Conundrum Clinique: Works by Toronto Artists

Directed by Ananya Ohri, Janis Cole and Holly Dale, Susan Britton, Robin Collyer, Bridget Moser, Jennifer Chan, Oliver Husain and Tobias Williams

BY Ben HarrisonPublished Apr 16, 2016

Toronto's Images Festival is about demolishing boundaries and forging new pathways towards art that speaks to us on a personal level. As such, it's appropriate the festival is offering an impressive assortment of their On Screen program content online via streaming links to accredited journalists. Perhaps these films are best experienced in the festival's main home for film (Jackman Hall at the Art Gallery of Ontario), while sitting among strangers and friends in the dark, immersing oneself in the artful programming of the multi-format content.
Still, the festival has to be commended for their commitment to accessibility, allowing for the fullest festival experience possible for critics and journalists, as the ability to go back and replay a certain line of dialogue or absorb the full effect of an artful edit is quite welcome when reviewing these films full of such complex and exciting ideas.
Guest programmer Jon Davies (who recently curated the Andy Warhol film series at TIFF) has assembled an impressive collection of shorts for the first Saturday night of the festival, a woozy and cascading portrait of Toronto featuring works dating from 1976 to the present day.
Conundrum Clinique suggests a city in an endless process of unruly rebirth, a city lost in the thoughtful process of trying to figure out its own identity with the help of unstable architecture, self-help tapes and the occasional dose of MDMA. This is the same Toronto that Cronenberg emerged from, full of the same existential dread that permeated films like Videodrome and Crash, but at the same time, there's a playful quality to many of these shorts that allow them to jump from idea to idea without getting bogged down in self-seriousness.

The first film, Castles on the Ground, is a short prelude by Ananya Ohri depicting a speculative science fiction future through found footage of buildings being destroyed, but played in reverse. Ohri assembles a collection of destruction videos blending the familiar (Hi, hospital in The Dark Knight!) with the personal (including home video). Through onscreen text, the film imagines a world after a major conflict has destroyed many of Canada's major cities, resulting in a housing crisis. There is a light touch of ironic rebirth to watching destroyed buildings fall back on themselves into their original form, and Ohri uses this format to accentuate the animated effect of hitting the rewind button on the footage.
The second film, Janis Cole and Holly Dale's 1976 work Minimum Charge No Cover, will be screened on 16mm on Saturday's program, and was not available for streaming, but third selection The Formula/I'm Okay You're Okay/In The Mood, by Susan Britton (also from 1976), was. Shot on half-inch open reel video and transferred to digital video for the program. Britton skewers popular self-help video dialogue with gleeful irony, speaking to the camera directly to discuss vapid notions of empowerment and how to improve one's happiness.
Repeating lines over and over, Britton produces a comically hypnotizing effect, proclaiming love for pure ideology in a way that evokes today's modern ad copy for products like Apple and Coca Cola. This is a wonderful selection for the program that works as a precursor to Davies' modern selections, and one of the best selections of Conundrum Clinique.

Robin Collyer's Closed blurs the lines between video and photography, producing an elegiac tone poem for the half-dead Toronto landmark Honest Ed's, soon to be torn down to make way for a condo development. Using thousands of photos taken inside the iconic bargain shop, Collyer uses stop-motion animation to capture stillness and shadow in the hours before the store opens every day. Most of the motion comes from light shifting through the windows, casting evolving shadows on the clothing and boxes, although occasionally, Collyer highlights her technique by showing hanging signs spinning in the empty rooms, as if to suggest the store is populated by the ghosts of patrons who will never get to scrounge through the aisles once Honest Ed's is gone.
Bridget Moser's Memory Foam is perhaps the lightest and funniest of the eight shorts, opening with a snippet of an interpretive dance with a chair set to Dido's song "Thank You." Moser's short is set in a pleasantly anonymous room, surrounded by lifestyle objects ordered from Amazon, including body pillows, yoga ball chairs and Seasonal Affective Disorder lamps. Moser quietly exposes the passively threatening characteristics these objects possess, and the way these objects are used with a near-clinical fashion to help "improve" one's life. A highlight of the scattershot piece is a hilarious monologue involving a stock photo image of a dental operation, blown up to portrait size and hung on a wall. Moser's piece is tactile and sharp, and a welcome breath of air in a very hypnotic program.
Jennifer Chan's Equality takes on a broad range of topics in a found-footage video essay piece, attacking shrill corporate notions of identity through an excellent selection of clips, exposed with a sharp sense of irony and playfulness. Chan uses video from disaster movies and sweeping shots of landscapes, with faux-inspirational music to expose the phony ways "equality" has been taken up and distorted by capitalism, reflected through the distorted images she selects. The essay documentary is divided up into sections, creating an excellent, flowing dialectic of ideas and topics, creating one of the more overtly political entries in the program.
Oliver Husain's Parade features uses footage from videos intended to sell condos and restaurants, exposing the eerie, ephemeral qualities of buildings not yet constructed, unpopulated yet featuring beautiful models and bellboys. Husain projects this footage onto curtains, allowing the footage to develop a certain impermanence and wavy quality, a reflection on the material aspects of time. Anyone who has lived through Toronto's massive condo expansion will find plenty to relate to in this alienating, chilly piece scored by a mournful John Cage piece.
Finally, Tobias Williams wraps up the program with the brief, celebratory Ecstasy//Normal, an animated bookend to the short films featuring a dance of MDMA pills with burned-on corporate logos. The piece runs just under two minutes, as multi-coloured tablets fill the screen amid a neon backdrop that confirms Conundrum Clinique as one of the most exciting programs at this year's festival.

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