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Education | Lesson Plans 1 2 3 | Links | Further Readings
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Lesson Plan 2: Written by the Body

Educators are encouraged to use the Video Art in Canada lesson plans to facilitate students’ critical engagement with the issues raised by thevideo 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 Written by the Body.


“Who am I?” has many answers. With the arrival of portable, consumer-grade video in the late 1960s, artists could work alone with camera and monitor; many began by using video as a new mirror, with instant response through playback. Video recordings could be a diary or a message to others, and encouraged a remarkable intimacy. Explorations of sexuality, gender, identity, family relations, and personal and cultural memories flourished. The works of this time are often lyrical or sensual.

The body is a place of intimacy and of knowledge, but also an ambiguous zone. The family is a place of comfort, but also of possible friction and difficult interaction. “Identity” is both permanent and in flux, knowable and mysterious. Video seems to tap directly into memory, often played out through images of the body.

Artists’ works featured in this lesson plan:

Luc Bourdon, Touei
Bourdon’s intimate Touei recalls a private memory with a young couple and a baby, touching and elegiac.

Colin Campbell, Sackville, I’m Yours...
Campbell questions physical and sexual identity, his presence on camera witty and dramatic, often humorous.

Vera Frenkel, Body Missing
Frenkel uses art-collecting practices under the Third Reich to consider deeper cultural memories; facts and histories are still missing from the record.

Richard Fung, Sea in the Blood and My Mother’s Place
Fung explores his family’s stories to understand his own identity and enrich his links with the past.

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 to portray community and shared sensibilities.

Nelson Henricks, Shimmer and Emission
Henricks has broached “identity” in many of his works. Emission deals with sex and romance, a “regression of the individual to his most primitive instincts,” while Shimmer probes early family memories.

Robert Morin and Lorraine Dufour, La réception (The Reception) and Le voleur vit en enfer (The Thief Lives in Hell)
Morin and Dufour question self-awareness and social control in La réception (The Reception), while Le voleur vit en enfer (The Thief Lives in Hell) proposes that identity is closely linked to self-determination and self-respect.

Jan Peacock, Reader By The Window
Peacock assembles landscape images and urban scenes as a backdrop for personal memory and consciousness.

Steele + Tomczak, The Blood Records, written and annotated
In Steele + Tomczak's portrayal of the treatment of tuberculosis in Canada during the 1940s, the impact on both body and self-image during the cures and confusions of the period are explored.

Paul Wong, Ordinary Shadows, Chinese Shade and 60 Unit: Bruise
Wong seeks out his family’s roots in China, resulting in Ordinary Shadows, Chinese Shades. In the more intimate setting of 60 Unit: Bruise his friend injects blood into Wong’s shoulder as private rite and personal bond.

Key Term Definitions:

Family and cultural heritage are basic to one’s sense of self: they form the first and deepest layer of identity and personality. When this body of knowledge reveals conflicts with that past, or gaps in information about possessions, characteristics, traditions, family members, one may come to feel that the need for answers is crucial.

Gender and sexuality are often linked with family issues, and equally basic to self-definition: prime elements in “identity” and crucial to body awareness.

Memory permits the recognition of previously learned behaviour or past experience, and incorporates reputation, remembrance, and commemoration. The body may have its own memory of past sensation, just as the mind reviews its knowledge and experience.

Discussion Questions:

How do the works listed here relate to those of other media or periods, such as the painted self-portrait, the diary, and the photo scrapbook, or an event taken from one’s family history?

What is the relationship between live action (performance) and video? Why do artists frequently appear as the subject of their own work?


Prepare a script or storyboard titled “It Happened to Me” that reveals an important aspect of your personality or experience.

Construct a two-minute video self-portrait that relies on image only, no speech. Then make a self-portrait without putting yourself onscreen, but relying on sound (voice, music) and suitable images that can evoke or explain your sense of yourself.

Key texts:

Greyson, John. “Waiting for the Sky to Fall.” Ed. Lisa Steele. Surface Tension. Toronto: Vtape, 2005: 5-25.

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

Lee, Helen, and Kerri Sakamoto, eds. Like Mangoes in July: The Work of Richard Fung. Toronto: Insomniac Press and Images Festival, 2002.

Wong, Paul, ed. Yellow Peril Reconsidered. Vancouver: On Edge, 1990.

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