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Speak City

3 min excerpt

Lisa Steele & Kim Tomczak. 2007. HD video, colour, sound. 30:25

Speak City (Lisa Steele and Kim Tomczak, Canada) [v/s/p] A deceptively subtle and rigorous videowork that directly engages issues of site-specificity, Speak City is worth seeking out, especially in a setting like TIFF where it could easily get lost in the shuffle. On the face of it, all Steele and Tomczak have done is shoot static footage of Toronto street signs, fading one into another in the editing process. The blue street signs are shot in close-up, dominating the entire middle third of the frame in most cases, sometimes even a bit more. The choice of fades is careful but not at all overbearing in its formal language. Although there are frequently homologies from one images to the next — the position of a telephone pole, the direction of swaying foliage, the relative position of the waterfront, etc. — sometimes these visual rhymes are so subtle as to elude perception, and on multiple inspections I can attest that in other cases they are not there at all (although bear in mind, I was given a preview disc that simply excerpts the final piece). But what the conjunctions of the two streets usually do accomplish is the drawing of a specific linear form through mapping. If, for example, you Mapquest some of the instances when street numbers as well as names are given, you will find that Steele and Tomczak’s start and endpoints are very close to one another, but actually driving between the two points entails an out-of-the-way Big Dipper shape around several city blocks. In addition to offering a wry commentary on the foibles of automobile traffic vs. pedestrian life — “you can’t get there from here” — Speak City also seems to have a purely formal element, using these pairs of addresses as mapped components of a prospective public drawing assignment, reorganizing Toronto according to interlocking minimalist units not unlike Sol Lewitt open-cubes. Steele and Tomczak would seem to understand that most of this will be hard to grasp even for the locals, but virtually lost on out-of-towners. When one considers not only the underlying cultural politics of TIFF — its necessary relationship to film industry interests vs. its struggle to maintain its key role in Canadian cultural identity, as well as the larger film industry’s ever-expanding effort via tax shelter to turn Canada’s major cities into “any-space-whatever” — Steele and Tomczak are to be commended for using their commission to consider Toronto itself.”

-From the Academic Hack by Michael Sicinski, a writer and teacher based in Houston

Mike Hoolboom, “Kim and Lisa,” Wharf 2000-2012, Gilles Forest, ed. (Wharf, Centre d’art contemporain de Basse-Normandie, Hérouxville Saint-Clair, France, November 2012). 744-761.

Speak City in the TIFF 2009 catalog

Lisa Steele & Kim Tomczak: Urban Renewal. Canadian Art Magazine Online. April 15, 2010.

Cartel, Anne. Lisa Steele & Kim Tomczak. Artpress 367 May 2010: 91. Print.