Bright Lights Dark City: Niagara Custom Lab and Toronto Experimental Film

Michael Barker, John Price, Kelly Egan, Elisa Julia Gilmour, Izabella Pruska-Oldenhof, R. Bruce Elder, John Porter, Sylvain Chaussée, Carl Brown

The story of Niagara Custom Lab dates to some time in the mid-90s, when the filmmaker Sebastjan Henrickson opened a film lab for artists on Niagara Street in Toronto. Niagara would process celluloid in ways no other lab would, treating it like the most versatile of artists’ mediums: a canvas coated in chemistry.

Over the years this eccentric enterprise became a hub of the city’s experimental film scene, part of the network of artist-friendly establishments that helped make Toronto one of the world’s premier places for creating and engaging with avant-garde cinema. It has handled work for nearly every local filmmaker, hosted screenings and workshops, sheltered visiting filmmakers, and moved twice to dodge rising downtown rents. In the wake of mainstream cinema’s transition to digital technologies, it is also one of the last labs in the world serving artists perpetually fascinated by the peculiarities of film: its luminosity, its plasticity, the beauty of the projected image.

Bright Lights Dark City: Niagara Custom Lab and Toronto Experimental Film explores the anarchic spaces of the lab and the remarkable local culture it encourages, embodies, and sustains. The exhibition brings together nine artists, both emerging and established, whose documentary and conceptual work showcases the significance of the lab to diverse projects and practices.

Lead Sponsors: Ontario Arts Council and Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts

In-Kind Sponsor: Gladstone Hotel

The curator gratefully acknowledges the support of the following individuals and corporations: Sara and Michael Angel, Bradley and Joanne Brodkin of HighVail Systems Inc., Bulmash Accounting, Martha Butterfield, and McLean Clinic.

Curated by Kate Addleman-Frankel