Isabelle Pauwels

It's like another planet put together in a very simple, easy to understand language.

Videos, texts, info about art works by Isabelle Pauwels.

Videos, radio play, multimedia stuff. For the videos that have installation components, see the INSTALLS page for more documentation.

It’s pretty wild to see (and hear) the massive difference in budget from 2007 through to 2018. I started from the premise that if I could turn on a video camera and google my way through Final Cut, then I could make a piece. Well— I had to start that way because I was a horrible grant writer. I also told myself that nobody knows anything, so why wouldn’t I script, shoot, edit a video by myself— even though I have never taken a video course, a photo course, or a script writing course? I was right, and I was wrong— and I just did it anyway. Of course it really helped that I could access free cameras and an editing station at school… These days I use Premiere mostly, though I am kinda resenting the monthly cost and sorta flirting with Resolve (but the free version doesn’t let you export to 4k, does it?) I still write the script and edit the video myself, and I design the set and make the props. Editing, especially, is the most creative part of the video-making process for me, and if I delegated that to someone else, it wouldn’t be my work anymore. But I sure do love it when pros are running camera, lighting the set, and recording and mixing sound (thank you EMPAC!)

If It Bleeds (2018)

Inspired by recent events in the world of Mixed Martial Arts, If It Bleeds can't— or won't— tell the difference between real fighting and fake fighting.  Good actor or bad liar?  Showman or sportsman? Bleeding, sweating, flopping, maybe crying, denying and/or testifying, winning or learning, faking, praying—give me some bluff with that— it’s just another body ripening in the spotlight, sustained by the fiction that everything happens ‘for a reason.’ Perfect? No. Undefeated? Yes!

Below are 6 short clips from the video. In Fall/Winter 2019 I’ll post the entire thing.

Video commissioned by EMPAC/Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY. Additional funding by the Canada Council for the Arts and the British Columbia Arts Council.


,000, (2d version, 2016)

Whatever I’m feeling… I want to feel something else.

,000, is a video about false fronts, paint jobs, happy endings, commerce, rot, and customer service. Or, more briefly: pictures, popcorn, and kernels of truth. The narrative follows two entwined characters: the once prominent city of New Westminster, B.C., and a disillusioned Actress Slash Dominatrix, as they struggle for legitimacy.

I could say the story explores the psychological impact of commercial relations (are there any other?) between people. But I don’t like explanations, especially my own.  Maybe the story is just tease and denial. Tease: you can’t be the same at the end as you were at the beginning. Because that’s the rule. Though I can’t say I’ve ever transformed myself. Maybe I lack faith? Sometimes I think ,000, is about the failure of narrative to deliver us from life. Or about how incredible communication is, and how you shouldn’t trust it. Like that time in preschool when I looked in awe upon the mouths of two girls making the sounds of English – stunning view.

The script is a blend of 50 % original content (written by me)  and 50 % unoriginal content ( direct quotes, misquotes and paraphrasing). If you don’t like the words, stay for the music by Paul Kajander!

This video was produced in residence at EMPAC/Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY.

P.S.-- this 2d version is adapted from the original multimedia iteration of ,000, which was commissioned by EMPAC-RPI in 2014. This 2016 version is designed as a single channel video— it is NOT documentation of the multimedia event.


,000, radio edit (2015)

Music by Paul Kajander. Audio mixing by Todd Vos, EMPAC. Produced in residence at EMPAC-RPI.

Full credits.


,000, (multimedia performance, 2014— excerpt)

This is documentation of the multimedia performance of ,000, at EMPAC-RPI in October 2014 (6 minute excerpt). It’s much easier to see the set in the photo documentation on the INSTALLS page.

Multimedia performance means: 27 audio channels, 9 video channels, sculpture, lighting, and a live audience. All the elements (sound, video, light) are pre-recorded and played back to the live audience.

This is by far the most high-tech piece I’ve done, but the original inspiration was very low tech. I spent an early Fall afternoon wandering through the public gardens in Halifax, drifting from statue to fountain to rose garden to people watching… Spaced out on a bench, eyes closed— or up close on a rose— either way, I was still totally in the gardens. I ended up writing a narrative about attraction/distraction, featuring a city (New Westminster BC) and actress/dominatrix and her clients, struggling for legitimacy.

Warning: this video documentation totally fails to convey the immersive experience of standing, sitting, or walking around that room as the audio moved through the space! In the video, it's kinda hard to tell what you're looking at, or even where the sound is coming from. The soundtrack is a stereo file that I re-purposed from the radio edit. It doesn’t feel like being in that room at all. You really had to be there! What the video does show is that events happen in different parts of the room, and that the audience is 'onstage' and can move around to follow the story.

The performance was commissioned by EMPAC/Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, Additional funding by the BC Arts Council. The documentation was shot by the crew at EMPAC. Click here for full credits (for the performance, not for the documentation of it).



You're not supposed to be credible. You just have to be in disguise.

Shot on location at the Western Front Artist Run Centre, Vancouver, in Fall 2011, LIKE...  is a riff on legendary performances and personas created there in the 70’s and 80’s by former residents Glenn Lewis, Eric Metcalfe, and Hank Bull. The Western Front "lifestyle" meets that of another gossip-obsessed crew: an imaginary teenage girls club created by my twin sister and I during our socially unsuccessful childhoods.

To me, these real and imagined clubhouse productions ( from the Western Front and from the girls’ club) are an attempt at exorcising mass communication and corporate culture. But, audiences, artists and social outcasts can't escape their formative experiences with TV and pop culture. Would we even want to?  Maybe acts of resistance are simultaneously acts of surrender: the more you study something in order to overcome it, the more you are stealthily preparing yourself to let it in... How closely can you imitate something, while still disobeying it? Do you imitate in order to be like— or unlike— the thing you're imitating?

LIKE... isn't a critique. But it's not a homage either! I think the "content" really sits in the editing. I'm obviously fabricating, I'm using editing as a form of improvisation. The source material is secondary to my rephrasing of it.


W.E.S.T.E.R.N. (2010)

A white woman discusses the aesthetics of waxing coffee roots, and ponders the significance of a stamp on the ass of a negro statuette. But this is not a documentary about colonialism. It's a portrait of my mother, whose life has been structured by interruption, repetition and transition.

The video combines camcorder footage I shot in my parents' living room in Richmond B.C., and 8mm home movies my grandfather shot in the Belgian Congo where he worked as an agronomist in the 1950's. Matter-of-fact, pseudo-bureaucratic intertitles pretend to organize the footage. But the editing style makes it impossible for you to hang on to a line of thought for very long. Do you even know what you’re looking at? There’s no soothing British (or Belgian) Narrator helping you out.

W.E.S.T.E.R.N. was designed as a gallery installation. Photos on the INSTALLS page.


June 30 (2009)

But the wheels come off.

The patriarch flees the country on Independence Day. What’s he running from?  Typecasting? The extras?  He breaks down on the flats and fades into a hedge in the suburbs... where we start over.

Like W.E.S.T.E.R.N. (posted above ), June combines camcorder footage I shot in my parents' living room in Richmond B.C., and 8 mm home movies my grandfather shot in the Belgian Congo where he worked as an agronomist in the 1950's. June 30 is a very minimal gallery installation: projector and speakers placed onto a media cart, image projected about 7 feet wide directly onto the wall.  It's the only true loop I've ever made (i.e., the end is the beginning).

Note: there is sound in this video, but it doesn't kick in right away.


B&E (2009)

We must sell as fast as possible.

Take 1: my grandparents' home in rural Belgium. The main actors have died and a crew of bumbling stagehands has taken over the premises. My hand is unsteady. My Flemish is terrible. I haven’t set foot in this house in 17 years! While the surroundings are very familiar, the objects refuse to surrender their stories to me. Family members, the dispersing objects, the fixtures, the rooms, some childhood memories-- where exactly is the story?

Take 2: The adults are ready. “We must sell as fast as possible!” They sort, they select, they make lists. This will fit. That will not. On the hard drive, everything is equal-- equally forgotten. Until I find it again. I’m slicing I’m dicing I’m interrupting CUT. The estate is under new direction. 

Along with the similarly titled B—-E video posted below, this is the closest I’ve ever come to making a documentary. You can even hear my fingers touching the camera casing. It’s rough!


B-----+----+----+-----E (2008)

You'll know it when you see it.

Shot in glorious Standard Def during off-hours in the Fox Theatre, at the time Vancouver's last remaining porn house. This video re-presents classic porn as structuralist film: a task-based approach to performance ( i.e. a lot of in and out), and an emphasis on physical sensation and phenomenological events over dramatic development. The projector breaks, the building breaks the back door, and the alley leaks into the theater.

The video's title, which stands for Beginning and End of tape, refers to the graphic that comes up on screen when Fox staff rewind a tape.  In the original gallery installation at Presentation House, (see the INSTALLS page) viewers accessed the screening space through a crash door similar to the rear exit doors of the Fox cinema. As the Fox had much of their stock on VHS, Itransferred the edited video to video cassette. At the end of the video, gallery viewers were treated to the sights and sound of VHS rewind.


The Embellishers (2007)

Hey. Can I borrow your lighter?

From the safety of my sister’s apartment high above Hastings Street in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, we re-enact a series of confrontations with our neighbours over spare change, lighters, crack, stalking, and eviction. Our delivery seems improvised at times --until the scenes repeat.

Looming outside the windows: the future, aka the W2 development, all planned out! Currently home to condo dwellers and an institution of higher learning. Throw a rock and you’d probably hit a talent agency!

 In the original gallery installation at the Belkin in Vancouver, the video played on a bulky TV monitor placed in a make-shift room. The walls were painted landlord beige.


Triple Bill (2007)

Triple Bill presents my impressions of the architecture, movies, and clientele of Vancouver’s XXX theatres. Features a surreptitiously recorded conversation with a member of the ‘raincoat brigade’ at the Venus. He wasn’t wearing a raincoat.

DISCLAIMER: You won’t SEE any porn. You will only HEAR it. The title references the 3 movies screening daily at the Venus and Fox. Both of those theatres are gone now: the Venus got bulldozed and turned into a condo. The Fox still stands, but now it’s some kind of private club.