Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cliff Barney's review of Kurt von Meier's free ebook A Ball of Twine: Marcel Duchamp's "With Hidden Noise" (1997):

Encouraging Words

Readers encountering A Ball of Twine for the first time may be pardoned for wondering whatever led Kurt von Meier to write some 350,000 words about a single piece of sculpture, and a ready-made sculpture at that, not even a piece of "fine art"; and further, how they can ever be expected to read the damn thing, given the pressures of the onrushing millenium.

As to the first question, it must be admitted, even forthrightly proclaimed, that Prof. von Meier is a man of many words; in mitigation, let it be said that even a cursory glance will reveal that they are quite interesting words, well-chosen and deftly combined.

Further, the words in A Ball of Twine are not all the author's; the pages linked in the Table of Contents at the left are overflowing with generous quotes and meticulous citations. Here you will find great gobs of Joseph Campbell, James Joyce, Robert Graves, Ezra Pound, Helen Caldicott and G Spencer Brown, as well as material from the Tarot, the I Ching, Hopi elders, art historians, politicians, Monty Python, the daily press, the comic pages, and anywhere else that von Meier finds ornaments for the thread of his argument.

That argument itself purports to be an investigation into the identity of the object that Walter Arensberg slipped inside a ball of twine on Easter Sunday, 1916, and that Marcel Duchamp then sealed away by bolting two plaques of brass around the hole.

Duchamp never knew what the object was (or so he said), and the secret died with Arensberg until curator Walter Hopps was granted permission to take a peek, thus reviving it. Now Prof.von Meier claims to have guessed the secret on his own.

Good for him, one might say, but 350,000 words? Surely that is a bit much. However while A Ball of Twine is structured around this process of divination, guessing the object is not the real burden of the book. Rather it is to provide a structure by which art and art history can be shown as not only relevant, but essential, to preserving a globe that is currently being poisoned by manmade pollutants. Readers of this book will eventually come to a realization of what it is that Prof.von Meier thinks is inside the ball of twine. They will also learn a lot about secrecy, about civilization, about number and mathematics, and yes about art history, including specifically about Marcel Duchamp and his extraordinary emergence as an important influence on the 20th Century art world. Most important, they will be shown a new vision of art and human existence.

Not bad for something that starts with a simple ball of twine. This is a rich, informative, thought-provoking book. You don't have to read it all; dip in anywhere (by clicking on the TOC entries), and you will find something of interest.

A Ball of Twine is a publication in progress. The text was written in 1989-91 and prepared for Internet publication in the summer of 1997. In this initial electronic version, the material appears as text only. Illustrated pages and lists of weblinks will be uploaded as they are prepared.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On Saturday I visited two exhibitions: Roy Arden at Monte Clarke Gallery and Damian Moppett at Bob Rennie and Carey Fouks’s Wing Sang. Both feature mobiles (sort of).

Although best-known as a photo-based artist, Arden’s recent outing, like last year’s voluminous “Against the Day" exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery, is comprised of drawings, paintings, sculpture and collage. As he has demonstrated with his “landscape of the economy” photos, and his long-running blog, Arden is a thoughtful composer, a master of paranoiac association, something that takes years to achieve, in any medium.

Aside from his collages, Arden has given us two large painted reproductions of 1950s country music posters -- one black-on-white, the other white-on-black. Why these surfaces are hand-painted and not screen-printed (a la Warhol) is really what’s playing at the Opry tonight. Another question concerns the juxtaposition of these reproductions: white-on-black (like the photo-negative, like Kosuth’s definitions) requires more time and resources than black-on-white. So: same concert, two opposing (yet unequal) performances.

At the centre of Arden’s exhibition is a "mobile" constructed of rusted rebar, wire and old pop cans, a kind of Terminator version of his “landscape of the economy” project. At the bottom of the mobile is a rubber sole that presses gently against a low-rise plinth -- a “touching” work of sculpture that knows exactly what it isn’t. Bravo!

Moppett’s mobile is closer to Calder’s definition, a monumental work of red-painted aluminum that carries within it a series of weigh scales, while on the ground below what looks like a fallen element. I say “looks like” because the element in no way detracts from the mobile above, a delicate balancing act that has justice (and aesthetics) served. What is Moppett saying with this fallen piece, particularly when there is no evidence (apart from its colour and form) that it belongs to the mobile above? Does it lie there in advance of a broken element, or despite it? An apocryphal element, or a gesture in search of an idea?

In the adjoining room, over 150 of the artist’s “autobiographical” drawings that date from the early-1990s to the present. Moppett has always been a skilled draftsman and colourist, comfortable in any style, yet an artist whose content, ranging from redrawn covers of Artforum to caryatid still-lifes, never strays far from the studio in which it is rendered. Downstairs, as you enter, eight large black ink figures, not unlike those found in the pre-Alfred E. Neuman Mad Magazines of the 1950s, float against their white paper fields.

In a 1969 artscanada essay, Kurt von Meier writes how the experiments of the 1960s have given way to questions not about the art but the artist and who s/he is, questions that relate to the “roles and styles rather than the goals of wealth and power or even just ‘making it.’” We know who Roy Arden is. But who is Damian Moppett?

Monday, November 28, 2011

As a body everyone is single, as a soul never.
--Hermann Hesse

Did you ever notice that the first piece of luggage on the carousel never belongs to anyone?
--Erma Bombeck

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A review of a new biography on Kurt Vonnegut Jr. in today's New York Times Review of Books.

Along with Herman Hesse and Erma Bombeck, Vonnegut was someone I read a lot of in my teenage years, everything up to Breakfast of Champions (1973). After that my reading habits shifted to poetry and what I was assigned by my professors.

While reading the Times review I was reminded of Vonnegut's crisp plain-spoken prose, something his critics took issue with, as if a literary writer must always make more of opening a door and walking through it.

I keep thinking I should go back and reread some of those Vonnegut books that meant so much to me as a teen. I have always liked the "Preface" to Breakfast of Champions and his dedication of the book to Phoebe Hurty, who wrote a "sad and funny advice-to-the-lovelorn column for the Indianapolis Times."

Erma Bombeck began her column-writing career with the Dayton Journal Herald.

Herman Hesse, as far as I know, did not write a newspaper column.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mother Nature at work in her studio:

Monday, November 21, 2011

In the early-1950s, while living in Petropolis, Brazil, Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) met Clarice Lispector and became enchanted by her stories, a few of which Bishop translated and sent to the New Yorker, who were "interested."

Bishop also sent letters to her friend Robert Lowell. In a June 1963 letter, she wrote (of Lispector):

"...she's the most non-literary writer I've every known, and 'never cracks a book' as we used to say. She's never read anything that I can discover -- I think she's a 'self-taught' writer, like a primitive painter."

Below is a poem by Bishop:


Days that cannot bring you near
or will not,
Distance trying to appear
something more obstinate,
argue argue argue with me
neither proving you less wanted nor less dear.

Distance: Remember all that land
beneath the plane;
that coastline
of dim beaches deep in sand
stretching indistinguishably
all the way,
all the way to where my reasons end?

Days: And think
of all those cluttered instruments,
one to a fact,
canceling each other's experience;
how they were
like some hideous calendar
"Compliments of Never & Forever, Inc."

The intimidating sound
of these voices
we must separately find
can and shall be vanquished:
Days and Distance disarrayed again
and gone...

Sunday, November 20, 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.

Ah, the mail has come. A cheque, a bill, and what's this -- the book I ordered?

Benjamin Moser's new translation of The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector, published by New Directions Press.

"All the world began with a yes. One molecule said yes to another molecule and life was born."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Things to do when it rains:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Evidence of Warhol (Screen Tests), Bill Viola, Yoko Ono (Cut Piece), A.A. Bronson (Evidence of Body Binding)...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Stairs are what happens to the feet when the hand is reaching for the keys.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Monday, November 7, 2011

A cold wet November night, the kind of night I think about on warm dry July nights, sitting on my porch, pecking out words like I am doing now, watching the neighbourhood mums push their prams up the incline that is East 19th, the heat and their effort combining to leave behind the faintest trace of perfume.

Tonight it is not those moms I am thinking of but those who have braved the elements, not to mention their critics, to sleep in tents on the north lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery in an effort to show people that the world we have made of ourselves is not one we should continue to take at face value.

The second time I visited the Occupation Vancouver site was on a similar, though slightly warmer night like tonight. What I saw amazed me. Not the cinema or the library or the open air study sessions but three figures working quickly and efficiently between tents, carving into the Earth not destruction but a drainage system so that they, and perhaps us one day, might sleep more comfortably.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

This morning's return to Pacific Standard Time was the worst advertised, ever.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 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.

Last night was louder than Hallowe'ens past. Seems a new kind of firework is making the rounds.

M80s, also known as salutes, have been in use since the early twentieth century. They were created by the U.S. military to simulate artillery fire, presumably for training purposes. M80s pack between three to five grams of pyrotechnic flash powder and have been known to take off the finger tips of those who don't know what they're doing.

My biggest concern about fireworks is what they do to pets. I saw evidence of this after breakfast when I tried to coax a cat out from under my car.