Saturday, September 29, 2012
Bob Roberts (1992) is a well-intentioned satire on the emerging neo-liberal (then-neo-conservative) market-state, one that relies on an number of historical and art historical inversions.
In the first video, "Bob" (played by left-leaning actor Tim Robbins) gives a more literal description of the "times [that] are a-changin' back" than its more ambiguous referent, the second video, from 27 years earlier (which, appropriately enough, was posted in reverse).
Friday, September 28, 2012
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Below are two videos concerning Jerry Rubin -- the "hippie" turned "yippie" turned "yuppie". The first video features Rubin "interviewed" by Rush Limbaugh forerunner Joe Pyne in 1967. The second video is a cable TV interview with Abbie Hoffmann in 1980.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
One of the new fall television programs of 1969 was ABC's Room 222, a half-hour comedy-drama about the lives of teachers and students at the fictitious Walt Whitman High. The show ran for five years and was notable for its examination of social issues like racism, sexism and homosexuality, but also the events of the day, such as the Vietnam War. The show was also notable for its gentle opening theme, a wistful number (in 7/4 time) that drew my seven-year-old self to the den, where I would watch those older walk to class. Listen for the vibraslap.
Sunday, September 23, 2012
Saturday, September 22, 2012
This short video, assembled by Michael de Courcy, provides a quick introduction to Vancouver's first artist-run centre, Intermedia (1967-1971). During their five years together Intermedia hosted a series of "Intermedia Nights" at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Some of that documentation can be found in the VAG collection.
For those curious about what they are seeing and hearing, names, places and dates are supplied at the end.
Friday, September 21, 2012
A few days ago I received an email from a friend in the arts, sent to him by another friend in the arts.
A small group of artists has begun a letter of support for a new, stand-alone iconic Vancouver Art Gallery. Once we have a group of 30 or so original signers we will publish the list and invite other visual arts professionals to sign via Facebook, emails and other media. If you would like to be one of the original signers please respond and we will add your name. Please also state your profession or occupational title. Please pass this on to other visual arts professionals you think may like to sign.
Visual Arts Professionals in favour of a new Vancouver Art Gallery
The Vancouver Art Gallery is presently planning to build and move to a new, stand-alone, iconic building. We support this goal and we support the director, Kathleen Bartels and the VAG Board as they work towards its realization. We believe it is time for a new gallery and that the benefits it will bring to visual arts culture in Vancouver, British Columbia and Canada are beyond question and will be shared by everyone. We are visual arts professionals; artists, critics, art writers, curators, gallery workers and gallerists, we feel it is time our opinion was heard. If you are a visual arts professional and want to see a new Vancouver Art Gallery, add your name to the list.
Although I did not feel comfortable with some of the information included (and excluded) in this open letter, I added my name nonetheless.
Rather than speak to what bothers me about this letter, let me say instead that its appearance, with signatures from those in the visual arts community, is something that should have come at the beginning of the VAG's campaign to move the gallery into a space that could accommodate its vast collection, something the VAG has conveyed on numerous occasions, but without explaining why -- at least not in a way that excites the public imagination. So in the absence of that explanation, let me provide my own.
As someone familiar with the VAG's collection, let me say that it is indeed vast, and that it contains within it the many stories that make up the material and symbolic history of this city, this province and this country, but also the histories of this city's biggest contribution to modern/contemporary art -- photo-based work. Would Vancouverites (and visitors to this city) not like to see a civic gallery with areas dedicated to the permanent display of these histories? Rooms where we can experience the work of First Nations artists such as Charles Edenshaw and Bill Reid, the early modern paintings of Emily Carr and Jack Shadbolt, the abstractions of B.C. Binning, Audrey Capel Doray, Roy Kiyooka and Takao Tanabe, the photographs of Fred Herzog, the intermedial collages of bill bissett, Maxine Gadd and Al Neil, the art-as-life manifestations of Glenn Lewis and Michael Morris, the photo-based work of Marian Penner Bancroft, N.E. Thing Company, Jeff Wall and Ian Wallace, the videos of Kate Craig and Paul Wong, the neo-expressionist paintings of Angela Grossmann and Attila Richard Lukacs, the "history" paintings of Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, the installations of Geoffrey Farmer, Brian Jungen and Myfanwy MacLeod, not to mention the many national and international holdings these artists were influenced by, and inspired? I would.
So that is why I held my nose and signed my name to this letter, why I set aside my tendency to favour means (the way things happen) over ends (the desired outcome).
Vancouver needs an art museum with the ability to display and debate our at-times challenging yet enriching cultural histories, for they are as important to us as the mountains, forests, oceans and rivers that remind us, and others, not just where we live, but how we live. Yes, the VAG went about it backwards, and I think they realize that. Hopefully there is time to resume the discussion. But this time from the ground, up.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
I am not certain if the above is all of Dennis Wheeler's film A Strict Law Bids Us Dance (1975) or an excerpt. The film I think I saw as a teenager (on a field trip below the sidewalks of Gastown) seemed longer.
Dennis Wheeler has been dead 35 years now. I never met him but I admire what he accomplished in his short life, and what he contributed to. His name still comes up in conversation.
I first knew of Dennis as the recently-deceased uncle of my high school friend Karen McKenna, who had moved with her family from Halifax in 1978 or 79. Later, in the early-80s, I came upon a poem about him by Tom Wayman, a writer who encouraged me when I was starting out.
In the early 1990s, while passing through Toronto on a reading tour, Karen, who had by then moved there and was working at TVO, introduced me to her mother's sister, Susan, who, at the time, was living in Montreal. Susan told me how unique Dennis was, how there was no one like him.
Susan moved back to Vancouver in the early 2000s. Sometimes I see her at openings and readings. Sometimes she is by herself, sometimes with her sisters Judith, Marian and occasionally Karen's mom, whose name slips my mind.
I love seeing the Penner Sisters together. There is so much life there.
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Marian Penner Bancroft's oeuvre includes text, drawing and video, but she is best known for her photo-montages, photo sequences and three-dimensional screens. Of that work, the piece most of us recall is For Dennis and Susan: Running Arms to a Civil War (1978), which chronicles the relationship between her sister (Susan) and her brother-in-law (Dennis) as the latter battles -- and succumbs to -- cancer.
Apart from a large body of work, Penner Bancroft is also known as an educator (she has taught at Emily Carr University throughout most of its name changes) and is conversant in numerous mediums. Like her sister and deceased brother-in-law, she contributes to a dynamic partnership with poet/filmmaker Colin Browne, who spoke well and lovingly at a recent memorial of another artist with broad artistic interests, Tom Cone.
Here is an interview Penner Bancroft conducted with a group of artists and thinkers active in 1960s Vancouver, part of the Ruins in Process: Vancouver Art in the Sixties online exhibition/catalogue organized by Lorna Brown, grunt gallery and the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, a project I was happy to contribute to ("Expanded Literary Practices").
For those who would like to see more of Penner Bancroft's work, her exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery is up until September 30th.
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
October 27th marks the opening of Ian Wallace: At the Intersection of Painting and Photography at the Vancouver Art Gallery, a major survey which may or may not include the above. For those interested, artist Dana Claxton and I will be responding to the "cinematic and text-based aspects" of Wallace's first-floor works on Tuesday November 20th, 7PM. For those who would like to acquire an "Ian Wallace", come to Presentation House Gallery's "September Issue No. 1" fundraiser dinner/auction this Saturday September 22nd at 50 Water Street.
Monday, September 17, 2012
Nice to hear from you. I had heard you were considering a move to Vancouver. How is it that you have been here a year and we have not (yet) run into each other at an opening or a reading?
I am sorry you find Vancouver “cold,” its cultural ecology "difficult to penetrate.” Did you have expectations?
More than most cities of over a million people, the percentage of Vancouverites born and raised here is low. Unlike Paris, where “Parisian” status is based on your family’s history (seven generations, is it?), the “Vancouverite” is someone who comes here, usually between the age of 14-40, with an idea of the city already in mind, only to discover that what you thought you were interested in (Culture) is elusive, and what you thought you were indifferent to (Nature) is seductive. The conflict that results is one that is struggled with, and that struggle is the motor that both drives and defines the Vancouverite. So when you say you have come here, only to find the city “cold,” what you might be experiencing is not only a previous version of yourself, as visitor, but the perpetuation of a cycle that has what you thought you were coming to -- and what you found instead -- in conflict.
Bear in mind my theory comes from someone who was in fact born and raised here, the child of an immigrant Chinese national (my father was born in Shanghai and spent his formative years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp) and a Scottish-German mother whose family moved to Vancouver (from Saskatoon) during the Second World War, when she was four. Yes, I am a Vancouverite too, but perhaps less entrenched than Vancouverites of Chinese descent, those whose grandfathers (great- and great-great-) came here in the mid-1800s to work on the railroad -- Vancouverites such as the artist Ken Lum, whose grandfather, Lum Nin, came to “Gold Mountain” (the name for the North American west coast) to make his fortune. But even before that, the Salish of today, who have grown up in a place re-named by the Canadian Pacific Railway after an English sea captain who, in the late 18th century, parked his boats in Burrard Inlet. That some of us acknowledge that we are on unceded First Nations land at openings and readings is important to who and where we are. I am saddened that you find the practice "pretentious."
Some other things to be mindful of. First, it was not until recently that many Vancouverites came to value the local history. Prior to that, Vancouver was always about the future: what is going to happen, and how might that be capitalized on. This was true of those who came here in search of our region’s natural resources (furs, gold, fish, timber), or, in the case of Lum Nin, railroad work, and continues today as real estate speculation. It was only during the Vancouver Art Gallery’s 2007 Fred Herzog photography exhibition that many Vancouverities became interested in what happened here between 1953 (when Fred arrived from Germany, via Central Canada) and Expo ’86, when the next resurfacing began. As for those Vancouverites who remain indifferent to the local history, many of them are under 35. This is a problem less particular to Vancouver than one that has always plagued young people: a narcissism that has them indifferent to History -- because they are not (yet) part of it.
Which leads me to a definition of the Vancouver artist. Until recently, the Vancouver artist was someone who attended art school here -- and stayed. I say “until recently” because Emily Carr University’s ongoing de-emphasis on local (Western art) historical practices in favour of a synchronic view of art made with emerging digital technologies, has shifted the conversation from what is particular about the city’s aesthetic development to the universality of digital-based businesses like the Walt Disney Company, with whom ECU has ties. Prior to Ian Wallace’s retirement (Wallace lectured on contemporary art at ECU for 25 years and influenced the teaching styles of Jeff Wall, Ken Lum and Kelly Wood), local artists graduated from institutions with an interest in the local art historical conversation, a conversation that was, contrary to popular belief, dominated not by the photo-based work of Wallace and other artist-teachers (Lum taught at UBC until the mid-2000s; Wall taught at SFU and UBC from the late-1970s to the mid-1990s; Marian Penner Bancroft, who began teaching at ECU in the 1980s, remains a faculty member to this day) but by an awareness of that work as a consequence of a particular historical development -- just as a generation who are now in their 40s (Geoffrey Farmer, Brian Jungen, Stephen Shearer) were encouraged by Wallace and others to explore the installation-based work of Mike Kelly and Paul McCarthy, because their work seemed headed in that direction. Until recently, much of the local conversation had been played out through the city’s artist-run centres and, I would argue, would not have distinguished itself outside of Vancouver had the city a commercial gallery scene as large as those in Montreal and Toronto (the same applies to a writing scene nurtured not by big house branch plant publishers based in Central Canada but by small, state-subsidized local independents). And that is yet another aspect of the (historic) Vancouver artist: someone who made work not for the art market but in dialogue with -- and for -- their peers.
But for those artists who were not schooled here (not "skilled" so much as introduced to the local conversation), there are those who have explored the local history and made from it their work. Two artists who come to mind are Alex Morrison, who undertook extensive research on Gastown and Simon Fraser University (Burnaby), and Althea Thauberger, whose monumental Carrall Street (2008) alludes to the emergence of film and television production at roughly the same time the neighbourhood in which her work is “set” (also Gastown) had transitioned from a home for seasonal resource-based workers to a catch-all for mental patients irresponsibly "de-institutionalized" from facilities in the Fraser Valley. That the work of these artists received a fair degree of local support speaks to a) an emerging interest in Vancouver's histories and b) an appreciation of those who came here to dig wells, not demand of its waters their reflection.
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Saturday, September 15, 2012
In February 1994 Jason Grant and I organized a reading tour of the Pacific Northwest for 2.13.61 authors Don Bajema and Exene Cervenka (the publishing house is named after the birthdate of its publisher, Henry Rollins). Also on the tour was Professor Griff, by then a non-member of Public Enemy.
While there were many odd and wonderful things that happened on our tour, what I remember best are the tales these three told on our drives between gigs, the most memorable concerning their early years, growing up hard in the United States, and the insights they gained from their experiences.
It has been a while since I last saw Exene. She is truly unique, and I miss her. Very happy to see that she is making herself available to today's youth, reminding them of their youth, and of the importance of Fear's enemy -- Love.
Friday, September 14, 2012
Thursday, September 13, 2012
At bottom is a review I wrote of Esther Shalev-Gerz's recent exhibition at the Kamloops Art Gallery. The version that appears in the current issue of Canadian Art was cut by 5%.
WHITE-OUT: Between Telling and Listening (2012)
Kamloops Art Gallery
Asa Simma dislikes museums. They are cold, she tells the viewer; everything feels “locked-in,” “preserved.” Simma is the subject of WHITE-OUT, an installation by Paris/Cortez Island-based artist Esther Shalev-Gerz. In the first of two opposing 40-minute videos, Simma speaks from her Stockholm home, before a reindeer-skin drum; in the second video she is in the windy outdoors, a 1000 kms north in Karesuando, listening through earbuds to what she told the camera six months earlier, her face tightly framed, the flora alive behind her.
As a double portrait, WHITE-OUT is more than the telling of ones life to its listening author. Mounted in the KAG’s first gallery are a series of dibond aluminum “location” photographs and “source” texts -- photos of the basement archive of Stockholm’s National Historical Museum interspersed with historical, ethnographic and literary writings on Lapland, where Simma (an artist herself) was raised. These writings, “preserved” in the id of the museum archive, were read to Simma (off-camera and off-mike by Shalev-Gerz), to which she responds with tales of Sami life, Swedish citizenry and the collision of the two. (A second work, Perpetuum Mobile [1998-2000] beckons from a third gallery, where a 10-franc coin, like or unlike the memory that the Euro has relegated it to, spins, falters, but never flattens.)
Shalev-Gerz employs a similar interview strategy in Between Telling and Listening: Last Witnesses, Auschwitz 1945-2005 (2005), involving survivors of Nazi concentration camps. However, where Last Witnesses provides only gestural responses, WHITE-OUT generates a new text, in addition to her subject’s corresponding gestures. What is “telling” here, what allows WHITE-OUT its overtone, are the ostensible contradictions -- a sad reminiscence greeted with a smile (of recognition?), a funny story met with a knit brow (Is this something I should be telling people?).
WHITE-OUT was included in a Shalev-Gerz survey earlier this year at the Jeu de Paume, where the context of Paris is equally “telling”. Because France is without an aboriginal presence, WHITE-OUT was viewed in relation to the artist’s other memory works. Yet to experience WHITE-OUT in Canada, where aboriginal culture has achieved a level of symbolic resonance, is to find parallels with the confessions of First Nations artists Dana Claxton and Skeena Reese. Either way, it is clear that Simma (who is Sami “wherever [she is] in the world”) identifies not as an alienated subject but as a European modernist (hello Jimmie Durham!), someone who, like memory specialists Hannah Arendt, Ingeborg Bachmann, Anselm Kiefer, W. G. Sebald and Shalev-Gerz herself, has “love for [her] chosen family,” whom she has met “through [her] work – as an artist.”
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Barbara T. Smith is an important Los Angeles-based artist, one of the more daring "body-based" performance artists of her generation. Vancouver audiences might have seen her work at the touring WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery a fews years ago. For those who did not, you might find her work included at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery's upcoming State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970, which I will be reviewing for Canadian Art's online platform.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
"This physically frail, reticent woman" who, in her own words, is "not sure that I could work in a city where I was constantly being over-stimulated, over-charged" moved from Los Angeles (Malibu) to New York (Manhattan) shortly after this interview was aired. However, before moving she left us with a very fine portrait of L.A. between 1968-1972, an essay that anchors a larger collection, a book I re-read every couple of years called The White Album (1979).
Monday, September 10, 2012
Sunday, September 9, 2012
Saturday, September 8, 2012
Friday, September 7, 2012
The romantic view of the artist -- the one advertisers, television sitcoms and nightly newscasts pander to -- has the artist working away in the studio and, if they are "good enough", exhibiting their work (paintings or sculpture) at a commercial art gallery. A related view, based on the story of Vincent Van Gogh, has the artist in a tender state (financially impoverished, mildly insane and/or under-appreciated), until his death, when his genius is revealed. A more recent variation (an update on the abstract expressionist painter of the 1940s and 50s) has the artist engaged in some form of "performance art", a la Charlotte Moorman. But it is this first view that came to mind on Wednesday while reading a story in the Vancouver Courier on the Vancouver Community Laboratory.
The Vancouver Community Laboratory, or Co-Lab, is a non-profit collective that consists of 30 members (sculptors, smiths, carvers) who require light-industrial machinery -- and space -- to make their work. Five months ago the collective, who had for years operated out of a space on the former Finning site (now the Great Northern Way Campus), was told by the Great Northern Way Campus Trust (a consortium of UBC, SFU, Emily Carr University and BCIT) that their lease, which was due to expire on August 31, 2012, would not be re-negotiated. What they were not told (why would they be?) was that the new tenant in this "light-industrial"-zoned building (has it been re-zoned?) would be a retail outlet (a commercial gallery) like the other retail outlet (also a commercial gallery) that moved into the largest part of the building a few months before.
While the Trust's president, Matthew Carter, acknowledged Co-Lab's "extremely vibrant and valuable role" on the site, he added that this new retail outlet (Monte Clark Gallery) would "complement" the retail outlet (Equinox Gallery) that it will be sharing space with, a gallery that has contributed to the "growing sense of vitality" to the larger Great Northern Way Campus site, a site whose mandate has entrenched (but not defined) that most conveniently amorphous of terms -- "digital media". (For those who came of age during the provincial Social Credit government's "Restraint" to Expo '86 continuum of the 1980s, I believe the term was "hi-tech".)
Call me romantic, but I cannot think of a better complement to an art gallery than an adjacent artist studio, regardless of whether the artists who share that studio exhibit at that gallery or not. (Incidentally, does Equinox Gallery show "digital media"? And if so, is that what accounts for the distortion dots in their digitally-transferred, blown-out reproductions of Fred Herzog's slides?) As for Co-Lab's response, one of its members, Kim Cooper, had this to say: "The mayor is looking to expand the digital media business and at the same time find a solution to more studio spaces for artists." Later she adds: "This also seems a bit counter-productive to put digital media companies into warehouses when they can just as easily work in a typical office, or art galleries that can occupy less strict zoning."
Kim is right -- the contradiction is glaring. What was "sold" to Vancouverites as a unified site helmed by four educational institutions is, like educational institutions everywhere, a Trojan Horse for market-state expansion, be that the production of "digital media" line workers for Disney (if you have not examined this corporation lately, please do) or developers looking to build new market-housing towers, like those that have now stepped east of Main (between Broadway and Prior). Next time someone tries to sell me on a new "school" in my neighbourhood, one with a focus on the arts, the first thing I am going to ask is, "Will it include a McDonald's?"
Thursday, September 6, 2012
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
To websit readers who have complained (via email) that their comments are not sticking, I am working on it. To those who insist that the characters in John Adams's Nixon in China relate to those in Bob Rennie's world, let me say this: though you are free to make associations, it was not my intention to suggest that President Richard Nixon's National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, is Patrick Painter (Bob's mentor in the art collecting business); nor is Bob's intervention in Martin Creed's talk/Q&A at Emily Carr University last year intended as a parallel to "Pat Nixon"'s interruption of the flogging scene (see yesterday's post) in Adams's opera. Any resemblance between Adams's characterizations and Bob's world is strictly coincidental.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Walter Cronkite introduces Scene 5 of John Adams's Nixon in China (1987), "The President Attends the Ballet", a play-within-a-play that features a conscripted "Henry Kissinger" in the role of "The Evil Landholder", a scene so upsetting to "the Nixons" that they enter the ballet, something Madame Mao did on numerous occasions if she felt a production had strayed from its ideological imperative.
Monday, September 3, 2012
Sunday, September 2, 2012
The Wing Sang building at 51 East Pender is one of the oldest in Vancouver, almost as old as the city itself (a 125 this year). Construction began in 1889, bankrolled by its first owner, a Chinese-born labour boss/philanthropist named Yip Sang. In 1901 Yip extended the building to 69 East Pender, and then in 1912 he added a six-storey building across the lane. When we refer to the Wing Sang building today, what we really mean is the Wing Sang building complex.
The history of the Wing Sang building is long and storied, in some ways a dipstick into the larger civic history, a history Vancouverites are generally indifferent to, at least until the Vancouver Art Gallery's Fred Herzog photography exhibition in 2007, where Vancouver's past came alive. Had it not been for the efforts of Bob Rennie, the Wing Sang building would have been torn down, or left in disrepair, as it had been since the 1970s, after the closure of the Yip Sang Travel Agency Ltd.
Today the Wing Sang building is home to Rennie Marketing Systems, Rennie & Associates Realty and the Rennie Collection, "one of the largest collections of contemporary art in Canada." I have visited this building on a number of occasions, where I have seen its exhibitions, its rooftop top Dan Graham pavilion and, to the north, Martin Creed's wall-mounted neon sign EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT.
As these exhibitions take place over multiple floors, visitors cannot help but notice the building's non-exhibition spaces, where the business that underwrites the Rennie Collection takes place. One space that gives me the chills is the school room Wing Sang built for the 23 children he fathered with his four wives (Lee Shee, Dong Shee, Wong Shee and Chin Shee), a room that remains in tact and today acts as a "board room" in which the selling of real estate and the buying of art are discussed.
Rennie has numerous residences, and Wing Sang is among them, making it similar to those complexes I spoke of in yesterday's email, where I went so far as to suggestion that one day these home-and-market developments might eventually include private schools (and gun turrets!). The difference between Wing Sang and developments such as Americana is that the former is under the rule of one person, just as it was in the Yip Sang era. What chills me most about the Wing Sang school room/board room is not its function but its passage from a place of education to a place of business. That and the patriarchs who preside over it.
Saturday, September 1, 2012
Earlier this week I received in the mail my contributor's copy of the current issue of West Coast Line. Although the new editor is poet/scholar Jeff Derksen, issue #73 is (for the most part) guest edited by David Gaertner and Jason Starnes, and is entitled "Here Comes the Neighbourhood".
Among the poems, essays and interviews in "Here Comes" is Emily Fedoruk's "Good Malls Make Good Neighbours: Settling Community Under Capitalism", where the author reminds us of the dialectical relationship shopping malls have to their surrounding suburban neighbourhoods -- how malls both reflect and determine the values of those who live near them. In doing so, Fedoruk takes us through the literature and introduces us to a new kind of shopping/living model, the mall/home in its expanded form.
During a recent conversation a friend told me about her sister who "bought into" one of the condominium developments on the south side of False Creek and her complaint about the huge "concierge fees." This was new to me -- I thought the concierge was a hotel phenomenon. Nope, said my friend, the strata concierge manages everything from child care to grocery shopping, and that the current trend is for condominium developments to contain more and more of that which we once left the house for. (What's next? Private schools? Gun turrets?)
Near the end of her essay Fedoruk sites an (unattributed) L.A. Times article by Chris Erskine, entitled "The New Mayberry?", where a resident of one of these developments (Americana) likened life in her mall/home to being "on vacation," something I took to be further evidence of Vancouver becoming the "resort" of Bob Rennie's dreams. Indeed, the dream merchants who sold the condominium to my friend's sister was none other than Rennie Marketing Systems.