Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Governor-General's Award for Visual and Media Art

Unlike the Governor-General's Literary Awards, the relatively-recent Governor-General's Award in Visual and Media Art is focused not on a single work (like a book published in the year the award is given), but a body of work. This is as it should be, I think.

It took a while for the Governor-General's Award in Visual and Media Art to establish itself. At first the award seemed to be given willy-nilly; now it is generally given to those later in life.

As for the nominating process, anyone can submit as long as the artist agrees to it (in many cases the nomination is initiated by the artist). I assume that some of this country's better-known artists have not received the award because they have not consented to their nomination (Janet Cardiff, Stan Douglas, Rodney Graham, Jeff Wall, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun...).

What is notable about the award is that it honours "Curators", "Critics" and "Contributors" as well as artists. This week, a Vancouver-based "Contributor" received the award -- the grunt gallery's Glenn Alteen.

In her nomination, artist Lorna Brown wrote:

"Glenn Alteen has spent his career building a community through the consistent, respectful and ethical inclusion of artists, curators and cultural workers from diverse backgrounds. He has insisted on establishing – in grunt gallery – an artist-run centre that is more about artists than objects.” 

Long before the participatory art revivals of the late-1990s (relational and social practices), the grunt was stressing networks over exhibitions, a tendency that continues to this day with relatively-recent artist-run centres like 221A, who have taken the current federal Liberal government's emphasis on "infrastructure" to the nth.

Something I would like to correct in the Georgia Straight's announcement of local award winners (which includes Sandra Semchuk): that the Mainstreeters documentary Glenn produced was not "created" by Mainstreeter exhibition curators Allison Collins and myself, but by Allison, myself and Krista Lomax.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Cat on a Cold Tile Roof

Back in Vancouver after two weeks of reading and writing, reading and writing.

Stroke, stroke, stroke...

Thesis project is more or less done. On March 1st I will submit it to my committee.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Sunday Morning Snowstorm

A foot of snow between midnight and 3am.

We cut our way to Judith's sumac.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Tom Burrows

Douglas & McIntyre has produced a number of artist monographs over the years. I was fortunate to contribute to one of them: Fred Herzog: Vancouver Photographs (2007).

But a lot has changed since the publication of Fred's book. That same year, the majority of D&M's stock was sold to ex-banker and venture capitalist Mark Scott, whose attempt to "rebrand" the company as both a traditional commissioning agent and a consumer-driven book broker (Bookriff) collapsed, leaving a number of authors in the lurch. While Harbour Publishing picked up the proverbial pieces, doing its best to compensate out-of-pocket authors and suppliers, UK-based Black Dog Publishing emerged as the go-to institutional partner for exhibition monographs on B.C.-based artists Myfanwy MacLeod, Jerry Pethick and Ian Wallace, to name a few.

As Black Dog roared along, publishing monographs of uneven quality with the VAG, the Belkin and the Contemporary Art Gallery, a small group of ex-D&M employees quietly formed Figure.1, a house that continues to do what D&M did so well -- building a solid list of "Art+Design" titles, but also a readership for those titles. That the company is making a go of it shows that there is always an audience for well-made books.

A forthcoming title on the Figure.1 list is Tom Burrows, to be published in conjunction with the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery in October 2018. The book contains essays by exhibition curator Scott Watson and Burrows contemporary Ian Wallace, in addition to some remarkable photographs of Burrows's 1960s home and sculptures at the Maplewood Mudflats just east of the Second Narrows Bridge and the home he made for himself at Hornby Island's Downes Point in the 1970s.

Here is Figure.1's "Book Description":

Tom Burrows, and the exhibition that preceded the book, presents work by the artist from his early career to the present. The book is a timely refocusing of attention on an artist who has made an immense contribution to the development of art in Vancouver, not only as an artist but as an educator and activist as well. Burrows first rose to prominence in the late-1960s and was included in several exhibitions at the UBC Fine Arts Library, an institution that was seminal in encouraging Vancouver’s growing and now vibrant art community. In 1975 he received a United Nations commission to document squatters communities in Europe, Africa and Asia, a work that is now in the Belkin’s collection. Burrows’ work, which demonstrates an interest in process and new materials, has encompassed a number of disciplines including sculpture, early performance art, video, painting and iconic hand-built houses on the Maplewood Mudflats and Hornby Island. Currently most well known for his innovative monochromatic cast polymer resin “paintings/sculptures” produced during the last forty-five years, the book examines the full breadth of his career with works from the Belkin’s permanent collection as the basis with other works from the artist, collectors and public institutions.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Judith Lawrence

Years ago, when I started coming regularly to Hornby Island, I was five minutes into an afternoon tea at the former Shadbolt house when I asked the host and current co-owner, Scott Watson, if there was a TV on.

"There is no TV here," said Scott, adding another row of prawns to the BBQ.

"Well, I know this might sound odd," I said, "but I keep hearing the Mr. Dressup show."

Scott rolled his eyes. "That's Judith Lawrence. She was the voice of one of its puppets."

I returned inside and waited for the voice. When I heard it I peeked over the heads of those in front of me and saw that it was coming from a woman seated in the corner of the living room. Although it was unmistakably the voice of Casey, the woman looked more like Gertrude Stein than any freckle-faced papier-mâché puppet.

On Monday, while en route to he beach, I saw Judith poking at something in her garden. We chatted, and at the end of our conversation she asked if I was coming to hear author-spelunker Dale Chase speak at this Thursday's "Literary Lunch" at the New Horizons Society. I told her I had not planned on it, but now that she mentioned it...

After soup and sandwiches, Judith, who programs the series, started into her welcome. As she was nearing the end, Nym, who was seated beside me, waved to Judith, who, like Scott all those years ago, rolled her eyes and motioned for Nym to join her at the podium. In Nym's hand was a newspaper clipping from the February 13th Globe and Mail, which she read to us:

Mr. Dressup premieres
Feb. 13, 1967: When Mr. Dressup launched in 1967, it established a new template for imaginative children's daytime programming. Ernie Coombs had already worked on series such as Butternut Square and MisteRogers (a precursor to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, with Fred Rogers himself), but Mr. Dressup was Coombs's creation and he put heart and soul into the character. Lovingly simple in tone and execution, Mr. Dressup took viewers into a world of magical stories and non-threatening playtime with puppets Finnegan, a dog, and Casey – an ahead-of-their-time gender-neutral kid – who lived in his backyard treehouse. A dive into the Tickle Trunk, a big red steamer trunk packed with costumes, would inspire new games on screen and in the living rooms of children enthralled by Coombs's spell. The show's bouncy opening refrain is familiar to generations of Canadians – the series lasted for an astounding 29 seasons. It went off the air in 2006, 10 years after the last episode had been made and five years after Coombs's death. When CBC closed its Toronto museum in 2017, Mr. Dressup's easel and treehouse went into storage. Puppets Casey and Finnegan, however, are enjoying retirement in Hornby Island, B.C., with their creator Judith Lawrence.

After Nym's reading, Judith, who was only mildly flustered by our applause (and who, I was later told, improvised Casey's speaking parts), segued easily into her introduction of Dale, whom she first met in 1973 when he was "up a tree -- trimming branches."

As for Dale's talk, we were charmed by his stories and awed by his pictures, which his friend Sonya made available to us on an adjacent monitor. A highlight of the talk came when Dale told a story that had him "deep in a cave, straddling what is known in geological circles as an 'insistent dike,'" at which point a woman seated on the other side of Nym (one of the founders of Vancouver's Press Gang feminist printing collective) quipped: "There's more than a few of those in this room."

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Two American Directors

In 1992 David Mamet gave us Oleanna the play and in 1994 Oleanna the feature film. Shortly before the release of the film, Hallmark Entertainment gave us its two minute, non-concluding trailer version (with inter-titles and voice-over), which I saw in a theatre while waiting to see Robert Altman's Short Cuts (1993).