Interview conducted by Gnip, in Boulder…
“Never forget that Google collects data for a commercial purpose. It is not a public archive. Besides this, the Google search engine is getting more and more ‘polluted’, coming up with useless and predictable search outcomes.” – Lovink
As you type, Google’s algorithm predicts and displays search queries based on other users’ search activities and the contents of web pages indexed by Google. (ref)
Not everyone sees the same suggestions; it can depend on location and language.
Popularity is also a factor, but some less popular searches might be shown above more popular ones, if Google deems them more relevant. (ref)
Google Autocomplete also has what the company calls a “freshness layer.” If there are terms that suddenly spike in popularity in the short term, these can appear as suggestions, even if they haven’t gained long-term popularity. (ref)
Things about nationality (not religion though) are removed from “suggestions”, as are:
– Hate or violence related suggestions
– Personally identifiable information in suggestions
– Porn & adult-content related suggestions
– Legally mandated removals
– Piracy-related suggestions
The following is my experiment in our collective mindset, with “suggestions” made by the Google search engine, documented for the past three years… and ongoing.
References (to explore)
Murphy, Samantha 2012. How a Google Search Travels Around the World [INFOGRAPHIC] http://mashable.com/2012/06/13/google-search-infographic-2/
Beall, Jeffrey. 2010. How Google uses metadata to improve search results. The Serials Librarian 59(1): 40–53. Taylor & Francis Group. Link.
Google Autocomplete: http://support.google.com/websearch/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=106230
Blachman, Nancy and Jerry Peek. 2011. Google Guide. Part II: Understanding Results. Cached Pages. http://www.googleguide.com/cached_pages.html Posted December 28, 2011.
Google Guide. 2007. http://www.googleguide.com/google_works.html Google Help Forum. http://www.google.com/support/forum/ Google. Technology overview.
Keen, Andrew. Interview with Siva Vaidhyanathan about The Googlization of Everything: How one company is disrupting commerce, culture, and community. SXSW. Link
The following is an interview I conducted with video and performance artist Dayna McLeod. McLeod’s work is ripe with humour and socially charged situations and she has received funding for video projects from the Canada Council and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec. Over the course of the last month, we have been exchanging emails about her video editing process, drawing particular attention to self-imposed rules and the politics of remixing popular television shows. The following transcript contains the highlights from this conversation.
Original interview on Vague Terrain: http://vagueterrain.net/content/2011/08/breaking-her-own-rules-dayna-mcleod-talks-tv-remix
Mél Hogan: Describe your process for working on videos like Nothing Compares to You. How much time did that video take to make – from finding scripts to editing, etc. What are the steps in making a video like that: Watching shows, finding scripts, mapping out content. Tell me everything in detail, unless, of course, it’s a secret.
Dayna McLeod: Nothing Compares to You took 6 months to make. I downloaded the first season from a bittorent site, and found the first season of scripts transcribed by fans at tvtdb.com. These transcripts were saved as pdfs, making them easy to search. At first, I had made some fairly insane rules for myself that I later broke: originally, I searched the transcripts for each word in the song in order; so if I took “It’s” -the first word of Nothing Compares 2 U- from episode 1 and found it, then I would search for “been” from the next episode, in order, until I found it. So if I didn’t find “been” until episode 5, then I would start my search for “seven” in episode 6, and the search would continue numerically and loop back to episode 1 once I reached the last episode of season 1. These rules proved to be insanely tedious, and I threw them out after working on the piece for two months, when I had only gotten through the first verse. It was really important for me to have House perform the entire song—a rule I only broke twice, ie: Foreman says “yard” because not only does House never say “yard” (for the line, “in the backyard”), I could not make him say it by splicing together words, as I did with other words that I couldn’t find him saying, intact. I also wanted to ensure that House was on camera when he said each word, which also proved to be impossible.
[Nothing Compares to You]
MH: Tell me more about these rules. How do you decide which rules to set for yourself? Why have rules in the first place?
DMC: For found footage/quick-cut projects like this, I need to have rules. Otherwise, it’s too easy to get lost in all of the possibilities, especially when I’m looking for such small sound bites. The rules seem to write themselves at first and are a bit of a rush: can I meet my own challenge? It’s like I’m competing against myself. Sometimes setting rules is the best way to jumpstart my brain to a better solution, and throw the rules out completely. That’s extremely satisfying; setting rigid rules and finding a better process that makes these rules seem ridiculous.
MH: Why do you do what you do? What time of day do you work? Is the process meditative? How many hours in a row can you work at this?
DMC: I’m not sure if this video making process was particularly meditative; it was more of an endurance challenge. I usually work at night, or all day, depending on the project and my other time commitments. A project like this is both addictive and repulsive; addictive because it’s a challenge to see if I can do it, and repulsive, because after about 5 hours in a row of working on it, I start to force words to work, and they don’t, and it’s frustrating. Also watching the same show over and over again, especially in 1-second sound bites, becomes annoying and irritating, especially when you aren’t having success, or you only make it through one line in an editing session. That’s how I know when to stop, when I can’t stand the show or the searching anymore, and I start to force things that I end up undoing when I come back to the edit.
MH: You show your work online, at festivals, in performances. Can you tell me a bit about how these work for you? What each context provides?
DMC: Obviously, there is a huge difference between watching work in a festival and watching it on a computer or portable device. I house almost all of my videos on my website at daynarama.com. This is a portfolio site, and given the digital reality of media, is a way to show work to anyone with a relatively good internet connection, anywhere in the world. But festival play is my favorite way to show work; sitting in a theatre watching videos with likeminded festival goers is fantastic, and similar to a Cabaret audience, you know if your video is funny, not funny, boring, or entertaining because everyone reacts naturally. I also use video in my performance work, often playing with the false reality of projection, characterization, improv and karaoke.
MH: How do you choose your themes? Why popular TV shows?
DMC: I love tv: I love bad tv, I love good tv, and I will pretty much watch anything. I think it’s fair to say that I’m a critical viewer, but I also enjoy watching. I don’t see myself as a passive viewer, and these videos are essentially my interactive participation in existing mainstream culture.
In television, there are repeating patterns of storylines that we can see in different series. For example, shows often have Christmas, Hanukah or holiday themed, birthday, or “issue” oriented episodes. For me, these “issue” shows become a fairly significant marker of our media culture, a snapshot of where we are socially: Natalie almost gets raped in The Facts of Life (1) (1981) during a mugging and empowers herself by taking a self-defense class. Dana Plato wears blackface to confront a racist boyfriend in Diff’rent Strokes (2) (1980). After 4 seasons, Ellen DeGeneres comes out on her show, Ellen (3) (1997). These were all significant tv moments for me as an evolving viewer, having grown up with tv, and seeing the power of it. These examples were also considered to be ground-breaking, but in contemporary television, these themes are as commonplace as a Christmas special within a series. “Racism”, “gay”, “abuse”, “eating disorder”, “molestation”, “rape” are commonplace themes, and the reason I put these in quotes is that they are often heavy-handed, especially in sitcoms and dramedies. Lately, I’ve become distracted by when these agendas overwhelm the show itself: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Gay, Gay, Gay, is an example of me short-cutting an episode of Boston Legal by cutting it down to the essence of what the maker’s agenda is, ie: the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy of the US military.
[Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Gay, Gay, Gay]
MH: This kind of collage work is really your signature style. How would you describe your work aesthetically, politically and artistically?
DMC: YouTube and online attention spans have demonstrated to me that you have about 15 seconds to capture someone’s attention, and maybe 1 minute to keep it, if you’re lucky, so I like to get to the point quickly, and this is why I love the short video format.
Aesthetically and artistically, the collage videos are about the content and cutting to the chase. Recently, I’ve been working with both an additive and reductive process: Nothing Compares to You is additive- I’m searching for specific content and putting it together to make something new from the source material. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Gay, Gay, Gay and the Secret Messages series are reductive because I’m taking the episode or film, and cutting out the irrelevant content (to my rules). After the challenge is met, I then have to make decisions about the final cut- adding the sweeping melodramatic chords from the song forNothing Compares to You, the timing of the music, do I cover up the cuts for words I’ve spliced together, how do I end the piece, what happens in the 20 second bridge in the middle of the video? These are all choices that get resolved in the edit, but are obviously integral to the final version.
Politically, most of my work is pretty fucking GAY. It doesn’t apologize or assume the victim position, the quiet queer, the polite lesbian, the normative gay. And critics, audiences and programmers tell me that that in itself, is political: I’m here, I’m queer, get used to watching my videos.
[Ultimate SUB Ultimate DOM]
MH: Your work is, I think, a commentary on television culture itself, and so the projects demand that TV be your pool of sources. Who do you imagine as your audience? Does it matter if they are well versed in television culture or pop culture? How important are those common reference points?
DMC: This is a good question, because it keeps coming up. I think the best way to address this is to look at 2 pieces that I’ve made for essentially the same (queer) audience. Ultimate SUB Ultimate DOM: Maria Von Trapp & Mary Poppins imagines Maria Von Trapp fromThe Sound of Music as a submissive to the Mother Superior, begging for mercy and looking for a spanking, and Mary Poppins as the Mother Superior, wielding a dildo-sheathed umbrella and a ball-gag. Cut to a monologue about this fantasy scenario, I used footage from both films to illustrate this fictitious relationship, assuming that most viewers, queer or straight would be familiar with these characters. However, if you don’t know who these character are or aren’t familiar with their embodiment by Julie Andrews, does this matter? Are the signifiers of Nun and British Nanny clear enough for you within the video to enjoy the subversion of putting them in an S&M scenario? And, contrarily, if you are intimately familiar with these characters, then you will hopefully enjoy references to their actions that I make outside of the video that might not be clear to others, like Maria being punished for dressing children in drapery, or Mary Poppins’ umbrella fetish. That’s Right Diana Barry, You Needed Me, is a very Canadian piece and I don’t think it will play much outside of Canada. Originally commissioned as a performance for Anne Made Me Gay curated by Moynan King and Rosemary Rowe at Buddies in Bad Times in Toronto, this video uses Anne Murray and Anne of Green Gables in a karaoke mash-up. I cut the 1984, made-for-CBC television version of Anne of Green Gables staring Megan Follows, to Anne Murray’s, You Needed Me. Now, if you’re already asking who the hell Anne Murray, Megan Follows or Anne of Green Gables are, or what the hell the CBC is, well, I feel we have our answer.
I also see this work as related to 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon; whenever I watch tv or film and see actors appear in something else as a different character, does this add to your viewing experience or take away from it? Do the antics and drama that actors get up to off camera (hello Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen) impact how we watch media? Does it affect the story? Try it: the next time you watch something with an actor you’ve seen before, think of everything you know about that actor, and every show you’ve seen them in – how does it affect the story you’re watching right now?
[That’s Right Diana Barry, You Needed Me]
MH: You distribute your works internationally and nationally. Has there ever been a copyright issue? Do you worry about copyright at all? Are distributors reluctant to distribute your stuff b/c you don’t clear rights? (Clearing rights would be impossible in your case.)
DMC: I use artist-run distribution centres in Canada to distribute my work, but festivals and broadcasters with copyright infringement policies won’t play these kinds of work, for fear of legal action because the copyright infringement becomes their (financial) responsibility.
MH: Tell me how you see copyright as a political issue.
DMC: Invariably, when I show work that contains copyright material, someone will ask how can I make it- how do I “get around” copyright. These are good questions, and ones that I take very seriously. In 2000, I won an online contest for Best Comedy and Audience Choice Award for How to Fake an Orgasm as part of the PlanetOut Queer Short Movie Awards. This video is a one-shot monologue with PJ Harvey’s album, Rid of Me playing in the background. I used it because she moans and screams rather dramatically throughout the album, and I wanted to time my talk about faking orgasms with these outbursts. PlanetOut wanted to distribute all of the winners (there were 5 categories) on dvd, but insisted that I clear the rights to this music. I couldn’t, and did not end up on the dvd. This was an important lesson for me, because it made me aware of the implications and consequences of using copyright material in my work right at the beginning of my video art career, and I made a choice to continue, because my work is about pop culture- it needs the original property in order to critique it. Without Julie Andrews as Maria Von Trapp and Mary Poppins, Ultimate SUB Ultimate DOM is meaningless. Without Dr. House, Prince or Sinéad O’Connor, I could not make Nothing Compares to You.
More and more mashup artists are citing Fair Use (in the US) (4) as a means to legally use copyright material, a pre-emptive strike against legal action because Fair Use allows for parody, and as long as there is no damage to the original property in the marketplace, then it is A-OK to use. (5) However, one is supposed to ask for permission from the property holder to claim Fair Use if we haven’t afforded to purchase the rights, so we are essentially asking permission for legal approval to subvert the very thing we are using. Another concern I have with even talking about Fair Use in relation to my work is that by doing so, I am acknowledging that I’ve done something wrong and that someone else, an authority [read: “The Man”] needs to approve it.
And sure, there is the argument that these corporations, (who have put a stronghold on media culture) are the ones making the property in the first place- it’s theirs, they own it. But what about us as consumption junkies? I was brought up with Mickey Mouse™, Coca-Cola™ and Nike™. We went to Disneyland, I had the watch, the bedspread, the t-shirt, the videos- I drank the Kool-Aid™. Don’t I “own” part of this culture? Don’t I have “rights”? When I repeat a Family Guy joke, do a James Bond impression, say “just do it” or sing a song in the shower from a Disney musical, aren’t I enforcing the brand? Isn’t it mine, too? Aren’t I… helping? Or do I owe someone money for my soapy rendition of, When You Wish Upon A Star? And perhaps this is an example of my watching too much Law & Order, but who evaluates whether or not my use of the material is damaging to the original property? Paranoid projections on my part assume that making two wholesome, family-friendly characters like Maria Von Trapp and Mary Poppins lesbian lovers with a taste for S&M, might be considered harmful to the Disney Corporation™ by the Disney Corporation™. Much like my queerness, I don’t see my art practice as illegal.
(1) “Fear Strikes Back”, Season 3, Episode 2, original air date: 11/4/1981: CBS Entertainment. “The Facts of Life Season 3 Episode Guide.” tv.com. CBS Interactive Inc, 2011. Web. 23 Jul 2011.
(2) “Skin Deep or True Blue (a.k.a.) Guess Who?”, Season 2, Episode 22, original air date: 2/20/1980: CBS Entertainment. “Diff’rent Strokes Season 2 Episode Guide.” tv.com. CBS Interactive Inc, 2011. Web. 23 Jul 2011. .
(3) The Puppy Episode (part 1 and 2) Season 4, Episode 22, original air date: 4/30/1997: : CBS Entertainment. “Ellen Season 4 Episode Guide.” tv.com. CBS Interactive Inc, 2011. Web. 23 Jul 2011.
(4) Nolo. “What Is Fair Use?.” fairuse.stanford.edu. Nolo, 2010. Web. 1 Aug 2011. .
(5) I reference this American approach to copyright here and not Canada’s Fair Dealing policy because of the murkiness of international copyright policies/laws and because of American global domination in the realm of familiarity and media culture, similar to my reasons for using American generated material in the first place: media culture identity trumps Canadian identity.
Download original from Vague Terrain.
This interview takes as a starting point the VIDEO CACHE project. Hogan’s research into defunct video art repositories online raises many questions about the ephemeral nature of digital culture, and the social/cultural parameters that frame the preservation of and access to such materials.
VIDEO CACHE is a research creation project emerging from Mél Hogan’s doctoral research (wayward.ca), in collaboration with Penny McCann, director of SAW Video in Ottawa, and Groupe intervention video (GIV) in Montreal.
VIDEO CACHE took place on November 24, 2010 at GIV. It was a public screening of ten works selected by McCann from the SAW Video Mediatheque collection, for which artists’ fees were paid by GIV. The Mediatheque is Canada’s first large-scale attempt to use the web as a ‘living archive’ –its server crashed in 2009 and the project has been offline since. VIDEO CACHE was also a month-long online exhibit (http://www.wayward.ca/videocache/) showcasing these ten works, carefully documented and recontextualised for the web. The documentation for VIDEO CACHE remains online, and the event catalogue is available via print-on-demand (http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/video-cache/13585058).
On the one hand, VIDEO CACHE served to document the Mediatheque project by updating the context and addressing in a practical way what it means to ‘activate’ the online archive. On the other hand, it was and remains an entity onto itself. VIDEO CACHE has become an opportunity for Hogan to bring a creative dimension to documentation and to address loss: while it is the ‘cache’ that makes the Mediatheque’s traces visible and re-visit-able, it is the ‘crash’ that signals its ongoing (archival) value.
You’ve talked about there being a paradox in the way digital culture is created and shared and the way it is preserved. How do you think preservation, creation, and use should be interrelated in the digital realm?
I don’t know that the paradox needs to be resolved so much as it needs to be acknowledged and understood within digital preservation debates. In my work what stands out is that more attention needs to be paid to digital flows, to circulation, and to the interface and database that facilitate and mask distribution online. Preservation, as an idea and as an ideal, is transformed online, though for some reason, stating this is always a bit controversial.
In archives (traditionally) the emphasis has been on long-term preservation, which more often than not has meant rendering ‘originals’ inaccessible in the present as a means to protect or safeguard them for the future. Because archival discourse and practice have come a long way in the last decade to adapt to the continually changing technoscape, I don’t want to make it sound like the tension is between the traditional, as material/offline, and the new, as digital/online. I concentrate on the digital online as a complex realm when I study the archive, but obviously the discourses and ideas are shared with, if not borrowed from, years of traditional archival theory. I think it is almost impossible not to rely on these established ideas and systems, but at the same time, I think it is important to move beyond them and beyond comparisons between material/digital, offline/online, mainly because the foundational archival concepts—the original, the authentic, and the integral—are conceived of differently in the digital realm. So there is a need for a new basis, a point of analysis that is of the web. We need to start talking about iteration, versions, repetition, and flow…
I think preservation, creation, and use are already interrelated in the digital realm—and that the archival conundrum actually lies in the fact that these elements are difficult to distinguish from each other. I think, if anything, the digital realm will keep moving in the direction of embedding the archive into technologies of creation, dissemination, and display. So maybe the question is how do we conceive of preservation, creation, and use as distinct entities in the digital online realm—rather than interrelated—and if a distinction is no longer possible, what the implications are of that interrelatedness.
You said that in your work ‘more attention needs to be paid to digital flows, to circulation itself, and to the interface and database that facilitate and mask distribution online’. Can you talk a bit more about this and how you think the interrelation between the ‘front end’ and ‘back end’ of online systems informs our perception and use of the archive?
When I say digital flows need to be addressed, I’m talking about community as much as I’m taking about trajectory. It’s an idea I’ve been stuck on for a while but also have a hard time articulating. From reading Ann Cvetkovich, Wendy HK Chun, Josephine Bosma, Anjali Arondekar, Tess Takahashi and others, I’m reminded of the underlying communities—online and offline—the people with a need and compulsion to collect, so that later, something can be made sense of, revealed. The archive ultimately makes possible connections that are sometimes dangerous or undesirable within a particular time and place. My hunch is that while the web has the potential to highlight the connections between people and their documented pasts, and with unprecedented reach, it also risks amalgamating everything into a large undifferentiated database that completely overlooks and overwrites the affective and the unarchivable.
We pay a lot of attention to digital content as objects, albeit virtual, when really an important part of what distinguishes the digital from its material counterparts is, I think, its movement, circulation, flow… the way people share the digital as a space, and travel through that space. Digital stuff is easy to copy—much of what we do on the computer is a form of duplication—and as many artists, theorists, and archivists have pointed out, these copies can be identical to ‘originals.’ Copies are also non-rival in consumption, which has forced us to seriously reconsider value and to come up with alternative economies, which so far seem most successful when thought of as network-creation itself. The mapping out of content, including links between digital nodes, constitutes digital trajectories, and this leads me to question the potential for archival theories that could emerge out of focusing on digital flows and online circulation, rather than the content-centric view imposed onto the digital. I’d like to expand my current project into theories of the web as a mobile archive, or a transient archive—something that highlights the passage of content, but also the movement of creators. And in turn, this means thinking about localization in contrast to the shifting place and space of the virtual archive…
As for the relationship between the front end and the back end, I think that we literally interact with an interface without knowing much of what generates our experiences online beyond that top layer. This isn’t new or limited to the web—this is basically our relationship to most technologies—but in the last few years, separating content from style and function (or form), has been pushed by developers. This has been mainly because browsers display content differently, and the separation made accessibility standards possible, making it easy to quickly and efficiently change the look of the interface without affecting content. Ultimately, the idea was to have form follow function, that is, to have use determine the appearance. So if we can take that kind of approach into account for the online archive, we begin to see what ideals shape the possibilities of the web for preservation.
What role do you think video artists or other digital content creators should play in the preservation of their own work?
I think this a really hard question to answer, but I’m going to respond from a personal point of view, as someone who makes video… and I am fully aware that I might make archivists and distributors shudder. I’m really for online access in principle, though I understand that in practice, it takes time, know-how, money, resources, etc. I haven’t even bothered to upload most of my videos online, so this is an ideal, a philosophical position. But it’s an ideal by which Canadian video distributors have not yet been seduced, and probably will not adopt anytime soon. And I get this—I get that making decisions about large valuable collections is something to think about carefully because once work is posted online, it simultaneously belongs to nobody and everybody.
Part of what inspires me to launch works into cyberspace is the politics of community-based activism that were about getting stuff out, sharing, exchanging ideas. There was an urgency and purpose. And as the tools became increasingly accessible, video art was about countering the mainstream in terms of both representation and means of sharing. But now it seems like the web has taken access to another level, and this is again shifting the politics of video art.
A lot of the politics that came out of video are similar to what we hear now about the web—in terms of its democratizing potential—and yet, the more video becomes common, the more precious the distinctions between art and the vernacular seem to become.
The fact that a video can be posted and embedded in numerous online contexts does not generally appeal to video distributors in Canada, who would rather see works maintained and presented in controlled environments where issues of resolution, duration, format, storage, and so on, are all carefully calculated to maintain the scarcity model on which they rest. The idea is to keep video art out of the ‘clutter’ of vernacular video—away from YouTube or on a distinct channel within it—so as to retain a curatorial sensibility.
For the archivists reading this, I have to refer to Josephine Bosma’s idea about rethinking loss as the antithesis to preservation because it gives elegance to these ideas. She writes, “We may have a lot to gain from losing control over digital objects. We should consider the ability of some artists to embrace an inherent loss of control over their work less as a challenge to conservation, and more as an inspiration to a solution. […] Both openness to a vital context and openness in terms of physical, material and technological accessibility may well be the best way forward in the strategy of conserving art in the environment of new, networked media.” 
My personal idea of what role artists and content creators should play in the preservation of their own work or collections is aligned with Bosma, and others who believe that setting work free allows for unpredictable modes of fan-based archiving tactics to happen. If we think of preservation as a process to keep work ‘alive,’ I can’t think of a better system—even if it is highly unpredictable—than the web. Except, as pointed out by Lucas Hilderbrand, the trend towards online distribution may mean that collection habits change, making it more difficult to keep works than with VHS or DVD, for example. 
So for content creators, I think that the idea of preservation has to be disentangled from marketing strategies, which isn’t easy by any means. In fact, the question of how to monetize content on the web may be the question nobody can answer; this demands an unprecedented level of innovation from video distributors whose best move may in fact be to opt out of the online realm altogether or wait for the hype train to pass… if it ever does.
The VIDEO CACHE collaboration with SAW Video activated the archive by screening some of the works from the crashed Mediatheque repository. Re-presentation through emulation or other means is a preservation strategy often undertaken with technological art of many kinds. Did you see VIDEO CACHE in this light at all, as simultaneously documenting and preserving the works?
Yes, I see VIDEO CACHE as a documentation project, but perhaps more importantly as a means of highlighting the ways in which the politics of the archive—any archive—are a reflection of the social movement(s) from which they emerge, including art movement(s). Video art history is imbued with politics and counter-movements, and these shape the discourses surrounding the video art archive on the web.
I see it less as an attempt to preserve the work within a long-term strategy where the material objects (DVDs for example) are central to the project’s history, and more in terms of preservation-as-conversation, keeping the project ‘alive’ by way of continued dialogue. Rooted in a feminist methodology, I frame VIDEO CACHE as way of bringing to the forefront the people involved in the Mediatheque—as artists or web developers or both—and their understandings of the process and labour involved, along with how their memories shape the ideals of video art and of the archive. It’s important to remember that this all started in the early 2000s, long before YouTube and broadband internet. It’s also important to mention that this project was funded as an online archive—that concept made sense very early on somehow, in that the promise of the web for preservation was something to invest in seriously, backed by hundreds of thousands of dollars of government money.
In some ways, activating the archive through a collaboratively curated event serves to document it better than written documentation would on its own; this is research-creation. The VIDEO CACHE screening and the online exhibit preserve and regenerate the Mediatheque, but very differently.
Curating a programme for a screening makes sense when you are talking about video, but it also raises a slew of questions about this assumption, given that as an online archive the Mediatheque didn’t prioritize high quality copies for screening—it was about showcasing video art online. This is a point in video art’s history that demands a look inward rather than forward. It demands a reflection on the trajectory of video art from its activist roots and from is dissident voices against mainstream representation—by women, queers, people of colour, community activists, etc.—to the current place and value of these scarce collections in an art market.
The Mediatheque is a prime case study for an archive that functioned for and through the web and privileged wide access over long-term material preservation of the files. Whether flawed or visionary as an archival approach, VIDEO CACHE preserves this idea, the Mediatheque’s aura, and the conceptual history of the project. VIDEO CACHE was about extending what I have learned from analyzing grant reports and other administrative documents made available to me by SAW Video into a case study, by highlighting preservation issues from 2003 to the present and showcasing the collection as two different modalities.
VIDEO CACHE featured only 10 works of the 486 pieces in the Mediatheque, and this sample was anything but random. So I think it’s worth noting that selection is a subjective part of this preservation process. As the current SAW Video Director, Penny McCann was the best person to make a selection based on the videos’ connections to SAW Video’s institutional history and in relation to those involved in the development of the Mediatheque from the early 2000s on. (McCann’s curatorial statement: http://www.wayward.ca/videocache/documentation/curatorial/)
Eight artists who had work in the original Mediatheque were present for the VIDEO CACHE screening at GIV, on November 24, 2010. As a result, the act of curating, on and offline, along with the discussion that followed the screening, are directly linked to the process of documentation—this event is possibly the most complete piece of documentation that exists about the Mediatheque by the people involved in the project. (http://www.wayward.ca/wayward/exhibits/video-cache/)
We also discovered quirky and confusing things in the process of organizing VIDEO CACHE, that again speak volumes about the archive’s politics. From November 24, 2010 to December 24, 2010, 9 of the 10 videos screened at GIV were showcased online at http://www.wayward.ca/videocache. Despite being remunerated $200 as part of the Mediatheque in 2003, the distributor, VTape, opted out of letting us show Gunilla Josephson’s Hello Ingmar (2000) for the month-long online exhibit of VIDEO CACHE. VTape continues its research into fees for streaming in order to develop a standard. This apparently applies to works already online and, as is the case for Josephson’s video, works for which the Mediatheque retains online showcasing rights in perpetuity. I don’t think this is VTape’s prerogative alone—the control over video art distribution, its value, and its position within art worlds and markets continues to be debated, with a prevailing Canadian bias towards the ‘web-means-dead’ credo for video art distribution.
Through the process of curating VIDEO CACHE, we unraveled many things about the Mediatheque archival method itself that feed back into the research on documenting the initiative. This is the ideal intervention for me: collaboration that emerges from research and that also uncovers and generates new threads, new concepts, and new problems. It is a highly self-reflexive approach and one that situates the archive as object and source of study.
More recently at the May 2011 Database Narrative Archive conference in Montreal (http://www.dnasymposium.com/), Adrian Miles (http://vogmae.net.au/vlog/) asked me why I thought it was necessary to activate or revive the Mediatheque project. I think that collectively we can decide whether there is value to a particular collection—after all, appraisal has always been a crucial step for archivists. Nevertheless, a digital loss or a server crash shouldn’t determine what we keep or discard. Until the Mediatheque is revived, VIDEO CACHE and the trail of documents that have come out of it (like this interview) constitute its main preservation efforts.
In your study of defunct or crashed video repositories, what issues would you highlight related to the sustainability of these types of projects? Are there any specific pitfalls you have identified?
Sustainability, by definition, is the capacity to endure. Endurance is built in to the idea of the archive, and online, as Wendy Chun argues, it’s the ephemeral itself that endures: “Memory, with its constant degeneration, does not equal storage; although artiﬁcial memory has historically combined the transitory with the permanent, the passing with the stable, digital media complicates this relationship by making the permanent into an enduring ephemeral, creating unforeseen degenerative links between humans and machines.” 
I think identifying pitfalls is a really important step in research that deals with emergent technology and social media. There is a lot of hype and a lot of excitement about the potential of the web to make things happen, and happen differently. That said, I think it’s important to be able to talk about failure in a generative way, even if highlighting issues related to sustainability is sometimes difficult. In this case, for instance, I am dealing with incredible, invaluable, long-established collections, but am addressing only their host organization’s relationship to the web—how they have resisted it, adapted to it, appropriated it, and so on. So I guess I want to start by saying that I recognize the value of the projects—even if they have ‘failed’—and that identifying pitfalls is in line with, rather than against, this kind of recognition.
Generally, what is most striking is that a lot of the pitfalls are relegated, and often mysteriously and suddenly, to technological failures, when in fact much of what happens to archives on and offline can be tracked back to human error and social/cultural parameters. This is what I was able to confirm in my doctoral research, and this is what makes it so complicated; it becomes impossible to make a bullet point list of pitfalls that we can all avoid and build from for future projects. I think engaging with and through technology requires a lot of knowledge on different levels (even with the democratization of media tools), including the upkeep of skills and tracking the constant developments. And this is often downplayed if not made invisible by the interface itself, which in a way becomes another pitfall.
Technology facilitates a lot of things, but ultimately it relies on human decisions and energy, and goals within a specific social, cultural, and legal context. This context also largely determines funding possibilities, the handling of copyright issues, the framing of the relationship between art and ownership, and so on, which then get coded into specific projects online. The process is iterative, and technology certainly influences choices in terms of format, access, and layout, but, as almost everyone I spoke with in this research makes clear, without (human) motivation and energy, online projects die. This probably goes without saying, but there seems to be lot more energy and money going into creating websites than into maintaining them. This is perhaps a pitfall too in the sense that the trend toward constantly creating new projects (though often duplicating entire systems) rather than centralizing or bringing content form disparate sources into one content management system might make upkeep more feasible. I believe this is something that Videographe plans to test out; there has been mention of offering up the viTheque repository as a template and/or platform for other institutions.
In my study of defunct and crashed online video art repositories in a Canadian context, I found that these philosophies of use differ greatly for each project, but most shared a common discourse about the role, place, and importance of the artist. There is a layer of each of the projects—and some more superficially than others—that reflects the history and trajectory of the artists as a category in Canada, as the first country to pay exhibition fees to artists (in the mid 70s). This is, of course, not the case in most countries, and so it explains some of the particular pitfalls that Canadian repositories fall into in terms of maintaining this professionalization of art into the digital realm, and under conditions that differ greatly from similar initiatives elsewhere. So copyright—or the way it is loosely interpreted and applied—is a major element, and I would say pitfall, in most cases of Canadian online video art repositories.
Another pitfall, I think, is the way copyright is being interpreted and, in turn, how technologies are being used to put into measure some of these ideas that, from an archival point of view, seem to pose additional problems rather than provide viable solutions. Technological protection measures, like files that self-erase/destruct after a period of time (chronodégradable), locks based on password protection, locks that limit the number of copies a user can make, and so on, are all ‘solutions’ justified by the desire to protect works from illegal copying (and which by default block fair and legitimate copying). To impart technology with these roles—rather than engaging with these issues as a social process that accounts for fair dealing—is to misconceive of the function of copyright and to throw off its intended balance. Also, with increasingly long terms of copyright (across the globe), this kind of copyright rhetoric becomes commonplace, and access online somehow becomes in itself conceived as an assault to artists’ rights.
Copyright is a major issue, if only because it is conflated with other issues, and as a result, those underlying issues aren’t directly addressed. Copyright—and Creative Commons for that matter—are not systems of remuneration for artists, they simply inform the parameters for using other people’s stuff without asking, beyond fair dealing.
The initiative to create an online repository requires a huge amount of time, resources, knowledge, and money. This is a point I will keep repeating because being for or against copyright isn’t at the crux of the matter. And, while I think that for the most part an open and free exchange of materials circulating via the web is positive for creativity, I do think copyright and Creative Commons alternatives demand that we continue to question ownership in the face of large user-generated content sites that have at their disposal untapped media content.
So this brings me to the issue of funding and financial sustainability. In the projects I have looked at, it seems that funders (often government funding bodies) are eager to fund the creation and development of online repositories for about two years, after which it remains a bit unclear what is expected or how the project is meant to maintain itself. For the most part, these projects are not self-sustaining, and bring in very little in terms of revenues, at least in comparison to the costs incurred maintaining the site.
I try to always think of these pitfalls and failures as generative, but I also think that we have many (too many) examples of how trying to contain and control digital flows backfires in terms of preservation strategies.
1. http://www.naipublishers.nl/art/nettitudes_e.html; “The Gap between Now and Then: On the Conservation of Memory” in Nettitudes , Let’s Talk Net Art NAi Publishers (2011).
3. http://video.dma.ucla.edu/video/wendy-chun-the-enduring-ephemeral-or-the-future-is-a-memory/19; Wendy Hui Kyong Chun (2008) The Enduring Ephemeral, or the Future Is a Memory In: Critical Inquiry 35 (Autumn) The University of Chicago: 148.
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: email@example.com
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.
“Caching and Crashing the Mediatheque” on FLOWtv.org Special Issue: The Archive. May 21, 2010
Caching and Crashing the Médiathèque
Mél Hogan / Concordia University
Cache (kash) A place for concealment and safekeeping of valuables. A fast storage buffer in the central processing unit of a computer; cache memory.
Crash (krash) A breakdown, hardware failure, or software problem that renders a computer system inoperative.1
Between December 2009 and May 2010, I met with and interviewed the co-founder of the Mediatheque, Kevin Morris; the project’s digital archivist Anatoly Ignatiev; and the current director of SAW Video (Sussex Annex Works) in Ottawa, Canada, Penny McCann. I also had the opportunity to have many technical questions answered by Douglas Smalley, a technical assistant of the Mediatheque, currently a video preservationist at Library Archives Canada.
With a budget of $385,960 (including $100,000 in artist fees) stemming in large part from Heritage Canada, the Mediatheque was a massive undertaking built in record time: on paper, three months was all that was allotted for the project’s creation. In this astoundingly short time, which became just over one year in practice, a database had to be created, partnerships solidified, an interface designed, works collected, contracts signed, works digitized, etc. With an open call, SAW Video collected works directly from artists and from video co-ops across the country. Described as a “mad dash” for artists’ fees, the Mediatheque promised artists a sum of 200 dollars regardless of the length of video,2 exhibited for a three-year period through the Mediatheque portal. Artists were limited to 12 works on the original Mediatheque project. Completed, it featured 486 works by 238 artists. The master copies were retained by the artist, while the digital file for streaming became part and partial of the Mediatheque. The Mediatheque existed as a repository of video art for seven years, streaming full video pieces on the web (rather than samplers/clips), with no master/original material archive as counterpart. In this sense, the Mediatheque project was one that saw the online repository as an entity onto itself, and not a mirror, complement, or addition to any material version of the collection presiding over it.
Interviews with those invested in the Mediatheque, past and present, introduce various aspects of SAW Video’s Mediatheque project, focusing here on the eventual server crash that made the project vanish. Nothing of the backend database was backed up.
Looking at funding, copyright, and sponsorship (among others issues in the context of the “cache and crash” of the Mediatheque) serves as a springboard into a larger conversation about the intricate if not paradoxical nature of the online Archive. More precisely, these issues inform how the technical is always mitigated to some extent by and through the interplay of legal and archival parameters, and vice-versa.
Tracking the Mediatheque from its launch in 2003 to its database crash in May 2009 means following the digital paper trail to link stories, ideals, and absences into the history of Canada’s first large-scale and long standing independent video art repository on the web. The case of the Mediatheque is rare and important for understanding the manifold locus of the online archive: it is past, present, and predictive.3Reconstructing the Mediatheque’s story from cached memory and interviews, the fragments serve to document the project—what it was, what it has become, and what future potential it holds. An approach that accounts for the importance of the “crash” as symbolic of and essential to the online repository as Archive is key to understanding the Mediatheque, past and potential. While it is the cache that makes the Mediatheque’s traces visible and re-visit-able, it is the crash that signals its ongoing archival value, and perhaps, that signals the conceptual if not practical limits of the online repository as Archive. The crash becomes a point of departure, the site of inquiry.
In June 2009, SAW Video’s summer intern sent out a letter to video artists regarding the Mediatheque project and more specifically to communicate the “going down” of the site—including the SAW Video website and the Mediatheque. The letter was written to explain the server crash but also, already, anticipating the Mediatheque’s rebuilding. However, since this outreach effort, a notice on the SAW Video website diverts users: “Due to circumstances beyond our control, the Mediatheque will be down until further notice. We apologize for any inconvenience.”4 Currently, in 2010, plans are underway reconsidering the project, without any move to hastily reconstruct it based on fragments of what it once was. As Smalley puts it, “The Mediatheque web engine (front end layout and backend database) will never be resurrected. It is gone forever. This raises the larger question of how we can go about archiving dynamic web based content that contains dynamic links and content, even executable code.”5 Perhaps, almost a decade later, the Mediatheque cannot exist as it did, and/or its re/creation would pose a different series of tribulations. The crash, then, becomes a moment to pause and reflect on the direction, if not progress, of video art distribution on the web.
The story of the crash is at once complicated and simple. Limited funding, complicated corporate affiliations, human error, and legal parameters inform the crash—often reduced or relegated to a mere technical failure—for the Mediatheque, as well as for many if not all similar initiatives in Canada. Because so little documentation exists about the obstacles faced by various online video art repositories in Canada since (and including) the Mediatheque—such as the Video Art component of the Virtual Museum of Canada, VTape’s VTape Digital Bitcasters, and Vidéographe’s viThèque project, as examples (screen grabs below)—not much can be done to argue for a new approach to video preservation and distribution online. But the propensity to crash, by whatever definition, is undeniable for many of the attempts to generate widespread Canadian access of video art online. When the server at iSi Global crashed the Mediatheque, a recent copy of the database could not be found and relinked. While a crash can occur at level of hardware, application, or operating system, little documentation exists at SAW Video beyond an email thread about the May 12 2009 Mediatheque crash that outlined the failures.
To this day, video files from the Mediatheque remain housed on a hard drive at SAW Video, duplicate files exist on the iSi Global server in Texas, and the database with all the content (except for some translations) was backed up according to McCann. However, the interface design has all but vanished save for the efforts of the Way Back Machine Internet Archive6, Google Cache, and possibly, older personal back-up files from SAW Video staff and hired designers over the years. Aside from the project’s institutional memory, which is limited in large part to the dozen or so people who worked on the project, promotional materials and a few grant reports, nothing of a coherent collection or context remains. There is also no formal documentation about this project, save for two or three local papers announcing the 2003 launch. Finally, because the Mediatheque is no longer online, it risks generating little interest despite its symbolic and cultural significance for (Canadian) video art history.
The Mediatheque lived long enough to experiment with one important thing that is hotly debated today, which would put them at the forefront of online video art in Canada: the legitimacy of ‘free’ distribution of video art online. The longevity of the project meant that the repository would outlive the streaming contracts, which in turn meant that artists were to opt in or out of continuing to showcase their work–this time for free. Canada was the first country (in 1975) to pay exhibition fees to artists, after successful lobbying by Canadian Artists’ Representation / Le Front des artistes canadiens (CARFAC). CARFAC’s lobbying also resulted in the federal Copyright Act Amendment. The Act recognizes artists as the ‘primary producers of culture’, and gives artists legal entitlement to exhibition and other fees.7 Despite this, the Mediatheque tested the idea of fees for a duration, after which the works would become ‘loss leaders’, as defined by Morris.
A second hint at the interdependence between legal and archival practice made evident after the crash is the corporate sponsorship between the Mediatheque and iSi Global14 —a local (Ottawa, Canada) internet start-up that would provide server management and free bandwidth for the project. Smalley notes their important contribution:
bandwidth costs in 2003, especially for the capacity to deliver video streaming to multiple concurrent viewers online, was very expensive. ISI offered this service and their expertise at a substantial discount for a period of 3 years. It was a fantastic arrangement, as even when the original agreement had run out in 2006, they agreed to keep the archive online at no cost.
While the project would have been impossible without iSi Global, the condition was that the Mediatheque would stream video using the Real Player plug-in, since iSi Global was the local representative for the software. 15 While in 2003 this may have seemed as viable an option as the ubiquitous Adobe Flash player/HTML 5 does today, it did emphasize the Mediatheque’s role as an access portal rather than a preservation project per se. According to Smalley, the Mediatheque,
violated many rules when it comes to preservation: compressed master files, proprietary codecs, insufficient metadata and provenance records, highly volatile storage mediums (i.e. consumer grade DVD-R discs). If the primary goal was preservation, we would have needed to approach things very differently.
Furthermore, SAW Video could not afford the streaming costs—the site was visited by over 5000 people a month, and at its height, the demand for the works exceeded 116 00016 —this meant that a corporate partnership facilitated the project which would have otherwise been impossible within the funding budget of Mediatheque. Despite the crash—for which no blame is laid—SAW Video and iSi Global remain on good terms and are considering a future partnership.
As demonstrated by the Mediatheque documentation, piecing together fragments of a lost digital repository is an exercise of our era—the web has now existed long enough to have large-scale projects come to life and come to crash. In this strict sense, there is no better time to explore the web’s potential for defining and redefining the role of online repositories as Archive, and more specifically their capacity and limitations for preservation and access.
For the time being, the Mediatheque collection remains unavailable, save for its digital traces left in cached memory. Along with a stack of DVDs in McCann’s office, these traces are what remain of Canada’s first large-scale video art archive on the web: the cached and crashed Mediatheque.
All images are author’s own screen shots.
Please feel free to comment.
- Pieced from: http://www.answers.com/topic/cache and http://www.answers.com/topic/crash (Accessed March 30, 2010). [↩]
- The length of videos determined their worth based on television broadcast rates – the internet is transforming this and with it, notions of value. [↩]
- See: Rick Prelinger’s 14 point Manifesto online http://subjectobject.net/2008/11/09/on-the-virtues-of-preexisting-material-a-manifesto-by-rick-prelinger/. Prelinger also discussed the “predictive” archive in a presentation/Master Class at Daziboa Gallery in Montreal http://www.dazibao-photo.org/en. [↩]
- http://sawvideo.com/ (Accessed March 24, 2010). [↩]
- Personal correspondence with Douglas Smalley (May 14, 2010). [↩]
- http://web.archive.org/web/*sa_/http://sawvideo.com (Accessed March 20, 2010). [↩]
- http://www.carfac.ca/ (Accessed April 12, 2009). [↩]
- (New Directions for the Médiathèque in 2006–2007). Personal correspondence with Penny McCann (2010). [↩]
- The origins of this claim is unclear and perhaps one worth reconsidering in the age of small screen mobile devices. [↩]
- See: “Google quizzed over YouTube plans BBC News (UK) (2006) “http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/6087976.stm and Egelko, Bob (2008) “Serious YouTube test of copyright law” SFGate San Francisco Chronicle http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/07/19/BUDH11RKQ9.DTL&feed=rss.business. [↩]
- continued: “…the User Submissions in connection with the YouTube Website and YouTube’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the YouTube Website (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.” From YouTube Terms of Service: http://www.youtube.com/t/terms?hl=en (Accessed May 10, 2010). [↩]
- See: Felix Stalder (2008) copyright dungeons and grey zones> http://firstname.lastname@example.org/msg00613.html (Accessed May 13, 2010). [↩]
- http://www.isiglobal.ca/ (Accessed March 30, 2010). [↩]
- http://www.real.com/ (Accessed March 30, 2010). [↩]
- Untitled (no date) Statistics document from SAW Video 2003–2005. [↩]
Hogan, Mél “21 Years of Image & Nation: Legitimizing the Gaze” in Nouvelles *vues* sur le cinémas québécois
SYNOPSIS: As a means of activating the queer archive, this paper explores image&nation’s imagination of itself through twenty-one years of festival guides. The guides serve as a tool for tracking the festival’s development, shifting political positionings, and fluctuating commitments to a queer international and bilingual mandate. Having been launched prior to the internet, image&nation’s humble beginnings were a labour of love, a response to an AIDS pandemic, and a rejoinder to and venue for feminist appropriation of video. Twenty-one years later, GLBT visibility and queer politics have entered new territory: has image&nation achieved its goal?
In November 2007, image&nation celebrated its twenty year anniversary as an international film festival. image&nation is the oldest and longest-running LGBT/queer film festival in Canada and the third-ranked festival in Québec in terms of attendance.  As one of many festivals part of a growing international circuit of film and video events, image&nation distinguishes itself through its bilingual GLBT/queer audience and international mandate. As such, it necessarily showcases marginal voices, and, in turn, serves to legitimize and normalize them. Over the course of the last twenty-one years, image&nation has undergone multifarious transformations in attempts to expand as a festival and adjust to the ever-changing political climate that positions queer culture within and against the mainstream. It has also had to adapt to the growth, and eventual decline, of the film industry.
As Gupta & Marchessault (2007) suggest, “over the last two decades, film festivals have emerged as important channels for the distribution and promotion of indigenous and mainstream media” (239). In the case of image&nation this has tended to be in the form of a shift from low-budget activist film-making towards a more polished, if not formulaic, product. This transformation invariably reflects both the production of queer films as a growing industry, and the festival’s attempt to construct itself as a legitimate and successful event within an international cinema circuit. The task to balance these two incentives—remaining true to the community from which it grew all the while aspiring for recognition in cinematic terms—is an incredibly difficult task to undertake and one that is all too easy to criticize.
By looking at image&nation as a case study of film festivals, we begin to understand that the very concept of a film festival is one that requires constant redefinition and reinvention. What speaks to the unique nature of the films presented within the context of image&nation? How does it appeal to a specific audience? Is it a niche market? How does it delimit what constitutes queer cinema? And, who comprises the queer audience? Festivals are ephemeral events, despite their recurrent nature. In the case of image&nation, the trace it leaves behind is first and foremost through films and videos, but it also lives on through the festival guides, the media attention it garnered, film reviews and promotional materials, newspapers, (and more recently) online, archival artifacts (media passes, ticket stubs, etc.), administrative documents, and most affectively perhaps, through the collective memory of its audience.
Given its elusive nature and structure, I approach this research project based on the festival’s imagination of itself. Specifically, I look to the program festival film guides from 1988-2008 in order to track its changing imagination and commitment to social change. Looking to the festival’s political engagements as afforded first by and through cinema—as a medium and activity—I take into consideration the way the festival managed and balanced a bilingual and international mandate as the festival became more popular, as well as its links to community activist groups. Methodologically speaking, I rely on archival traces that promote and reflect a particular, yet changing, history of LGBT/queer identity in a Québécois context. I begin the paper with this methodological note. Following this, and supplemented by interviews with current and past programmers (Charlie Boudreau, Anne Golden) and a translator (Gabriel Chagnon), as well as scholarly writing on “New Queer Cinema” (Rich 1992; Waugh 2006; Pidduck 1990; 2004), I explore the festival’s ongoing quest for legitimacy as a film festival and its position as a site of queer resistance, rooted in 1980’s AIDS film and video activism, and feminist home-made erotica.
Program guides offer a particular entry point into studying cinema and film culture.  As I briefly outline here, reflecting on the methodological particularities of using program guides to study social phenomena—in this case LGBT/queer festivals—allows for and demands an exacting dissection of various elements surrounding the organization of film festivals. As their most basic function, program guides make information about the films and programs within a particular festival available to its public(s). However, the length of the film descriptions, the choice of words, the tone, and the placement of these descriptions within the guide, or within certain programs, all potentially tell us something about the nature of the film, the festival and its audience. The cover images also reveal a shifting aesthetic: the drastic changes in design in terms of colour, layout of information, cover image or images, size and format. And, needless to say, the films themselves also reveal a shifting aesthetic, though that assessment is well beyond the scope of this paper. The guides thus provide an interesting lens through which to explore how the festival promotes itself, how films are scheduled and organized for viewers, how the festival has been named and how it renames itself year after year depending on language politics, which venues are used for screenings, who sponsors the events, and which themes surfaced throughout the last twenty-one years. 
That said, because the festival aims, at least in theory, to attract a wide audience, the write-ups are typically meant to entice rather than offer any sort of critical engagement of the films. Program guides, then, can be used in research to determine the relationship between the festival, which arguably works to vehicle of a particular cultural formation or community, and its intended audience, who both shape and are shaped by this exchange. Ultimately, the festival program guides inform the festival’s representation of itself—if not an ideal self, a self that is politically, historically and socially constituted.
As the festival became more popular throughout the nineties, and its budget increased, so too did its promotion, overall visibility and reach. As such, recent years allow for a more visible trace and assessment of the festival’s movement, enriched by online sources including both the festival’s own online archive, and the news coverage it inspired. Considering the various offshoots that constitute the festival’s public memory, these guides provide only a limited representation of the festival, however unique and particular their vantage point may be.
The guides are made available prior to and during the festival, and as such, do not account for changes in programming, or audience demographics or reactions, among other things. Furthermore, they cannot provide feedback or clues about reception, they explicate neither curatorial decisions nor selection process, nor detail the films that were submitted but not included, and they do not (/cannot) reflect moments of elation, uproar or controversy, triggered by the programming of specific films.  A closer look at the guides also reveals inconsistencies in the festival’s titles; its subtitle has changed every year except for the last three: currently going with “Montréal International LBGT Film Festival”. This newfound “stability” may reveal a hard-earned consensus over three specific matters: the tension between cinema, film and video, the difficulties of bilingual labels, and the never-ending inclusion/definition game of identity politics. As stated by Marc Siegel (1997), “the identity that one affirms upon entering the festival can […] become redefined to include not merely a different relation to race, gender, or sexuality, but to cinema as well” (133). Cinema, then, as a venue and activity, constitutes an important site for exploring the complexities of language, representation and membership in relation to queer identity formation.
Both the affordances and limitations of the guides as a tool for research constitute a rich body of ideas that make up public and archival memory of the festival – however fragmented and idealized. The festival itself, despite various transformations, remains an event (in time and place) and becomes a point of reference in bilingual Canadian LGBT/queer culture.
The way I analyze the program guides in this paper is by looking closely at the festival’s editorial page, normally located within the first few pages of the guides. These guides outline the festival’s goals by often referring to its past successes and failures, its links to community activism and the broader social and political climate around LGBT issues. The guides also offer an interesting entry point into the issue of bilingualism that remains so central to the Québécois context. I use these editorial pages to contextualize the festival’s growth, its quest for legitimacy as a film festival, and its involvement in the fight for gay and lesbian rights. I argue that from its undeniable roots in tactical AIDS activism to the so-called post self-loathing stage of “New Queer Cinema,” the festival’s current conception of itself straddles the available categories of “niche market” and “post-queer,” failing to properly acknowledge the complexity of the festival’s current liminality.
image&nation had very modest beginning. The effects of AIDS on gay and lesbian communities—and in particular their responses to the epidemic—motivated the production of hundreds of films and videos, thus fuelling a large part of the festival’s first few years of programming. Launched by Diffusions Gaies et Lesbiennes du Québec, “Le SIDA et les médias/Aids and the Media” was one of the central themes of the first image&nation (1988), which served as an important historical landmark for the festival. Regarding the films, various shorts from Belgium and France were balanced in large part by American productions, ensuring a relatively even distribution of French-English content.
Importantly, image&nation screened activist videos—“highly visible protest tactics” — influenced by work coming out of New York from video AIDS activists groups (like Testing the Limits Collective) and feminist collectives involved in the struggle (Pidduck 1990, p.269). These works presented often collaboratively-made shorts, testimonial documentaries, safer sex films and PSA-style (public service announcement) films, in particular. The politics and aesthetics of these works are, in a sense, quick and dirty responses to the urgency of the events unraveling—sometimes known as “zapping” practices—which placed the emphasis of video on immediate impact, over originality or authorship.  These tactics also meant appropriating mainstream media to make a statement, which was both a means of engaging with the realities of oppression and, perhaps, the beginning of a queer genre of filmmaking (or a queer sensibility). As the festival co-organizer in the early years, Golden recalls:
When I first began at the festival, it was not easy to find films and videos to present. No internet, no festival circuit, no explosion of queer production. (Faxes anyone? Telegrams?) It started to become easier to research films as of 1990-1991, when a festival circuit began and exchanges occurred between festivals in different cities. All these people who were not filmmakers[…] it was their films that would play at the festival. They were testimonies and journals. It was absolutely fantastic. I was blown away by this explosion in video and film.(Golden, personal interview, 2008)
AIDS remained a central theme at image&nation into the early ’90s, which further highlighted the close relationship between the festival’s programs and the political climate of gay and lesbian communities, locally and internationally. This sense of community—a group fighting against the seeming inaction of the Québec government toward the AIDS crisis—may have called for and witnessed a more unified gay and lesbian audience than the festival’s later years.
As such, image&nation constructed itself as a politically-engaged festival, drawing attention to the potential of film/video—and the festival in particular for its ability to mobilize large groups—to enact social change based on collective identities, or more precisely, collective oppressions. To this effect, Martha Gever suggests that the festival is a ‘queer public sphere’ where identities are forged as “ordinary, outrageous, ambivalent” (Gever in Pidduck, 2004, 89) and that identity itself—or the ability to name oneself—is an important first step in effecting political change. Emphasizing “identity” in a round-table discussion entitled “representation, responsibility and moveable merging” (image&nation program guide, 1990), the festival promoted AIDS documentaries on the one hand, and on the other, boasted Québec “firsts,” as the early markings of a true festival of cinema. The role of queer cinema in promoting social change in a Québécois context, however, meant focusing on, and potentially (re)defining, sexuality and gender norms within and beyond the confines of what was made available in the two “official” languages. Golden, a volunteer in the early ‘90s, remembers the recurring criticism regarding the lack of francophone films, due in part to the overwhelming outpouring of American productions feeding the festival’s content.  Golden recalls the precarious tasks of hand-picking a selection of films from France, made by lesbians, in order to respond to this lack. But as experimental structuralist films, having little or nothing to do with issues of lesbian representation, Golden’s selection of films may or may not have responded to the needs of image&nation’s audiences at the time, as the dearth of images with which to identify may have called for more overt and obvious lesbian depictions. While these early program guides seem to equate sexuality with visibility on the screen, later narratives attempt to broaden the definition by distancing the body from identity. This distance, as I will argue, has also contributed to the festival’s imagination of itself as a “legitimate” film festival.
Legitimacy is a key point in my analysis as it is often pitted against queer politics in favour of mainstream gay and lesbian politics, against the diverse queer experience in favour of ‘pink money’. However, I propose that queer cinema exists not to resolve this problem/binary/tension, but to maintain a kind of paradox, for which both ‘ends’ are continually reconstituting themselves in relation to an imagined ‘opposition’. Perhaps this is best explained rhetorically through Rich’s question: “how can a marriage between the popular and the radical be sustained when such an association erodes the very meaning of each?” (2004, 19) However impossible it seemed in the early ‘90s, image&nation embodies this marriage of radical and popular in that it actually occupies many discursive and physical spaces simultaneously, as I continue to outline here.
From the onset, image&nation featured films that carved-out an aggressively self-aware and subversive queer identity, with entire programs dedicated to video art addressing the potentials and possibilities of celebratory sex through home-made erotic shorts. These shorts (self-)presented the queer subject as “outlaw” and as “vampire,” because after all, the festival took pride in “videos and films that disturb, stimulate and encourage” (image&nation program guide, 1990). Because AIDS video activism brought queer sex to the forefront of queer identity, sex itself was being explored through explicit sexual imagery and erotica. Golden recalls the risky nature of this programming at early festivals:
I remember Chris Martin and I did a program that was […] well[…] it’s not hardcore by today’s standards[…] but we called it the ‘Contextualization Program.’ You wouldn’t name something like that now! We actually thought there might be some sort of uprising! We did have films or entire programs that were disliked and we knew it […] (Golden, personal interview, 2008).
So while porn left most gay men morally unscathed, lesbian porn was (and remains) a relatively limited phenomenon. According to Pidduck, “explicit home-made sexual imagery has been especially risky and important for lesbians,” because, she argues, lesbian “sexuality has historically been either erased or appropriated for heterosexual male fantasies” (1990, p.272). The divided feminist reaction to these works—sex positive vs. anti-porn—saw the emergence of another type of lesbian video project; the documentation of live performances and workshops that every so often addressed directly the feminist/misogynist porn debate. Interestingly, through image&nation these more conservative works conceded, in the ’90s, to a distinctively pro-sex iconography for lesbians, exploring leather, sex toys, role-playing and S/M, and raising important questions around the role of cinema in relation to identification, or more precisely, embodiment (Drawing the Line, Boschman, 1992; Thank God I’m a lesbian, Colbert and Cardona, 1992). Identification and embodiment are especially troubled in a sexualized context—where the personal is made political by virtue of its exposure. Perhaps it is the nature of these images that pushed the debate of representation to its affective peaks: if these were graphic images of the queer body for the queer audience, they had better be recognizable as such. This era—nudged on to the emerging New Queer Cinema of the early ’90s—saw the emphasis shift from simply naming the queer subject to naming queer cinema.
The festival’s identity crisis is highlighted here, as long-time festival organizer, Charlie Boudreau, explains her attempt in the mid-’90s to rectify the inclusion problem by altogether removing the queer signifiers in the festival title:
I took away “gais et lesbiennes.” At the time I didn’t feel it was representative. It was also the time of “queer”—I like the notion of it. It’s a mentality. Can we please not be defined by our sexual practices? It’s a sad way to see a human being! Maybe ten years ago, it was more “queer” because friends of mine who were “straight” came. There was more of a mix. Now we’re the LGBT festival, but I don’t know what to tell you. I’m trying to move away from labels, and we keep adding labels (Boudreau, personal interview, 2008).
The reappropriation of the epithet ‘queer’, according to Pidduck, “is a conscious political strategy that rhymes with an aesthetics that celebrate the ‘abject’, the criminal, the underworld of queer desire” (2004, 279). But as Boudreau’s quote suggests, using the term ‘queer’ remains problematic. For one, “queer” has a distinctively Anglophone attachment, and while its circulation in academia has managed to navigate somewhat across language barriers, its popular use remains predominantly Anglophone, and perhaps appeals more generally to a generation for which it was never a direct assault. There are also political attachments to the word—implying a radical turn, a re-appropriation, and revenge of sorts. Thus, while one can presume the image&nation audience to be predominantly GLBT or queer-identified, this same label is more difficultly applied to film and video. Can film and video take on such an affective and embodied term to define itself (as presumably the festival has had to)? What makes a work queer: its creator(s), the content, the context of screening? What does this newfound distance from or rejection of the GLBT labels imply? Does it risk dividing the community further along language lines? And what is more implicitly queer about being “undefined,” as Boudreau insinuates? While the answer to the first set of questions may be partially elucidated by the guides, the latter remains at the crux of the festival’s ongoing identity crisis, which may never be solidified as its audience(s) and films constantly renegotiate and redefine the movement and its representation.
What makes a work queer, or how the tensions of this category have played out, is well illustrated in the example of Midi Onodera’s 1985, Ten Cents a Dance (Parallax) , screened at image&nation in 1989.  Onodera’s film was an experimental structuralist film. In three parts, it depicts a lesbian couple, a sex scene between two gay men in a bathroom stall, and a phone sex sequence. In conversation, past organizer Anne Golden and festival translator Gabriel Chagnon explain the film’s impact on the lesbian community in the late ’80s:
The film got shown in festivals that were more experimental or non-narrative. And then it got picked up by gay and lesbian film festivals because Midi herself is a lesbian […] we showed it, San Francisco showed it […] but here it provoked. People stormed out […] they wanted to stop the screening. This film traveled around the world as a “lesbian film”, and really people should have been saying this film is an experimental structuralist film by a lesbian director! But it somehow got skewed. Midi went everywhere with that film and confronted all kinds of hostility. (Golden and Chagnon, personal interview, 2008)
The memory of angry feminist-lesbian audience reacting strongly to the way they were represented in various films, as rare as they were in the early years, is key in understanding the trajectory and accessibility of lesbian films, and the festival as a site of resistance. Golden suggests that these outbursts were part of the structure of early festival organizing (into the early ’90s), “for an hour-long screening, we had a four-hour long discussion” (personal interview, 2008).
These forums, which were conceived as much for audience members to vent their frustrations as to provide an open space for discussion, highlighted the importance of images for the queer community, and lesbians in particular. Chagnon reminisces, “There was such scarcity of images, for all kinds of “us”, all kinds of colours, classes[…] so we had to watch Desert Hearts, two [white] Bourgeois ladies [who] had nothing to do with us!” and adds that, “because of this scarcity, the images became intensely scrutinized. The intensity with which the audience invested themselves with the viewing is not seen today” (personal interview, 2008). So while images, in an almost unabashed quest for positive representation over diversity of modalities, failed to “represent,” audiences were formulating their desires to identify with the screen, and perhaps, putting into words for the first time, the importance of the shared viewing experience that both relied on and challenged its feminist framework (Waugh, 2006). What remains unsure is whether or not lesbian/feminist cinema has had the power (and responsibility) to change what Pidduck, borrowing from deLauretis (1991), calls “the conditions of lesbian visibility” (1990, p.280).
In the early program guides, the role of the film/video artist is speculated upon, as it appears to be necessarily tactical, a tool for queer activism. Situating itself as a venue through which to question rather than represent queer bodies and queer lives by re-appropriating realities too often thwarted in the mainstream, the “festival is there to raise questions rather than to bring answers or to propose an aesthetic, a vision or representation–we believe in respect of difference in difference” (image&nation program guide, 1990). However, this admittedly diverse voice also points to the difficulties of defining community and cause: “if someone asks for quick, neat definition of what/how we are and how/ we are/were perceived in the films and videos careening through this festival, we say ‘don’t even try it’” (1990, image&nation program guide). The urgency and consistency with which the festival rejects the notion of a static identity nonetheless informs its paradoxical (re)presentation: on the one hand battling out negative stereotypes and making “queer” visible, on the other hand refusing to delimit itself, or its function, or its audience, perhaps to counter the fact that being defined in the mainstream had up until then meant being made “other.” Or, perhaps naming what constitutes ‘visibility’ is more a question of the interplay of allegiances, complexities of understanding oneself as a sexual subject primarily, and identifying with both the audience and the images on screen.
This problem of naming and of being defined is central to queer identity, which the festival necessarily continues to take on especially as Golden, and later Boudreau, address, through the program guides, a distinct lesbian audience, further divided along language lines. The separate addresses—to men and women, the francophones and to anglophones—appeared in the guides until 1995, at which point the texts became co-written by the organizers and directly translated, from French to English. Despite the joining of the audiences in text, the audiences remain largely segregated along gender and language lines (though Boudreau asserts that language differences are more of a divisive factor in the lesbian community). As a translator, Chagnon believes the synopses would be more accurate and dynamic were they written in their (original?) languages as they were in the early days of the festival “because when you translate a synopsis without having seen the work, the result is inevitably of lesser quality, less “alive” and the risk of [making] mistakes is higher” (personal correspondence, 2009).  As such, language politics effectively play into the historical accuracy of the festival’s textual memory.
As an international bilingual festival for both gays and lesbians (and bisexuals and trans folks, though not explicitly mentioned in the title), this “unity” serves a key purpose and points to the importance of queer politics as they extend to outside of the theatre. While the film festival caters to different audiences, it is possible (actually, more than likely) that without the joint effort, women would have no festival. This is speculative, of course, but attendance and film production attest to the imbalance in numbers between genders—as Boudreau recalls, men consistently sell out large theatres, constitute 90% of the target of ads in the guides, and purchase special passes ahead of time, while women continue to come out in modest numbers. Boudreau notes, “The guys get the Imperial and the girls get the little theatre […] they can’t even fill that. That was a business decision. It stopped making sense to be ‘equal.’ The boys screenings were sold out three times and the girls are like 100 in a 600 people theatre” (Boudreau, personal interview, 2008).
Arguably, and perhaps even more speculatively, the festival is richer for this diversity—that women rely on the “male dollar”, but that in return, the festival can function as a more diverse and inclusive political platform. However, Boudreau laments this division as a failure of the festival in relation to a broader queer movement:
A sad thing about the audience is that […] there are very few women in men’s screenings and vice versa […] I think it’s problematic to not go see a film because it’s a good film, that is, to only need to see yourself. […] A festival should be more of a ‘cinephile thing’ than a ‘social thing.’ It’s still too stuck with the social. If you are always catering to the lowest common denominator, you are not doing well. (Boudreau, personal interview, 2008)
As Boudreau describes, there is an intricate weaving of identity politics to queer representation, both challenged and subsumed in cinematic discourse. Seeking legitimacy in making image&nation “about film,” distances the festival from what is arguably at its core: a diversity of underrepresented and marginalized queer identities, bodies, and ideas. In other words, image&nation becomes increasingly positioned as a legitimate film festival, for what it is and what it stands against, and in particular, by denying the affective qualities of representation within a queer context—both in the narratives on screen, and the shared spectatorship experience: “I don’t go see myself at the movies, I go for the story. I want to be embraced by an image and words for an hour and a half and leave the world and fall into someone else’s mind” (Boudreau, personal interview, 2008). Richard Dyer describes this utopian impulse, as a “craving for the ‘image of “something better” to escape into,” as something outside our day-to-day (Dyer, 1992, 18). The idea of identifying with, or against, the screen as a means to extend one’s own experience is not by any means specific to queer film and video; quite contrarily, it is at the heart of why people enjoy going to the movies, beyond the appreciation of film craftsmanship and aesthetic considerations.
Boudreau also highlights the difficulty of situating the body-social relationship (Morris 1998), i.e. the personal within the political or subscribing to the feminist idiom that the personal is, in fact, political. Seemingly aware of this, the festival often refers to more conventional forms of activism: from community groups to government lobbying. image&nation in the early ’90s, was connected to and connecting with the revival of community activism through DiversCité and the creation of the lobbyist group, Table de concertation des lesbiennes et des gais du grand Montréal. 1992 saw the revisiting of Clause 10 of the Quebec Charter of Rights, through hearings with the Commission des droits de la personne, which aimed at making gays and lesbians full and equal citizens under the eyes of the law. The 1993 program guide states, to this effect, an invitation to queer activism: “Please represent yourselves and your communities by supporting this effort and contact your Provincial representative and sign the Petition circulating during the Festival”(3). As gays and lesbians gained legal rights, films began to reflect a more expressly diverse range of topics and subjectivities, moving away from the confessional genre to representing life in narrative, fictional form.
However undefined, the early to mid-’90s festivals mandate saw the notion of diversity take consciousness around gender issues, and marked the passing of AIDS as its single most pressing issue, from which Rich (1992) coined “New Queer Cinema,” (NQC) (Pidduck, 1990; Pearl, 2004; Waugh, 2006). image&nation’s 1994 festival showcased the now infamous Go Fish (Rose Troche, 1994). The film’s popularity, and its place as image&nation’s 1994 opening film, may have been an indication of the festival’s (and broader community’s) queer politics in the mid-1990s: “the film is neither a coming out story nor an excruciating drama about recognition and loss […], but a buoyant, urbane depiction of a few weeks in the lives of a dozen or so avowed young dykes gathered together in the early 1990s lesbian scene” (Henderson, 1999, 40). In its somewhat utopian and shared portrayal of lesbian lives (in a North American context, at least), the film merges lived experience with an idealized version of one’s community through the common Hollywood romantic comedy genre. Go Fish also marked the festival’s first feature full-length film for a lesbian audience. Here, the relationship between queer cinema and identities surfaces: “the lesbian program used to be overwhelmingly made up of short works. In fact, the first few years were relatively hard to program because of the marked lack of films and videos made by dykes,” the guide states, “this festival literally grew up with the explosion of lesbian-made images; allowing us to go from an event that showed the odd feature to this year’s 18 feature length film” (Boudreau and Golden, image&nation program guide, 1995, 7).  While a new kind of “lesbian sensibility” surfaced here, to borrow from Rich (1992), video—for its accessibility—is what put women on the (queer film festival) map, though she questions whether video will ever achieve the status reserved for film.
The ten year anniversary edition in 1997 celebrates the festival’s position as a cultural institution and situates it as a renown international event and as the most important of its kind in Canada: “in honour of our 10th anniversary, we will take the time to look back at the decade, to explore the trends, styles and representational strategies employed by media artists as well as the parallel changes within both popular culture and in our queer cultural communities” (Charlie Boudreau, Yves Lafontaine, Katharine Setzer, image&nation program guide, 1997, 10). Interestingly, the use of “strategies” to describe filmmakers’ work implies a purposeful and intentional activist stance, alluding vaguely to having an end in sight, or a community-driven goal for determining the ways in which queers should be perceived, inside and out of the festival context. 1997 was the year that the festival became sponsored by Famous Players, allowing image&nation to expand their audience by increasing their number of films and of venues (as well as the number of seats in these venues).  Needless to say, mainstream venues and feature length films amount to a more conventional conception of the film festival, finally gaining momentum to expand in size and reach.
The years following the decade celebration of queer films at image&nation saw an increase in corporate sponsorship of the festival, with its Bell Mobility’s “audience choice awards,” for example,  as well as a more overt sense of entitlement to and empowerment of a collective queer identity. The 1999 guide states, “these productions are truly essential and this celluloid affirmation of our sexualities, our identities and of course our egos has been a welcomed and treasured treat,” and boasts, “representations of queerness are truly headed for world domination” (image&nation program guide, 1999, 5). Ironic in tone, this guide is the first to frame queer identities in an unapologetic and humourous manner, subverting the usual references of gayness to homophobia, AIDS and suicide, among other topics—which Rich conceived of, though much earlier, in the NQC.
Also, further emphasizing the international appeal of queerness in relationship to a “uniquely Québécois and Canadian perspective,” (5) the festival claims this era to be the most politically and culturally diverse of its history. Arguably, links between the festival’s legitimacy, its expansion and corporate sponsorship, is reflected in its representation of itself as an ‘international’ festival affording a diversity of representation—juggling not only gay and lesbian (bi, trans) films and audiences, but appealing to cultural communities, too.
As depicted in the graph above, the number of countries from which films are submitted represents the festival’s international scope over time.
According to queer film theorist, Ger Zielinski (2006), discussing gay and lesbian film festivals is “a challenging linguistic task” (1). The quest for the perfect community umbrella term—which ‘queer’ attempted to be—resulted in an alphabet-soup acronym, with letters being endlessly tacked on for inclusion. What was once representative of gay, lesbian, and later bisexual (GLB), soon grew to include transsexual (T), transgender (another T), two-spirited (2S), questioning (Q), asexual (A), ally, (another A), queer (another Q), with new identity formations continually sprouting up. The result is often a long acronym, self-defeating in terms of the simplicity it means to provide: GLBTT2SQAQetc. image&nation guides vacillate between gay and lesbian, and queer, though the festival’s respect for bilingualism contributes to this instability of categorizations. Additionally, in 2000, the festival adopted, a graphic “+” symbol, replacing the “&”, which completed the image et nation in French, and image and nation in English. For Golden, having worked on the festival in the early days, this also proves very symbolically, an important “barometer of change”, in as much as the festival’s original title has forever given way to a new, designer-ly designation, which is further reflected in the new dimensions of the guides—becoming smaller and thicker booklets. 
Tracking title changes in the guides offers an interesting genealogy of the festival, its attempts at both defining itself as queer and distancing itself from identity politics in favour of a focus on cinema. Prior to 1999, the program guides associate image&nation with “gay and lesbian,” and post-2000, “gay and lesbian” is linked, rather, to cinema. This is a subtle shift, but an intentional one, as gleaned from the guides. In clearer terms, the GL signifier shifts from its association with the festival to an association with the films presented, arguably distancing the label from the audience onto the content of films, from the real (festival-goers) to the virtual (on-screen representations). In 2004, “gay and lesbian” became “LGBT”, and though “queer” appears nowhere on the program guide covers, it is used in both French and English introductory texts (post-2000).
In the program guide of the 14th edition of the festival, the festival describes itself as having reached “maturity”—using the metaphor of a teenage boy breaking from his know-it-all-ness to becoming a rebel. The guide states that GLBT filmmakers are “beginning to look beyond affirmation of our sexual identities on the screen and instead are exploring the multiple aspects and influences in our lives” (Katharine Setzer, image&nation program guide, 2001, 5). However vague these “aspects and influences” may be, the festival’s representation of itself and its subjects shifts queer identity away from ideas of sex/sexuality proper, proposing instead a broader exploration of what identity might entail—location, education, class, race, religion, etc. However utopian (or dystopian?) the idea of having a queer or GLBT film festival that does not centre on questions of sexuality and gender (as Boudreau’s earlier quote points to), it necessarily distances the festival from the bodies that inhabit it, off and on screen. So, while rejecting labels (or re-appropriating or reclaiming them) became a useful tool for empowerment, denying the very constituency of the festival raises, in my opinion, serious issues about the festival’s priorities. Countering their own views on the issue, the following year, director of programming, Setzer writes: “this year’s programming reminds us that filmmaking is a tool: a tool of freedom, of identification and of recognition. A tool with the power to both educate and to wildly entertain” (image&nation program guide, 2001, 5). Queer cinema finds again, after a brief overlay, its status as both place and tool of resistance, however different this resistance may have been from the festival’s early days. Boudreau writes to this effect: “renewing and rearticulating how we see ourselves, again this year, legions of emerging and established filmmakers challenge us with provocative and forward-looking perspectives on what it means to be queer in 2005” (Setzer, image&nation program guide, 15, 2005). Creating a culture to call one’s own, to identify with and appeal to, suggest that the goal set out in 1987, however unclear or undefined at the time, may have been met: “giving evidence to the fact that what were hopeful whispers about the emergence of a queer cinema culture in 1987, today is a full-blown discourse”, creating, “a vibrant cinema culture of our own” (Setzer, image&nation program guide, 2007, 13). The goal of queer activism in cinema may not be simply a matter of gaining equality through social and legal reform, not to be “equal”, “accepted” or “tolerated”, but to exist, differently and diversely, to expand and redefine ourselves, and yet to persist through these changes through paradoxical positionings: “collective identities” with “collective memories”. What stands out in these guides, as I have demonstrated so far, is the festival’s tendency to distance itself from the embodied queer subject, while simultaneously legitimizing itself as a film festival about the queer subject, thus privileging queerness as a cinematic theme over the queer cinematic experience.
The queer film festival, having grown out of a need for queer (self-) representation, remains a site of resistance in so much as it allows a predominantly queer audience the freedom from this marginal position, and/or the distance to critically engage with issues around representation. As a (queer) habitus, the cinematic experience accounts for embodied experiences through queer spectatorship, and is always positioned against and within a larger heteronormative context. That said, it would be an overstatement to imply that all films featured at image&nation are in and of themselves counter-normative. Or, that there are no queer films outside of queer film festival circuits. In fact, as Boudreau declares, the ambiguity of the queer festival remains for both creators and audiences: there has been a growing trend by queer filmmakers to feel more accomplished as artists by showing their work outside of the queer film festival context as if to imply that queer audiences are a niche market defined exclusively by topics relating to sex, sexuality, and gender, and more importantly, that this is no longer a sufficient, important, or necessary window through which to present work. Perhaps the most flagrant example of this is the one alluded to in the 2008 festival guide, where Setzer and Boudreau write of their disappointment and frustration when image&nation was turned down from showing the “gay-written and gay-directed” film about “a gay man who dedicated his life to the recognition of queer equal rights” (2008, 13). While Boudreau and Setzer refrain from naming the film, they are referring to Milk, which has since received eight Academy Award nominations.  Apparently, screening in queer venues was not part of Milk’s “release strategy,” which is an insult to Boudreau, Setzer, and the image&nation community at large, who for more than two decades have ensured and encouraged a place for queer cinema to be showcased and accessed, rooted itself in political struggle. In continuing their metaphor with the body, in 2008, image&nation reaches the age of majority, it is simultaneously old and young, reflective on two decades of struggle and eager to explore newfound possibilities.
A careful exploration of image&nation’s trajectory demonstrates that terms like “resistance” and “legitimacy” are not givens, and cannot be simply measured against one another. Nor, more importantly, can queer resistance be understood only as a thing of the past, or in terms of the AIDS crisis, overt homophobia and violence, or feminist struggles against misogyny, representations of disability, racism on and off screen, and so on. Resistance, as a concept, presents new opportunities for looking at queer culture as acquiring its due recognition, preserving a distinct queer culture, and allowing for queer culture to be dynamic all the while retaining a political function as made obvious in the festival’s political trajectory. This should be done, as it has been through image&nation, by paying tribute to past struggles, celebrating victories, and acknowledging that some parts of the world are indeed, a better and safer place for gays and lesbians than they were 20 years ago. However, to have an oversimplified, if not nostalgic view of resistance, in my opinion, undermines both the work left to be done, and the power of cinematic images to continue to shape and reflect diversity in flux.
As shown in this paper, in the festival context, legitimacy implies “quality” through a capacity to find and showcase rare films, to promote artists’ work, feature “firsts”, reward filmmakers with prizes and awards, and to present works in a manner that appeals to cinephiles and cultural theorists more broadly. Unlike queer festivals, like MixNYC,  for example, that attempt to dismantle the GLBT festival apparatus by opting, instead, for underground avant-garde works, often highly erotic and abject in nature, image&nation’s trajectory suggests a move from showing strictly “provocative” works of these kinds, to include feature films, often from big production studios in the United States. In this sense, the quest for legitimacy seems to be equated, at least in part, to its capacity to show big budget works on the queer film festival circuit.
Thwarting the object/abject of early queer representation by privileging high-cost films and fancy venues that heightened the festival’s status among festivals, image&nation might be seen as losing its edge, appealing to a more mainstream gay and lesbian audience, and succumbing to market-driven incentives. However, a more nuanced assessment of the festival must be made, taking into account the links between festival and activism, both implicit and explicit, and the changing political environment and audiences of the festival: Pidduck suggests, “‘ordinary’ lesbian/gay characters can contribute to the necessary liberal project of visibility, diffusing the social stigma of homosexuality” (1990, p.273). Queers and non-queers have, more than ever, access to images of gays and lesbians, as well as a language by which to both describe and exchange ideas about gender and sexuality—and this has been successful almost to the detriment of the festival’s raison d’être. Perhaps the question of activism needs to be reframed to ask who is expected to make ‘political’ films, in which there is an implicit role of “educating” from the margins, and more importantly, how the personal—the bodily and the sexual—remains at the nexus of queer politics, two decades later. By placing sexuality as both the centre-point and counterpoint to politics, the festival’s self-conception highlights one of the tensions in culture at large—where the community ends and the individual begins.
As illustrated in my brief survey of the festival’s twenty-one years, its quest for legitimacy happened in a linear way, while resistance weaves itself in and out, oftentimes becoming almost invisible from within the festival’s imagination of itself. Arguably then, the festival reinstates the importance of sexuality as a basis for both identity and culture (or cultural reference points), and suggests that rather than always being pitted against a homophobic mainstream, image&nation can resist the more general idea that marginal voices, once “accepted” and “tolerated,” should become subsumed into the mainstream that is said to embrace it, as Patricia Rozema claimed at image&nation’s 2006 conference based on Tom Waugh’s The Romance of Transgression in Canada (2006).  Celebrating diversity, expanding the very notion of what it constitutes, and continually challenging how diversity is represented on screen, positions LGBT/queer culture as critical point within cultural studies as it serves to explore the tensions between structure and experience, and culture and identity.
This vision continues to this day, with feature films playing at the Imperial, documentaries at the NFB, and a range of films playing at the deSève cinema, at Concordia, for example. As such, the festival can be seen as occupying many political and social spaces—from abstract repertoire art films, to films exploring the relationship between homosexuality and citizenship worldwide, to sexy amateur shorts, to large-scale productions with somewhat formulaic storylines. In response, image&nation could seek out more underground venues, incorporate local initiatives and artists in the festival’s programming, and broaden their idea of what constitutes cinema by including various media works, as means of re-establishing their artistic and activist foundation, to counterbalance the growing corporatization of the queer film industry, and as a way of creating scarcity to compensate for the web’s mass distribution of queer film and video. In fact, it may have to do so in order to survive.
With more and more queer characters in mainstream films, as well as on television, image&nation programmers fear the worst, with attendance dwindling, and with fewer and fewer works presented at festivals worldwide or submitted by artists and filmmakers internationally. The simultaneous growth (in the mainstream) and diminishing of the queer film (in queer contexts) is affecting the festival’s popularity.  In the past few years, works are released on DVD by major distributors prior to being shown at image&nation. This may mean that the overall circulation of queer images continues to increase, but has become more removed form a large-scale collective viewing experience—ironically fulfilling Boudreau’s wish that queer cinema be more about film than “the social.”
Over the last twenty-one years, festival-goers have witnessed the presentation of rare and eclectic works in a context in which queer dominates. While today’s lesbian and queer women’s visibility in the mainstream is certainly greater with popular television shows like The L Word and Sugar Rush, and the wide dissemination of queer content over the internet, it remains that the festival is a venue which both stakes claim to a distinct culture and asserts its power over a place through time. In whatever ways image&nation may continue change, its struggle only highlights those of the community at large: finding a way to retain a radical queer identity both through and against the notions of tolerance, acceptance and alliances allowed
Thank you to Anne Golden, Jules Pidduck, Gabriel Chagnon, Charlie Boudreau, Iain Blair at les archives gaies du Québec, Charles Acland, and Line Chamberland for your time, your insights, your suggestions, and your stories.
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image&nation Program Guides (authors specified where indicated)
Diffusion gaies et lesbiennes du Québec 1988
image&nation program guide 1989
image&nation program guide 1990
Golden, Anne, image&nation program guide 1991
Golden, Anne and Allan Klusacek, image&nation program guide 1992
Klusacek, Allan Program Guide, image&nation program guide 1993
Hauchecorne, Cécile, image&nation program guide 1994
Boudreau, Charlie and Anne Golden, image&nation program guide 1995
image&nation program guide 1996
Boudreau, Charline, Yves Lafontaine, and Katharine Setzer, image&nation program guide 1997
image&nation program guide 1998
image&nation program guide 1999
Boudreau, Charline, and Katharine Setzer, image&nation program guide 2000
Boudreau, Charline, and Katharine Setzer, image&nation program guide 2001
Boudreau, Charlie, and Katharine Setzer, image&nation program guide 2002
Boudreau, Charlie, and Katharine Setzer, image&nation program guide 2003
Boudreau, Charlie, and Katharine Setzer, image&nation program guide 2004
Boudreau, Charlie, and Katharine Setzer, image&nation program guide 2005
Boudreau, Charlie, and Katharine Setzer, image&nation program guide 2006
Boudreau, Charlie, and Katharine Setzer, image&nation program guide 2007
Boudreau, Charlie, and Katharine Setzer, image&nation program guide 2007
Boschman, Lorna Drawing the Line, 1992, Canada, video, 7:30 min.
Colbert, Laurie and Dominique Cardona Thank God I’m a lesbian, 1992, Canada, 16 mm, 60 min.
Cottis, Jane War on Lesbians, 1992, Britain, video, 35 min.
Dempsey, Shawna and Lorri Millan, What does a Lesbian Look Like? 1994, Canada, video, 2 min.
Cohen, Rob, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, 1993, USA, 114 mins.
Kansas, Jane and Laz Van Berkel, How Lesbians Kiss, 1993, Canada, video, 7 min.
Troche, Rose Go Fish, 1993/94, Britain, 16 mm, 85 min.
Edwards, Blake, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961, USA, 115 min.
Van Sant, Gus, Milk, 2008, USA, 128 mins.
Hogan, Mél “Dykes on Mykes: Podcasting and the Activist Archive” in TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies Issue 20: 199-215 2009
TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies
Editor: Jody Berland (York University).
Guest Editor: Peter van Wyck (Concordia University).