Nora Hutchinson: Rebel Opera now on view at the Art Gallery of Hamilton

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Nora Hutchinson (Canadian b. 1951), Granny and Me (video still), 1982, video, 15:00 minutes. Courtesy of the artist and Vtape

Nora Hutchinson occupies a key position in the evolution of video art and performance installation, having begun her practice when these artistic genres were in their infancy. This retrospective exhibition offers a selection of video works made over four decades. Rooted in feminism, her evocative moving-image works developed from her foundation in performance art and musical composition. The videos on view are unique combinations of performance documentary and cinematic collage.

Hutchinson’s early practice is largely autobiographical—her expressive, stark and highly personal poetry is read aloud and interspersed with experimental music, often with images of herself as she performatively navigates her appearance. These works from the 70s and 80s revolve around self-representation and her exploration of identity in the context of second-wave feminism, in contrast to her conservative upbringing. Hutchinson’s later works delve deeper into theatrical performance, poetically activating personal and social issues, such as in the work In Safe Places, a meditation on mental health and the environment.

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Nora Hutchinson (Canadian b. 1951), C’etait un jeu de mémoire (video still), 1977, video, 20:00 minutes. Courtesy of the artist and Vtape

The human voice and its communicative potential is a central theme in Hutchinson’s work both through the videos presented in this exhibition as well as in the vast body of performance, installation and sound work that form the full picture of her practice. The rigorously composed interplay between voices, whether sung or spoken, can assume many roles, as in the case of Opera Around the House which mixes the style of folk music with the vernacular. She regularly subverts the operatic form, often using a wry sense of humour and segments of poetry, pop music, and children’s singalongs.

Her literacy in the language of video is expressed in the same manner, with a complete vocabulary and clear intention yet a free and poetic methodology. To quote the text of Opera Around the House, “In this inarticulate space we can go free.” The “we” also points to Hutchinson’s strong foundation in community. Her collaborations, often-decades long, with friends and artists, form an indelible component of her practice—as reflected in Opera Around the House, and many other works. With her direction, musicians, actors and visual artists become players in theatrical reveries, always in partnership and with mutual support.

Born in Hamilton, Hutchinson has been producing and directing works in video, performance art and installation art since the 1970s. She taught media arts at the Ontario College of Art and Design for over 15 years, and also at the University of Guelph, York University and the Dundas Valley School of Art. In 1998, she received her MFA from the University of Guelph. She has been awarded the Leslie Nielson Award, the Portland Oregon Award for Film and Video, and the Video Roma Award. In 2012, she was awarded the City of Hamilton Arts Award for Media Arts.

Restoration and Distribution partner: Vtape

Nora Hutchinson: Rebel Opera
September 19, 2020 – January 3, 2021

#AGHRebel Opera


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