Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On Monday I spent much of the morning at the Western Front, looking through the video archive. I carried with me a list of what I knew to be there, but also the excitement of what I might find.

The archive, which dates back to 1974, is laid out in alphabetical order, beginning with a 1977 reading by Kathy Acker, a piece from her yet to be published The Adult Life of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec by Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1978). The Acker reading was on my list, as was a 1983 performance of Rose English’s Plato’s Chair, as well as two events which I happened to be at: William S. Burrough’s 1988 Ridge Theatre reading and a 1994 Tsunami Editions fundraiser, featuring writers associated with the Kootenay School of Writing.

Not on my list was a 15 minute Dufour/Morin video entitled Postcards from Victoria (1983), the “story” of an older English-born woman who works as a tour guide at a recreation Anne Hathaway cottage, somewhere in Victoria, BC. Because I had not heard of the work, I watched it the following day, and as ever was amazed at how these two artists are able to generate so much with so little.

Postcards opens with the tour guide, dressed as Hathaway, moving through the garden outside “her” cottage. CUT TO: the woman being interviewed for the job by a more-English-than-thou Victoria-born woman in her seventies. The woman asks the interviewee (who is seen throughout the video looking at postcards) if she has had high tea at the Empress Hotel, and the interviewee says she has not. CUT TO: “Anne” giving a tour of the cottage, where she admits to a disappointed tourist that the cottage is a recreation. CUT TO: “Anne” (out of costume) at the Empress, having high tea by herself, eventually asking for a “doggy bag”. During her walk home we watch as she moves past wealthy houses, eventually poorer ones. The video ends with her nibbling on a piece of cake from her doggy bag while the television news tells us of upcoming government cutbacks and how they will effect the life of John Ferris, a government employee.

Although I watched a great deal of video yesterday, Postcards stayed with me the hardest. As I mentioned, I was at both the Burroughs and Tsunami readings, but I was also a student at the University of Victoria when Postcards was shot. Much of what I saw rang true, both in detail and sensation.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rain. Then a bit of sun, and everything looking like it just stepped out of the bath.

More rain, “belts of rain,” the weatherman says, followed by no rain, no sun, only grey scale, which, along with green and blue, are said to best describe our region. The Vancouver Olympic Committee chose purple over grey (to go with green and blue) when representing our city, purple standing in for what we have made of it, I guess.

Sun! Everything’s up again – the quince, the rhododendron, the lawn! I pull on my clothes, all set for a walk, but as I’m buttoning my shirt the hallway darkens, then a rumble in the sky. Too late to take off my clothes, I go to the window and wait.

(Which is impossible, waiting; there is always something else to do.)

On my mind, the latest in the ongoing conversation that is book publishing. I’m glad people are talking about it. I only wish they spoke of books with the same urgency they speak of the industries that acquire, distribute and sell them.

Or maybe I’m looking at it the wrong way. I’ve always believed that the writing, editing, printing, selling and reading of books is not five stages but five-fifths. What if we looked at publishers as books, read them as books; the books they publish as characters, their authors of the same blood type as the editors they work with? What if we looked at publishers that way, and thought sideways from there, not unlike the content of Nikki Reimer’s March 29 Lemon Hound post? It’s a start, yet another way of looking at…

Sun!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

After a long afternoon in the garden -- weeding, planting, a little edge maintenance – I whipped up a sandwich, cracked a beer and plonked myself down on the couch.

Turned on the TV, and there, like an old friend, was Hockey Night in Canada. Jersey at Montreal.

The senescent Bob Cole was calling the game, getting things wrong, as usual, but still capable of Twitter-perfect poetry. My favorite line: “He was bumped, the Devil’s Gill.”

Friday, March 26, 2010

Errands yesterday. Little things. I took my time at the big box office supply store, marveling at the stuff I no longer need.

Prismacolor has produced an attractive box of turquoise sketching pencils, twelve in all -- 4B, 3B, 2B, B, HB, F, H, 2H, 3H, 4H, 5H and 6H. At my elementary we were issued the F pencil, which came in red, VANCOUVER SCHOOL BOARD debossed in silver and an F at the eraser-less end.

Tonight I am going to sharpen all twelve, lay down a sheet of paper, close my eyes and makes circles. I am not interested in what the drawings look like but how the pencils feel in my hand. My hope is that the F will take me back to Miss Longhurst’s Grade Three class so that I might catch a whiff of her intoxicating perfume.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Word has spread that the future of the Ridge Theatre at Arbutus and 16th is once again in doubt.

Last time the Ridge was in trouble came with the passing of owner Ray Mainland, who died in a car accident on the Burrard Street Bridge in the 1990s. Mainland was on the verge of selling the now 60-year-old theatre to Festival Cinema’s Leonard Schein, a sale that stalled for a number of years until Schein and Mainland’s ex-wife Marilyn came to an agreement.

In an article published in today’s Globe and Mail, Schein complains that the theatre will not survive its next rent increase. “Unless our landlord reduces our rent greatly, we will not be able to renew.” CUT TO: landlord Sondra Green of Sonjan Enterprises, who said, “I feel, from our conversation, that he [Schein] just feels that a single theatre doesn’t work any longer. They can’t compete with multiplexes.”

What is interesting about the article is that it gives the impression of two stories – Schein’s version, which has a rent increase as the villain, versus Green’s, where the multiplex is the enemy.

Green’s approach tells me she has had some media training. To suggest that a rent increase and a Borg-like multiplex are unrelated is simply not true. Green is too careful a landlord to allow the public to think that the Ridge folded because of a rent increase, something Cathy Legate of Duthie Books downplayed a couple months earlier when she blamed her store’s demise not on a 30% rent increase but that more ethereal form of multiplex, the Internet.

Vancouver International Film Festival director Alan Franey, who managed the Ridge from 1979-1986, was also quoted in the article, noting the theatre’s relationship to the neighbourhood around it – the same neighbourhood that once complained of theatre patrons taking all the parking spots or waking them up after midnight screenings. Franey said, “Movie theatres outside city centres or Silver City have a real convivial feel – you meet people you know there; you meet your neighbours,” adding that “[i]n this fragmented world where we often don’t know who lives three doors down from us, we can’t afford to lose all these opportunies for community building.” I felt the same way when Duthie’s closed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The song in my head yesterday was not Rhinocerous's "I Will Serenade You" (1969), but Three Dog Night's 1973 version, "Let Me Serenade You", a song that acts as a chamois over life's chalk brush haze.

LET ME SERENADE YOU
(John Finley)

I will serenade you, all along the way
I will serenade you, anyway you say
Take you to the country, I'll take you to the shore
Show you to my garden, I know you'll make it grow.

If you let me serenade you
You know that's what you come for,
So that I will serenade you

I wake you in the morning, I'm your sunrise high.
Your fire in the evening, when it blows outside.

If you let me serenade you
You know that's what you come for,
So that I will serenade you

And when the walls begin to fall
Can't hold back the joy
That love will conquer all.

Every moment, every day,
If you want to hold me, I will stay
Let me serenade you, I will serenade you
If you want to hold me, I will stay

Monday, March 22, 2010

While Robert Linsley’s "Failed Regionalism" continues to generate groans from the local arts community, a recent event at the home of Lindsay Brown has had a more positive effect.

Hosted by The Or Gallery, the Brown salon featured gallery staff, board members, artists, curators, arts administrators and developers gathered together to discuss artist residencies in relation to future Or programming.

Most impressive about this evening was the range of contributors, not just those from what we have come to know as the “arts community”, but the presence of developers and landlords, those with the means to house visiting artists, as well as include them in schemes of their own.

Although artists have figured prominently in the gentrification process, I left the meeting hopeful that developers and landlords have come to see artists less as a temporary measure than as something more foundational, a keystone in the built environment, a collaborator as opposed to a condom.

Thanks to Lindsay Brown for opening her home to such an extraordinary meeting. Thanks also to Lorna Brown for her expert facilitation.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A small room above a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

This afternoon I changed the sheets. They had been on the line since daybreak, drying in the morning sun. As I took them down I could smell the neighbour's daphne, and could hardly wait for bed.

Friday, March 19, 2010

From her book Tender Buttons (1914).

A FRIGHTFUL RELEASE
(Gertrude Stein)

A bag which was left and not only taken but turned away was not found. The place was shown to be very like the last time. A piece was not exchanged, not a bit of it, a piece was left over. The rest was mismanaged.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Two sea-changes since Thursday – the first to Victoria, the second to Nanaimo. My plan was to travel to Victoria for a Friday coffeehouse reading then make my way north, for a Monday event at Vancouver Island University.

I was looking forward to the time between, the sideways drive up the Malahat, poking around second-hand bookstores, stopping at South Wellington to listen to records with Peter Culley, but a chance to attend the Saturday premiere of Nixon in China presented itself, so I returned to Vancouver that afternoon. Which was just as well, because Sunday, as it turned out, was the day we were to de-install the SFU Gallery exhibition.

It is tempting to compare Victoria and Nanaimo to Los Angeles and San Francisco, though the comparison makes less sense today, seventy years removed from the amalgamations that began with the introduction of freeways. But even then, in the 1930s, I’m not so sure. Why compare? It’s like I’m the kind of person who can only make sense of the world through relative measures -- similies, equivalences, associations. (Oops, I did it again!)

Nixon in China was worth it. I have had the 1987 Elektra/Nonesuch recording 10 years now, and have listened to it a dozen times, each time finding new highs, mostly in the First and Third Acts, without a discernible low. The Vancouver production was entertaining, energetic, thoughtful and well-wrought, both in design and execution. The “propoganda play”, featuring Kissinger’s libidinous intrusion, was intense.

I enjoyed my visit to Victoria, where I took up residence at the James Bay Inn, which, until the 1950s, was a hospital just down the road from Emily Carr’s house. Carr passed away at the hospital, and because I know something of her life and work, have figured out the room in which that happened. Unfortunately the room was unavailable; but I have stayed in it twice before, each time dreaming of her monkey, Woo.

Victoria is a pretty city, a garden city. After my reading (The Black Stilt at Hillside and Shelbourne), I drove to Fernwood for what I knew would be a healthy supper. The cafĂ© I stopped at (SE corner of Fernwood and Gladstone) was gearing up for a DJ’ed evening of dance, and the room was filling with twenty-two-year-old hippie gods and goddesses. The barley soup smelled excellent, so I found a table near the washrooms and ate to the beat.

Nanaimo is a heavier city than Victoria, more industrial than arcadian, though there remains little sign of heavy industry. While Victoria is within itself, Nanaimo feels like a place people visit for what they need, and leave. Indeed, back in the 1970s, that was one of the rationalizations for a four-lane island highway -- so people from the north island could shop. The result was an endless chain of malls. But that’s outside Nanaimo proper. The city itself is small and hilly, with as many second-hand bookstores per capita as San Francisco’s Mission District.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

One of my favorite works of fiction is Thomas Bernhard's 1978 collection Die Stimmenimitator (The Voice Imitator, translated by Kenneth J. Northcott, 1997). The book is comprised of 104 short works, many of them written from Austrian newspapers. Below is one the more corrosive one-pagers.

WARNING

A businessman from Koblenz had made his life's dream come true by visiting the pyramids of Giza and was forced, after he had done visiting the pyramids, to describe his visit as the greatest disappointment of his life, which I understand, for I myself was in Egypt last year and was disappointed above all by the pyramids. However, whereas I very quickly overcame my disappointment, the Koblenz businessman took vengeance for his disappointment by placing, for months on end, full-page advertisements in all the major newspapers in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, warning all future visitors to Egypt against the pyramids and especially against the pyramids of Cheops, which had disappointed him most deeply, more than all the others. The Koblenz businessman used up his resources in a very short time by these—as he called them—anti-Egypt and anti-pyramid advertisements and plunged himself into total penury. In the nature of things, his advertisements did not have the influence upon people that he had hoped for; on the contrary, the number of visitors to Egypt this year, as opposed to last year, has doubled.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The song in my head yesterday began as a poem by Welshman Idris Davies, written after the 1926 UK General Strike. Thirty years later, Pete Seeger added music. In 1965, it appeared on The Byrds debut album, Mr. Tambourine Man. "Who made the mine owner?" is always a question worth asking.

BELLS OF RHYMNEY
(iIdris Davies)

Oh What will you give me?
Say the sad bells of Rhymney
Is there hope for the future?
Say the brown bells of Merthyr
Who made the mine owner?
Say the black bells of Rhondda
And who killed the miner?
Say the grim bells of Blaina
Put the vandals in court
Say the bells of Newport
All would be well if, if, if, if
Say the green bells of Cardiff
Why so worried sisters? Why?
Sang the silver bells of Wye
And what will you give me?
Say the sad bells of Rhymney
Oh What will you give me?
Say the sad bells of Rhymney
Is there hope for the future?
Say the brown bells of Merthyr
Who made the mine owner?
Say the black bells of Rhondda
And who killed the miner?
Say the grim bells of Blaina

Sunday, March 14, 2010

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Friday, March 12, 2010

On Wednesday I attended Robert Linsley's UBC talk. Although billed as "Failed Regionalism", Linsley made short work of this moribund topic and proceeded through the work of several Vancouver artists, less with method than with madness.

Linsley believes, as I do, that the form a work takes must be implicated in that work. Odd, then, that he should dismiss Stan Douglas' Nutka as a piece whose soundtrack is unnecessary. Last I heard, the mediums of film and video carry with them a provision for sound, something Douglas addressed through competing conquest narratives.

Of the artists today, Douglas is among the best-known for working with the guts of his medium. For Linsley to disregard that in such an offhand manner is petulance, the kind of squawk Greenberg pulled. A "limits case" my ass.

From there it gets worse. Pressed for time, Linsley asked if we would like to hear some of his "summary assessments" of the work of Vancouver's younger artists, and the worst of us said yes.

"Ron Terada, Myfawny MacLeod, Alex Morrison and Tim Lee," Linsley began -- "all are obsessive, quirky and obnoxious enough to make important art. But instead they disappoint."

As a writer, Linsley is seductive and readable -- and he often supports his arguments. The only way one might excuse the performance he pulled at UBC is if his book were available in advance, a book he claims no one wants to publish because of its "negative criticism." That it may never see the light of day plays a part in Linsley's modus operandi. How disingenuous.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A small room above a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

Nor the ceiling, which has the most exquisite crack. Above the door, like a giant bird's foot. All that opening and closing.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Three translations of a Basho haiku. The first from R. H. Blyth, the second from Lucien Stryck, the third from Peter Beilenson.

Yes, spring has come
This morning a nameless hill
Is shrouded in mist.

Spring -- through
morning mist
what mountains there?

Spring morning marvel
lovely nameless little hill
on a sea of mist

Monday, March 8, 2010

Thank you to those who attended my talk yesterday on the exhibition "to show, to give, to make it be there": Expanded Literary Practices in Vancouver, 1954 to 1969. Thanks also to the Kootenay School of Writing for hosting the event, and to W2 for supplying the venue.

As is often the case with talks, things go missing, get left unsaid, some of which were pointed out to me, such as Carole Itter’s involvement in the interior composition of the Dollarton shack she and Al Neil have inhabited the past thirty years (though I mentioned Carole’s involvement in the hand-out essay). Also, a closer look at Judith Copithorne’s drawings, the interplay of text and line, how those lines, in shadowing their word shapes (Copithorne used a calligraphy nib), enter into new forms; not as reverberation lines but, after chevrons, ovoids -- the ovoid and the geodesic being our city’s two most enduring motifs.

Also pointed out was the emphasis on DIY production (Gestetners, Roneos) and collaboration. Though I began with Malcolm Lowry’s Through the Panama (1954), and Margery Lowry’s involvement in the text (both as stenographer and editor), I could have made more of bill bissett and Martina Clinton’s partnership in the production of blewointment magazine. Indeed, a whole new exhibition could be conceived based on covivant collaborations, perhaps the best known being the work of Ian and Ingrid Baxter, who for much of the 1960s and 70s went by the name of N.E. Thing Co.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

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Friday, March 5, 2010

As angry signatories continue to circle National Gallery director Marc Mayer, critics of the Vancouver Art Gallery’s latest relocation plan have formed a circle of their own, this one based on the VAG’s second attempt to move to the former bus depot on Georgia Street, now that the False Creek site has been quashed.

So far, the Globe and Mail has run back-to-back stories.

In yesterday’s paper we read (once again) how the VAG is pressed for space, that it can only exhibit 3% of its collection. “Pure and simple, we need to expand,” said VAG pater familias Michael Audain -- to which former VAG board member Bob Rennie opined, “They should go underground. The Louvre did it.”

Audain doesn’t like the suggestion. For Audain, digging down would mean "as much as 90%" of the gallery would be below street level. Where he got that figure, I’m not sure. If it were based on the collection, versus the 320,000 square feet currently available above ground, that would add up to over a quarter-billion subterranean square feet, with the entire collection on permanent display.

Hyperboles like Audain’s are often borne from pressure. This appears to be the case, for the VAG has said repeatedly that it will stand for nothing less than a stand alone building of its own design.

According to VAG board chair David Aisenstat, the gallery has met with “some of the most famous architects in the world,” and to share the site, as city manager Penny Ballem has suggested (with “a tall building or even anything else"), is not enough. “We simply would not embark on a project of this magnitude with ordinary as our goal.” As if sharing should be equated to “ordinary”.

Today’s article had a different slant, with architect Bing Thom leading the charge. First: “The Olympics have proven that the gallery has the best site in Canada. It’s the perfect location.” Second: “There’s a whole bunch of us in town wanting to say that the business case for the move is not convincing.” Third: “The feeling is that we have a small number of people on an ego trip, wanting to do a [Guggeneheim] Bilbao.”

As for the VAG’s argument, that a move is necessary based on the volume of their collection, former VAG associate director Chris Wooten is unconvinced, describing the gallery’s holdings as “mediocre,” and that back-to-back deficits suggest that they are in no position “to pay to maintain twice the square footage.”

So the stage is set, the actors emerging. All eyes are on Bartels. How will she respond? Will the VAG mount a publicity campaign, like they did during their last move, in 1983? As for Bing Thom, is his desire to see the VAG remain on Hornby Street related to his desire to see the viaducts leading to and from the proposed VAG site removed? And if the VAG were to share this site, who would their neighbours be? Indeed, who would want to share a site with those who do not want them?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I awoke this morning to a number of emails in response to my last post, many of which echoed what Glenn Alteen posted in the comments box: that Mayer knew what he was saying – but why did he say it?

One reason could be that Mayer was speaking not so much to the Canadian public but to the people who hired him – a group that begins with the NGC board and ends with the Prime Minister of Canada (Harper), who, if I’m not mistaken, must approve the appointment.

Mayer’s presentation, though directed at the interviewer (in the same way Ministers of Parliament address the Speaker of the House), reminded me of the work-to-rule strategies undertaken by employees in place of strike action. But instead of slowing down production, Mayer’s form of malicious compliance involved shit-eating grins and repetition (“excellence”).

Is Mayer being strong-armed from above? Could be. As for the motivation behind it (policy direction, budgets), that could be anybody’s guess.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Last night I received an email alerting me to an open letter posted on a blog called Excellence At The National Gallery. The letter is addressed to Marc Mayer, the gallery’s director.

The signatories of the letter (over 200) take issue with comments made by Mayer during his appearance on a CBC The National segment entitled “Diaspora Art”. According to the letter, Mayer “told the Canadian public that, unlike the nation itself, the National Gallery of Canada is blind to cultural diversity; it only sees ‘excellence’.” Mayer made the comment at the NGC while “surrounded by the work of Aboriginal artists.”

From there the letter rightly asks “Whose excellence?” before providing a history of the gallery’s preference for white men, “good art” and Greenbergian connoisseurialism. In the next paragraph, the equation of “excellence” to “hegemony”. And from there, a reading list: Nochlin’s "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists” (1971), Said’s Culture and Imperialism (1993), hooks’ Black Looks: Race and Representation (1992) and Fuse Magazine. The letter ends with a sarcastic thank you to Mayer -- for “showing us your true colours.”

What to say? First of all, should we expect anything less from a mouth like Mayer’s? Do we actually believe that he believes what he’s saying? I don’t. But of course that’s not the point: the point is that he’s said these things – ridiculous things – things he says at the airport bar of the Banff Centre’s Sally Borden Dining Room, things that people laugh at (but not with). Of greater concern is that the Excellence At The National Gallery signatories believe that those who watch The National know nothing of the conversation that is contemporary art and are incapable of seeing a clearly combative man with an ego the size of Toronto get sloppy with a journalist whom he knows is out for a story. I for one don’t believe National watchers are that uninformed; nor do I believe that every person who has signed the Excellence At The National Gallery letter feels that Mayer’s comments were taken at face value. But people being people, we fret, construct our own response – in this case, one that does not include a link to the interview where Mayer made an idiot of himself, nor an attempt to understand this profoundly wounded and power drunk individual in the context of broadcast journalism.

Mayer’s “true colours” do not include an indifference to cultural diversity. I truly believe this, just as I believe that he has accomplished a great deal in his career. His problem is his ego, his inner voice of fire. He is a man in desperate need of help, and I believe in helping people, especially when they're down.

Will I sign the Excellence At The National Gallery letter? No. Instead, I will write my own letter and send it to the National Gallery’s board of directors. I will outline what I have seen and ask that Mayer take an anger management course, after which I will ask that he issue a clarification, and an apology for being a goof. If he fails to do that, I will draft another letter, this one asking for his resignation.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The federal government announces its latest budget this Thursday, while here in BC, we get our budget today -- two days after the close of the Olympics.

Guess we'll find out how much this 17-day festival/conference/party cost us. And I don't mean money owing, but the loss of funding to come.

For years now government has been boasting how economic spinoffs will justify expenses. I imagine we will be hearing a lot about these spinoffs in today's speech, those curlicues at the corners of the page.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A small room above a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

A knock.

I ignore it.

Another knock, lighter this time.

I roll over.

Another knock, even lighter.

Lighter.

Lighter.

Now rain, tapping at the roof.