The GINA Show Archive: Vancouver Video Memory in Motion

text by Allison Collins

“The GINA Show” was a television program that aired on public access cable, Vancouver Cable 10, from 1978-1981.  Named after hostess Gina Daniels, the show was produced by Vancouver-based artist John Anderson (a.k.a. J. A. Genius) and consisted of 20- to 30-minute episodes of video art, performance art documentation, interviews with artists and bands, poetry readings, promotional spots for art galleries and exhibitions, punk and new wave music videos, and early digital animation. The show began as a project run out of PUMPS Centre for the Arts, an early Vancouver artist-run centre that was a central gathering place for a generation of artists from 1975 to 1980. “The GINA Show” was conceived of as a variety TV-show run by artists and a platform for public screenings. It capitalized on the relationship between the medium of video and television as its viewing apparatus, using cable broadcast as a way to bring art into the homes of the local viewing public.

In the mid-1970s, cable access channels offered a viable place to make an incursion into the milieu of increasingly corporate television programming. Artist-driven shows and short-term broadcasts began to appear in many forms throughout Canada, the U.S., and in Europe shortly after the 1967 release of the first commercially available handheld video camera, the Sony Portapak. [1] In Vancouver, early cable access shows included the 1974 program “Images From Infinity” which ran for one year and was produced by filmmaker and performance artist Byron Black. An acknowledged influence on Anderson, Black’s show pioneered the variety show format, with guest spots by artists such as Dana Atchley (Ace Space), Peter Schuyff, Hank Bull, and Kate Craig (Lady Brute), among others. The guests and studio hosting was combined with 35-mm colour slides and Akai 1/4-inch video shot optically off of a small studio monitor.[2]

Vancouver Cable 10 ran a range of community programs during this era of experimental performance and media work, including two programs dedicated to the music scene, “Nite Dreems” and “Soundproof,” and a show produced by a collective of Fine Arts students at UBC called “TBA TV”.  Records of these forays into cable are now becoming scarce, or when they are available, are beginning to degrade. The 3/4-inch tapes of the original “TBA TV” broadcast, for example, remain packed away in boxes waiting for a time when the contents will be valued enough to warrant the transfer of their content into a more stable format. [3]

“The GINA Show” records are no exception to the problem of unstable physical material. The tapes contain moving images and sounds, but the passage of time has rendered them into still objects. The physical remains of the original 3/4-inch tapes are no longer used for viewing; having survived a studio fire, they now rest in the archives of the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, more fragile than they would have typically been at the 30-year mark.  Because the original cassettes are inadequate to store content, the episode data has been transferred from the old tapes (3/4-inch U-matic) to archival tapes (Digibetacam), sub-master tapes (MiniDV), and digital copies (DVD). The physical material has a short lifespan and the equipment on which to play it is becoming relatively scarce. Media migration has therefore become a necessary step for video works from this era in order to ensure that they survive and remain viewable.  Despite these efforts to preserve it, many episodes of “the GINA Show” have been damaged beyond transfer or have become imperfect translations. Time and circumstance have rendered the records incomplete and the new versions are sometimes partial or distorted.

The challenges of media preservation, however, go beyond material state.  Recordings can never encompass a perfect rendering of the past. At best, material traces can transport some physical inscription of an image from the past to the present, yet what is rendered is inevitably a flawed representation. As Eduardo Cadava writes,

… in every image, in every trace and consequently every experience, there is this explosion and incineration, which is experience itself. Effacing what it inscribes, the image bears witness to the impossibility of testimony. It remains as a testament to loss.[4]

The loss refers to the specificity of an embodied moment at a particular time and place. What remains becomes a ghost of the original experience. “The GINA Show” archive is likewise a partial record. It holds within it a material presence of absence. In this respect it will always indicate the loss of that moment, and thus always exist in the present as a distortion of the past.

The show was produced on a shoestring budget, as much a product of its social community as it was a venue for working artists looking to gain exposure on television. Those who worked on the show often gathered together at The Cecil to watch the latest episode and, inevitably, to watch themselves. [5] As Sara Diamond notes, it was an era of recording and “the very presence of a video camera suggested that an event was worthy of notice and entry into the historical record.”[6] The events on “the GINA Show”, 30 years later, construct just such a record of their particular historical moment.

Of the 90 episodes that initially aired, 63 remain—­approximately 28 hours of video footage. These hours are populated by contributions from artists who showed primarily at PUMPS, but also at The Western Front, Video Inn, and the Vancouver Art Gallery. What is contained in the footage is an extensive visual recording of the activities undertaken by these artists and these places, during a moment characterized by both dissatisfaction and optimism. This conflicting spirit lingers amidst the works and people on the recordings – the DIY mentality and the gritty earnest style and aesthetic of the punk and new wave scene in the late 1970s. The artists of this time started their own exhibition spaces and production centres, created hundreds of exhibitions and events, made their own books, and advertised it all on a low budget with roughly drawn and photocopied flyers. PUMPS was such an artist-initiated space: a production centre, a gallery, and also a home to some of its directors over the years.

A lifestyle, more than an artistic statement, the do-anything experimentation of artistic production in this era was merged with the social. Martha Rosler describes this phenomenon, common to many early video producers, as “not only a systemic but also a utopian critique…” and an effort “not to enter the system but to transform every aspect of it …to redefine the system out of existence by merging art with social life and making audience and producer interchangeable.”[7] A vast quantity of work was made and shown in Vancouver at this time, in a diverse range of media, but video in particular came to capture the moment. The broadsheet Video Guide, an artist-driven newspaper dedicated to issues arising in video production was launched at this time, published by the Satellite Video Exchange. Its appearance filled a need among artists experimenting in new media to dialogue and engage critically with the increasing amounts of work being made. The magazine’s content included reports on conferences and events, exhibition reviews, technical discussions, artist interviews, coverage of community cable and decisions of the CRTC. In many cases, the same material would appear in an exhibition, as a review in Video Guide, and in an excerpt on “the GINA Show”.

“The GINA Show” took the same principle of discussion and applied it to television. Gina Daniels and John Anderson hosted the show together.  On camera, they interviewed artists and bands, introduced programming for that week, showed video clips, and spoke to, with, and about their own community of friends and associates. Frequently, content on the show related to an event occurring in Vancouver, and it thus became a vehicle to promote exhibitions, screenings, and performances. These promotional spots were punctuations that stitched the shows together, recurring from episode to episode and often previewing the next week’s content, in effect situating the show as a time-based television event. Acting as artist, editor, curator, and promoter, Anderson used each episode as a platform for showing new work, to announce what was going on in the galleries he was involved with, and to chronicle the local scene. He made and featured many promotional clips, which were essentially free commercials for art events and exhibitions, sometimes as rudimentary as a person holding a series of handwritten signs in front of the camera with background music or a voiceover.

An early example of a video segment that acted as a commercial for artists was the announcement for Video Cabaret. This event series was co-produced by Western Front, Video Inn, and PUMPS, and took place at PUMPS from November 22 to 25, 1978. A multi-media video, performance, and live music event, Video Cabaret was described as a combination of “elements of video, rock ‘n’ roll, and the visionary theories of Marshall McLuhan and Aldous Huxley in theatrical format.”[8] The spot on “the GINA Show”, which aired on November 21, announced the series, and included excerpts from Hummer Sisters videos. The clips of video work were followed by a silent shot that zoomed in on a set of flyers, as well as a post-punk performance by Andy Paterson (a member of the Hummer Sisters) and his band The Government.

In quick succession, clips on the show come together as a kind of visual equivalent to a radio show. Anderson took a strong interest in remixing and editing to create the episodes and he cites the influence of disc jockey J.B. Shayne in the development of his interest in the concept of “the GINA Show.” [9] As with radio, the audience was frequently addressed directly by the hosts, who spoke directly to the home viewer about that week’s show content, despite the fact that the show was not live. Most episodes also incorporated and appropriated a lot of music— in the works, performance documentation, and as early music videos. Many of these clips borrow liberally from new music of the era by the likes of David Bowie, The Talking Heads, DEVO, Brian Eno, and Kraftwerk.

Incorporating music into video work was a common practice at the time. Byron Black pantomimed Spike Jones comedy albums, Elizabeth Vander Zaag made digital compositions to accompany “Digit”, David Ostrem set Yoko Ono’s song “Let’s Hope for Peace” against footage of Vancouver, Keith Donovan combined Super 8 footage with “Why Can’t We Live Together” by Timmy Thomas, and Kim Tomczak incorporated Iggy Pop’s “New Values” into his work “100 Years of Aggression”. This musical aspect is entertaining, and mixes well with the documentation of live music and early music videos by Mike MacDonald, Lenore Coutts (a.k.a. Doreen Gray, now Lenore Herb), and John Anderson. Most of the time, these performances were by local bands of Vancouver’s early punk and new wave music scene, such as The Pointed Sticks, The Modernettes, (later Los Popularos), ‘e’, The Braineaters, UJ3RK5, The Subhumans, and The K-Tels (later renamed The Young Canadians).

The frequent overlap and crossover between bands and the artists was a natural event, as many were making music in the same bands that were being aired alongside their art. [10] On occasion a big musical event would occur, and local artsts who were music enthusiasts would respond. The 1980 performances of James Brown at The Cave, was one such event, and the resulting artistic output warranted a dedicated “GINA Show” episode. The show lent its credibility to the artists involved (Mark Oliver, Donna Chisholm, Anne Rosenberg, Nina Skogster, and Stan Douglas) who were emerging video and filmmakers at the time, but ultimately their enthusiasm and knowledge about Brown’s music granted them access to the music giant. An interview with Brown and footage of his live show was edited to air on the show, and John Anderson promoted the work enthusiastically. In moments like this “The GINA Show” served as a venue for video side projects and community moments, as well as a place to screen experimental work.

The work that found its way onto the show sometimes veered towards explicit television parody, as in Taki Bluesinger’s serial soap opera “The Edge of Sleep” (complete with melodramatic piano music) or Hank Bull’s evangelist spoof series “Relican” (“Religion Canada”). Other works were formal media experiments, as in the “Digit” series by Vander Zaag, a set of early computer animations that chronicle the existence of a digital female protagonist. Many of the works were made directly for the program, while others were simply screened, such as Jenny Holzer’s “Truisms” pieces, which consist of hurried readings of scrolling character-generated texts of cliché slogans to live by.

Throughout the three years it was on the air, “the GINA Show” broadcast just about every kind of work that intersected with media that was being made or shown in Vancouver. The show’s style was fun, edgy, optimistic, spontaneous, and countercultural in its use of the medium as both a creative endeavor and as a means to communicate beyond standard television programming. This came in part from the associations among the people involved in the show, people who performed and framed the mixture of art practices, excerpts, documents, discussions, and actions through an active repertoire.

Vancouver performance practices of this era— which are now mostly thought of as having developed in association with the Western Front— involved incorporating over-the-top personas and deploying campy theatricality in the name of art. The style of this performance, dubbed “haute-camp”, was strongly guided by a process of working together and by the social lives of the participants.[11] These performances came together as events that were a mixture of the personal with the spectacle, as with the “Relican Wedding”, when hostess Gina Daniels married Gary Bourgeois (a.k.a. Gary Middleclass). In a ceremony dubbed “A Middleclass Marriage”, this raucous “Religion Canada” event packed a crowd into PUMPS to witness an unusual nuptial ceremony, complete with proselytizing by “The Great Homunculus” (Hank Bull) and live music. Bull raised and lowered himself by rope from the ceiling and donned bizarre regalia to perform the ceremonial union. Daniels’ bridesmaids arrived riding on the hood of a car and lip-synch serenaded the couple, and all the while Gary Middleclass stood grinning widely, dressed in an army art-punk style with a black beret and aviator sunglasses. Throughout the broadcast of this surreal event, one can hear Anderson quietly directing the camera operator while “Religion Canada” text scrolls across the screen, soliciting money from viewers.[12] At the end of the segment, character-generated “Thank You” credits roll, listing people on a first-name basis only—a confirmation of just who would be expected to watch the broadcast that week.

Many important events in the local scene were screening on the show, including fractures that occurred within the community. Of particular importance to “the GINA Show” was the final public meeting held in 1980 by the board of PUMPS, when the gallery announced it would close. The centre had recently lost a portion of its funding, and its directors saw it as a five-year experiment that had by this time run its course.[13] In the process of their decision to close the doors, the fate of the gallery was discussed among irritated community members who wished to take up the reins (and the centre’s remaining funding and space). PUMPS had been home to many of its directors, who had personally built up a vibrant series of events at the production centre. When it closed, three directors (Sandra Janz, Chris Reed, and Tomczak) left the city to take up new challenges. Others remained behind, but all moved on to new things.

Months after the decision to close was made, a public airing of the meeting ran on “the GINA Show” in what was probably an utterly confusing episode for any casual viewers. A subsequent episode spliced together scenes from the frustrating meeting with footage of former PUMPS members sharing a relaxing day at the beach, using community cable as public form for a kind of community catharsis. The stark contrasting of the futile bureaucratic meeting with a sunny fresh day on the beach contained a readily apparent if unstated point as to why the directors may have chosen to move on. It was one of the last episodes of the show to air, and soon afterward, in the summer of 1981, “the GINA Show” ceased production.

Retrieving “the GINA Show” tapes to be seen again in public is an endeavor that is not without its challenges. The show contains copies of many minor works by artists who have gone on to great things. Copyright ownership and distribution concerns mean that the videos, when viewable, may only be borrowed from the archive after connections between the authors and their wayward works are reformed. In this process, the show once again finds itself with a social life.

The change in location of the show and all the information it contains helps to maintain this document of a moment and its practices. Located now within an institutional archive, “the GINA Show” performs its work of bringing a selection of practices into proximity with one another, generating a version of events through the co-mingling of its content. It is made of papers and tapes that comprise an anthology of local artwork. Charred and distorted as materials, the items left over from the original moment of broadcast continue the work of articulating a local scene to an ever-expanding public. As a hybrid artwork/archive, it is an early example of the secondary lives that artworks, especially video, can have—comprised of data that can be easily copied and rebroadcast. Now in its second-generation, “the GINA Show” as a document of its former activity, reforms connections to a moment that is increasingly distant, but not forgotten. Founded by a medium that must move in order work, the resulting images are a fast-paced rendering of this city’s wild youth that are once again set in motion. Although inscribed into objects, this image of local history simply won’t hold still.

[1] A few examples include “TVTV”, “Paper Tiger Television”, and “TV Party” in the USA, “Changing Channels” in Halifax, and “Television By Artists” in Toronto.

[2] The episodes were edited together on IVC one-inch helican-scan reels that are no longer in the possession of the artist, and by his account are likely destroyed. Surviving tapes are potentially degraded beyond the point of viewing, although some sub-master dubbed copies of certain episodes can be found in local archives.

[3] Bill Jeffries, a member of the TBA TV collective, in conversation with the author.

[4] Eduardo Cadava, “Lapsus Imaginus: The Image in Ruins” October 96 (Spring 2001), 49.

[5] Gina Daniels, in conversation with the author. In the 1970s and early- 1980s, The Cecil was a pub located at the north end of Granville bridge. The pub later became a strip club and, at the time of writing, is scheduled for demolition to make way for a new condominium project called the Rolston.

[6] Sara Diamond, “Daring Documents: The Practical Aesthetics of Early Vancouver Video” Vancouver Anthology: The Institutional Politics of Art. Stan Douglas Ed. (Vancouver, Talon Books with Or Gallery, 1991). 47.

[7] Martha Rosler, “Video: Shedding the Utopian Moment” Decoys and Disruptions: Selected Writings, 1975-2001. (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press with International Center of Photography, New York, 2004). 54.

[8] Donna Lypchuk, “The Hummer Sisters: The Art of Satire” Video Cabaret, online. March 30, 2010.

[9] Shayne co-hosted the 1979-1980 cable-access music show “Nite Dreems” and had a prolific early career on Vancouver independent radio.

[10] Jim Cummins was one of The Braineaters, Andy Paterson was a front man for The Government, Gary Bourgoeois and Gina Daniels were ‘e’, and Rodney Graham, Jeff Wall, Colin Griffiths, Kitty Byrne, Danice McLeod, Frank Ramirez, Divid Wisdom and Ian Wallace were the UJ3RK5.

[11] Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, “West Coast Performance: Praxis Without Ideology?” in Vancouver Art and Artists: 1931-1983. (Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery, 1983) 304.

[12] The taped event is interspersed with still images from the event, and exists in a master format, which has a different variation of editing. Another version of the recording is held in both the Western Front and Video Out archives.

[13] Keith Wallace, “A Particular History: Artist-run Centres in Vancouver” in Vancouver Anthology: The Institutional Politics of Art. (Vancouver : Talon Books, 1991) 34.

Comments are closed.

  • Hold Still Wild Youth:
    The GINA Show Archive

    Exhibition took place from June 5 - July 10 at Or Gallery

    Curated by Allison Collins