction remain central to Canadian video, and to Paul Wong. It is deeply ironic that Wong and Rombout would perhaps agree in their view of these tapes as artless and sociologically direct – especially in view of the fact the works are as fictional and acted out as any narrative tapes I have ever seen.
Whether they are also indecent and offensive is a more complicated question. Last month, Rombout seemed sure they-might offend some of the members who have joined the gallery since its opening last October. As things have turned out, nearly everyone has lost something: Wong lost exposure in his home town, members have lost an opportunity to see a new tape by a notable Vancouver artist, and the Vancouver Art Gallery has lost at least some of it’s credibility in the local artistic community.
Luke Rombout has not been lost, and the art scene in Vancouver had better pray he doesn’t leave.
However his decision is viewed – I see it as a grave and unfortunate lapse in judgment – the fact remains Rombout is one of the few directors of a general art museum in Canada who have demonstrated a commitment to the exhibition of the most advanced contemporary Canadian art, and knowledge of it as well. He has supported his curators, especially Scott Watson and Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, in some of the best and most audacious contemporary programming in the country. The Vancouver Art Gallery, with its huge new membership, its new-found status as a public target, and a marvelously central urban location, is in a position to take on the world, or to disappear. Whether Rombout’s decision is an omen of more timidity to come, or whether it was merely a fumble in the middle of a particularly tough first quarter, remains to be seen.