A Love Story by Dennis Day

On the occasion of Charles Street Video's 41st Anniversary

I don't know why my initial attachment to Charles Street Video was so immediate. So intense. Like a drug.

Tiny little rooms in a basement on Charles Street East, filled with electronic gadgets, some flashing. A joystick controller on a table, in front of a small bank of monitors.

Was this the bridge of the Starship Enterprise?

Little drywall universes, with flickering content. When the monitors were blank it was an empty space. A cold, heartless, outer space.

I could walk in at midnight for $6/ hour, turn off the world outside and start fresh. The transformation was total. I had a second chance. In those darkened spaces I could finally and completely escape my childhood. A room with no view and no memory.

Nothing would enter unless I let it in.

I don't know if anyone can calculate the thrills, chills, creative delight and flat-out euphoria I felt inside those rooms over the years, again and again and again. How could someone derive so much pleasure from video art - and editing? I often told myself it was better than sex. It must have been. It certainly lasted longer.

A few years back I read Moby's recounting of his early days, composing electronic dance music in a run-down loft in Connecticut, and later New York. Late at night. Alone.The gadgets, the creative milieu around him outside, the unimaginable possibilities considering that he was beginning with nothing. A 4-track recorder, a synthesizer and a drum machine, to be precise.

Empty electronic devices.

And Moby's solitary experience in his memoir, Porcelain, read like MY experience. So I wasn't alone in my sustained run on pleasure. But I also loved Moby's music. I still do. I was a visual Moby, perhaps.

Of course there was a purpose to all of this back then, in the early 80s. In each room somebody seemed to be doing something important. Feminist, queer, anti-this, pro-that, and also a sizeable, as I remember, anti-American, anti-imperialist sentiment; the evil military industrial complex, which by all accounts was headquartered just south of our border.

And of course, a critique of technology itself. Surveillance technology. Corporate control and manipulation of people's lives, etc. These were the themes.

And for a number of video artists it appeared that “mainstream television” was its own brand of evil; any similarities to be avoided at all costs. I didn't. I saw television as a reference and a departure point, a vast toolbox of techniques, and a rich source of parody.

For 16 years or so my name was practically synonymous with Charles Street Video. I would go to a party or an art opening and someone would say, “Dennis, I hear the Betacam deck isn't working in the A Room.” If Charles Street was having technical problems, it seemed I was having technical problems.

But I was also leading a double life. I was having a not-so-secret affair with Montreal. For 14 years, in fact. I had an apartment in 2 cities. I don't know how I came up with the rent. I used to say I earned money in Toronto and spent it in Montreal. But I was a full-fledged video artist there as well, connected also to their editing and exhibition centres.

The point of some of this perhaps is to say that as I get older, I realize that a sense of place or location for myself and what I do has always been important. I am not electronic. I am not virtual. I need location “adjectives” floating around my name.

For the longest time I was a West End guy. I was a Queen West artist. I had a loft in Montréal.

Things have changed slightly of course. Now I'm an East End guy. I identify and connect my “lifestyle” to Church Street, Parliament Street, Leslieville, etc. But sadly and increasingly, these places are becoming tenuous: density, high rents, condo development, Airbnb, etc.

In a lot of the editing work I'm doing lately that addresses urban and contemporary issues especially, one word keeps popping up. And that word is “village.” It seems we all want to live in villages, on some level. Where everybody knows your name, as they sang on Cheers.

Aesthetically, I see myself as a funny, cold, heartless formalist. (I blame the electronics.) I believe in what I call “intellectual emotionalism,” where emotions are derived from ideas. I've quite proudly described myself as “a technique in search of an idea.” And I prefer videos where nobody talks.

To round out, somewhat pompously, the greatest privilege or opportunity I could wish on a young media artist today, is that they have something even approaching the experiences, privileges and opportunities that I had in my early days here in Toronto as a video artist and editor. And general “young-man-about-a-small-town.”

I hope Charles Street Video continues to provide the tools that can conjure “chills and thrills” for those people who now walk in through its doors.

From what I can see here tonight, I strongly suspect that it is.

CSV 22 September 2022

Office Hours: Weekdays 10:00 - 17:00
416.603.6564      Fax: 416.603.6566
76 Geary Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M6H 2B5 Canada
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