Chasing leads and wondering if the 1973 Matrix video show at the Vancouver Art Gallery (160 international artists attended) is one of those events that’s escaped the international histories that focus on US/UK. 800 people visited the VAG on the Saturday, 600 on the Sunday – all watching video on 16 monitors and via 2 video projectors (uncatalogued MATRIX files, VAG).
So, I spent an afternoon in the VAG library and found the MATRIX file. Turns out that Audrey Bronstein of Inter-Action, a pioneering community arts and media organization in London, came along and brought a couple of videos that she gave to Michael Goldberg’s new Video Exchange. Claimant’s Vision and Camden Housing Act brought a bit of London to Vancouver. Inter-Action is still active and for the Olympics re-started the Fun Art Bus, which was launched in 1972 and included video production and screening spaces. Serendipitous connections.
The uncatalogued MATRIX files are heady stuff, with hand-written notes and diagrams for video projection. Terrific manifestos: ‘audience is the play….Revolutions don’t arrive in hard- or soft-ware packages….Flesh is the medium of spirit, video a medium of exchange’ (Pacific Lake Tribal Spirit, 1973). Was David Cronenberg listening in?
More critical voices included Harry Mishkin, who wrote in his post-event summary:
‘The new non-institutional, portable video “moment” had many of the trappings of another new religion or cult: enthusiasm on the part of the proponents coupled with esoteric language….There were also strange rituals….something about feedback and body images, etc….The growing notion of portable video equipment as providing “access” never asked the question of why anybody, any representative of the masses etc would want access…as I have found, watching yourself on the screen gets to be boring and dead ended….(Another neat thing coming out of MATRIX: people were talking about the archiving process for tapes that passed through the conference when somebody neatly dispensed with the notion of libraries. Dispensing with the retention compulsion)’
In Michael Goldberg’s writings what emerges is a Canadian impetus for video exchange emerging out of the October Crisis in 1970 when PM Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act in response to the FLQ kidnappings. Goldberg cites these events to argue for why a free flow of information is necessary. In his post-MATRIX notes Goldberg envisions the beginnings of a ‘video grid’ and it’s tempting to think of this conference as a starting point to YouTube.
Best bit was the review in The Vancouver Sun, 22 Jan 1973:
“I’m a Video Tape Eater, but I haven’t found anything I like enough yet”: recyclist Evelyn Roth in a crocheted reject videotape costume with a monstrous bill like a platypus’s.
Since then, Michael Goldberg, Paul Wong, Chris Meigh-Andrews and John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkinson have generously engaged in an email conversation with me about the impact of the London video scene in Vancouver at this time and the potential intervention of Vancouver into London, via Audrey Bronstein. I still cherish a bit of a hunch.