Katherine Knight’s documentary KOOP opens Reel Artists Film Festival

York visual arts Professor Katherine Knight’s film about influential Winnipeg artist Wanda Koop in some ways mirrors the style of Koop’s paintings: precise, full of colour, playing with the idea of glancing and observation, and entering into a world where the real and the abstract co-exist.

The world premiere of Knight’s 52-minute documentary KOOP: The Art of Wanda Koop will open the 8th annual Reel Artists Film Festival February 23 at Koerner Hall in The Royal Conservatory’s TELUS Centre for Performance & Learning, Toronto. A Q&A with Knight, Koop, and critic and urban planner Jane Perdue will follow the screening. KOOP will show again in Calgary on March 24.

Knight’s film looks at Koop as she prepares massive new works depicting archetypal cities and familiar, yet disquieting, landscapes for two 25-year retrospectives: one at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and another – Wanda Koop: On the Edge of Experience – on view at the National Art Gallery in Ottawa until May 15. She is an artist who questions how and what people see or notice, and in turn, shows through her art what people missed with their first glance, and what remains out of sight.

Filming for KOOP began last June as Knight, an award-winning photographer known for evocative landscapes with a strong narrative atmosphere, embarked with Koop and cinematographer and York alumna Marcia Connolly (MFA ’10) upon a week-long trip on a freighter along the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City to Port Cartier.  Travel has often provided inspiration for Koop. This voyage along one of Canada’s most significant waterways not only provided a shared experience for the artist and the filmmakers – it also allows viewers  to share in some of the raw visual materials Koop uses to create her art.

“I was making a documentary about an artist who didn’t want to be filmed painting,” said Knight (right). So instead, she filmed Koop as she gathered inspiration. “It was about putting the audience into the framework in which  the artist works, so they can actually travel along with the artist.”

The examination of the visual continues as the film looks at the science of vision, colour and perception. It places the audience in the York Centre for Vision Research, where Koop has her vision tested in the 3D Vision Research lab. There, York senior research scientist Olivera Karanovic and Laurie Wilcox, graduate program director in the Department of Psychology,  take a look at how the artist sees – she apparently has great 3D vision.


Artist Wanda Koop has her vision checked in the York Vision Research lab in the opening scene of the film Koop

The artist’s studio as a factory of the imagination also plays a role in the work created, and the film explores this, taking the audience into Koop’s newly renovated factory where she makes, archives and markets her artwork. There, hundreds of paintings, thousands of sketches and tables full of the painter’s tools contribute to the visual and physical space.

“I’m really interested in making documentaries about artists that get inside the creative process,” says Knight, a longtime friend of Koop and fan of her art. Koop has won several national and international awards for her artistic achievements and was invested as a member of the Order of Canada in 2006. In 1998, she founded Art City, a storefront art centre in Winnipeg whose goal is to bring together contemporary visual artists and inner-city youth to explore the creative process.

The project editor for Knight’s KOOP was York film alumnus Jared Raab (BFA ’07), who was declared one of the People to watch 2011 by the Toronto Star.  The score for Koop is by Montreal-based composer Sam Shalabi, who also worked on Knight’s 2009 documentary Pretend Not to See Me: The Art of Colette Urban, which was awarded special mention at the Ecofilm Festival in Rhodos, Greece, in June 2010. Pretend Not to See Me will screen March 17 at the  The Female Eye Film Festival 2011  at the Rainbow Cinemas, Market Square in Toronto.


Wanda Koop on the St. Lawrence freighter

KOOP was produced by Site Media Inc. , a production company Knight co-founded with David Craig in 2006 to pursue her passion to make documentaries and short films. The company’s film, Annie Pootoogook, was commissioned by Bravo Canada and Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.

Knight has exhibited her photographs extensively in solo and group shows across Canada and in the US. Her works are found in many public and corporate collections, including the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, Banff Centre and Canada Council Art Bank. She was awarded the Canada Council’s Duke and Duchess of York Prize in Photography in 2000.