Intermedia : The Missing Link

By Michael de Courcy

In November 1967, at age 23, having been employed for the past eight months as an agent de sécurité at Expo 67 in Montreal [1], I returned to Vancouver eager to continue life as an artist and very interested in photography. Soon after, I was introduced, through friends, to the recently established Vancouver artists' collective known as The Intermedia Society [2]. The three-storey, former industrial building on Beatty Street which Intermedia occupied became my home away from home. The people frequenting Intermedia (a community of artists, poets, sculptors, musicians, dancers, filmmakers, scientists, engineers, architects and supporters) became the subjects of my photography. For the next five years, 1967 to 1972, I worked with them to make a photographic record of our experiments, experiences and ideas.
These collaborations embodied the strategies and range of experimental art activity engaged in by Intermedia, including:

  • Multi-media performance involving dancers, musicians, and visual artists; and combining movement, sound, and projected images.
  • Exploration of a variety of new media, including photography, video, film, sound, and light sculpture.
  • A re-examination of the role of the artist and the meaning of artwork within the sociopolitical fabric of a community — e.g. intervention in public spaces for the installation of artwork and for engaging in art activities, resulting in community participation in the art-making process.

By 1972 Intermedia began to wind down and I became involved in more singular pursuits. At the time there was talk within the collective of doing something definitive with regards to Intermedia’s history and my burgeoning photographic archive. However, support for this enterprise was not forthcoming. And so, for over 35 years I carted around an unorganized inventory of more than 3,000 pictures, the majority of which had never been seen and in most cases stood as the only evidence of the artwork which they represented.

In 2003 I decided to resolve what had become a nagging, unfinished business. On reviewing my Intermedia pictures I was compelled by curiosity to figure out just what it was that I had been doing back then. My re-reading of these photographs encouraged me to consider: the nature of collaboration in art production; the relationship between my photographic archive and the mostly ephemeral collaborative art activities which it represents; how this relationship evolves as the subject of the documentation (the art activity) fades and is replaced by the document as the primary focus of interest; and finally how the document can become re-contextualized in the present as artwork in itself.
My Intermedia photo archive forms the basis of my current project INTERMEDIA1967. As well, I am researching public archives, private collections, Intermedia's administrative papers, and newspaper and magazine clippings, to provide a public account of Intermedia. And, to capture the more personal aspects of this project, I have been conducting and recording interviews and conversations with those artists with whom I collaborated. My re-examination of the Intermedia archival material, the piecing together of the complex story of Intermedia’s art and artists, and the study and organization of my photographic archive is a blending of art history, ethnographic research and visual representation.
The artwork I intend to create is both a personal memoir and an art historical document. As a personal memoir this project provides me with a context in which to reflect, at age 60, on my own fledgling roots as an artist. As art history, it is my hope that the new evidence uncovered as a result of this project, as to the range and influence of Intermedia’s activities during the late 1960s and early 1970s, will forge a link with which art historians may connect and position the collective more clearly within the critical discourse around the relationship between grassroots, West Coast Canadian culture and the accepted paradigms of contemporary art history.

This project is on-going. It will lead to gallery installations, an animated film, a book and an Intermedia website/archive, intended for both local and international audiences of artists, art public, curators, educators and students. It is in this way that my Intermedia archive and the new works which I am making to accompany it will create a contemporary contextualization for this five-year-long, West Coast phenomenon, and link the past culture of Intermedia to the Western art culture of the 21st century.

New Westminster, BC
Spring 2005

1 montreal journal: a photographic document of expo 67 — from a workers perspective

2 Michael de Courcy, Michael de Courcy SURVEYING A TERRITORY; URBAN WILDERNESS REVISITED, catalogue; The Richmond Art Gallery 1994, ISBN: 0-9692572-3-6, "For the record: The Intermedia Experience", PP. 39-40.