Above Standard Play

Artist Emily Pelstring’s Standard Play exhibition has a lot of ghostly moving parts.

Emily Pelstring, “Feminist Sanctorium,” video sculpture (2015) - COURTESY THE ARTIST
courtesy the Artist
Emily Pelstring, “Feminist Sanctorium,” video sculpture (2015)

Somewhere in a basement, two sisters have fallen asleep with the television on. A dirty VCR distorts voices. These banal vignettes set the stage for video artist Emily Pelstring's solo exhibition Standard Play at the Khyber, a narrative multimedia show that looks at ideas of gender, media history and technical processes. 

A Montreal-based artist and music video producer who's created videos for artists like AIDS Wolf, US Girls and The Pink Noise, Pelstring's practice integrates video, music and installation, so it's no surprise that her immersive Khyber project draws from all of these.

"It's not really a story, but more of a situation the viewer will find themselves in," Pelstring explains. The exhibition is comprised of three parts: a looped animation, and two "video sculptures": something like a diorama with video or a small-scale video installation.

Pelstring has worked heavily with narrative-based and situational projects, from her music videos to previous gallery installations to visuals for musicians. She works across disciplines and infuses her work with a sense of humour and fun, like a 2013 performance with the band Gambletron, called "Foam Machine," where an empty pool was filled with foam to create a "dystopian dance club."

In Standard Play, Pelstring is interested in creating "expanded fiction"—exploring the possibilities of simultaneous narratives or situations. The viewer is meant to find their own connections between the three pieces and become implicated within them. The animation deals with obsolete video equipment, where ghostly voices move around inside a dirty VCR. All three pieces touch on mystical elements, with a surreal colour scheme of purple, blue and green.

One of the video sculptures uses the theatre trick of "Pepper's Ghost," an illusion where mirrors into a hidden room create the appearance of a ghost, while in the other, ghostly hands appear when sisters fall asleep in front of the TV screen. Pelstring looks to "interrogate media-making" and see it for what it really is: "a mysterious presence of light and data."

Aside from her solo exhibition, Pelstring will also be performing with collaborator Katherine Kline at the exhibition opening as The Powers, a group that has performed mainly at galleries and multidisciplinary festivals and "functions like a band." Kline, a musician, is also known for her work with Montreal group Dreamcatcher. Pelstring has a background in dance and brings this into the project, serving as the group's VJ, while Kline focuses on the musical side. Using costumes, dance, music and visuals, The Powers expands the idea of narrative into a performance, looking again at ghosts, machines and "two lady detectives."

"There's a strong feminist overtone—I think people will sense that," Pelstring says. Her work draws from her own experiences and those of friends and colleagues as women working in a technical field: "You get to a certain age where you really know what you're doing, but you see people questioning you."

The inherent bias becomes harder to ignore as you get older, Pelstring says. "That kind of anger really fuels my work. The only way I can deal with it is to make fun of it. There's a tradition of campy feminist work," she says. In Pelstring's work, "You see mechanical imagery and then there's a slice of pizza flying through the air."

The Powers
Thursday, May 21 at 5pm
Khyber Centre for the Arts, 5521 Cornwallis Street

Emily Pelstring: Standard Play
To June 10
Khyber Centre for the Arts, 5521 Cornwallis Street


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