Wallace & Theresa


Jan Peacock was born in 1955, in Barrie, Ontario, Canada . She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1978 from the University of Ontario. She then attended the University of California at San Diego and received her Master of Fine Arts in 1981. Peacock then moved back to Canada in 1982 and has thence been teaching at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, in the media arts department.

Since the late 70's and early 80's, Peacock has been making single-channel videotapes and video installations which have been shown not only in Canada and the United States but all over the world. Video installations combine video technology with other materials of media to create a new and different visual experience. This is definitely a common characteristic in the work that Peacock creates. She is always trying to come up with new and interesting ways to experience life or common everyday situations. As was stated on the Canada Council for the Arts website, Peacock "has explored a great variety of narrative forms both written and oral, subtly effecting mutations of those forms through an insistent visualization of speech and text." Many of her works have a "writerly quality, which leads us to become 'readers' of the narrative and become conscious of the subtext (Video Art in Canada)."

In Jan Peacock's video, Wallace & Theresa, she takes pieces from the poetic works of Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951-1982). Their writings are the text that is seen and the words spoken throughout the video. The entire video is like a visual poem that is being acted out for the audience to see. The text and dialogue are Peacock's collaboration of the poetic works of Wallace and Theresa, which is where the title comes from. By just hearing the title of the video, one may think that it will be about, perhaps, the life of two people named Wallace and Theresa, but it is much more than that. She "draws together the separate lives of the late poets in a diffuse dialogue on the act of writing poetry, of seeking meaning (and peace) in that act, of "continuing to live," (Vtape Online Catalogue).

"Wallace & Theresa" starts out with a green screen and a womanās voice speaking about being able to write. A hand then enters the frame and a pencil is placed in to itās fingers. In the background there is a person standing performing sign language. Different voices are then heard which seem to be speaking different languages. The hand then begins to write and the viewer can see the words as they are being written, as if writing on transparent paper. The sound of the pencil writing can also be heard as it writes "Tell me the story of all these things. Beginning wherever you wish. Tell even us." Throughout the video, there is a person speaking English , a person speaking sign language and a person, perhaps, speaking Japanese. It seems as though everyone is speaking a different language but is saying the same thing. I think what she is trying to do with this video is show that if you canāt read you can listen, if you canāt hear you can read. This is why she has a person writing down what is being spoken and also a person performing sign language in the background. People understand things in different ways and respond to things in different ways but everyone is the same with their own unique qualities.

The rest of the video consists of words , sentences, and paragraphs, seen line after line. Words move across the screen, from top to bottom, are seen in black and white static, then fade back to a green screen and then new words and sentences appear again. Even the credits at the end of the video are incorporated into the same flow of the whole piece. You almost question if itās part of the video or actually the credits.

Peacock is able to make the viewer concentrate on the narration by limiting the amount of visuals seen throughout the video. Most of her concentration is on the words that are being spoken or the words that are rolling across the screen. This also shows her "writerly quality" that appears in most of her works. The viewer is forced to read what is on the screen as if reading a poem. She also takes into consideration the fact that there are deaf people that still need to listen and read which is why there is a person performing sign language. Peacock is able to make the viewer question their own values in life and the way in which they live out those values.

Ultimately, Peacock was trying to express what the poets Wallace and Theresa were writing in their poems, which is the reason all the text in the video were from their works. Peacock had a unique way of expressing a poem in visual form. She was able to break the poems down and put them together to create her own interpretation of their works. She assumed that everyone could read but possibly understand meanings in different ways. Some people have barriers that they have to overcome in order to understand their surroundings, which is why she had words that seemed to be in static symbolizing perhaps, confusion. Peacock successfully used both written and oral forms to create a visualization of the works of Wallace and Theresa through speech and text.

In Peacock's own words, she wrote, "What I have done with Wallace & Theresa is to take (the) propensity to read and interpret it as a given condition, and constructed a layering of images, sounds, printed and written words and voice - all and each of which reciprocally narrate one another, where narration is, substantially, the event (Art Metropole)."

--Tiffany Stoddard, November 2006.

Jan Peacock