lights camera sound actions | time-based contemporary art

Handicap (1980)

Performance history:Handicap image from TD
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, March 12 & 13, 1980
Eye Level Gallery, Halifax, March 18, 1980
Vancouver Art Gallery, September 17, 1980
Performance, Montreal, November 3, 1980.

Artist’s Statement + text excerpts (from Performance: Text(e) & Documents. ed. Chantal Pontbriand. Editions Parachute. Montréal. 1981.) – click Handicap


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Slideshow photos: Robert Barnett from AGO performance

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Above are 7 of the 18 slides projected in Handicap. There were an additional 2 blanks and in 1980, projectors projected white light when no slide was inserted in a carousel slot, which aided my use of the projector as light source.

Handicap audiotrack (digitized from 1/4″ reel-to-reel tape) click here.
Text and voiceover by Elizabeth Chitty, commissioned music and lyrics by Andy Paterson of The Government.
The audio was played intermittently during the performance. (I don’t remember if there was live spoken text but see not sign of a microphone in photos so probably not.)

The costume was designed by Tanya Rosenberg (later Mars).

The AGO performances were part of an evening titled, “Dance Into Performance” which also featured Marie Chouinard. Click here for the AGO press release.

“Interview: Elizabeth Chitty”. Svitlana Muchin & Colin Lochhead. Slate. Vol. 1, No. 3, March 1980.
“Chitty dance offers moralizing and then?”. Max Wyman. Vancouver Province. September 18, 1980. D2.
Performance: Text(e) & Documents. ed. Chantal Pontbriand. Editions Parachute. Montréal. 1981. 186-189.

Note:Handicap p189 from TD
A controversy ensued over Marie Chounard’s performance which included urinating in a bucket. It was attributed to both artists in the press and this followed me around for years which was exasperating. For example, during a 1982 campaign to cut arts funding, a Toronto City Councillor used the peeing-in-the-bucket as a reason to cut funding while I was Chair of Trinity Square Video. (Artists organized a counter-campaign, Citizens for the Arts, of which I was Spokesperson.) I received a crank phone call at home from an “outraged taxpayer”. At the time of the performances, the Ontario Culture Minister responded by threatening “intervening” in AGO funding. Here is the Letter to the Editor which I wrote to the Toronto Star.

The incident took place in the context of an era that was fraught with censorship issues in the art community, particularly in video art and experimental film.

Ironically, the commissioned song, Arbeitverbot, took its name from the order given by the Third Reich to stop artists from working. I was very engaged in research on the Third Reich throughout the gestation of Handicap, and in looking back, I see that this interest as precipitated by the censorship issues (and possibly as well by the hostility I often encountered to my work. Obviously, we enjoyed enjoyed tremendous privilege comparativelyl.)  Looking at Handicap now, it seems that the research had no manifestation other than the song (and it is certainly possible that the tone of the work was inappropriately hip and/or flippant for the seriousness of that content. I did that again with Dogmachine.) However, I do remember that I was committed to an aesthetic and creative process that was determined to reject linearity and formulaic structural paths for the audience, so disparate sources made sense to me at the time under the broad theme.

In preparing this page, I have returned to my Third Reich sources. Here is a reference:

“These sanctions ranged from Lehrverbot (deprivation of the right to teach) through Ausstellungsverbot (deprivation of the right to paint) to the most crippling of all, Malverbot (deprivation of the right to paint). Lest the Malverbot should be circumvented to the privacy of the artist’s home, the Gestapo would carry out lightning raids of inspection, checking up – as in Carl Hofner’s case – on whether the paint brushes were still wet. They also placed lists of proscribed artists in the paint shops, so as to cut off their supply of materials at source.”
A Social History of the Third Reich. Richrd Grunberger. Penguin Books. 1974. 545.

Another key reference for me was Art Under a Dictatorship. Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt. Octagon Books. New York. 1973

World War II content also appeared in my next work, History, Colour TV & You (1981). In retrospect, I see this in terms of the shadow cast on my generation by the war.

This was the first in a series of works when I overtly sexualized technology (listen to the audio). This was driven by my sex-positive (the term did not exist at the time) position that sought to equalize genders and counter the passivity of female sexual representation. (I was soon to be heavily criticized by other feminists and I did not fare well.)

– Elizabeth Chitty, 2014


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