Monday, January 31, 2011

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.

Yesterday was warm enough to leave the window open. I had just poured myself a bowl of cereal when a bird flew in and stole a grain. I poured another bowl and left it on the sill.

When I returned I saw that the bowl had not been touched. I know this because I took a picture. After an hour of comparing, of turning the image this way and that, I was sure.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

From the Floral Design Institute's web page:

Common Names: Billy Balls, Billy Buttons
Botanical Name: Craspedia, (crass-PEE-dee-a)
Availability: May through October
Vase Life: 10 to 12 days
Storage Temperature: 36 - 38 F
Ethylene Sensitive: No
Description: Firm, one inch, globe shaped flower heads at the end of long slender stems without foliage.
Colors: Yellow
Botanical Facts:
Design Notes: These unusual blossoms add wonderful texture and visual interest to floral designs.
Purchasing Hints: Purchase full colored heads that show no signs of shedding pollen.
Conditioning: Cut under water with a sharp knife. Hydrate in a solution of warm water and commercial floral preservative / floral food for two hours before storage or usage.
Additional Notes: These flowers dry well for use in permanent arrangements.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

An overnight trip to Edmonton for the opening of Brian Jungen’s exhibition at the Alberta Art Gallery, and the “Alberta version” of Carapace (2009), a work first displayed at Pay de la Loire, France, and then at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. For the AGA, Brian has reconfigured the piece, and my task, as a contributor to the publication, is to write on that configuration (Candice Hopkins will address the Loire and DC versions).

This was my first trip to Edmonton since the opening of the new gallery, a zinc-encrusted nugget where the old gallery once stood (at Winston Churchill Square). Unmistakably Gehryesque, the Randall Stout-designed structure is impressive, with high-ceilinged rooms geared at large-format works that would be impossible in the previous building. The justification for the new building, repeated like a mantra by those I spoke with, was to attract “international exhibitions,” like Jungen’s.

After checking-in (40 minutes, on account of 15,000 Christians in town for a conference), I purchased some flowers (lilies, billy balls and myrtle) at a nearby florist and made it to the gallery in time for the 5:30PM cocktail party/dinner upstairs. In attendance, Brian’s family and friends, as well as directors Wayne Baerwaldt (Illingworth-Kerr), Loring Randolph (Casey Kaplan Gallery) and Marc Mayer (National Gallery of Canada), the latter I had never met but had j’accused in an earlier post, a post that found its way into his Walrus Magazine profile, where he returned serve.

AGA director Gilles Hebert gave the opening address, followed by exhibition curator Catherine Crowston, who connected the dots for the local bourgeoisie; both were charming. More drinks, more food, before we decamped to a nearby pub for more drinks, more food, and some stimulating conversation, including a chat with Mayer, whose company I enjoyed. Later, on the way to the washroom, I broke up a fight between a blind-drunk older man and a twenty-something kid who was alleged to have “said something.” What that something was, no one knows -- save man who claims to have heard it.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Thursday, January 27, 2011

During a recent conversation with an artist in his seventies I was told of the importance of "the poets and the painters" in the early-1960s, and "Where are the poets and the painters today?" Of course there will always be emerging poets and painters, but maybe the space once occupied by poets and painters has been taken up by designers, something brought home during another recent conversation, this one with an instructor at one of our local universities, who said that the students with the "sharpest eyes and ears" are not in Visual Art but Design.

This morning I typed the words "designer statement" into Google's search engine and the first thing up was from What struck me hardest were the references (militaristic) and the language (entrepreneurial). Miss Prime is a cultural soldier of fortune (see below).

"As a graphic designer, I feel that I have become a rather clever concept promoter – possessing a skill quite similar to Obi-Wan’s Jedi mind trick: the power of mental and emotional provocation.

"Graphic Design is a field that is so perfectly subtle in achieving its goal; it often seduces its unsuspecting audience and holds them captive. I strive to achieve this subtleness and produce work that calmly sways my audience to enjoy or consider the concept I’m promoting. The means for achieving this goal vary, depending on how the message or concept is being delivered. My canvas takes many forms, paper, computer screen, clothing, etc., different media – different audiences. A graphic designer must always be able to mold their work for a variety of delivery methods, from the print to Web and beyond; and to anticipate how one’s audience will respond to the both the message and the method.

"Of course, it may not sound as easy as waving my hand and muttering a few words; but I’ve found sliding my mouse around and designing work in Illustrator or Photoshop to be just as effective. I don’t usually wear a long, brown cloak either (they’ve always made me look a bit bulgy in all of the wrong places) – but suit me up in with a cup of coffee and my iMac – and I’m ready to go.

"Graphic Design is my field – my place in the world, as it were – and I simply wouldn’t be happy if I weren’t looking at what cereal is using what font type – or getting a weird, little happy jolt at the prospect of staying up all night to work on a website for a client. I’m constantly on the lookout for new ideas, new strategies and more efficient ways of accomplishing my tasks – whether they be from magazines, websites, television, or simply from a random comment a friend makes. A career with endless opportunities and the chance to do something I enjoy – what more could I ask for?"

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

On February 24th I will be taking part in Volume 15 of Pecha Kucha Night at Vancouver’s Vogue Theatre [Note: I have since withdrawn my participation]. For those who don’t know what Pecha Kucha is (I didn’t), it began eight years ago in Tokyo, an occasion for young designers to meet and discuss their projects in a public setting, with each presentation involving 20 images shown for 20 seconds, each. The name Pecha Kucha is based on the sound it represents (onomatopoeia) – the Japanese word for “chit-chat”.

The Vancouver version, organized by Cause+Affect Design, is not limited to designers and includes “a range of practices, actions and ideas” (though in scanning past participants I have yet to find a dishwasher, a bus driver or a prison guard). Tickets (500 of which have been sold since this morning’s announcement) are $15 each and include admission to the Vancouver Art Gallery after party, where the Ken Lum and We: Vancouver exhibitions will be on display.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The theme of the 9th Annual Haiku Contest, sponsored by the University of Alabama Japan Program, was bridge (kakehashi). There were many winners. In the "Elementary School Category (Grades 1-3)" Birmingham's Margaret Raabe took 2nd Place for this:

I sit on the bridge
I like to eat on the bridge
I found a frog there

Monday, January 24, 2011

One of the projects to receive civic funding for Changing Times (Vancouver’s 125th anniversary public art program) is Lorna Brown and Clint Burnham’s Digital Natives, where 140-character messages will be presented at 10-second intervals, in both English and Salish, on electronic billboards at the south end of the Burrard Street Bridge.

The term “digital native” refers to those who came of age at the dawn of our digital moment. Also at play is a reference to those who lease space to those selling time on those billboards.

As a participant in this project I thought long and hard about what I might contribute. Would I remind people where they are, or would I take them someplace else? Would I tell them what they already know, or what they do not? Would I be wise, witty, nostalgic, mean?

Rather than go down these roads I chose something opaque, something that tests the limits of translation. And if untranslatable, something that unites as opposed to divides. Not sure what my entry might look like in English, but here it is in Salish:


Sunday, January 23, 2011

An accompanying transcript from an video:

"Hi! I am Joe Marshall. I am a professional magician, and today we are going to go over some basic magic tricks. Another thing you want to think about when you are performing for people is your presentational character. Not everyone can perform like David Blaine, that’s real dry and bland; that works for him, but it does not work for everyone. You want to be yourself, and if you are happy, and you’re funny, you should be happy and funny; you should not try to be like the magician you saw on television, it is easily spotted, it does not work out. Professionals have reasons for making cards disappear, or coins disappear. They have reasons for reading people’s mind. Amateur magicians, when they are out on the streets, they will just do the tricks for no reason, as if just doing to show off. So make sure you do not have to have a giant story around everything. But, make sure you have a point or a message that you want to get across, that can be simple as one sentence, like things are not always what they appear to be, and that could be the point of you showing them something. But just to go in and make a coin vanish for no reason is kind of senseless, and professionals have reasons for doing everything. So, you want to think about your structure and routining, and when you are doing the effect, what you are actually going to say to them is important even if it is a little bit."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The PuSh Festival is once again upon us. For me this means a number of things. Tomorrow I will be taking German artist Volker Gerling on one of a dozen scheduled walks so that he might make a flipbook from it. If you have not seen Volker perform, where he presents his flipbooks via camera projection, there is documentation online. I should add that I am hosting Volker’s “Portraits In Motion” event at Performance Works on February 3rd (8PM).

Another event, one I am ambivalent about, is the stage version of Hard Core Logo, based on my book, Noel S. Baker’s screenplay and Bruce McDonald’s film. I say ambivalent because in reading the interviews (all of them with playwright and lead actor Michael Scholar, Jr.), I sense that what is driving this production has more to do with “authenticity” than artistry, and that of course is its own road to hell.

An event I am looking forward to is the mildly titled Inventions & Mysteries. Presented with Theatre Conspiracy, this January 28th lecture by industry professional Bro Gilbert promises a behind-the-scenes peek at -- as well as a critique of -- the magic business. Magic is one of the few disbelief suspenders left in our culture. Somehow I think this lecture will do more to revive it than put it to rest.

Friday, January 21, 2011

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.

There is construction outside, but I am too tired to lift my head. A jackhammer, and someone shouting about the pub, a fistfight. The beep...beep...beep of a truck backing up, then the gate unhitched.

A moment of silence before the contents roar out.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Last week's screening and talk at the Western Front went well, with a diverse crowd and a good conversation afterwards. The accompanying essay is now on the Front's website, as a downloadable PDF, but if you are low on clicks, here it is:

Three Readings: Camera, Tape and Sound (Kathy Acker, Steve McCaffery/bpNichol, and Kevin Davies, as introduced by George Bowering)

The literary reading is a relatively recent phenomenon. Implying a written text, it is closer to Gutenberg than the pre-contact conveyance of Salish myths and legends or the Homeric tradition of poetic oration. Words spoken from a page, as opposed to those that come remembered.

As a reader and a writer I have participated in hundreds of literary readings. Sometimes I look forward to them; other times they fill me with dread. In preparing my visit to the Western Front video archive, I chose to focus on the collection’s literary program[1], curious to see if the documentation of readings at a centre known for interdisciplinarity differs from those at a literary festival or a writers’ club.

What follows are three instances where a reading and its documentation combine to form a third event. The first focuses on the camera; the second on the videotape; the third on the relationship between what is seen and what is heard.



Kathy Acker read at the Western Front’s Lux on February 2, 1977, the first in Vincent Trasov’s “American Writers Series”. The document begins with the camera zooming out from the author as if caught on stage during the raising of the curtain. But there is no curtain, just as there is no stage. The Lux is a “performance space,” not a theatre.

Acker is seated on a pillow, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. She is small, made even smaller by the single spotlight and the camera’s (high) angle. Her voice is small too, and she is aware of this -- how in compacting herself, winding herself tight, she hints at what is to come. She introduces herself as a “prose writer, on the whole, even though I come out of the poetry circle back in New York City.”

As Acker reads, the camera reads Acker, zooming in slowly, locking on the upper half of her body, giving the impression that she is standing, not seated. As carefully as the camera zooms in, it zooms out again, returning to the audience and what the audience sees, as only it can see it.

Acker’s text is the second “fairy tale” from The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec by Henri Toulouse Lautrec (1978), a meta-fiction that has Acker as “Lautrec”. Those familiar with the text will know that the second fairy tale is Lautrec’s story of Claire. What begins as the cliched tale of a conflicted teenage girl rebuffing her boyfriend takes a shocking turn when Claire is sexually assaulted by her brother, a Vietnam War veteran. Equally shocking is the camerawork: as Claire’s brother forces himself inside her, as if on cue (“…finally he bore into me so hard some part of me, burning, gave way. I felt no relief. He rolled off of me. Suddenly he began to see me. A look of horror replaced the day’s grin on his face. Oh my god, he gasped, what have I done?), the camera bores into Acker.

Was it a cue? Did the camera operator have prior knowledge of Acker’s text, a text that would not be published until the following year? With the camera remaining close, the story returns to its Lichtenstein-friendly content, ending two minutes later when Acker instigates a break.


Nine months later, on November 21, the Western Front hosted an event featuring Ontario-based poet bpNichol and the sound poetry group The Four Horsemen, of which Nichol was a member (the group had just performed at a sound poetry festival in San Francisco). The evening begins with Nichol reading from Books 3 and 4 of his epic poem The Martyrology, before summoning, one at a time, the Horsemen.

First up is Steve McCaffery. Like Nichol, McCaffery was among a handful of Canadian poets working to expand poetry’s written and spoken parameters to include an opaque, or concretist, form of written composition and an oral style reliant more on extended vocal techniques than the breath line word-servings of Charles Olson. The piece they performed, called “Aupe Relationship”, was introduced by Nichol, but with little explanation (other than to say that “Aupe” should not be confused with “OPP, or Ontario Provincial Police”).

Poised to begin, the tape suddenly buckles and, for a brief second, the performers are lost in its fold. Upon return, they dig in, passing back and forth the words “you and “me”, stretching them into multi-tonal figures -- when the tape buckles again, and again, until eventually new glitch forms appear (shivering, stuttering and freezing), not so much entering the mix but helping to define its palette.

The relationship between McCaffery and Nichol’s performance and the deficiencies of the tape is uncanny, with the initial buckle acting as both muse and omen, or a transformational device that sets the stage for what is to come. Prefacing their performance is a story Nichol told at the conclusion of his Martyrology reading. When asked why his poem contained so many references to God, Nichol replied: “I decided a long time ago that anything that came into the poem I would leave in the poem. So I suppose that’s in the way of explanation, not an apology.” What came into the documentation of McCaffery and Nichol’s poem was just that.


On October 22, 1983 the Western Front hosted a benefit reading for MacLeod’s Books, after an arsonist had damaged its property. On the bill was a young poet named Kevin Davies, a former “child preacher” who was later associated with the Kootenay School of Writing, whose founders were survivors of their own ideological firebombing when the Social Credit provincial government closed down the David Thompson University Centre in the mid-1980s.

Of all the readings in the archive, this was the one I was most looking forward to, mainly because of Peter Culley’s 1993 essay “Because I Am Always Talking: Reading Vancouver Into the Western Front”[2], opening as it does with an account of Davies’s performance. Given the precision of Culley’s text, I was curious about the discrepancies between what Culley remembered and what could be seen and heard on tape, a curiosity that, although yielding results (Davies “falters” about six minutes later than Culley remembers), allowed for a more relevant discovery.

The Davies segment begins (and ends) with emcee George Bowering informing us of the vibrant writing scenes in “Nelson, Prince George, places where working people live,” and that one of the “biggest, newest scenes is in Nanaimo” (where both Culley and Davies were living). From there Davies takes the stage[3]. With all the self-importance a twenty-three-year-old man can muster, Davies says “I haven’t written a poem in a while,” but that he will read instead from “a trashy assemblage of notes…hastily and inaccurately transposed,” what he calls “Exhibit A”. We are also told that he will be reading these notes as fast as he can (“for some reason”) and that they are “to be accompanied by heckling.”

And that is what happens -- only I am not sure I would have known this had I not read Culley’s essay. As Davies rips through his text (what Culley describes as “more or less discrete statements”), the audience comes alive, emitting gales of laughter. Sometimes their laughter is in response to Davies text, other times in response to the hecklers, giving the impression that the poet and the audience were on separate audio tracks. A weird feeling. Culley describes “the air filling with jeers, laughter and sounds of encouragement,” but it is only the “laughter and the sounds of encouragement” that can be deciphered -- the “jeers” occurring off-mike.

As Culley points out, Davies eventually “falters” and the audience attempts to clap him off the stage. But he resists. Suddenly Bowering appears and grabs Davies’s notes, throwing them to the ground. Davies flees. Someone shouts for an encore, and Bowering, in the spirit of play, gives this some thought. He steps off stage, to retrieve Davies, only to return empty-handed, denouncing Davies text? performance? as “a lot of dumb shit.”

What might have been “a lot dumb shit” in the moment makes for a compelling document today. Like the tape deficiencies that animated McCaffery and Nichol’s performance, the Davies reading is haunted by ghosts of its own -- in this case, the hecklers who, though unseen and unheard, turn the audience from passive listeners into a chorus of active laughers. Although large in their consequences, the hecklers, on their own, are too small to penetrate the circuitry of the unidirectional microphone and the camera to which it is attached. Of course penetration was not a problem during the Acker reading, the one instance of the three that was not the result of technical difficulty.


While a literature exists on the documentation of performance art (the performance document as object and the anxieties that result), I have found nothing on literary readings and their relationship to the (video) camera. One explanation could be the predictability of the format: the author, attached to a podium, reading from a text as if it were a script, one the audience might well be familiar with. A format such as this has little need of a camera operator; one merely presses “record”.

In viewing the Acker tape it occurred to me that the most appropriate form of documentation, the one most consistent with the architecture of her text (like the sonic figure McCaffery and Nichol produced), would have been a camera in the fixed position, without scopophilic zooms or pans. What Acker gave us that night was, in her words, a “fairly tale,” a form flattened from years of retelling and maintained by a moral frame designed to keep its narrative in place.

This is the surface Acker constructed in order to test its formal limits. That the camera zoomed in so aggressively not only skewered the effect, it showed a misunderstanding of Acker’s art: and that of course is literature. Having turned the reading into television, the spell was broken. From then on my research focused less on the camera in favour of that which could not be controlled, either through the preservation of tape or the privileging of sound.

Michael Turner


1) According to Whispered Art History: Twenty Years At the Western Front, Keith Wallace, ed. (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1993), the Western Front Literary Program formally began in 1974 under Gerry Gilbert and over the years included curators Mary Beth Knechtel, Henry Greenhow, Vincent Trasov, Warren Tallman, Charles Watts, Billy Little, Judy Radul and Hank Bull.

2) Whispered Art History: Twenty Years At the Western Front, Keith Wallace, ed. (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1993), pp. 189-197

3) While the Acker, bpNichol and the Four Horsemen events did not have an elevated stage, the MacLeod’s Bookstore benefit did.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The University of British Columbia was in the news twice last week, first for a proposed hospice, second for a proposed exhibition at the campus morgue, also known as the Museum of Anthropology.

Citing cultural insensitivity, some ethnic Chinese residents of a condo tower beside the proposed hospice site claimed that a surfeit of ghosts would impinge upon their quality of life and lower property values. The hospice, slated to open in February, is now on hold.

Over at the Museum of Anthropology, an exhibition of Pamela Masik's paintings of police photographs of missing women from the downtown eastside (some of whom have had their DNA show up on Robert Pickton’s pig farm), was cancelled after museum director Anthony Shelton came to the conclusion that the exhibition “wasn’t going to work.”

In a statement delivered to the media, Dr. Shelton wrote: “There are too many unresolved issues surrounding it, and serious concerns have been raised by some individuals and groups that by showing the paintings, we might cause further distress to the families and friends of the missing and murdered women, as well as to others in the communities most affected by the issues we sought to address.” A teach-in has been scheduled in its place.

Are these two incidents related? Certainly both have ethno-cultural issues at their centre, though the MOA exhibition is, at least at the headline level, less apparent. Reading deeper one discovers that many of the 69 women in Masik's "The Forgotten" project are of First Nations descent. A visit to the MOA will tell you that the museum's display focus is Northwest Coast First Nations art and artefact. The question I want to know is, Had the ethnic distribution of the missing women been equal to that of the country, would this project have been considered in the first place?

It was Salish artist Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun who first referred to the MOA as a morgue.

Monday, January 17, 2011

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.

The downstairs doorbell, followed by a knock.

(Which is it?)

I roll over, open my book.

A poem by Ezra Pound:


I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman --
I have detested you long enough,
I come to you as a grown child
Who has a pig-headed father;
I am old enough to make friends.
It was you that broke the new wood,
Now is a time for carving.
We have one sap and one root --
Let there be commerce between us.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Saturday, January 15, 2011

From Chapter XI of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn (1884):

“Who done it? We've heard considerable about these goings-on down in Hookerville, but we don't know who 'twas that killed Huck Finn.”

“Well, I reckon there's a right smart chance of people here that'd like to know who killed him. Some think old Finn done it himself.”

“No—is that so?”

“Most everybody thought it at first. He'll never know how nigh he come to getting lynched. But before night they changed around and judged it was done by a runaway nigger named Jim.”

“Why he—”

I stopped. I reckoned I better keep still. She run on, and never noticed I had put in at all:

“The nigger run off the very night Huck Finn was killed. So there's a reward out for him—three hundred dollars. And there's a reward out for old Finn, too—two hundred dollars. You see, he come to town the morning after the murder, and told about it, and was out with 'em on the ferryboat hunt, and right away after he up and left. Before night they wanted to lynch him, but he was gone, you see. Well, next day they found out the nigger was gone; they found out he hadn't ben seen sence ten o'clock the night the murder was done. So then they put it on him, you see; and while they was full of it, next day, back comes old Finn, and went boo-hooing to Judge Thatcher to get money to hunt for the nigger all over Illinois with. The judge gave him some, and that evening he got drunk, and was around till after midnight with a couple of mighty hard-looking strangers, and then went off with them. Well, he hain't come back sence, and they ain't looking for him back till this thing blows over a little, for people thinks now that he killed his boy and fixed things so folks would think robbers done it, and then he'd get Huck's money without having to bother a long time with a lawsuit. People do say he warn't any too good to do it. Oh, he's sly, I reckon. If he don't come back for a year he'll be all right. You can't prove anything on him, you know; everything will be quieted down then, and he'll walk in Huck's money as easy as nothing.”

Friday, January 14, 2011

The language shows no signs of abating.

In a recent ruling by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (based on a single complaint by a Newfoundland resident), a 25-year-old Dire Straits song (“Money For Nothing”) was seen to contain enough offensive material to be banned from broadcast in this country.

When I heard the decision, my first thought was the opening guitar lick, which attempts to recycle the rhythm and many of the intervals of the Rolling Stones’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. However, as details emerged, it was the word “faggot” (sung three times) that has caused the commotion.

Context being everything (and nothing), I Googled the lyrics. As those familiar with the song will know (and who didn’t hear it enough when it first came out), the lyric is from the perspective of a embittered working man, quite possibly an African-American, given the language (“mama”), leading me to wonder, Is it the anti-gay reference or the negative depiction of an African-American working man that is at issue?

More repugnant to me is a noun that recurs more than any other (at least 20 times), and that, coincidentally, is the name of a broadcaster, one that has had an even bigger hand in the infantilization of the culture: MTV.

In a more recent release, a Dire Straits band member has said that the group has taken to using the word “fudger” (not to be confused with "fudge packer") in place of “faggot”. But I don’t think they are taking it far enough. If they really wanted to turn this number around, they would have taken a page from Huckleberry Finn.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

After last week's Arizona shootings PBS News Hour asked if it might be time for U.S. politicians and media commentators to tone down the rhetoric.

Then yesterday that gyro-eyed merchant of idiocy Sarah Palin issued this:

“If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that vision. … But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible."

Leading the Globe and Mail's Margaret Wente to write:

"If America were a person, it would be a 14-year-old girl."

Where is this headed?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tomorrow I will present my research on literary readings and their documentation at the Western Front. Below is the Media Arts Program press release:

Western Front Media Arts is pleased to welcome Michael Turner as inaugural Western Front Media Archive researcher-in- residence, as part of Past is Prologue, an ongoing research project considering the Western Front Media Archive. Past is Prologue is a new initiative that will invite artists, writers, archivists and historians to conduct research related to the Western Front Media Archive, an onsite repository of over 1300 tapes, including performance documents, video art and audio recordings.

Building an interest in expanded literary practices in Vancouver, Vancouver based author Michael Turner conducted research around the Western Front Media Archive’s collection of largely unseen video documentation of literary readings that took place at Western Front in the 1970s and 1980s. This research has culminated in a screening titled Three Readings: Camera, Tape and Sound (Kathy Acker, bpNichol/Steve McCaffery, and Kevin Davies, as introduced by George Bowering), and an accompanying essay, which will be available in a limited print run, and online as a print-on-demand downloadable PDF at

This screening will focus on how each reading is mediated specifically through the camera, audio recording and the qualities of archival video tape. The screening will feature Kathy Acker’s 1977 reading from The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec, bpNichol and Steve McCaffery’s 1977 performance of "Aupe Relationships", and Kevin Davies, as introduced by George Bowering, reading from "Exhibit A" in 1983.

Three Readings: Camera, Tape and Sound (Kathy Acker, bpNichol/Steve McCaffery and Kevin Davies as introduced by George Bowering)

Wednesday January 12, 2011 at 6 PM.
Western Front Grande Luxe Hall, 303 East 8th, Vancouver.

Admission is free.

For more information please contact Sarah Todd at

Monday, January 10, 2011

In the three minutes it took to take out pen and paper and record Andrew Owen’s installation text, I was approached by a man who complimented me on my hat and asked if he could draw it. Without looking I said yes.

Once done, he waved the drawing in my face and I recognized it as similar to the one that had been done two years earlier, under similar circumstances, only then I was not wearing a hat. I looked at the man and recognized him as the author of both drawings.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

While killing time before yesterday’s Artspeak panel I stumbled upon the Eye Level Gallery on West Cordova Street, just west of the Woodward’s complex.

Not your traditional white cube, the Eye Level is a north facing wall outside a building just east of the Cambie Hotel, affixed to which is a series of photo-based works depicting people from all walks by the artist Andrew Owen, entitled A Photo-Cubic Tableau (though “Tableaux” is more accurate, given that there is more than one).

Rather than single photographs, the “actors” in Owen’s works are represented through a series of photos taken over a period of time. Where they differ from the Stan Douglas mural that greets you fifty metres west as you enter Woodward’s is in composition. Though also composed of numerous photos taken over a period of time, Douglas’s mural (depicting a police incident that took place in Gastown some forty years earlier) is seamless in its construction, while Owen’s work retains, for the most part, the camera’s framing format, giving the impression of fragmentation, or as Owen insists, the “Cubic.”

Animating Owen’s tableaux are the following texts:


The fractured authenticity of Here and Now as compared to Seamless Fiction in the Guise of Historical Representation

A Photo-Cubic Tableau by:
Andrew Owen [A01]

And then to the east:

Re. Photo. Cubic
People. Solos.

Celebrating Real People who Activate This Area While Foregrounding the Limitations of Photographic Representation

Owen’s exhibition, now scarred from Sharpies, is clearly in response to Douglas’s mural -- but also to the photo-based practices that have Vancouver amongst the most photographed cities in contemporary art. Had Owen done his homework, he would have seen instances of the “fractured authenticity” in the almost-fifty year oeuvre of Vancouver-based photo artist Henri Robideau, or the early photographic work of Ian Wallace, but especially of Douglas, whose looping film Le Detroit draws attention to its seam, comprised as it is of two projectors projecting the same film onto a single surface -- two frames apart. As for Jeff Wall, he has been quoted as saying (on the topic of his photomontage The Flooded Grave) “If you can see the seams, I have failed.”

There is much to object to in Owen’s statement. (Undefined terms like “authenticity” and “Real People” don’t help, nor does willful ignorance.) But I remain open to his response, as I too am a respondent to what I see and hear.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


Friday, January 7, 2011

According to Wikipedia:

Daniel Hess of West Union, Iowa, USA invented a vacuum cleaner in 1860. Calling it a carpet sweeper instead of a vacuum cleaner, his machine did, in fact, have a rotating brush like a traditional vacuum cleaner, which also possessed an elaborate bellows mechanism on top of the body to generate suction of dust and dirt. Hess received a patent (U.S. No. 29.077) for his invention of the vacuum cleaner on July 10, 1860.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What is dust made of?


Actually, there are three main components of dust: first, dead skin cells, second, the dried feces and dessicated corpses of dust mites (lovely thought, eh? When people develop a house-dust allergy, this is usually the component they are reacting to), and the last component by volume is tiny fibers shed by clothing -- cotton is bad for this, and jeans are the worst. This is for ordinary house dust. (Incidentally, dust mites are not generally visible, except with a microscope; they are 200-300 microns long, they eat dead skin cells and live in bedding, carpets and soft furnishings. Always. Trust me on this, anything a year old or more has a good population of them.)

In the case of a new basement, on the other hand, the primary component of dust is likely to be the obvious: concrete. Elsewhere in a brand-new house plaster and plasterboard both "shed" copiously over the first few weeks.

And outdoor dust is fine particles of soil and stone dust (composition dependent on location and prevailing winds), with a hefty component of pollen and other plant material.

So it does depend on where you are.


If you take a few fingers full out of your vacuum cleaner, put it in a plastic bag, and bring it to school, you can look at a glob under a microscope at various powers and see all kinds of really nasty looking things in there. You'll need to pull the blobs apart to differentiate some of the more twisted items - but it's totally hideous.


Question: Some hippie was rambling about how we are all just reanimated star dust and I am wondering if this is true. I like the idea. It's nice to think that the molecules in my body used to be a star. I would like to better understand this concept. Is it based on fact or just the musings of a hippie?

Best Answer - Chosen by Voters:

Pretty much. The hydrogen atoms in you were made when the universe began, but all other atoms were manufactured by stars. The only elements that weren't made in stars are hydrogen, helium and a little bit of lithium.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

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.

Under the bed, surrounded by dustballs, a vacuum. The dustballs have come to the vacuum because that is where they ended up, not to attack it or take it captive.

It is a strange sight -- made stranger for the blood rushing to my head.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Monday, January 3, 2011

My work is finished. My poet is dead.
-- Vladimir Nabakov, Pale Fire

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Today's New York Times Book Review takes criticism as its theme ("Why Criticism Matters"). Though I have yet to look at all its contents, I did notice an excerpt from Mary McCarthy's June 4, 1962 New Republic review of Nabakov's Pale Fire (1962), a book that was definitely on my mind when writing American Whiskey Bar (1997).

Here is what Mary McCarthy said of Pale Fire:

"When the separate parts are assembled, according to the manufacturer's directions, and fitted together with the help of clues and cross-references, which must be hunted down as in a paper chase, a novel on several levels is revealed, and these 'levels' are not the customary 'levels of meaning' of modern criticism but planes in a fictive space, rather like those houses of memory in medieval mnemonic science, where words facts and numbers were stored till wanted in various rooms and attics, or like the House of astrology into which the heavens are divided."

So a favorable review, as they say, but one still reliant on metaphor, a device that a later modernism (more open to conflict than function) still struggles to live without.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Writer–broadcaster Ross Porter reviews James Kaplan’s Frank: The Voice (Toronto: Doubleday, 2010) in today’s Globe and Mail. Below is an excerpt from both the review and the book:

It was also while working with Dorsey that he developed an approach to singing that he continued for the rest of his career. He would take a piece of paper with just the lyric to a song, with no music. As Sinatra explained, “At that point I’m looking at a poem. I’m trying to understand the point of view of the person behind the words. I want to understand his emotions. Then I start speaking, not singing the words, so I can experiment and get the right inflections. When I get with the orchestra, I sing the words without a microphone at first, so I can adjust the way I’ve been practicing to the arrangement. I’m looking to fit the emotion behind the song that I’ve come up with to the music. Then it all comes together. You sing the song.”