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Western Front

Western Front Society Media Archives Project

(Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)

The artists' collective Western Front was formed in Vancouver in 1973 by eight artists (1) who wanted to create a space for the exploration and creation of new art forms. The organization very rapidly gained a major international reputation for its innovative and experimental approach to artistic practices, which embraced multidisciplinary approaches, new technologies and an interest in non-Western cultures and artistic practices in Asia and Latin America.

Since its inception, the Western Front has been housed in a building containing an exhibition space, dance studio, live performance venue, and video production and recording studio. The building also holds the Front's multimedia archives. The Western Front's multifarious activities include residency programs, a new music program, an exhibition program and a performance art program. It also publishes the bimonthly periodical, FRONT.

Over the years, the Western Front has presented an outstanding variety of events in this rich and stimulating context, with an emphasis on the interdisciplinary and on interactions between media such as performance, music, dance, visual arts, literature, poetry, film, installation and, naturally, electronic and digital media such as copy art , holography, video, sound art, network art and media arts.

Among the many artists who have shown works, created work while in residence or given performances or concerts are Robert Adrian X, Laurie Anderson, David Behrman, Constance DeJong, Stan Douglas, Robert Filliou, Vera Frenkel, General Idea, Jochen Gerz, Dan Graham, Mona Hatoum, Dick Higgins, Marshalore, Muntadas, Tony Oursler, Rober Racine, Yvonne Rainer, Tom Sherman, Michael Snow, Lisa Steele, Nell Tenhaaf, William Wegman and, of course, the founding members of the Western Front (2).

The Western Front has played a leading role in the development of artistic practices that use electronic, telecommunications, on-line and digital tools. In addition to its early adoption of video as a means of artistic exploration as well as documentation, the Western Front has been a pioneer in the use of telematics, and has participated since the beginning in events such as Direct Media Association, a telematics workshop organized in 1979 by Bill Bartlett, which involved 22 organizations and individuals; Artists' Use of Telecommunications (3), also organized by Bill Bartlett in 1980; The World in 24 Hours (4), organized in 1982 by Robert Adrian X for Ars Electronica in Linz; and La Plissure du texte (5), a telematics writing project organized by Roy Ascott for the 1983 Electra exhibition in Paris.

From its first days onward, the Western Front has been committed to creating video and audio documentation of its diverse artistic activities. As well, it continues to house the video artworks and documents produced by artists in residence during their stay. The Western Front's archives currently hold an astounding 700 videos and 400 audiotapes. Support from the Daniel Langlois Foundation will enable Western Front to carry out a conservation and documentation project to protect and nourish the collection. The project has three aims :

A- Enrichment of the collection's database. This database contains technical data, descriptions of works and documents, and biographies, all of which must be verified and completed. An advisory committee, which includes founding members of the Front, will be called upon to verify and elaborate on historical information.

B- Physical restoration of part of the video archive. This involves works produced by artists in residence as well as tapes of live performances. Among the videos are works by Klaus Vom Bruch, Hank Bull, Gathie Falk, Vera Frenkel, Mona Hatoum, General Idea, Jochen Gerz, Muntadas, Rober Racine, Tom Sherman, Lisa Steele and Michèle Waquant.

C- Research on the use of digital archiving methods. This research project will analyze the effects of digitalization and of different methods of file compression on image quality, the life span of various digital supports currently available, and the possibility of using DVD format for archiving.

Alain Depocas © 2000 FDL

(1) These were Martin Bartlett, Kate Craig, Henry Greenhow, Glen Lewis, Eric Metcalfe, Michael Morris, Vincent Trasov and Mo Van Nostrand.

(2) The first 20 twenty years of the Western Front are well documented in: Wallace, Keith, ed. Whispered Art History: Twenty Years at the Western Front, (Vancouver, Arsenal Pulp Press, 1993), 225 p.

(3) There is a brief description of this event in Robert Adrian X's "Art and telecommunication: 1979-1986 : the pioneer years".

(4) Documentation of this event on the Website.

(5) See Robert Adrian X "La plissure du texte : a distributed authorship project for ARTEX", December 11 - 23, 1983.