Look Back in Wonder

I first worked at Charles Street Video as a member, editing. (Video)tape was tape; film was film. We made such modernist distinctions then. The twain rarely met in Toronto's low-budget, media artist milieu. I hired an on-line editor* to work with me in CSV's A/B-roll, Betacam-editing “A-Room,” which looked like the cockpit of the space shuttle. I was used to working on a Steenbeck, an old-fashioned, 16mm film-editing machine. CSV had one pioneering digital system, a “DAW,” or digital audio workstation. Konrad Skreta knew how to use it, as did few others.

Later, when I started working-working at CSV (as Paula's managerial replacement, it turns out) we invested in what was starting to become a professional trend in moving image production; a digital NLE, or non-linear editing system. Please understand; a computer to edit picture was head-spinning. That early Avid was small— 6 or 8 hard drives, 4 GB each—and came at an exorbitant price, close to $100g. Nonetheless the future was a train rushing to the platform, and there was no question but that it was digital. At CSV we were proud to be an early adopter of NLEs among artist centres, a point long since rendered meaningless.

Now that everything's a (digital) film, that modernist distinction I mentioned has seemingly collapsed. It sort of seems irrelevant. Agonizing over medium, fetishizing this type of camera over that, perhaps these have always been to broadly miss the point. The joking, maieutic answer to whether or not we had broadcast-quality equipment was, well, do you have a broadcast-quality idea? In any case, the means of production has democratized in the last two decades. The range of voices and practises has hugely diversified, a most welcome development.

As a freelance editor, I helped various artists at CSV. My son, now a pro musician**, tracked an early EP in CSV's recording booth. I'm witness to the fact that hundreds of works were made here, or have been assisted by CSV. Quite possibly my favourite, edited in the A-Room by Su Rynard, is Michael Snow's That/ Cela/ Dat. Like his earlier film, So is This, That/ Cela/ Dat is all text. Intended as a three-screen installation, its word-images were projected simultaneously in the title languages: English, French, Flemish. Self-reflexive, very intelligent, and toying humourously with language, it is a remarkable piece, too little seen. It's exemplary of the rigourous media art that at its best, CSV has always sought to support.

I've remained at CSV much longer than I anticipated I would. It's afforded me the flexibility to pursue my own, decidedly uncommercial work as an artist. As a centre, it's remained true to a do-it-yourself, artist-run culture. I've been lucky to work with a low-turnover team of smart colleagues. And I've always been fascinated by the changing roster of artists moving through the place to use its resources.

The world has become harsher, ever more focused on rapacious commerce, bureaucratic entanglement, and rote standardization, not to mention characterized by profound economic disparity and political dysfunction. So the grassroots represented by small organizations like CSV take on an increased and even outsized importance. Ideally they can delineate a different (head)space. They can speak to alternative, humanistic values. They remind us that the production of art exists on a continuum. Without the modest, artist-driven, d.i.y. ethos that CSV tries to champion, the large, corporately oriented and money-driven sector may exist but without, in a sense, its conscience. It's a question of perspective: which is the obverse and which the reverse side of the coin?

*(That was Paula Fairfield, then one of CSV's two, highly technically competent managers, the other being Su Rynard. When Su left the job, Dennis Day, formerly the in-house editor, became CSV's co-manager with me for a few years, and brought a similar high competence and artistic innovation to bear. Since Dennis's tenure, Greg Woodbury has most ably co-managed CSV.)

**(whose current project is Toronto-based, Badge Époque Ensemble.)

–Ross Turnbull

Photo Credits

Top photo: An early iteration of the on-line editing (and sound mixing) facility at CSV, the best-known version of which was the "A-Room" at 65 Bellwoods Ave. Note the 1/2" audio tape recorder and the 16-track sound mixer. Artists-at-work unknown.

Bottom photo: Gallery view of Michael Snow's three-channel video installation, That/ Cela/ Dat, from a show at the Jack Shainman Gallery, NYC, 2015. ©Michael Snow.

CSV 12 September 2022

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