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Tough truths

Barbara Hammer


“Construct an autobiography before someone else does it for you.”


So begins Barbara Hammer’s experimental film memoir Tender Fictions from 1996,one of a series of landmark queer and feminist works by Hammer that have influenced countless artists. While many adopt Hammer’s techniques and strategies — from the re-appropriation of archival material and found footage, collage and reframing to critical analysis of class, race and gender — few can match Hammer’s off-kilter wit and determined will to engage, even entertain. There’s a reason Tender Fictions begins with Shirley Temple; Hammer is a born showman (granted, a smart, politically motivated and brutally honest lesbian showman).

Toronto hosts a de facto Hammer festival this month with a three-day retrospective at TIFF, with the NYC-based artist in attendance (running Thu, Apr 4, 6 and 7; all screenings and talks free), a live performance at Images (Apr 5) and an art show currently running at the Oakville Galleries. Over the last couple of years Hammer has been honoured with retrospectives at MOMA in New York, the Tate Modern in London and the Je de Paume in Paris — all part of an ongoing victory lap of sorts for the 73-year-old whose battle with ovarian cancer is documented in her 2008 short A Horse Is Not a Metaphor.

“My films are often called visionary, but I am not a visionary,” Hammer once told an interviewer. “I am living my lesbian life. I’m not waiting. My life today is my vision. By documenting what others would call visionary, what I would ‘actionary,’ I hope to spark the imagination of the aucience.”


Barbara Hammer at TIFF In Resisting Paradise Hammer ponders the relationship between art and political resistance during the war in Kosovo. Shown with Pools. 6:15pm. Thu, Apr 4. In Tender Fictions connects self-documentation and found footage to her identity as feminist, lesbian and filmmaker. 9pm. Apr 4. Dyketactics is a program of short films made when Hammer lived in the San Francisco area. 1pm. Apr 6. Nitrate Kisses is Hammer’s taboo-busting first feature-length, an ode to the sensual pleasures of love and intimacy. 7pm. Apr 6. A Horse Is Not a Metaphor is a poetic look at Hammer’s battle with cancer. 4:30pm. Apr 7. Generations, a program exploring Hammer’s influence on a younger generation of queer filmmakers, as well as paying tribute to one of her own primary influences, Maya Deren. 7:15pm. Apr 7. TIFF Bell Lighbox. 350 King St W. (416)599-TIFF. tiff.net.

At Images Festival Witness: Palestine is Hammer’s combination of live projection and performance to tell the story of the occupation of Palestine. Co-presented with Please Dome, Queer against Israeli Apartheid, TIFF Cinematheque and Toronto Palestine Film Festival. $10. 7pm. Fri, Apr 5. Jackman Hall. 317 Dundas St W. imagesfestival.com

At Oakville Galleries In After My Own Heart, Hammer’s work is shown alongside contemporary artists Sharon Hayes, Onya Hogan-Findlay, Allyson Mitchell, Carrie Moyer, LJ Roberts and others who explore the possibilities of feminist world-making. Until May 18. 120 Navy St. Oakville. Oakvillegalleries.com.