Lost Art: A Cargo Cult Romance

Vera Frenkel

1986, 28:00 minutes, colour, English


In Lost Art: A Cargo Cult Romance, Vera Frenkel addresses the question of value and meaning-making in relation to artworks and other cultural objects. Stemming from this phenomenon, questions of power, consumerism, and other (neoliberal) “millennial fantasies” are explored through a wide-ranging narrative which incorporates elements of the documentary style.

Lost Art tells the story of a 1977 painting created at the first International Seminar of Rendering in Banff, Alberta. The work in question is a rendering of a winged prison toilet composed by four individuals (Jean Duryea, Wanda Nowotko, Doug Haynes, and Doug Morton) which subsequently vanished.

Of the work, Frenkel has written: "While I didn’t set out deliberately to make a work about the forces of projection and introjection and how these make us vulnerable to tyrants and false gods, I find in the cargo cult a bonding metaphor for a range of concerns that have surfaced in various ways in my recent work, and a touchstone for considering other, more sinister forms of millennial ideology. Beginning from a gentle joke on expertise,
Lost Art moves through these questions and suggests that wherever fear and fantasy erode the evidence of the series with wishful thinking, people give to art (or to religion or to politics) more temporal power than it has, and abandon themselves. The worship of specialists has strange consequences. I think the camp-following mechanisms that result in this abandon, or loss of self, can be traced. By revelation of the familiar, shifts of meaning and, therefore, of mind-set can occur. All else is spectacle."

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Critical Writing

Video mixed with performance used to explore nature of myths
by Randi Spires. The Toronto Star, Sept. 8, 1989.
Grierson '86
by Magnus Isacsson. Cinema Canada, Jan. 1987, no. 137.
Vera Frenkel: Lost Art: A Cargo Cult Romance
by Vera Frenkel. Luminous Sites, 1986.
Lost Art: A Cargo Cult Romance
by Vera Frenkel. Video Guide, 1986, v. 8, no. 37/2.
Lost Art: A Cargo Cult Romance: Installation by Vera Frenkel
by Jill Pollack. Video Guide, Sept. 1986, v. 8, no. 38.