DNA Symposium: Lightning Talk on Failure

I’m going to tell you a story about an archive.

Canada has one of the oldest online video art archives, if not the oldest, on the web. Few people know about it.

Launched in 2003 after a year as a pilot project, SAW Video in Ottawa was responsible for creating a repository of 486 independently-produced videos accessible for free online, in full length. This project was called the Mediatheque. Its web infrastructure was custom-built, and the archival process relied heavily on trial and error as no precedent existed for this kind of endeavour.

The funding for the Mediatheque was allocated specifically as an archival grant under the Canadian Culture Online Funding Programs from the Department of Canadian Heritage. Preceding YouTube by two years and reaching a terabyte (over a 1000 GB) of content , the Mediatheque placed an open call for video artists and paid 200 dollars per submission for the rights to showcase works for 3 years online.

The Mediatheque lived long enough to see this contract with artists expire, though most artists agreed to renew the rights, this time without payment. In this second phase, starting in 2006, the Mediatheque continued to add new works, and featured more than 300 videos from the original pool.

In 2009, the Mediatheque’s server crashed and the project has been offline since. There was no database backup at SAW Video, nor with their corporate sponsor who was hosting the project. Neither had assumed it their responsibility. Saw Video reassembled its website using Google Cache but never attempted to piece together the Mediatheque via the Wayback Machine or other means. For SAW Video, the crash represented an opportunity if not a cry for change. It was time for reflecting on the project in relationship to emergent social media that now largely constitute the web. After more than 6 years online, had the needs for this archive changed? Had the context for video art expanded in ways to render the project obsolete? Revived, would the Mediatheque be a relic, or does it remain a failure of the very concept of online archiving by virtue of its ephemeral nature? Is failure embedded into the concept of the online archive?

Apart from the grant application and few reports to the government, little documentation exists about the Mediatheque, and nothing at all exists that attempts to answer these questions or to situate the Mediatheque within the framework of media studies, archival theory, or video art’s art history.  (Besides my doctoral work, that is).

Today, SAW Video plans to rebuild an archive containing many of these videos, however no longer under the name Mediatheque and with no necessary attachment to the 2003 version. In this sense, the new repository is neither a straightforward continuation nor an attempt to replace the defunct project. The new version was originally intended for December 2010, but continued delays suggest that the conundrums of the online archive remain, for which pragmatic and philosophical questions alike are difficult to answer of in the long-term thinking demanded of the archive by very definition.

So the burning question is: is failure embedded?

Web Archeology

Documenting my ‘digs’ of video art online repositories from a Canadian cultural context here:


And for the Mediatheque, here.

Over the course of the next few months, I will post video clips at wayward.ca that explain the history of these now mostly defunct websites.

Because it is a) difficult to describe a trajectory back in through the wayback machine (internet archive) that include numerous iterations of a same project and because b) it is almost impossible to do the same ‘search’ twice, I am recording my findings and posting them here.

These digs are totally unrehearsed and unchoreographed, which means that I often get lost in the regenerated loops of the wayback archival process, and take you with me. These digs are meant to record the research process as much as they are intended to document the portals I explore.

VIDEO VORETX READER 2 Crashing the Archive/Archiving the Crash (2011)

Hogan, Mél. “Archiving the Crash/Crashing the Archive” Video Vortex Reader II: Moving Images Beyond Youtube Amsterdam – Institute of Network Cultures. 2011

Video Vortex Reader II: moving images beyond YouTube

About the book: Video Vortex Reader II is the Institute of Network Cultures’ second collection of texts that critically explore the rapidly changing landscape of online video and its use. With the success of YouTube (’2 billion views per day’) and the rise of other online video sharing platforms, the moving image has become expansively more popular on the Web, significantly contributing to the culture and ecology of the internet and our everyday lives. In response, the Video Vortex project continues to examine critical issues that are emerging around the production and distribution of online video content.

Following the success of the mailing list, the website and first Video Vortex Reader in 2008, recent Video Vortex conferences in Ankara (October 2008), Split (May 2009) and Brussels (November 2009) have sparked a number of new insights, debates and conversations regarding the politics, aesthetics, and artistic possibilities of online video. Through contributions from scholars, artists, activists and many more, Video Vortex Reader II asks what is occurring within and beyond the bounds of Google’s YouTube? How are the possibilities of online video, from the accessibility of reusable content to the internet as a distribution channel, being distinctly shaped by the increasing diversity of users taking part in creating and sharing moving images over the web?

Contributors: Perry Bard, Natalie Bookchin, Vito Campanelli, Andrew Clay, Alexandra Crosby, Alejandro Duque, Sandra Fauconnier, Albert Figurt, Sam Gregory, Cecilia Guida, Stefan Heidenreich, Larissa Hjorth, Mél Hogan, Nuraini Juliastuti, Sarah Késenne, Elizabeth Losh, Geert Lovink, Andrew Lowenthal, Rosa Menkman, Gabriel Menotti, Rachel Somers Miles, Andrew Gryf Paterson, Teague Schneiter, Jan Simons, Evelin Stermitz, Blake Stimson, David Teh, Ferdiansyah Thajib, Andreas Treske, Robrecht Vanderbeeken, Linda Wallace, Brian Willems, Matthew Williamson, Tara Zepel.

Colophon: Editors: Geert Lovink and Rachel Somers Miles. Copy Editor: Nicole Heber. Design: Katja vay Stiphout. Cover Image: Team Thursday. Priner: Ten Klei, Amsterdam. Publisher: Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam. Supported by: the School for Communication and Design at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (Hogeschool van Amsterdam DMCI). The Video Vortex Reader is produced as part of the Culture Vortex research program, which is supported by Foundation Innovation Alliance (SIA – Stichting Innovatie Alliantie).


To order a hard copy of Video Vortex Reader II email: books@networkcultures.org

Geert Lovink and Rachel Somers Miles (eds), Video Vortex Reader II: moving images beyond YouTube, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2011. ISBN: 978-90-78146-12-4, paperback, 378 pages.

Review: Wicked Games

Originally posted @ Wayward.

Wicked Games by George

I find this video magical. And haunting. And really hard to write about.

I saw George’s video at the EDGY WOMEN festival, in a programme curated by Dayna McLeod, the founder and project manager ofhttp://52pickupvideos.com. Wicked Games was one video among 39 others at the festival, created by 26 artists who currently contribute to 52pickupvideos, or who have done so in the past. It’s an amazing online venue for artists, and is open to newcomers who are willing to take on the challenge of making a new video each week, consecutively, for one year.

Wicked Games can be found here: http://52pickupvideos.com/HTML/George_Week5.html

What is also worth noting about 52pickupvideos is that it invites artists — in the case of George, a dancer and choreographer — to express, experiment and work through video no matter what their background or prior experience with the medium.

Wicked Games stood out for me at the EDGY WOMEN festival screening, though I haven’t found it easy to pin point why or what kind of effect it has had on me. There is something about the seamlessness of this video and careful crafting of sound that makes the video hard to dissect after the fact, though in the moment – watching it – I was fully captivated.

The plural of ‘Games’ in the title hints at the way this piece is crafted: playful but definitely wicked, too. It captivates and repels. The wicked games in this video are the levels of reality; the intense gaze from the moment the video starts in synch with an accelerated slow-motion that sets the tone and speed of the piece. A swaying man stares into the camera signing Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game over the sound of a very present creaky floor. The man’s gaze is intense but not inviting, and is interrupted by a high contrast black and white version of himself. These ‘interruptions’ bring in an unmistakably iMovie aesthetic to the video, a formal decision that speaks not only to George’s use of video to comment on video, but of editing to comment on movement.

A second chapter begins when the two characters appear in the frame for a forced and constrained dialogue – a gesture marked in the narrative by the ‘main’ character leaning forward, indicating that he is turning on/off the camera. This suggests a new level at which the viewer is expected to interact. The viewer shifts from witness to audience: we are invited to acknowledge the act of recording, the presence of the camera, and a performance that is in itself only made possible by its re-presentation in ‘real time’. In this way, the work demands the attention of its audience, and in turn, the audience makes the work complete.

Mél Hogan, April 7, 2011.


Review: le jeu du pendu

Originally posted @ Wayward.

Les jeux anodins ne sont pas toujours les plus anodins

le jeu du pendu par lamathilde

I recently saw this video again at FIFA. I’d seen it on YouTube soon after lamathilde posted it and I asked her if it could also be featured in NMP: she chose NMP’s love issue–a perfect fit–which comes out Nov 1, 2011. But I don’t want to wait until then to write about it.

I think I could spend some time reflecting on how watching a video online and on the ‘big screen’ are part of the same technolandscape now, and to go with that, that I really don’t understand the reluctance to post video art on the web. I don’t think everyone has to, at least not for all videos at all times, but I think certain works, presented within a particular framework and context are essential in these digital times. As someone who likes to review video art, having access to a version online is key for me to watch.now.overandoveragain. I think I’ve watched le jeu du pendu twenty times now, and I thank the internet for that.

I guess my point is that lamathilde’s generous offerings, in the form of video online – and le jeu du pendu in particular – speaks to a particular political viewpoint that equates the sharing of ideas with the possibility of larger and more unpredictable conversations that are long, long, overdue.

What I love about lamathilde, and about her work (these things cannot really be separated after all) is her political sensibilities. She knows how and when to exude power and how to surrender to it. le jeu du pendu is testament to this and to lamathilde’s unwavering attention to ideas of community, love, and the communicative potential of art. These are elements that stand out for me and that seem to make her voice so present in her work. With this voice – spirit, heart, mind, and body – lamathilde recounts her brother’s hanging using the morbid game of ‘hangman’ as a narrative device. The voice vacillates between that of storyteller, sister, and artist, and is in moments necessarily sarcastic, frustrated, tender, sad, authoritative, and forgiving.

In only 1 minute and 39 seconds, lamathildes draws links between death, gender, discourses of power, capitalist values, and the butterfly effect. Through the weaving process of these important themes and by referring to a game largely based on guessing rather than strategy, lamathilde invites the viewer to ponder accountability–how individual actions are each important to the overall well-being of family, community, humanity, and ultimately, oneself.

Mél Hogan, April 2, 2011.


Screening: Edgy Women Festival

My video “stunts. ruelle” was shown at Edgy Women 2011

Dayna McLeod presents selected works from 52 Pick-Up.

Presented in collaboration with MainLine. Saturday, April 2nd from 9 pm to 3 am
Venue: MainLine Theatre (3997 St-Laurent)

Review: Hung Over & Boob Cleaning

Originally posted @ Wayward.

Hung Over & Boob Cleaning by Dayna McLeod

Dayna McLeod is a writer, video and performance artist whose work is ripe with humour and socially charged situations. She has traveled extensively with her performance work, and her videos have played from London Ontario to London England – across Europe, North America, South America, and a few times on TV. She has received funding for video projects from the Canada Council and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec.

In the tradition of performance art documentation, Dayna McLeod uses video to reflect back on and comment the outcomes of her experiments and interactions with her audience from a performance that she takes no pains to explain. McLeod’s style, however, makes documentation an afterthought. And, so, rather than documenting her performance, she performs documentation. Hung Over & Boob Cleaning is one of many McLeod-inspired monologue-like rants, infusing hangover wisdom into a solid analysis about the importance and impact of art documentation.

McLeod wonders out loud if video is lazy; she answers this by creating a piece that requires no attention be paid to the project she is referencing. So, this is a performative video that expands the idea of documentation by creating another performance; this basically means that each and every act of documentation becomes — at least for McLeod — another performance to document.

McLeod is the queen of jump cuts and this editing style has become one of her signatures (along with her incredible talent for obsessively crafted remixes/re-tellings, which I will write about later.) McLeod is a performer and has no qualms about addressing the viewer directly – the camera is just another means to invite the audience back in, and to assess the happenings of the previous night together.

If you are dying to know what “boobs” she is talking about, go here:

I also interviewed Dayna in 2007 about how she performs her politics. That conversation is available on ArtThreat.net http://artthreat.net/2007/09/performing-politics-an-interview-with-dayna-mcleod/

PS: Peanut butter is used to get gum out of hair, not for removing stains.

Mél Hogan, April 1, 2011


Review: In Four Years (adjectives and adverbs)

Originally posted at Wayward.

In Four Years (adjectives and adverbs) by Cam Matamoros

(every school-day for 3 weeks i got up and made a 3 minute recording of where i thought i would be in 4 years when i finish my degree. an attempt to create routine, an anchor/reference point for the present and stability and hope for the future. then i edited out everything that wasn’t an adjective or an adverb)


This is a piece I wanted to program for a conference screening in New York this summer. The conference is about documentary film, mostly. My proposal wasn’t accepted and maybe that’s because I wasn’t able to clearly articulate the way video art relates to the documentary form. So this is my second attempt to demonstrate these connections, which I think will become even more topical as people begin to relate the content of stories to the way video should be made available, shown, and kept alive.

I write about this video by Cam Matamoros because it’s a video I saw a long time ago and one that has stayed with me since. This affective quality and its connection to memory (mine, the video’s, and the narrative’s) are simultaneously about formal choices and process, and the performance of process itself. This is what Matamoros executes perfectly without trying (and without trying to achieve any particular outcome, it seems).

Ritualistically, Matamoros testifies to the camera, beginning with “in four years” followed by an intimate but mantra-like listing of potential future incarnations and possibilities. Facing if not confronting the camera with an unrehearsed vent forward–the authenticity may have proven to be increasingly difficult to sustain over the course of the three weeks the piece was shot, as the ritual itself settles into a pattern of confessions that are expected and, once assembled, constitute a conversation between then present but now past selves. Silences, yawns, hesitation and contemplation are key in marking the passage of time, adding to the lighting and outfits that suggest perpetual change.

My take on Matamoros’ video is that it is essentially about documenting anticipation, but always falling back into the moment of being recorded. The very process of imagining the future by recording one’s current ideas about the future makes more of a statement about present fears and hopes than it says about the potential for what might be or could be. And I think I get why Matamoros would “edit out” everything but adjectives and adverbs – these are the words that give meaning: they specify, qualify, and limit our judgements on things. Nothing else is needed.

If I love this video it’s because it’s incredibly smart and gentle.

Mél Hogan, March 31, 2011