(1990, duration 14:36min)

In 1989 I was invited by The Banff Centre to participate in an experimental video production residency entitled “Artists’ Television Workshop.” The idea of this residency was to put video artists together with experienced television crews to produce unusual works for television. That’s how I ended up making WHITEWASH. It was a lengthy and difficult process, since the TV folks I worked with spoke a very different language from what I was used to, and it was hard for us to make our ideas understood. We all had to learn to make adjustments in how we worked.

WHITEWASH has been shown on television (TV Ontario, Rogers Cable in Toronto, SCN in Saskatchewan), which is where is was meant to be seen. Ideally, you would be flipping channels around 6pm when there are a lot of “real” news programs on, and just come across WHITEWASH.

But WHITEWASH has mostly been seen as an art video in art contexts. At YYZ in Toronto, it was shown as a solo exhibition, but usually it has been used in group screenings. Most recently, it was part of an international travelling show called “Magnetic North.” You can find the catalogue (a big book) for this in the library. In it there is a good essay on WHITEWASH written by Sara Diamond, head of viusal and media arts at The Banff Centre.

In 1990 and 1991, WHITEWASH “made the circuit” of video/film festivals. It won the Silver Plaque Award at the Chicago International Film & Video Festival, and Best Media Critique award at the Atlanta Film and Video Festival in Atlanta, Georgia. It also won Best Experimental, Best Short, Best Sound and Best Effects at the Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax. It was selected for the Video Positive Festival in Liverpool, England, the VIPER Festival in Berlin, and the Worldwide Video Festival in the Netherlands. It has since been purchased for collecitons of many galleries, museums and libraries.

As for my vision for the piece, I often see myself as a “landscape” artist, spinning my ideas off observations and experiences I have in a particular terrain– airports, the Arizona desert, Paris,etc. Often my work is about where the mind goes, associatively, when one is physically present (but mentally wandering through memory) in certain places and situations.

I thought of WHITEWASH as a “landscape” work where the terrain was television, and where I had observed compelling patterns of language and gesture in this landscape which seemed to make up a certain amount of the “content” of what I saw. So that what you would call “information” or “news” content seemed reinforced and even determined (in part) by the authority of a way of speaking, a way of moving, a relationship with the camera, the “look” and “sound” of an anchorperson. Same with commercials, whose authority seemed to be made up of bright lighting, bright sound, familiar gesture, action, tight editing sequences.

So I tried to make a television work that was virtually contentless, but where all the “markers” of television were present as signposts in the terrain, blurring the boundaries between commercials and news. The character of the female news anchor becomes absorbed into this commercial/news landscape, becoming a feature in the TV landscape, even as she tries to make her way through it, looking for her place in all this cliche, looking for a way in which she might NOT be determined by it, but distinct and individual.

But her character is a product of TV that has no existence outside of TV. She says, “I invent and gather these images,” and her male co-anchor responds, “These images are gathered in you, and describe only themselves.” Everything seems familiar, but nothing belongs to her. Rather, she belongs to it.