Deanna Bowen

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Shadow on the Prairie:

Shadow on the Prairie is an interdisciplinary installation derives its name and overarching narrative from the National Film Board of Canada’s 1952 film adaptation of Gweneth Lloyd’s seminal ballet "Shadow on the Prairie: A Canadian Ballet."

Performed by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company in 1952, the dance tells the story of Canada’s western settlement by means of a tragic tale of a once hopeful woman’s desperate struggle with the harsh landscape. Isolated by a long bleak winter, the young bride’s dreams of a new life with her pioneer husband fade away as she descends into a madness that leads to death.

Finding affinities between Lloyd’s portrayal of the challenges of pioneer life and my own family narrative, the semi-autobiographical work explores a family rumour about my great uncle, a closeted gay actor & nightclub singer who played in all-black revues of Vancouver's supper club circuit in the 1930's through 50's.

med. resolution flash video: Shadow on the Prairie. 2009, Colour, DVD 7:20:00 mins. Looping single channel video projection.

photo: installation view. WARC Gallery, Toronto, ON. April 2009

photos: installation view. WARC Gallery, Toronto, ON. April 2009

photos: installation view. WARC Gallery, Toronto, ON. April 2009

"Video artist shows an alternate history of Canada"
Mar 26, 2009 04:30 AM
Peter Goddard

The 22nd annual Images Festival doesn't officially kick off until April2, but festival-related shows are already found at galleries around town. None better suggests the range, subtlety and quality the festival offers than Shadow on the Prairie (2009), Deanna Bowen's video installation at Women's Art Resource Centre.

More than that, the 39-year-old Toronto artist's historically informed piece is among the most arresting – and important – Canadian mixed-media pieces since John Greyson's Fig Trees, the AIDS-themed video opera shown originally in 2003 at Oakville Galleries and winner of many awards since.

Bowen's equally ambitious work, curated by Natalie Wood, will have no less an impact. During a dreamy, sumptuous and subtle seven minutes, Shadow encapsulates an alternate history of Canada framed as an old postcard from an even older Canada whose history was waiting to be written.

"Because there is no single history," the artist tells me. One thing is sure, she continues. Shadow "is not a history written by the winners."

Canada's nightlife in the 1930s, a scrapbook left by the artist's closeted gay uncle, the Underground Railroad, Holocaust trauma theory and the Bowen family's rural Alberta background are some of the elements – visual, textual and musical – shown doing a lyrical slow dance around one another.

These images are in turn framed by a scene from yet another dance: the National Film Board's 1952 adaptation of Gweneth Lloyd's Shadow on the Prairie.

Subtitled A Canadian Ballet, the dance work commissioned by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet depicts a young farm wife driven into mad despair by the crushing harshness of prairie life.

Bowen appropriates a clip from the dance's climactic "mad" scene, where the wife seeks a final refuge in an oversized trunk placed beneath a baleful curtainless window.

Underlining the dance connection further, Bowen has mounted the dance notation for the mad scene on a 4.5-by-6-metre vinyl rectangle on the WARC gallery floor, reflecting the light coming from the muted, cloudy images on the video monitor. Composer Rick Hyslop's score – a looped and heavily edited deconstruction of the early swing-era ballad "Deep Purple," by Pete DeRose – connects the viewer with the emergence of recorded sound at the beginning of the 20th century...."


Director, Producer, Picture Editing, Animation: Deanna Bowen

16 mm Cinematography: Christina Battle

Sound Design: Rick Hyslop

Exhibition support from the Ontario Arts Council, A Space Gallery, and the University of Toronto