Scenes from a Movie For One, 1997

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Barbara Astman, Scenes from a Movie for One, 1997


Scenes from a Movie for One is sensual, evocative, and passionate, incorporating a physical connection with the body, greater than in her previous autobiographical work.


Unlike Astman’s earlier image-text work, this is a silent film, which boasts one of the characteristics of all film: to record and suspend something in a temporal vitrine.  The finale – a chiaroscuro effect – is about the presence of the body rather than portraiture as character study.  It brings to mind Eugène Carrière’s turn-of-the-century paintings, as early “static” films of Andy Warhol, as well as Stanley Kubrick’s blinking eye in 2001 Space Odessey, which is at once trying to see and being blinded.


Eight self-portraits, originally SX-70 Polaroids, were re-photographed as 35-millimeter black-and-white negatives and enlarged.  A Polaroid close-up box was used to shoot colour details of the prints, which converted the black and white to tones.  After pealing off the Polaroid backing, Astman scratched the image surface – a reductive rather than additive process.  The images were re-photographed in 35-millimeter and enlarged to 20x24 in Ektacolor prints. 


The second reading of the “scenes” were multiple image works, 32 “scenes” assembled in a grid of four by eight, and produced as colour and black-and-white Xerox “scripts” as heat transfers on paper.  The laborious process does not exemplify complexity for its own sake, but a gradual disintegration of any notion of the photograph-as-document.  This means to this end is a way of literally and figuratively scratching out a personal correspondence from the edge. 

BARBARA ASTMAN belongs to a visionary group of artists who have continued to radicalize visual culture since the early 1970s by defining new ways of seeing. Over four decades, she has explored a wide range of photo-based media and produced work that has received national and international recognition. She is represented in important public, corporate and private collections including the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Deutche Bank, New York; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Her artist’s archives are held in the E.P. Taylor Research Library & Archives, AGO.


Astman has an extensive and prestigious solo exhibition history, most recently the two-part Looking: Then and Now (Corkin Gallery, 2016) and BarbaraAstman: I as artifact. The latter featured a new series accompanied by a comprehensive publication (McIntosh Gallery, 2014). In May 2011, her installation, Dancing with Che: Enter through the Gift Shop (Kelowna Art Gallery, 2013) toured across Canada. And her touring retrospective, Barbara Astman: Personal/Persona – A 20 Year Survey, was curated by Liz Wylie (Art Gallery of Hamilton, 1995). Astman has been included in major group exhibitions, such as: Toronto: Tributes + Tributaries, 1971-1989 (AGO, 2016), Living Building Thinking: Art and Expressionism (McMaster Museum of Art, 2016), Look Again: Colour Xerography Art Meets Technology (AGO, 2015), Herland (60 Wall Gallery, New York, 2014), Light My Fire Part I: Some Propositions about Portraits and Photography (AGO, 2013), and Beautiful Fictions (AGO, 2009). Canadian Art featured a profile of her career in its Spring 2014 issue. 

Astman was commissioned to create an installation for the inaugural exhibition at the Koffler Gallery (Toronto, 2013). She has completed several public art commissions, including the Murano on Bay in Toronto, comprised of 217 windows with photo-based imagery (2010); a public art installation for the Canadian Embassy in Berlin, Germany (2005); and a floor installation for the Calgary Winter Olympics (1987).


Active in the Toronto arts community, Astman has served on numerous boards and advisory committees, including the AGO Board of Trustees (2009-2013). Currently, she is the Chair of the Art Advisory Committee, Koffler Gallery, Toronto and President, Board of Directors, Prefix (ICA) Institute of Contemporary Art, Toronto. In addition, she has co-curated an installation titled The Emergence of Feminism: Changing the Course of Art, featuring work by Joyce Wieland, Suzy Lake and Lisa Steele (AGO, 2008).


Astman holds degrees from the Rochester Institute of Technology, School for American Craftsmen, and Ontario College of Art. She has been a professor at OCAD University, Toronto since 2001.


Text by Georgiana Uhlyarik, Fredrik S. Eaton Curator of Canadian Art, AGO. For more information, please visit