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David Askevold: Tributes and Two Hanks

David Askevold It's No Use Crying 1972 Video still

The Canadian art community suffered a great loss this January with the passing of Nova Scotia–based artist and teacher David Askevold. In the early 1970s, Askevold became a pioneer of conceptual video and photo art with a unique approach that collapsed formal narrative structures in favour of free-flowing image constructions unfolding in a synergy of visual motifs.

This pursuit of unexpected connections between image and meaning lent Askevold’s work a mystical, and at times overtly paranormal, quality. Take for instance his Muse Extracts, a photo-text installation of ghost-like self-portraits that was featured at Documenta in 1977, The Poltergeist, a collaborative photo project with Mike Kelley in 1979, or, more recently, Askevold’s performance Two Hanks, which summoned the disparate spirits of country music stars Hank Williams and Hank Snow. Other photo-text works—from the map-based Cultural Geographies series to his final set of digital “paintings” produced in 2007—are equally informed by complex ideas and visual structures that never lose a sense of playfulness.


Askevold was also a highly influential teacher at schools in Canada and the United States. In 1975, he was the popular choice to replace Bas Jan Ader (who had gone missing at sea) at the University of California and he was also a key figure in the 1970s post-minimal heyday at CalArts. As an instructor at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Askevold developed and led the legendary Projects Class that is still widely regarded as a radical innovation in contemporary art instruction.

Memorial exhibitions are in the works, and this Sunday sees the launch of the DVD David Askevold: A Retrospective. Organized by Halifax’s Centre for Art Tapes, the launch begins with a screening at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and continues with a reception at the centre. (1723 Hollis St, Halifax NS)

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