Warhol to Wedman

Test

Artist Neil Wedman is bringing his work to the University of Manitoba’s Gallery One One One. Wedman, a native Vancouverite, is well known for his work in a variety of media, but only one video will show here.

Wedman’s visit is part of a yearlong series of video art exhibitions organized by Gallery One One One director Cliff Eyland. The exhibit will consist solely of Wedman’s video work Forget Me, a Warhol-inspired screen test the artist shot in 1970, when he was a teenager. Eyland saw the video more than ten years ago at the Vancouver Art Gallery and has wanted to bring the work back ever since. “I was floored by this tape,” he said. “I thought it was quite moving.”

Forget Me is directly inspired by Screen Tests, films made by Andy Warhol between 1964 and 1966. These motion-portraits of subjects such as Bob Dylan, Yoko Ono, Salvador Dali and Allen Ginsberg were relatively unknown when Wedman shot Forget Me, and were certainly not commonly known among teenagers, so Wedman’s exposure to them is remarkable. “I was kind of surprised,” said Eyland, “that he would have even known about the film still work that Warhol did.”

But Forget Me is a far cry from Warhol’s Screen Tests. In place of the superstars and Factory regulars of Warhol’s film, it is a collection of nervous teenage girls. “Warhol’s Screen Tests are all of very knowing people,” said Eyland. The girls of Forget Me are not.

“They have a bizarre self-consciousness that people don’t seem to have now,” said Eyland of the girls. “With only a couple of them did you get the sense that they were comfortable in front of the camera.” If Forget Me was dissimilar to the screen tests when Wedman shot it, though, it is a different thing entirely now. Wedman did not debut the video until 2000, by which time it was not only a work of video art but a time capsule.

Finally, Wedman has replaced the audio entirely with the Cure’s “Plainsong.” This final oddity sets the Forget Me entirely apart from Screen Tests. “What is — I find — bizarre about it,” said Eyland, “is that it’s not part of the culture around the making of this stuff. The Cure is part of a much later culture.” But he believes this is for the best. “It spans about 30 years of history [it debuted in 2000], so it’s richer and deeper, I think.”

Wedman’s video has generated some controversy. Artist Marina Roy wrote that it “fetishizes the laughing faces of fifteen blond nubile former schoolmates,” and suggested that it is regressive. “If you are male,” explained Eyland, “and you are trying to connect, as an artist, with your needs, wants, desires and sexuality, you are very likely — if you are, say, a heterosexual man — to produce things that are not going to be popular.”

While he concedes that Forget Me “can give you the creeps,” Eyland rejects Roy’s interpretation of the video as a kind of predatory erotic fantasy. “You should read it with a little more subtlety,” he said, “than just implying that Neil Wedman is Hugh Hefner or something.” In fact, he is skeptical of the idea of progressive and regressive art in the first place. “I think those terms have to be used very carefully,” he said. “I can’t imagine what they could mean.”

Forget Me began Jan. 27 and will show until March 4. There will also be an artist’s talk and reception Wednesday, Feb. 9 at 6 p.m.