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Education | Lesson Plans 1 2 3 | Links | Further Readings
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Lesson Plan 1: The Stories Within Us

Educators are encouraged to use the Video Art in Canada lesson plans to facilitate students’ critical engagement with the issues raised by the video works and texts featured on this site. Key term definitions and discussion questions are provided to facilitate student responses to the suggested written or visual assignments. We welcome educators to use the Video Art in Canada forum to share experiences of using the lesson plans or send feedback to Video Art in Canada directly.

This lesson plan is a companion to the exhibition theme text The Stories Within Us.


The exploration of storytelling and narrative is at the heart of Canadian video. This is especially evident in the early years when the medium was new and equipment was rudimentary but inexpensive. The medium seemed to encourage introspection. Language is central to communication with others and communion with oneself, even when truth and fiction are intertwined. Just as landscape may be central to a Canadian identity in painting or literature, the spoken word permeated early video.

In seventies’ Quebec, the visual discourse of video art was political: a quest into national character and social concerns including feminism and the changing role of the Catholic Church. By the 1980s, video in Quebec had more in common with artists elsewhere, stories informed by emotional content and personal memory.

One may also consider narrative in formal and structural terms. Unedited, real-time recording may foreground the medium’s natural linear quality, one-thing-after-another, like the beginning, middle, and end of a narrative. At the same time, video recalls television as a source of information.

Artists’ works featured in this lesson plan:

Luc Bourdon, The Story of Feniks and Abdullah
Bourdon roams an unfamiliar city as he seeks his lover.

Colin Campbell, Sackville, I’m Yours… and Hollywood and Vine
Campbell responds to an unseen interviewer in Sackville, I’m Yours…, and presents himself as the Woman from Malibu in Hollywood and Vine.

Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn, Nunaqpa (Going Inland) and Qimuksik (Dog Sled)
Cohn and Kunuk re-enact stories from daily life in Igloolik, in Canada’s High Arctic, maintaining cultural memories and traditional skills.

Sara Diamond, Ten Dollars or Nothing and Fit to be Tied
Diamond traces women’s roles in the mid-twentieth century, through historic documents and individual accounts.

Vera Frenkel, Body Missing
Frenkel blends historical document and fictional construction in this complex piece.

Richard Fung, My Mother’s Place and Sea in the Blood
Fung explores his family’s stories, coming to terms with his identity and enriching his links with the past.

General Idea, Test Tube
General Idea insist on the power of mass media and advertising, while reflecting on the role, responsibilities, and potential responses of the artist in society, through a dramatic argument constructed for broadcast television.

Serge Murphy and Charles Guilbert, Sois sage O ma Douleur (Be Good, O My Sorrow) and Au verso du monde (Outside Looking In)
Guilbert and Murphy use dialogue and conversation to consider the charms and disappointments of daily life.

Robert Morin and Lorraine Dufour , La réception (The Reception)
Morin and Dufour present their version of a work by Agatha Christie.

Jan Peacock, Reader by the Window and This Walk, These Steps
Peacock in Reader by the Window puts spoken text over lush landscape images; while in This Walk, These Steps single words are placed onscreen, creating a silent dialogue between man and woman.

Tom Sherman, Wind-Up Wolf and Talking to Nature
Sherman speaks in voice-over, with his words playing against brilliant outdoor images in Wind-Up Wolf and Talking to Nature.

Steele + Tomczak, The Blood Records, written and annotated
Steele + Tomczak use eloquent stories to portray the treatment of tuberculosis in Canada during the 1940s.

Key Term Definitions:

Communication is the act of imparting or transmitting, an exchange of ideas, information, etc., and a means of passage for messages between places or persons: a line of communication or a channel.

Narrative is something recounted or narrated, such as an account, story, or tale; it is also the act, art, or process of narrating: of telling a story.

Representation may be made through a verbal description, a work of visual art such as painting or sculpture, a dramatic performance, but is also the right to act authoritatively for others, especially in a legislative body. The link between judicial and descriptive is interesting to consider more fully.

Discussion Questions:

Can history be revised or rearranged? For example, do “facts” remain the same when a story is told from another point of view or in a different time period?

To what extent do local, regional, national, or linguistic issues impact on the content and point of view taken in a story or narrative?

How do the video works listed above invoke or play with (subvert) established genres such as documentary, fiction, drama, or re-enactment?


Compare and contrast, how have different artists have used themselves as actors or characters onscreen? Here's a hint, check out: Colin Campbell, Richard Fung, General Idea, and Nelson Henricks.

Ask a family member about something from her or his personal history that they would wish to have remembered. Interview them and then rework this material as a brief re-enactment of the story.

Key texts:

Bellour, Raymond. "The Limits of Fiction." Ed. Elke Town. Video By Artists 2. Toronto: Art Metropole, 1986: 49–57.

Gale, Peggy. Videotexts. Toronto: The Power Plant with Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1995.

General Idea. "Test Tube." Ed. Elke Town. Video By Artists 2. Toronto: Art Metropole, 1986: 59-66.

Henricks, Nelson, and Steve Reinke, eds. By the Skin of their Tongues: Artist Video-Scripts. Toronto: YYZ Books, 1997.

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