5 min

Wired for action

Girls promise the unexpected

ON THEIR GAME. Curators Kathleen Pirrie Adams and Deirdre Logue. Credit: Paula Wilson

Kathleen Pirrie Adams and Deirdre Logue are kick-butt curators making things happen big time in two all-girl exhibitions downtown.

Pirrie Adams, well known for her writing and filmmaking, riffs on the electronic world of Nintendo GameBoys in presenting work by five artists in a show called Game Girls.

Here’s how to play.


Entry Apprehension: You are 3D-action girl Cyborgeous.

You approach 1) game space of InterAccess Electronic Media Arts Centre. Jump off of art world as we know it and enter 2) video, CD ROM, and electronic arcade where five girl-wired interactive playstations await you.

Residue processing: Ready or not….

Making one of several choices you 3) gravitate toward an overhead screen flashing a multitude of emoticons (emotional icons built from the keyboard conveying voice inflections, facial expressions and body gestures. For example, :- expresses confusion or skepticism).

Her adapted emoticons appear as the expressive register of a pair of female cyborg figures you 4) follow through a choreographed scenario of lost and found on a video monitor nearby. Called Ready Or Not… it’s Cheryl Sourkes’ latest and most brilliant installment in the ongoing affair between her two lesbian avatars. In and out of synch, they tumble and collide, get out of proportion, and devour and excrete one another. Then they start all over again.

She doesn’t need to use her body to get what she wants… she’s got yours.

Sit at 5) one of two CD ROM installations. The first is Judy Cheung’s Blood Vial on the OJ Simpson trial and game theory. But if that sounds too high-falutin’, then go directly to Carla Wolf’s piece and click on one of seven deadly sins. Follow the path of lust to 6) girls, girls girls at the Limbo Bar. When flowers appear, click and get on 7) a flying motorcycle to 8) avarice. Use the shopping cart to stockpile the goods. Click the happy face when you’ve had enough.

Wolf also uses slide projections surrounding the computer game to depict women and technology in historical contexts and in popular culture, from 1950s commercials to sci-fi films and Star Trek. Titled Would You Rather Be A Cyborg, the piece sets up a dialogue between fictional and historical representations.

While the game is fun to play, its didactic gender analysis never draws into question the accuracy of the historical depictions it posits as truth. For me, photographs of women as telephone operators in the1940s are no more “real” or “actual” than the female robot in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

Surface tension: Cyborgeous’s only future is to avenge her past.

“Have you been tampered with? Not sure? Can’t remember? Your flesh holds the secret.” 9) Place your hand in the hand mold of Paula Gignac’s Glove and hold still while it scans your flesh. “Recovering memories takes time,” states the sign.

This silent palm-reader will present you with one of seven personalized sets of memory clues, based on real (Owen Dulmage’s autobiography?) and fictional scenarios of possible sexual abuse. 10) Read between the lines to see if they apply to you.

Like the private and public acts of testimonial and revelation on which Glove is based, this divination machine triggers us to consider the dilemmas and complexities of truth and deception.


There are many aliens teleporting in and being dropped off here. Kill them all. 11) Jump off the old gameboy platform and see what it’s like to be a girl with a gun. Test your conflict resolution skills at 12) Nancy Paterson’s Das Ist Meine Neue Freundid shooting gallery.

As superhero Cyborgeous, you get to pull the trigger without suffering the consequences. Or do you? Says Pirrie Adams: “Stretching and breaking the gender game’s stale rules is a game girl’s second level of achievement.”

13) Exit the game chamber and the Cyborgeous playsuit. With the knowledge that when girls play, there is a new set of rules, proceed to YYZ Artists Outlet four levels over. It’s time to watch the artful simulations of other girls.


When you are a girl, life holds out promise – of love, adventure, success, happiness. If we grow up optimistic, we start to look for the promise of the unknown, unexpected, of more. If we are unlucky, promises are broken.

For curator Deirdre Logue, the promise of more (than what was given or expected) was found in making up new identities for herself in what she calls her “lust for an increasingly fluid sense of self” and as a “strategy for surviving a serious case of ambiguity.”

Logue, a filmmaker, musician and executive director of the Images Festival Of Independent Film And Video, promises and delivers much more than we’d hoped for in this mix of video works by Canadian and international artists Tamami Asada, Lucy Gunning, Louise Liliefeldt, Anne McGuire, Judy Radul, Pipilotti Rist, Deb Strutt and Liz Baulch.

Promise is an exhibition of performances for the camera in which the women impersonate or imitate someone or something. Variously dark, confounding, humorous, they all resonate with each other and with some truth-moment in the viewer.

In the accompanying catalogue essay, Kathleen Pirrie Adams writes, “Mimicry can hold evil forces at bay, or capture the strength of the other. It’s also how we learn.”

In Lucy Gunning’s astounding The Horse Impressionists, five young women perform (individually) as a horse in front of Gunning’s camera. Watching them vocalize and move is deeply disturbing. Correlation to sexuality is far too flat a reading. These small bodies must surely be possessed to be giving off such other-worldly sounds.

Some are self-conscious and look toward the camera for approval. Others have gone inside themselves and somewhere else. It’s a kind of transportation, like saints who have become bewitched by the promise of a transcendent out-of-body experience.

In Imbolc, Louise Liliefeldt performs her own ritualized saint enraptured by fire and the elemental life-force it can be to others.

Tamami Asada’s one-minute scream comes at us in a frightening rush of fun-house distortion. Her moment of unleashed hysteria tugs at the gates that hold our own delirium in check.

I Am Crazy And You’re Not Wrong is just one of several slightly maniacal songs sung by Anne McGuire in her video of the same name. Microphone in hand, perched on a stool under stage lights, she tilts and swerves through Judy Garland- and Ann-Margret-like renditions of made-up songs.

At first, she looks the part of a professional performer, but she dissembles before our eyes. Her wig is too big, a tooth is missing, she slurs and forgets her lines. She is at the threshold of breakdown. Promises have been forgotten, snapped in two.

If this is sadness, then happiness is a warm gun. Pipilotti Rist’s high-speed, high-pitched reworking of John Lennon’s song spins and churls through a no-man’s land bordering hysteria. Like the other works in the show, Rist’s I’m Not The Girl Who Misses Much plays with multiple impersonation personalities and mesmerism.

Promise is full of apparitions moving away from the vanishing point and toward various chimerical states of being.

Game Girls plays till Sat, Oct 9 at InterAccess at 401 Richmond St W, suite 444; call (416) 599-7206. Promise runs till Sat, Oct 16 in the same building, suite 140; call (416) 598-4546. Also, check out 401 Richmond’s Arts Week on Fri, Oct 1 to Oct 2.