Ellen Cantor

Through a multimedia art practice that encompassed drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, video, and film, as well as through her work as a curator and writer, Ellen Cantor (1961-2013) advanced bold new feminist representations of sexuality and female disempowerment and empowerment.

Her work follows from a preceding generation of women who made challenging, often sexually explicit work, many of whom, such as Carolee Schneemann and Hannah Wilke, she included in the landmark 1993 exhibition she curated at David Zwirner Gallery in New York, Coming to Power: 25 Years of Sexually X-Plicit Art by Women. Of the exhibition, Cantor stated, "Sexual imagery created by and for women has a recent but powerful history. This exhibition intends to challenge the concepts of female sexual identity that have been constructed by our society, and to investigate how this identity might be formed anew." Cantor would continue to challenge conceptions of female sexuality and offer intimate, daring new models of sexual identity throughout her work, at times prompting controversy and censorship.

Cantor turned to video in the mid-1990s, as an extension of her drawing practice. As she came to recognize, her drawings often resembled storyboards, full of what she called "private" or "secret" "diary stories." Like these drawings, her videos also bring the "private" or "secret" into public spaces, such as that of the art gallery or cinema.

In her very first video works, Cantor already displays the masterful facility in selecting and re-editing appropriated footage for which she would become known. Cantor repurposes media images, from Disney and The Sound of Music to Antonioni and Cassavetes films, porn, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with wit and a critical eye, without ever mocking her source material or maintaining an ironic detachment from it. Cantor creates autobiography from these ingeniously edited mashups, which abound with startlingly intimate, diaristic scenes and stories, often through voiceover narration written and recorded by Cantor herself. At other times, Cantor herself appears, in the form of direct address to the camera in a confessional video diary, or in a self-made sex tape.

"Mine are 'true' love stories," Cantor once wrote. Through her self-conscious use of consumer video, in the form of VHS home video releases of major motion pictures or a sex tape or video diary shot on consumer-grade home movie technology such as Hi8 or MiniDV, Cantor both calls attention to the constructed fantasies on screen and heightens the illusion of reality. Integrating Hollywood fairy tale castles, horror movie "final girls," homemade sex tapes, and video diaries into her own "'true' love stories," Cantor troubles boundaries between fiction and life, public and private.

Cantor spent the last five years of her life shooting and editing a feature film, Pinochet Porn (2008-2016), which was completed posthumously by her collaborators—members of her cast and crew—who followed the extensive notes and storyboards she left for its completion. Pinochet Porn brilliantly extends the project of her previous moving image work, crisscrossing lines between fact and fiction, cinematic spectacle and true confession, through a dizzying array of stories.

Ellen Cantor was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1961. She received a Bachelor of Arts from Brandeis University in 1983 and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 1991. Her work has been exhibited internationally, with exhibitions and screenings at Cabinet, London; CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art, San Francisco; Feigen Gallery, Chicago; Institute of Contemporary Art, London; Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna; MoMA PS1, New York; Participant Inc, New York; Postmasters, New York; Serpentine Gallery, London; Transmission Gallery, Glasgow, and White Columns, New York, among many other venues.

In 2016, Cantor was honored with a series of concurrent exhibitions, public programs and screenings in New York, which included exhibitions at 80WSE Gallery, Foxy Production, Maccarone, and Participant Inc, a series of public programs hosted by Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, a screening of her video works presented by Electronic Arts Intermix, and the world premiere of her film Pinochet Porn at The Museum of Modern Art.

Cantor lived and worked in London and New York City until her death in 2013.