Number 553, Jan 5, 2006

Quench Your Thirst With a Different Kind of Fizz

Beyond The Screen

If you ever wander through the 401 Richmond building or the Gladstone Hotel feeling thirsty, you may just wind up with a “single serving art movie” to quench your thirst. Over the past couple of years local artist, film maker, and website princess Leif Harmsen has been working on a project he calls VendaVision. VendaVision is a series of altered soda machines that both vend short art movies and pop. For just a single dollar viewers are treated to a video and a drink. Harmsen emphasizes that the movies are what cost money, and the drinks are a happy side effect of the whole process. With the average video length at somewhere around three minutes, the experience is perfect for those of us with short attention spans.

VendaVision development started in 2004 at Charles Street Video, an artist-run centre and video production facility where Harmsen built the machine prototype. He got his hands on some used vending machines and the rest, as ‘they’ say, is history. Harmsen describes this first machine as being a great tool for development and experimentation, but due to its clunkiness it tends to be more reliable at shelling out pop than it is videos. Once the nuts and bolts of the technology was figured out, the first machine was placed on the main floor at the 401 Richmond Street West art building. VendaVision’s inaugural programme was called Loonies Only, and comprised of works from artists such as film maker and smart guy, John Greyson, Governor General award winner Istvan Kantor, and Local choreographer Marlee Cargill, to name a few.

Aside from quirkiness of art from a vending machine, VendaVision is really about the programming. The machines offer great potential for screening short works and examining how people understand their relationship to video art. Harmsen says, “the main interest for me is being able to programme the VendaVisions with work that has meaning for me.” It’s a simple summary that distils what most curators do into something easy to understand. At present, the programming includes a temporary VendaVision machine at Gallery X of Harmsen’s “Homosexualist Movies,” and another programme featuring the work of Peggy Ann Berton, who Harmsen suggests, is “best known for her autobiographical Super-8 Soliloquies” and her “wicked wit.”

Part of the beauty in short films is the fact that if you really despise them, the pain is only momentary. In the case of VendaVision, this theory can be extended one step further as the viewer can simply walk away from the machine, but remain satisfied with the drink. Viewers pay their dollar and are shown one of the programmed videos at random. Harmsen calls this interaction a “casual chance encounter,” and says that it’s a great way to introduce people to work they would not otherwise consider. He is adamant that the money paid is to watch the video, and that the drinks are free. However, this may be a bit of a semantic dance since the pop is being paid for somewhere down the line. Either way, the artists get 25¢ each time a machine plays their video. Someone better open up their piggy bank before these artists starve.

For more information, or to have work considered for programming, visit: