Looking Back to See

  • Recent Digital Works by Sarah Abbott & Barbara Sternberg (In Person)
  • Saturday, October 5, 8 pm
  • @ Latvian House, 491 College St.

Part of Fall 2002

A co-presentation with VTape

What happens when two renowned film artists exchange their film cameras for digital recorders? Come see for yourself as Pleasure Dome and VTape co-present the premiere of recent video works by Sarah Abbott and Barbara Sternberg, including the launch of Sternberg’s CD-ROM Illuminations: A Book of Letters.

Sarah Abbott has made the shift from film to video by seizing on the differences between the two media with characteristic insight and intensity. The result is a collection of new videos that invert and challenge our notions of time, space and perception. “Sarah is aware of how real-time has been used in video historically, but she has found her own way of using dreams and memories to transform this profoundly literal medium into a time machine for seeing again in ways we can hardly remember.” (Tom Sherman)

“A renouncement of the ink of film from my pen would be like extracting the iron from my blood. My work with video is an exploration of a medium I thought I could never like, locating sensual experience inside impersonal technology. Happily, video opens where film limits: I would never sit a film camera in the basket hanging precariously off my bicycle and ride in a snowstorm with little idea of where I was going.” (Sarah Abbott)

Barbara Sternberg is one of Canada’s most accomplished and recognized film artists, having produced an extraordinary body of work since 1972. The relentless interrogation of history has always lain at the heart of her process, and her recent video work is no different. 4 Women is a multiple-portrait of Kathe Kollwitz, Eleanor Roosevelt, Golda Meir and Agnes Martin – two artists and two political activists whose lives span the two world wars – with a unique approach which lodges it firmly in the present. Sternberg’s CD-ROM Illuminations: A Book of Letters is a digital artwork which models book form. The twenty-six “pages” or screens, one for each letter of the alphabet, contain continuous looped video in Quicktime movies, graphics, and interactive still images and text: illuminated manuscripts meet computer technology.

“My videowork has been more singular and direct than my films, and totally low tech. Shooting video is both wonderfully and frustratingly simple. The CD-ROM allowed me to use a lot of quotations (a question for me of the relative power of image and of language – with films going toward silence), and to have something people could see anytime at home, like a book or a painting, not restricted to the single screening presentation of experimental film.” (Barbara Sternberg)


Awake, Barbara Sternberg (1987-2000, 3:00 min.)
A bedroom (and life) viewed from the horizontal, while wondering whether to join the race or wake up to the illusion. The soundtrack quotes from Gertrude Stein’s “Making of Americans” on disillusionment.

4 Women, Barbara Sternberg (2001, 25:00 min.)
Kathe Kollwitz, Eleanor Roosevelt, Golda Meir and Agnes Martin: four women whose lives span the two world wars (1867 to the present), two artists and two political activists. Excerpts from their autobiographical writings are read by Jean Burke, Rae Davis and Irene Frolic – three women living in Toronto with different backgrounds and different connections to the lives of which they are speaking.

Off the 401, Barbara Sternberg (2000, 7:17 min.)
Thinking of Jack Chambers but going farther afield; fields of colour, colourfields.

Illuminations: A Book Of Letters, Barbara Sternberg (2002, CD-ROM)
Illuminations: A Book Of Letters is a CD-ROM artwork which models book form. The twenty-six “pages” or screens, one for each letter of the alphabet, contain continuous looped video in Quicktime movies, graphics, and interactive still images and text. Illuminated manuscripts meet computer technology. Science, religion and art remerge today as in Da Vinci’s times. The imagery in the videos comes from the daily life around us: the morning light in the kitchen, items on a bedroom dresser, repetitive motions, and images from TV, newspapers and movies. Questions about how we perceive reality, understand creation, and live with paradox and contradiction.


My Heart the Prophet, Sarah Abbott & Jeremy Drummond (2001, 1:45 min.)
In this tape, created specifically for the Heart Tapes video series conducted by video artist and curator Nelson Henricks, Abbott reflects on her unfortunate experience with childhood love.

Here, Sarah Abbott (2002, 12:00 min.)
The combination of constantly moving abstract imagery and a familiar-yet-cryptic soundtrack in Here reflects the struggle of being aware and present in life’s moment(s).

My Heart the Lunchbox, Sarah Abbott & Jeremy Drummond (2001, 1:45 min.)
Also made for the Heart Tapes video series: Drummond reflects on the confusion associated with his childhood understanding of the concept of “love”.

looking back to see, Sarah Abbott (2001, 19:30 min.)
looking back to see is a journey through a dreary, artificial landscape accompanied by ghostly sounds that speak of escape while at the same time reminding us of worlds that have been paved over “to make life better”.
looking back to see is the first in a series of videos known as Bicycle Diaries.

Knee Level, Sarah Abbott & Tanya Boggs (2002, 7:00 min.)
A woman describes the love life that resulted from her terminal illness while images of a domestic interior taken from a single and static viewpoint simultaneously construct and deconstruct the narrative.

Toronto artist Barbara Sternberg has been making films and videos since the mid-seventies. Her works have screened widely across North America and Europe, and her work is in the collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada. Sternberg has been active on a number of fronts in Toronto, teaching at York University, working for the Canadian Filmmakers’ Distribution Centre, serving on Arts Councils’ juries and committees, and helping to organize the International Experimental Film Congress (May 1989) and to found Pleasure Dome (Artists’ Film Exhibition Group). Sternberg has also worked in other media, including performance and video installation. barbara.sternberg@sympatico.ca

After receiving her Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Film Studies and Drama from Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada, Sarah Abbott taught English in Kyoto, Japan for 1 1/2 years and tended sheep in the mountains of southern France. She then spent six years freelancing in Toronto’s film community to support her filmmaking. A full fellowship from Syracuse University in New York State is enabling her pursue her Master of Fine Arts in Media Arts and gain further teaching experience. Her films have won awards and been screened internationally. Sarah has received numerous grants to complete her work, been an artist-in-residence at the Banff Centre for the Arts, and given artist talks in Toronto, Vancouver, Syracuse and Cape Town, South Africa. In 2002, she interned at the Human Rights Media Centre in Cape Town and collected footage for a documentary. neewa@mail.a-znet.com