Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Byron Black

Last week marked the return of Byron Black to Vancouver -- for the first time in thirty years. Black, who has been living in Southeast Asia since 1982, is the subject of an early career retrospective curated by VIVO's Alex Muir, part of the artist-run centre's Anamnesia: Unforgetting series, a three-part curatorial endeavour drawn from the 4500-piece Crista Dahl Media Library and Archive, where some of Black's earliest film and video works are housed. On November 22nd Donato Mancini will screen a selection of videos that attempt to draw parallels between Vancouver and Chile, while on November 29 Cicely Nicholson will explore aboriginal title, protest and suppression.

Black first arrived in Vancouver in 1970, "on the run from the F.B.I.," as he put it in advance of Thursday's screening. Prior to that he was teaching English to South Vietnamese youth at Fresno State College, "so that they might return to their country better capitalists than when they left it." Just how the 28-year-old son of an U.S. Airforce Colonel found himself drafted is a mystery, unless we take into account how drafts and conscriptions have always played a punitive role in the "running" of a country, something Black alludes to when he says that in exchange for English lessons these South Vietnamese youth "politicized" him, opened his eyes to the cruelties of U.S. foreign policy.

On Saturday I had the pleasure of hanging out with Black, taking him and DIM Cinema's Amy Kazymerchyk to the Belkin, to see the State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970 exhibition, then to Aphrodite for pie, where we met with his long-time friend, Tony Reif, who attempted to interview Black after DIM's Monday night screening of Black's extrapolation on paranoiac hippie Vancouver, The Holy Assassin (1974), a film that, according to Reif, had not been shown since its debut.

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