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Degrassi vs 90210? Erin Shirreff takes a stand

CAPTION:  Artist Erin Shirreff with Justin Martin in her studio (Greenpoint, Brooklyn, 04.20.12.)  Production still from the series “New York Close Up” © Art21, Inc. 2012.  Cinematography by Rafael Moreno Salazar.

Folks, our latest film is live – Erin Shirreff Takes Her Time.

One of the many pleasures in producing this one was getting to know Erin Shirreff and uncover her not immediately obvious Canadian-ness.  After our initial shoot in her Greenpoint studio – when she was still in the process of creating the video work Lake (the central focus of today’s New York Close Up release) – Erin passed along a YouTube link for a series of short films, produced and broadcast in Canada in the 80’s, that depict various Canadian national parks.  Films that Erin saw many, many times on television as a child (and judging from the YouTube comments, a whole generation of Canadians did as well.)  Films that are a loose but still significant inspiration for not just Lake but Erin’s general sensibility.

Un-Canadian as I am, I was totally hooked by the shorts’ instantly recognizable, early 80’s film to video texture, and the oddly melancholic tone.  Fortunately we were able to bookend our film on Erin with excerpts from a couple of the Parks Canada shorts.  But we were only able to include just a small portion of the interview detailing Erin’s unexpected history with these films.  So for the Canada-ophiles among you, below’s a more extended excerpt from our original interview:

ERIN SHIRREFF:  When I would get up on Saturday morning to watch cartoons with my brother, we would be lying in the family room, watching “Roadrunner” or “Dungeons and Dragons.” And in between the cartoons there would be these little vignettes that came out of nowhere and they had this very, very haunting music.  And it was just this sequence of images of the landscape in Canada.  And I remember one that had a loon, you know just floating along and this haunting loon call.  And then they were over and then we would go back to watching cartoons.

CAPTION:  Still from Parks Canada film, Point Pelee National Park, Ontario.

ES:  This was when I was five, six.  And I didn’t really think anything of them, but I guess they really lodged in my mind because years later I was living in New Mexico.  I was listening to this album by Boards of Canada (a band who’s actually from Scotland.)  And I heard this sort of strange echo of something that was really deeply familiar but I didn’t know what it was.  And I went online and was researching it and, and other people had kind of noted the same thing.  And they traced it back to the NFB, the National Film Board of Canada.  And then I started, started just trying to actually remember what those things were, those little pieces of TV.  And I talked to my brother about it and we both got super obsessed by it.

CAPTION:  Still from Parks Canada film, Kluane National Park Preserve, Yukon Territory.

ES:  And then actually just this past summer my brother sent me an email and the subject line was “this is going to blow your mind.”  And I clicked into it and it was a link to this amazing person on YouTube who had found all of these remnants [from the Parks Canada film series] and compiled them.  And when you click on them it’s like you’re instantly transported back to the carpet of my parents house.

CAPTION:  Still from “Degrassi Junior High” (circa 1989.)

ES:  The music [by composer Alain Clavier] ….  it’s very sort of disquieting music.  They’re very moody pieces and they, they to me seem really, really distinctly Canadian.  And Canadian of that time period.  They would not be produced now.  Just what that means is a hard question, because it’s sort of a cliché to say Canada’s identity is not having an identity.  I grew up with both Canadian culture and American culture and seeing both for themselves because they are so beside one another.  I grew up watching “Degrassi Junior High” and “90210,” two high school narratives that couldn’t be more different.  I always felt a certain amount of pride about being from the country that made “Degrassi Junior High.”  And I have a certain amount of pride in those shorts you know.  And it’s not a nationalistic thing, but they allow for an experience that isn’t necessarily happy or jingoistic or celebratory or triumphant, it’s just sort of there.  It pictures an equanimity with the wilderness.  Like you’re just sort of in it for a bit with your backpack and then you go back home.  It’s not like you are blazing a path down the middle of it or trying to colonize it in some way.  Here’s this hulking backyard that is out of anybody’s grasp.

One Response to Degrassi vs 90210? Erin Shirreff takes a stand

  1. Hi i am 45 years of age and was too always yearning to see these again , however i only remember that haunting synth piece atatched to the northwest territories clip. i had searched and searched the ambient artists of the time to see if one of them had composed this piece, like say Tangerine dream, who were very close to this sound, and it even does remind you of the starkness of some there records like ‘Ricochet’. I remember the bleak rocks and snow and the isolated feeling of vast space and the music was just so complementive of that feeling, a sobering feeling of Canada’s magnitude of space. I later began listening to the Boards Of Canada, when they came out in the 90s and thought boy this stuff reminds me of those old lonely vignettes on cbc. Sure enough they mixed it also and Alain Clavier became something to search down as well as the parks Canada videos on youtube. Me and a friend would always recollect and wonder what music was uses for this classic film spot and it’s music, thanx for the blast.

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