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About Jan Peacock
In Jan Peacock's work, the tenacity of memory and a search to embody the intangible are cornerstones. Though not diaristic, her works suggest personal journals. In the video Sirensong (1987) the narrator calls it "a landscape of associations" and "the thing remembered from childhood." As she notes in Reader by the Window (1993), "Our presence here is conditional."
Many of Peacock's video works and installations incorporate reading or textual components. All of her tapes have a writerly quality, leading us to become "readers" of the narrative and conscious of subtext. This writerly quality is infused in her work's reflective tone and in the play of revelation and concealment. Her reliance on quotation and elegiac insistence on memory give her work its sense of intimacy, as in Sirensong, "It was a dream you dreamed all your life."
Her works speak of home and family ties, as words and habits recall other places and similar acts. She is familiar with housework and TV commercials, makes an apple pie in Pie y Café, washes cups in Sirensong. Images and text recur, like "the tradition of marathon driving and radical displacement in our family" described in her News from the In-Between of 1981 and used again in Bliss/Dread (The Road Rises to Meet You), 1987. Yet despite all these clues to identity, Peacock's inner concerns are subtly shielded from view. As Robin Metcalfe points out in a review of Sirensong, Peacock's work suggests "splendid isolation" in its seeming aloofness, its "heavily coded structures that exclude the viewer" (Metcalfe). He concludes by noting, however, that "Peacock's failure to show a way out of the revolving door ultimately shades this work with despair, but one must admire the honesty and grace with which she has communicated the experience of alienation, and with which she has conducted and documented the search to transcend it" (Metcalfe).
Since the mid-1990s Peacock has been assembling what she calls her "competence archive," notes and footage that exemplify doing something well. Her subjects include travellers in airport waiting rooms or time in the dentist's chair, arm-wrestling at a local fair, a pick-up basketball game, or dogs at play. An unselfconscious concentration-presence in the moment-best characterizes this competence and acts as foil to Peacock's insistent self-awareness elsewhere in her work: probing internal states, memories, intentions, and effects. Two brief works from 2002 using "competence" footage are Ecoulement/Flow, only a minute long, and (pliant). These works might be seen as simple formal exercises, in that one presents "flow" as ostensible subject, and the other "folding," but attention is drawn to the details here, the deciphering of movement and applied or implied meaning. The very modesty of these pieces is their strength.
Soaring with Dogs is an installation with several separate projections and monitors, first presented in 2002 at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax. In one element, she edits fragments of previously recorded footage of two dogs in a lakeshore park, into little narratives, abstracting the dogs' movements with over-drawn lines, mimicking or predicting shapes and settings. As she noted then, "The dogs are figures in a study whose real subject is time." (Peacock)
Despite the voice of sensible reason suffusing Peacock's work, there is often an undercurrent of repressed unease or anxiety for an outside world over which she has little control, evoked by something from television or the news. Landscape and weather are continuing motifs: as context, as emotional and physical environment, and as framing device embodying a "desired place." Memories project forward and backward: "You can imagine everything," but "you invent nothing." (Whitewash, 1990).
Peacock was born in Barrie, Ontario, in 1955. After studies at the University of Western Ontario (Bachelor of Fine Arts, 1978) Peacock completed a Master of Fine Arts (1981) at University of California at San Diego and began teaching at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design the following year, where she is currently a professor of media arts. Since 1977 she has completed over twenty video works and installations and has exhibited widely throughout Canada, as well as in group shows and festivals in France, Holland, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, the United Kingdom, and many galleries and museums in the U.S. As a curator, she created among other projects, Appropriation/Expropriation (1983) with Bruce Barber, and the critically acclaimed Corpus Loquendi: Body for Speaking (1993), which toured throughout Canada. Her published texts include, among others, "presence" in Point and Shoot: Performance et photographie (Eds. Michèle Thériault and France Choinière, Montreal: Editions Dazibao, 2005), "Ready Access" in Public, No 25: Experimentalism (Toronto: Public Access, 2002), "Move This" and "4/14/99" (with Paula Fairfield) in LUX: A Decade of Artists' Film and Video, ed. Steve Reinke and Tom Taylor (Toronto: YYZ Books, 1998), "(In)Script" and "SIRENSONG" in By the Skin of Their Tongues: Artists' Video Scripts, ed. Nelson Henricks and Steve Reinke (Toronto: YYZ Books, 1996), and Corpus Loquendi (Body for Speaking): Body-Centred Video in Halifax 1972-1982 (Halifax: Dalhousie Art Gallery, 1994).
Peacock has presented numerous lectures and conference papers, and has often been visiting artist at universities in Canada and the U.S. The recipient of several Canada Council grants, she has won awards at the Atlantic Film & Video Festival (1990: Best Experimental), the Chicago International Film & Video Festival (1990: Silver Plaque), and the Atlanta Film & Video Festival (1992: Best Media Critique). She received the Canada Council Medal as well as the Bell Canada Award for Video in 1997.