Festival Daily

By Christopher McKinnon

The 2008 slate of gallery installations in Future Projections builds on last year’s successful romp through contemporary art and film. With a new roster of filmmakers and artists, the Festival presents a collection of seven works that skirt the boundaries of cinema culture and history.

New York-based art star Glenn Ligon comes to Toronto with The Death of Tom, curated by Wayne Baerwaldt. This new work recontextualizes the Edison Manufacturing Company’s 1903 film Uncle Tom’s Cabin, directed by Edwin S. Porter and based on the book by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Better known for his controversial work in photo-text and painting, Ligon says he found the challenge of working in film and video appealing. He also had some help from Winnipeg-born filmmaker Deco Dawson, who acted as cinematographer. “I didn’t know his work before the moment we started filming, but he turned out to be a perfect fit for what I wanted to do,” Ligon says. Dawson is known for the black-and-white aesthetic of his early short films on 16mm and for his work with cult-film director Guy Maddin.

“My video is a shorthand, in the same way that Thomas Edison’s version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a fourteen-minute shorthand for a five-hundred-page novel,” observes Ligon. “I have condensed the narrative further by focusing on the last minute of Edison’s film, which depicts the death of Tom.”  

The artist prolongs that single one-minute scene of Tom’s death into over 23 minutes of footage. “I have eliminated the narrative of the film,” he says, “to concentrate on mood.”

Another of the Future Projections artists venturing into film and video is Margaux Williamson. Curated by Festival programmer Steve Gravestock, Williamson’s installation Teenager Hamlet 2006 will showcase her first feature-length video.

“The main thing I saw in Hamlet was his impotence and confusion in the face of a perceived injustice,” says Williamson of her decision to work with the Bard’s most famous play. “The first action he manages to take is to put on a play. Not an obvious choice.”

She assembled a cast of her peers to help her prod the project to fruition. Her pals, writer Sheila Heti and painter Sholem Krishtalka, set to interviewing a cast of many Hamlets and many Ophelias. “[Sheila] is such a brilliant, curious person, and I really wanted to pry into the Hamlets,” says Williamson. “Sheila can get to the bottom of things quickly, so I had her wear a wig and sunglasses so her subjects would remember not to trust her too much – to remember they weren’t just talking intimately with one person.”

Williamson admits that at first she wasn’t as keen on the idea of talking to the Ophelias. “I was less curious about the idea of Ophelia and thought that it would be funny if I was honest about this,” Williamson says. “So I asked my friend Sholem Krishtalka, who is the only person I know who can say, ‘Let me just interrupt myself really quickly to say…,’ and be absolutely charming while doing so. It seemed really funny that instead of the Ophelias being self-contained, we just didn’t really let them talk. But eventually, they managed to get through, and Sholem and I both became very interested in the Ophelias.”

The installation will include other elements as well, including screen tests, film stills, paintings and a popcorn machine – pointing toward what Williamson calls “a weird parallel universe to mainstream cinema.” She hopes to create an environment that is subtly surreal, where the audience will feel a part of the art. “I think these additional elements will help add a feeling of openness and transparency,” Williamson says. Indeed, if the trailer she has posted online is anything to judge by, the experience should be wonderfully bizarre and engrossing.

MOCCA Project Room, September 9 to 28
952 Queen Street West
Preview September 6 and 7, 11am to 6pm
Tuesday to Sunday, 11am to 6pm
Closed Mondays
Opening September 11, 7pm to 10pm

Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects, September 4 to 13
1082 Queen Street West
Daily 12:00pm to 5:00pm
Screenings at 7:30pm from September 5 to 10
Admission is free, but space is limited; email [email protected] or call 647-723-6477 to reserve.

Please see page 15 of the Official Film Schedule for information on all seven Future Projections installations.