Vancouver Art in the Sixties

40 Years of Amateur Photography "When I arrived on the Intermedia scene at the end of 1967 I had a good sense of how photography worked and was figuring out how I could use it to make art. Brian Nation, who had already built a darkroom at 575 Beatty, had recently moved on to other things so I moved my stuff in and got to work. It wasn't long after that that planning began for Intermedia Nights, the first of three annual spring "festivals" that Intermedia produced at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Intermedia Nights required promotional material. As the person with the camera, I naturally assumed the role of photographer and began to document the preparations and finally the event. At first I wasn't thinking about this documentary project in an art sense – it seemed like something which was necessary and it made me feel useful within the group. Then what started out as publicity became so interesting to me that I just carried on with it. So I began what would be a five-year project to document Intermedia's art and artists. I ended up with over 3,000 negatives which I have held on to for the past 40 years. Then, in 2003, I started on an archival research project based on my Intermedia material and the years I spent as a member of the society."
– Michael de Courcy


intermedia opened its doors in the spring of 1967. The idea of creating a society and a public workshop dedicated to the collaborative exploration of new technologies by artists had been the brainchild of a local alliance of artists, poets, musicians, dancers and academics. This group originally assembled to discuss Marshall McLuhan's theories on how electronic media, particularly television, was transforming our world into a "global village". There was the strong feeling that artists should be at the vanguard of this radical reshaping of society.

"It is our intention that Intermedia be a place where creative exploration could take place on an interactive basis between artists, between technologists and between seriously interested people. The only criteria that we have is that it is far out, creative and exploratory."

"I don't think it's very desirable to try and define Intermedia in too great detail at the moment because it's exploratory – we are, in a sense, discovering this thing into existence."

"We have tried in the setting up of this to create as unstructured an environment as possible. This is the essential difficulty involved in working within an existing institutional structure."
– Victor Doray and Joe Kyle on CBC radio in 1967


If it had to become more institutional we would
pull the plug.

“Initially I was intended to put the destruct button into the system should it ever get to be too established and too successful because that would contravene the whole concept of exploration.”
– Werner Aellen (from "Vancouver Art and Artists")

Non-existent group
wins $40,000 grant
– The Province (April 15, 1967)


It speaks to the air of excitement and the sense of urgency surrounding the ideas put forward by Intermedia that even before a formal application was made, the society received a grant of $40,000 from the newly-formed Canada Council for the Arts to be used to fund an artists' workshop.


Basically, they would hand us the keys and say goodnight. "The first Intermedia workshop was a four-storey former macaroni factory at 575 Beatty St. on the fringe of downtown Vancouver. There was little or no signage at the building entrance, just a small hand-lettered cardboard sign placed in the corner on the window beside the front door. It was nevertheless an impressive space in which one could easily get lost. There were two staircases and a large open wooden freight elevator. Dennis Vance lived in the building and functioned a sort of caretaker while he worked on his experimental sound projects. Otherwise there didn't seem to be a lot going on. I did meet David Orcutt, an older, bearded guy with a kind of beatnik look who it seemed had reluctantly agreed to function as the society's first project manager. Like Dennis, he was totally absorbed in his own art stuff in other rooms of the empty building and hardly noticed me. I remember seeing a business type in a suit and tie with camel hair overcoat pop in and out of the little office space next to the elevator on the mezzanine. He was friendly enough but seemed to me a little out of place in this cavernous and cluttered warehouse space, besides he never seemed to stay long enough to take off his coat. His name was Joe Kyle, a management consultant associated with the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University. He had a visionary attitude towards education and the arts and been part of the original group of McLuhan enthusiasts from whose meetings the idea of an Intermedia had emerged. He was the chairman of the society's Board of Directors and as such was authorized to write cheques – which is probably what he was doing on his visits to the little office. The directors felt that their role would be best accomplished through a hands-off relationship with the day-to-day workings at the workshop. Workshop administration was left to David Orcutt and the society's artist members."
– Michael de Courcy

"The building was seldom locked, people came and went at all hours. My studio was at the top of the front stairs on the second floor. I could hear anyone coming up and would check. If by chance the door was locked people could throw stones at the window. I would make sure to tell them to throw stones not rocks."
– Dennis Vance

Nothing is going to be very fancy.

There wasn't anything formal about membership. There were no lists or cards or anything. If you had an interest in being there you could belong. There was a core membership of regulars who met at informal social gatherings in their studio spaces or at infrequently scheduled project meetings. Gary Lee Nova, Helen Goodwin and her dancers, Al Neil, Gregg Simpson, Gerry Gilbert, David Rimmer, Glenn Lewis, Maxine Gadd, Henry Rappaport, Bob "Box" Arnold, Gathie Falk, Al Razutis, Judith Copithorne, Joan Payne, Ken Ryan, Al Hewitt, Nelson Holland, Ed Varney and John McDonald were among the members who were frequently around. Everything was very low tech – the extent of the technology available at 575 Beatty street was maybe a few tape recorders, an old set of film rewinds, and an obsolete photographic enlarger. If you needed tools you supplied them yourself.

"I remember Joan and I taking apart the tape recorder that wasn't working and we didn't even have a screwdriver– so Joan got a rock and turned a nail into a screw driver. We figured if we could look inside it we could figure out something."
– Maxine Gadd

"It was very much like an indoor park."
– Ed Varney

Transient audience enjoys poetry
in geodesic
– The Province (May, 1970)


"There was a lot of dope. Some people were stoned pretty much all the time. Mostly it was hash and grass. At Intermedia it was a social thing and a work thing. There wasn't a lot of alcohol. Getting high seemed completely natural. Dope was used as fuel and one great side effect was that you got these groovy ideas. People were generally pretty focused on what they were doing, often working on projects well into the night. When Werner was hired as the executive producer he became the public face of the organization. He told me that the coming and going groups of hippie-looking artists and friends did attract the attention of the RCMP and city police, and they did try to infiltrate. Werner, as a matter of policy, turned a blind eye to the illegal drug activity going on in the building. He didn't disapprove of the membership getting high but he did feel that it would compromise his position to participate. If anyone did ask he wanted to be able to claim honestly that he wasn't aware of anything untoward going on. When an undercover person pretending to be an artist wanting to work with Intermedia did show up in the office, his clean-cut, rather uptight demeanor would give him away. Werner would simply ask to see a portfolio of his work and that would be that. They never came back."
– Michael de Courcy


...and he just stopped hanging around.

Johnny Neon, aka John Masciuch, occupied a good part the first floor with his burnt-out fluorescent tube recycling operation. He was using the discarded bulbs to create the fluorescent light installations he would exhibit at Intermedia's first festival event, Intermedia Nights, at the Vancouver Art Gallery in the spring of 1968. Several months earlier John had arrived from Edmonton by bus. The Greyhound station was just around the corner from Intermedia. He literally stumbled into 575 Beatty street building in search of water and the rest is history. He had a fascination for electronics and and no connection to art whatsoever. David Orcutt, responding to his intensity, invited him to hang out and develop a project. It was only a number of months before John's light works at the Vancouver Art Gallery were the talk of the town, being reviewed by national and international art press. John continued to work at Intermedia through 1969 and was a strong influence there until he left to take up residency in New York City.

Intermedia Takes Over, Switches On
– The Vancouver Sun (April 8, 1969)


"There was the idea of public participation and the idea that everybody was an artist,
everybody was a musician, anybody could paint, anybody could take photographs,
anybody could play the flute or whatever. . . there was a suspension of standards . . . it
was the last gasp of anti-specialism..."
– Maxine Gadd

Everyone is a dancer.

The nucleus of artists at the center of Intermedia at its inception had already established working relationships in prior artists initiatives on the Vancouver scene. As far back as the mid 1950s there were artists, musicians, dancers, poets and other literary types working together in various associations to create a kind of cultural underground. The Cellar Musician and Artists society, The Arts Club, blew ointment press, the Sound Gallery, the Motion Studio and the original Georgia Straight newspaper, formed a continuum of artist-initiated and financed storefront operations in Vancouver in those early years. The informality of these organizations supported a free exchange of ideas between between proponents of various media and resulted in the production of unique, collaborative performances and events. The legendary 1966 Trips Festival at the PNE Garden Auditorium stands out as an example of the type of co-creative participatory event which these 60s artists banded together to produce. The festival was a two-evening weekend event. It presented a lineup of popular bands from San Francisco (Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin) along with local folk rock (United Empire Loyalists) and an experimental music group (The Al Neil Trio). For the occasion, Motion Studio artists combined their own specially designed and built sound shaping technology with hundreds of low- and high-tech projection devices and with thousands of feet of translucent fabric screen. Surrounded by moving sound and an abstraction of stills and film, you didn't just look at images you danced within them.


Nobody was making any money.
Nobody was paying any money.

"At Intermedia I was able to quite naively explore the possibilities of film. I always say I was very fortunate that I didn't go to art school or that I didn't go to film school 'cause I was able to go in and make things which people would have told me were impossible to make — out of this blessed naivety really. That's something that has continued to influence me and affect me from my Intermedia days, the idea that I can do anything I want to in film. There are no rules or theory, there's nothing I can't do. I have the confidence to do everything from Intermedia days cause Intermedia really was my art school— spending 4 or 5 years working with Intermedia people taught me all I needed to know at that point about art and art-making.The few people who did have careers, who did know something about art , were very accepting of the rest of us, we weren't blocked in any way from entering the scene. We would do those great extravaganzas at the Vancouver Art Gallery and everyone was participating at an equal level. There was nobody saying "no you can't come in" and "you know, we have to shape the show to reflect some sort of idea or theory." We all just went in and did it . . . "
– Dave Rimmer

"I saw Intermedia as to do with process and variety. I saw Intermedia to be the human media, not the mechanical media."
– Judith Copithorne

"Putting it across in a new way
– that's it..."

– Werner Aellen as quoted in The Vancouver Sun (April 11, 1969)


There wasn't the intent that there be evidence. Much of the art production at Intermedia centered around the creation of environments and participatory installations. Objects were being made, but even then these were often shuttled around the city and used in interventions or as "props" for photographs. There was a great deal of interest in time-based projects - first film, and later on video. Much of the activity was conceptually-based and process-oriented. The artworks were those things that were happening minute by minute – interpersonal stuff, performance, poetry and dance. It was ephemeral. The process could be initiated purely for the camera, with no real product being created other than the pictures themselves.

"Outside of what is recorded here, we never left any monument. There is no real physical evidence. There is nothing. It was like it was a dream. You go and ask people – what was Intermedia, you will get 50 stories from 50 different people all telling the same story but different."
– Dennis Vance

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