F a m i l i a r
Images of Familiar
from the M.A.W.A. exhibition
at Ace Art, Winnipeg, May 2002:
* installation * screens * wallworks * pointing
return to IFHC


J. Bristol works with Patricia Holdsworth to set up Carmen's "money shot".

In one sense of the word, a familiar is an attendant spirit, often taking animal form. This exhibition is a hybrid project which expands upon ideas of the familiar, setting into play broader concerns around nature, culture and representation. Part of my ongoing work about the construction of Western knowledge in relation to the "other", Familiar is concerned with relationships between humans and animals. Because I am inspired by the idea that the personal is political, I began to work through my relationship to my house cat, Sabre.

The representation of animals is informed by our complex and often intangible relationships to them. I am interested in how ideas of "nature" are culturally constructed, and how the depiction of animals is often an act of human anthropomorphism. Through Familiar, I imagine or propose relationships based on hybridity and ambiguity rather than the control-and-management paradigms which currently dominate human/animal liaisons. Familiar takes on the format of the production of a "nature" documentary film - a genre notorious for often presenting objective truth about the "other" through such means, for example, as the authoritative voice-over of an unseen or anonymous narrator. My version of the "nature" documentary is filtered through processes of conceptual and performance art, particularly those which explore endurance. For example, in order to "know" my cat, I set up a video camera to document her activities while I was away from my apartment. This way of knowing, of course, ultimately fails: I was still only able to see what my cat does within the limited field of the camera viewfinder, and only for a 2-hour period (the length of a standard videotape).

Familiar consists of drafts of the script, posters, blueprints, set design and video-taped auditions depicting my production of a "nature" film. These elements form associative narratives, inviting the viewer into the work, as if it were a kind of "walk-in novel". The life of the work does not end there, however. Familiar is also a manifestation of the pre-production phases of the first scene in another film I am concurrently producing with artist and curator Anthony Kiendl. Titled Comfy Hostage, this film will present a series of vignettes on themes of freedom, containment, culture and nature. The projected completion date for Comfy Hostage is fall 2006. Familiar grapples with the problems and joys humans encounter when living with animals in the city. This tension between freedom and containment is a central thread in both Familiar and Comfy Hostage.