Intermedia: We Are Discovering This Thing Into Existence


by Chelsea Rooney


Grainy footage of Stanley Park, 1967: the Super Human Be-In. CBC host Bob Quintrell’s voice floats over images, gives a reason the older establishment so virulently disdains hippies: the very sight of them—their friendly manner and wacky dress—signifies their own lost chance to live a life they love.


“All their lives they have conformed. They’ve killed their own desire, they’ve stifled themselves…The hippies are the personification of everything that has gone wrong with the older generation…and it frightens them.”


Does this help explain how, in the same year, an unformed artist workshop with an incomplete grant application received $40,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts? Today, that amount inflates to over $270,000.


If money talks, then this largess echoes across decades, bouncing off our now bare walls of austerity. It speaks of fever-pitch politics, dissolution of status quos, and a hearty olive branch from the institution to the mouths of babes: please, with this money, surmount our mistakes.


Intermedia was a pioneer, a first-generation ARC breaking ground for artists, poets, dancers, musicians and filmmakers. When interviewed in 1967, its founding members hesitated to name their intentions. “The only criteria we have is that it’s far-out, creative, and exploratory…I don’t think it’s really desirable to try and define Intermedia in too great detail…we are, in a sense, discovering this thing into existence.”


They set up shop in an old macaroni factory on the fringe of Gastown. Driven by Marshal McLuhan’s ideas—we’ve all seen the heritage minute, right?—they participated in massive protests against television and war. They resisted all forms of institutionalization and organization, harbingers of death. They experimented with drugs, art and new technologies.


In the back room they kept their mimeograph, a Roneo machine, and with it they became what AA Bronson calls a touchtone for artist books. “Intermedia created these amazing publications that are very, very hard to find, but are worth the search.”


This author did not find any, but did find group member Michael de Courcy, and spent several ecstatic hours touring his website: an interactive exhibition of dynamic, inventive artworks that seem to live and breathe in code.


Over decades, de Courcy has stockpiled myriad ephemera—newspaper clippings, posters, aerial shots, maps, voice recordings, video—into an extensive visual and audio record of our city.


Among his projects is The Intermedia Catalogue, an astounding archive of images, interviews and artifacts “which together bear witness to what was arguably one of the most colourful and influential periods in Canadian art history.”


Or Hippie Vancouver 1967, aggregating dozens of hippie-themed newspaper articles. Read when the The Georgia Straight lost its license for being “a filthy, perverted paper that should not be sold to our children.” Or visit Dead and Buried and view de Courcy’s vertiginous efforts to name the 3,000 unmarked graves of the old Woodlands Asylum cemetery.


And finally, Background/Vancouver: A robust photomap of our city comprised of images captured by de Courcy and three artist friends on October 30, 1972. Their foot tours started at Victory Square and branched out to every corner of Vancouver. Shots of faces, buildings, landscapes, vehicles and graffiti, stitched together like a memorial quilt, mapping a story, telling a city.


The biggest thrill of navigating these works occurs when, cursor hovered, you remember: these projects began before digitization was even conceived. You’re happening upon a journey that started outside of you. When someone took a picture of a friend, or a sunset, or a totem pole with no concept of you in mind.