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Of Gerbils and Men: Politics, Satire and Passion in Some Films of Joyce Wieland
Robin Curtis


Joyce Wieland is likely the North American woman whose work is most often mentioned in passing in avant-garde film historiography. She remains, only a few years after her death in 1998, and twenty five years after her last major film, at best a footnote in the history of avant-garde film, and utterly unknown as a visual artist outside Canada; this, despite the fact that she was equally active as a filmmaker and a visual artist, completing 20 films in her lifetime and exhibiting continually until the onset of her illness with Alzheimer's in the late 1980s. Indeed she enjoyed the bittersweet distinction of being the first living woman to mount a solo exhibition at the National Gallery in Ottawa in 1971. Her greatest achievement was perhaps the completion of her narrative feature film, «The Far Shore» in 1975, during the earliest days of the Canadian feature film industry; it was however, in essence, her last film. Wieland developed an interest in film in the 1950s while still working as a graphic artist at a commercial animation house in Toronto. Following her move to New York City in 1962 with her then-husband, Michael Snow, she felt an increased affinity for the medium. Despite having been well established as


an artist in Canada, having already had her first one-woman show in 1960, she nonetheless felt overwhelmed by the aggression of the burgeoning New York art world. Although she continued to produce non-time-based visual art throughout her nine year stay there, the work was never exhibited in New York. Instead she became a fixture of Jonas Mekas' Film-Makers Showcases, a connection that would continue until, in 1970, she proved not to be one of the two living women whose work was included in the Anthology Film Archives' «nuclear collection of the monuments of cinematic art.» [1]

Structural Film

Despite this rebuff, and as uncomfortable a fit as the affiliation may be, she has remained a peripheral member of the structural film canon, having first been placed there by P. Adams Sitney in 1969 in structural film’s inaugural text (which appeared in «Film Culture»), although her work subsequently garnered a mere mention in the more readily accessible version of Sitney's text published later in his «Visionary Film.» [2] This situation has persisted into the present: her name

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