Laura Cowell

At The End Of The Day

April 1 - April 30, 2011


still from

still from "Rich" 2003 super 8 running time 1 min.

"At The End Of The Day" is a survey of Toronto-based artist Laura Cowell's time-based work. The exhibition takes into consideration over thirty short videos, super 8 and 16 mm films produced from 1990 (her first year at the Ontario College of Art) to the present. We have developed a programme that will feature eleven of these works.

Putting together this programming was a rewarding challenge. The intricacies and demands in portraying a practice cannot be underestimated. Thanks to Laura’s generosity and my tenacity we screened every single work she has produced. Some of my eventual choices came as a surprise to Laura and it’s to her credit that she let me run with my instincts on this one. That takes a certain kind of faith – a faith which runs through her work. Faith in friendship, faith in community and faith in the cultivation of the self as an autonomous engine of enterprise, creativity and love, whether or not you are in or out of a good or a bad relationship with another person, or with a dog (in which case you know the relationship is going to be good – I could write a book on the interspecies aspect of Laura’s work and what a dog can teach us).

Another book I could write would be on Laura’s use of music to further narrative and elicit a swift visceral response from the viewer to so readily sense her heartfelt connections with subject. I mean, come on, a sweatshirt!

Paul Petro, March 2011


Laura Cowell is a film-maker, writer and social convenor. Along with Kelly O'Brien she is the co-founder of the Splice This! Super 8 film festival (1998-2006). In 2002 she was commissioned to produce a short film on Archie Alleyne, jazz musician and activist, for the Toronto Arts Awards. She has worked in a tech capacity in theatre, film and video. "At The End Of The Day" is the first exhibition to take an in-depth look at her work. A text by Andrew Harwood accompanies this exhibition.



"On Laura Cowell for At The End Of The Day curated by Paul Petro"

by Andrew Harwood

Laura Cowell is the coolest person I know! I don’t mean in the ironic, distanced kind of coolness that most artists gage as the idea of cool. Cowell is the kind of artist who for a decade made sure that Super 8 film did not disappear from the planet. She has supported countless film and video artists work in her thankless role as the Director of the Splice This! Super 8 Festival in Toronto. Her art is even cooler, her short Super 8 piece entitled “Rich” 2003, was a 60 second piece depicting the torso of a hot young woman walking toward Cowell’s camera with a great belt buckle that read “RICH”. The simplicity of this piece spoke of many artists’ struggle with the invisible, yet perhaps, one of the most difficult of all barriers of “class” as an ever-present hurdle for artists in the Toronto art world of the’90’s and ‘00s. Cowell was (and is) so cool that she could even tackle an issue in a short piece that no one else was really talking about at that time.

One of the only other Toronto-based artists of this generation to even come close to tackling issues of class is Cowell’s oft-collaborator and friend Keith Cole. His famous drag pic where he wears a t-shirt that blazingly reads “Rich, Sexy, Confident, Bitchy” ties in closely with Cowell’s gentle critique of some of the artists in her generation who were, in fact quite wealthy or came from wealthy families – I think she was saying that some of these artists may have had it easier due to class and wealth. Yet this great short work could have easily been a Calvin Klein spot for dykes, I mean this as no slight to Cowell, but rather as a nod in terms of simplicity and irony present in “Rich”.

Not that Cowell isn’t a classy broad herself; she truly is, especially in how she lovingly portrays the world, her friends and her former family member and pet German shepherd - Farmer! In two video works in "At The End of The Day", Cowell depicts her sweet friend with such love and affection – both of these qualities jumped from the screen into my heart. The artist isn’t exactly animal daft in a kooky Hollywood way. She is saying, in video and film, what I wish I could express about my cat Betty. There is an incredible relationship that a lot of queer people have with their pets, not that we treat our pets like children (well some folks do), but like “family” but, better. This sentiment is echoed in the video Little Dude, 2007, portraying gallery owner Paul Petro with his Jekyll & Hyde rescue chihuahua. Little Dude is an enigma of a dog who is alternately loving and on guard protecting his owner, (he has bit a few people), and is still family!

Laura Cowell’s great talent lies in her ability to portray people in video and film in such amazingly human and loving ways. Her film on friend and comrade Keith Cole is such a beautiful study in gestures, facial expressions and spirit. Although Cole does not say a word in this film and a musical track accompanies the piece, Cowell has captured Cole’s essence and definitely his non-verbal persona. I can only imagine what hilarity he is blabbing, as he is a bit of a ham (albeit a lean one), he seems to talk non-stop for the whole piece – we cannot hear a single word - we don’t need to - his body and face tell his story as recorded visually by Cowell.

In a similar vein, Cowell mines the territory of video portrait in "Couple Crush", 2011, portraying Thom Third and Christy Garland – who doesn’t have a crush on this fab pair? This split screen video again captures the wonder and delight of the humanity of two artists. Both Garland and Third are portrayed in their own boxes for the entire length of the work. "Couple Crush" encapsulates a sweet obsessive-compulsive view of each person as they talk and pose, allowing us as viewers a bit of time with each person and perhaps some insights into why Cowell has this “couple crush”. This her most recent work seems to be one of her most masterful, again Cowell pairs a great bitter sweet music track with the images of the couple and her use of colour is bang on in this video.

"Make Me Pretty" is perhaps one of the sweetest things I have had the pleasure of watching on film. This deftly and simply-handled film presents a facial being given to Gentleman Reg. I mean who wouldn’t want to give Reg a facial? Gentleman Reg, who is already pretty, is gently shown as getting a facial message, a peel-off masque replete with cucumbers and tea bags lying on an orange pillow with huge ‘70’s style daisies. This work is not only a deceptively simple portrait in male beauty, but also one of deep relaxation and love. Cowell’s use of The Gentleman’s gorgeous music rounds out this exceptional work.

"Femur, Belly, Belly, Femur", 1998 made me homesick for Toronto in the late nineties! I love Cowell as both boy and girl characters in this film. Why aren’t you acting in more of your films Ms. Cowell? Think of this as a friendly challenge. This film is an incredible portrayal of having a crush on someone new, yet both characters in this film are played by Cowell. I wonder if you fell in love with yourself when you shot this piece? It is common in romance films for the leads to fall in love with each other, so I am hoping this was your moment for you and yourself. I digress. The city of Toronto plays such an important role in this film, the streets and alleys remind me of a grittier, more innocent and romantic Toronto. A place where weeds grow through the sidewalk and its always a warm summer day and I get to wear my good flip flops, cut off jean shorts and gingham shirt – and oh yes I have a new crush that is delicious, but is probably doomed, but what the hell go for it. Thank you for reminding me of what this city can be like.

So, yes Laura Cowell is cool, in ways that invite true and often gentle insights into the human condition. Her works reminds us to slow the fuck down and enjoy the everyday moments of life and how we experience the people we love.

Oh yeah and did I say Laura’s soooo cool!

Andrew Harwood, March 2011



LAURA COWELL

FILM/VIDEO PRODUCTIONS

2011 COUPLECRUSH super 8 3:00
2007 LITTLE DUDE video 3:00
2006 LOVE YOU video 3:00
2006 DADDY’S HANDS video 1:00
2004 MENTAL HEALTH TENNIS (with Robert Kennedy) super 8 1:00
2004 EVILDOERS super 8 2:00
2004 NO DOGS ALLOWED super 8 1:00
2004 YOU MAKE ME TALL super 8 3:00
2004 MOONWALK—instructional video 2:00
2004 THE MOVIE LAURA MADE FOR KEITH super 8 3:00
2003 MAKE ME PRETTY super 8 3:00
2003 RICH super 8 1:00
2002 THE ARCHIE MOVIE 16mm 4:00
2002 IT’S NOTHING super 8 3:00
2002 DIRT ROAD super 8 2:00
2002 A MIRACLE super 8 2:00
2001 RUNNIN’ THE ROADS super 8 3:00
2001 CALIFORNIA super 8 4:00
2001 SAYING SO super 8 1:00
2001 CHICKEN TOSS super 8 1:00
2000 MR. DANVERS (with RM Vaughan) super 8 2:300
1998 BELLY, FEMUR. FEMUR, BELLY. 16mm 6:30
1995 SWEATER WEATHER super 8 3:00
1994 REFILL (with Christina Zeidler) super 8 2:00
1994 ADAM super 8 2:00
1994 ROAD TRIP LIST super 8 2:00
1993 BOY CRAZY super 8 2:00
1991 BATHTUB video 1:00
1990 CAN YOU SAY ANDROGYNOUS video 1:00


SELECTED SCREENINGS/BROADCASTS

2011 8 Fest Small Gauge Film Festival, Toronto
2006 Moving Pictures Festival, Toronto
2004 My Own Private Yentl, Toronto
2002 Bravo, CITY-TV, Toronto Arts Awards
2001 Brussels Independent Film + Video Festival
2001 AGO, Present Tense #17, Toronto
2000-06 Splice This! Festival (13 films
2000 PassArt, Centre d’exposition de Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec
2000 Boston Lesbian + Gay Film Festival
2000 Santa Barbara Lesbian + Gay Film Festival
1999 Frameline, San Francisco
1999 London UK Film Tour (32 screenings)
1999 Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival
1999 Melbourne Queer Film Festival, Australia
1999 Fredericton Lesbian + Gay Film Festival, New Brunswick
1999 Calgary Lesbian + Gay Film Festival, Alberta
1998 Cinemateque Ontario, The Independents,Toronto
1996 Video Art Plastique, Centre d’art Contemporain, Normandy
1996 World Financial Centre for the Arts, New York
1995 National Film Board, Toronto
1994-99 Women’s Television Network, Winnipeg (4 films)
1994 MediaTV, CITY-TV, Toronto
1994 MIX Experimental Film Festival, New York
1994 Vancouver Lesbian + Gay Film Festival, Vancouver
1993 Diffusions Gaies et Lesbiennes du Quebec, Montreal
1991 Artists Television, Trinity Square Video, Toronto


GRANTS

1996-2004 Production and Development grants from the Canada Council,
Ontario Arts Council and Toronto Arts Council

1998-2006 Media Arts Organization grants from Canada Council,
Ontario Arts Council, Toronto Arts Council and Heritage Canada


COMMISSIONS

2011 8 Fest Small Gauge Film Festival, Toronto
2007 Little Dude, curator: Paul Petro
2006 Moving Pictures Festival, curator: Kathleen Smith
2004 My Own Private Yentl, curator: Keith Cole
2002 Toronto Arts Awards