Nelson Henricks

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Video still from <b>Shimmer</b> by Nelson Henricks

Nelson Henricks, Shimmer, (1995), 7:34 min.

Video still from <b>Window (fenêtre)</b> by Nelson Henricks

Nelson Henricks, Window (fenêtre), (1997), 3:25 min.

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About these works

Shimmer (1995)
Distributed by Vtape.

"Our apartment was one hundred years old, and it was haunted. Friends suggested that we paint a black spot on the ceiling to get rid of the ghost. She wasn't a bad ghost, she was just an old hooker. She kept turning the front hall light on and off, and opening doors for her johns, who came at all hours of the night. She loved sex and she loved parties, so we were forced to have sex and parties all the time to appease her. Other ghosts were also there: immigrants who spoke neither English nor French. They had come from far away, and longed to return to their homelands. Sometimes they sang sad songs. Shimmer started as their story. My grandmother's story, my parents' story and mine got mixed up with theirs along the way" (Henricks in the Vidéographe online catalogue).

Shimmer opens with a striking image, the artist with his ear against a drinking glass, which is pressed to the wall; he is listening to noises on the other side. And in voice-over, "All I know is this. I have to tell you something. And you have to listen. You listen and I don't know why. But I want to tell you and you want to listen" (

It's all about secrets, "Visions from inside my bones" ( He recounts his grandmother's words, her tracing of family history. Then he says, "But you can't change it enough to make it home, and you never will. You will never be more than a tourist here. And you feel like a hypocrite: missing a place you know you hate. You hate it more than any other place in the world. You are just in love with the idea of missing it. You never want to go back home" (

The images in Shimmer are beautiful, but the knowledge it shares is bleak. We see landscapes, old snapshots, the soft surface of a quilt. "My lover kisses me. We are rolling on my grandma's quilt. A thousand years pass through my face in a flash. I am the end of the line" ( Nelson Henricks has moved on, leaving the past to others yet bringing it along with him nonetheless. Shimmer is affirmation and also a farewell. The ghosts are not all in his apartment after all.

Window (fenêtre) (1997)
Distributed by Vtape.

"Over the course of one year, I periodically shot footage from the front window of my third floor apartment. This became the basic material for Window, a video about knowing. How do we come to know a situation? Through repetitions and variations, our knowledge comes from more than one unique experience. It is the sum of many things. 'The sum of all sight and sound. The sum of all motion.' Window attempts to show how a whole can be more than merely the sum of its parts" (Henricks in the Vidéographe online catalogue).

As Henricks goes on to point out, the window is one of the principle metaphors of video, easily implicating the viewer in processes of exhibitionism and fetishization. Where there is a window, there is inside and outside, the enduring dichotomy.

About Nelson Henricks

Thoughtful and observant, Nelson Henricks explores his own psyche through video and text, his history and intentions often intertwined. From an early age he has felt like an outsider: an artist originally from the Prairies, an anglophone living in Montreal, and a gay man highly aware of the heterosexual norm. His works seek to understand the isolation of that status and put it to good use. Identity itself is constantly at issue: regional or national-the classic Canadian conundrum-but also personal, as formed by the family, by society, memory, the mass media. Legend (1988), for example, is a self-portrait in non-linear narrative that begins in Henricks' childhood home in low-resolution images reduced by electronic interference, and moves to mapping out relationships and geographic territories, a long sequence of removals over time and space. Family photographs embody absence rather than remembrance: "I have no name; I have no place to be. That night I went for a walk; I never stopped walking," he says in a voice-over ( Elsewhere in the work he rejects a consciousness colonized by American culture, singing, "This is not my dream. This is someone else's dream, and I can't wake up." (

Landscape and the notion of the journey appear in many of his works, as do themes of sex and romance, linked with communication or lack of it. Emission (1994) is one instance where Henricks refers to "the regression of the individual to his most primitive instincts, especially when faced with difficulties of language and communication with others" (Vidéographe online catalogue). As curator and scholar Christine Ross says of Emission, "It inserts the body into the process of communication" (Ross 18). Further, "Embodying the invisible (ghosts, electromagnetic waves, the homosexual) means, therefore, developing a form of communication that orchestrates and is orchestrated by the body and sexuality; it also means that communication thus embodied becomes the element that enables us to hear the ghostly invisibility to which the initial images refer. The invisible is, therefore, not only a site of oppression, it is also what can engender a new subjectivity" (Ross 39). As she continues, "Henricks seeks to embody the invisibility of what stands in for the apparitional, from the perspective, that is, of a 'queer'" (Ross 39-40). Ghosts reappear in others of Henricks' works, along with the powerful spectre of memory and consciousness, of "second sight."

Yet along with this desperate, even tragic, self-awareness, humour appears, as in Satellite (2004) with its juxtaposition of old educational films with absurd, aphoristic slogans, in a commentary on our need to make sense of everything, at any cost. Doubling images and translations, associations and subverted meanings, Satellite says, "It's as hard to be dumb as it is to be smart," among its many statements. (

Nelson Henricks was born in Bow Island, Alberta, in 1963, and is a graduate of the Alberta College of Art (1986). He moved to Montreal in 1991, where he received a Bachelor of Fine Art from Concordia University (1994). Henricks continues to live and work in Montreal, where he teaches at Concordia. He has also taught at McGill University (2001) and at the Université du Québec à Montréal (1999). A musician, writer, curator, and artist, Henricks is best known for his videos, which have been exhibited worldwide. His writings have been published in Fuse, Public, and Coil magazines and in the anthologies So, To Speak (Éditions Artextes, Montreal, 1999) and Lux (YYZ Press, Toronto, 2000). With Steve Reinke, Henricks co-edited an anthology of artists' video scripts entitled By the Skin of Their Tongues (YYZ Press, 1997).

Since 1986 he has made some fourteen video works and, more recently, video installations. Internationally renowned, his work has appeared in numerous solo presentations, notably at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (2004), Galerie B-312 and Galerie Graff in Montreal (2003), as well as the Montreal International Festival of New Cinema and New Media (2002), the National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires (2001), the Manchester International Short Film Festival in England, YYZ Artists Outlet in Toronto (2001), and in Video Viewpoints at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (2000). For its 1998 edition, the Palermo International Videoart Festival (Italy) dedicated its "Focus" section to Canadian video, with special attention to Nelson Henricks' work. In 1995 his solo exhibition at Galerie Oboro in Montreal, was accompanied by an important bilingual catalogue by Christine Ross, Je vais vous raconter une histoire de fantômes (I'm going to tell you a ghost story). His works have won numerous prizes, including the SODEC prize for Crush (1997) as Best Video at the 16th Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois in 1998. The following year, Le temps passe (1998) received the Telefilm Canada Award at Toronto's Images Festival and a further prize at Vidéoformes in Clermont-Ferrand, France. His Planetarium (2001) was awarded the grand prize for "Auteur vidéo" at the 17e Festival Vidéo Estavar-Llivia (France/Spain). Henricks received the Bell Canada Prize for Video Art in 2002.

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