Movie Review: Public Domain

Public Domain is a collection of videos commissioned by SAW Video, Ottawa’s version of Video Pool. Six renowned video artists were given access to all of the audio-visual material available in the public archives of Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa and given free reign to approach the mountain of material in whatever direction they chose.

The directions are impressively varied and particularly honed. The seven artists commissioned are Gennaro De Pasquale, Sara Angelucci, Ryan Stec and Veronique Couillard, Suzan Vachon, Maureen Bradley and the incomprabale Steve Reinke, who will be introducing the screening.

Remixing found footage could strike one who hasn’t tried it a pretty simple thing to do — after all, you don’t have to shoot anything. But, as anyone who has made a film or video can attest, it’s in the editing room that the real work happens, and in this case there’s no script to guide you, just a pile of arresting images and sounds with little in common. As a result, found footage films can easily devolve into a bit of a mess of ideas and imagery, and one or two in this program do. Impressively, the majority are pointed, poignant and the caliber of talent involved live up to their pedigree.

Ryan Stec and Veronique Couillard’s Library and Archives Canada Public Domain Reels Documenting Spots of Beauty and Interest in Ontario and Quebec Sometime Ago Remixed Today (VCRS) is a short process-based work that takes less time to watch than to type out. Already striking images are impressively bent, warped and augmented through secret real-time video manipulation to great effect.

Maureen Bradley’s Beyond The Pale uses the archive’s content to illustrate her investigation into the past of a distant relative and how and why she was committed to a mental institution. No real answer is discovered, but a number of theories that expose the way lower class, single, Irish-catholic women were treated in the 19th century Canada are provocatively revealed.

Finally, Steve Reinke’s Not Torn (Asunder from The Very Start) closes the program with some potent musings on the nature of the archive and it’s antagonistic relation with memory. The text of his thoughts is printed in the program, but I won’t spoil them; they’re best heard from him.

Public Domain gives some terrific artists the chance to rework our collective past. In the curatorial essay, Mireille Bourgeois draws from writer Sarah Cook to suggest that the archival record alone isn’t enough to give us a sense of history, that it might need the hand of an artist to give us a better sense of the past. At its best, this program backs up that claim.

Public Domain screens on Sept. 21 at Winnipeg’s Cinematheque (100 Arthur St) at 7 p.m.. Introduced by artist Steve Reinke and Christopher Rohde from SAW Video.