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Downtown Vancouver video project highlights labour history

By Elecia Chrunik

The end result was choppy, disjointed and, at times, hard to know what you were looking at, but that made it all the more of an accurate representation. It was the "Streams of History" collaboration that took place on Saturday between activists and artists determined to unite pieces of the labour union's past with the present.

Six teams of two people streamed live video to an audience at Gallery Gachet on East Cordova, capturing current situations at historic sites of significant labour union movements. Videographers captured footage of demolished buildings, graffiti and local residents along a route that hit 12 historic labour movement sites.

The stops included The Regent Hotel where the fishing industry unions once had their office and the Chinese Benevolent Association Building where Chinese workers organized against discrimination in the early twentieth century.

The feed was mixed on the spot and immediately projected on a large screen to as varied a crowd as you come to expect in downtown Vancouver.

The project highlights that as much as things have changed in the area, things have stayed the same. "It's interesting," said April Smith, a coordinator for the project, "that one hundred years ago we had similar problems with drug addiction, labour rights and poverty."

All of the project objectives involve expanding the pool of skills and knowledge so that, as a society, we can move forward with solutions, explained Stephen Hill, creator and organizer of the event. "If we lose that collective memory, things stay socio-economically stable in an unstable sort of way."

"It's also about being able to connect downtown artists with the newest technology" and "sharing that knowledge on a peer-to-peer system," Hill said. The more experienced videographers shared their expertise with the less seasoned so that "it reaches more people in new ways." While the wireless technology, low quality video recording and simulcasting are still "fragile," it's all "part of the learning process," Hill said.

The collaboration involved Fearless City and W2, two groups involved with creating new media opportunities for residents of the DTES. They aim to broaden the community of local artists by supporting them with technology.

For the live show, VJs Brady Marks and Electrabelle edited the incoming video feeds, while Irwin Oostinde of W2 used networking tools like twitter and facebook to involve a larger audience.

The video tour was taken from a booklet produced in 2002 by the Pacific Northwest Labour History Association, "Labour, Work and Working People." One objective of the project is to build an interactive map of the route that video, commentary and photos can be constantly added to.

The group plans to follow up with a joint project with a Montreal team in March.

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