Reflections: Pleasure Dome

Akimbo is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a monthly series that draws on our rich archive of clients, critics, and contributors to reflect on the accomplishments of the past and look toward future possibilities. Our first installment features our very first client: Toronto’s Pleasure Dome.

PD’s Executive Director Lauren Fournier answered our questions.

Pleasure Dome’s Winter 1999 programming poster

What are some of your highlights from the past twenty-five years?

Pleasure Dome has consistently supported the practices of artists and filmmakers who work at the margins of experimentation, and who may not have opportunities to professionally present their work elsewhere, both through screenings and discursive accompaniment like publications. I see this as a highlight! Today, the artists we feature span from emerging to mid-career and established, from more niche to more well-known, but what they all share is a dedication to working experimentally and in DIY ways.

What has changed for you over that time and what is your current programming philosophy?

Sarah Fitterer, Shrimp Love, 2022, video (included in Pleasure Dome’s Fall 2023 program Touching Nature Touching You)

Pleasure Dome has from its inception been committed to supporting artists who make work in what can be classified as underrepresented cinemas. But this question of what constitutes “underrepresented cinemas” has shifted over the years and continues to shift as artists respond to varied nexuses of power. While this question may have once been primarily one of form, it shifted to being one of identity, and now we have landed somewhere in between.

When I stepped into the role of Executive Director in 2022, what excited me was the opportunity to revisit our organization’s commitment to experimentation and re-evaluate it in light of the present. Whose work has historically been supported in “experimental” spaces, and whose work has been excluded or ignored or suppressed? This led to our open call for 2023 being newly framed through the provocation “Reimagining the Experimental,” which gave rise to submissions from artists working locally, elsewhere in Ontario and Canada, and internationally. The call sought to open up the very definitions of “subversive,” “radical,” “political,” and “experimental” from fresh vantage points.

Values at the heart of our current programming philosophy include connection and listening, anti-censorship and respect, community care and fairness, accessibility and support. Something unique about our organization is that one of our values (which is in our name) is pleasure. Pleasure includes a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment. While it is important to engage with difficult issues, we also believe it is important to make space for pleasure. Oftentimes, our programming brings comedic relief alongside challenging content, as having a sense of humour and place for release is important for the health of an arts community. Many of the works in last year’s screenings were funny and playful, especially in our Fall program Touching Nature Touching You.

Describe some upcoming screenings that you’re particularly excited about.

Jonni Peppers, Wasteland, 2016-2019, video

Our programming for the spring coheres around a combination of personal storytelling and animation and other handmade approaches to experimental film and media art. It will open with the Toronto premiere of nonbinary artist Jonni Peppers’ five-part film Wasteland. The artist made the film during their time studying experimental animation at CalArts, and the themes of community, isolation, and mental health that the film takes up were all at the top of the artist’s mind during their time in school. Peppers is well-known in online and digital spaces, but opportunities to screen their work in a physical, in-person screening context are rare, which is what motivated our guest curators Justyne Benico and Jacob Crepeault (both volunteers on our 2023-24 programming committee) to put this screening together.

Following that is a group screening curated by Aaditya Aggarwal on tactile autofictions, inspired by the work of Lesley Loski Chan, and including work by filmmakers and artists such as Sara Kathryn Arledge, Valentina Alvarado Matos, Stan Brakhage, Lynne Sachs, and Nazli Dinçel.

Lastly, Pleasure Dome recently partnered with LIFT (The Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto) on an Experimenting with Super 8 workshop, and we plan to host more workshops with them that are concomitant with our spring programming. We also have a number of co-presentations and partnerships with neighbouring arts and not-for-profit community organizations coming up in 2024, which we are excited about.

What is your vision for the future?

Yace Sula, Ele of the Dark, 2022, video (included in Pleasure Dome’s Spring 2023 program Reimagining Queer Liberation)

Our organization will continue to ask the complex and fruitful questions around whose and what kind of work has been and continues to be excluded or suppressed or ignored by art spaces that are dedicated to the experimental, and to then develop innovative programming and outreach based on the conversations that ensue. Answering a question like this requires a careful consideration of whether the very definition of “the experimental” as defined in contemporary, Western art spaces is, for example, white and colonial, etc., in its conceptions and, if so, how to rectify that. How can our organization continue to support, and be better at supporting, the work of those experimental artists and filmmakers whose work is doubly, or triply, etc., marginalized? How can our programming open up peoples’ minds about what even constitutes experimental work, such that the “experimental” becomes a much more radically inclusive and interesting category?

Our commitment to this work can be seen in this past year’s screenings, like the program that opened our Spring 2023 season, Reimagining Queer Liberation, which featured artists Sina Âwsémoon, Lina Wu, Chanelle Lajoie, Madeleine Scott, Trâm Anh Nguyễn, Sam Gurry, M.O. Guzman, Kym McDaniel, and Yace Sula. The program began with a provocation: “Defining freedom yields many interpretations, especially when you ask a queer person. What does freedom look like to you? And what are you being freed from?”

When it comes to new initiatives, if we receive the funding to expand our operations, we will develop Pleasure Dome’s first-ever residency program, which will allow our organization to extend its longstanding commitment to mentoring emerging professionals in a more formalized and sustainable way. My vision is to start a tripartite residency in which Pleasure Dome supports an artist-in-residence, a curator-in-residence, and a writer-in-residence who will work both individually and collaboratively to develop their own practices and deepen our community’s appreciation and understanding of leading-edge experimental film and media.