Monday, March 31, 2014

Broadsiding (2010) Part II



Above is the second stage of the Broadsiding (2010) project, where instead of a history of Moshe Safdie's ruin-based building (from its conception through its groundbreaking ceremony to its completion) we selected excerpts from texts by Roman philosophers. (Photos by Henri Robideau)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Broadsiding (2010)



Yesterday's image is from Jenny Holzer's Inflammatory Essays (1979), a series of broadsides the artist posted in public space, like one would a concert poster or a notice for a lost pet. Since then, Holzer has posted shorter Twitter-sized "truisms" on sports arena Jumbo-trons and electric billboards, like the one at Manhattan's Times Square.

In 2009, Geoffrey Farmer approached me about participating in a public art work at the Vancouver Public Library. Of course Holzer's work came to mind. The work we came up with we called Broadsiding (2010). The image above is from the first iteration; the images below carry the textual content. (Photos by Henri Robideau)






Thursday, March 27, 2014

Poetry Reading




Last night I attended a poetry reading at Model Projects, formerly Exercise Projects. The evening was hosted by one of the readers, Tiziana La Melia, a visual artist for whom writing is an aspect of her practice. Also on the bill were Kristina Maher, Bunny Rogers, Rachelle Sawatsky and Walter Scott.

Walter took the stage first and read a piece he called "Wendy Colour Edits", a list poem culled from sections of his upcoming colouring book.

Two minutes later, Kristina read two short poems from her phone, one of which is the story of a family vacation, where the narrator and her sister (?) play with "bottles from the mini bar," while a "postage stamp-sized swimming pool" waits calmly outside.

Tiziana read a piece called "Thought Column for Joan Dark the Saint" (And if structure is the theme/ I'm not sure what this means/ Chip in my/ Lip-stick) from Night Moves V, a Los Angeles-based newsprint fold-over first brought to my attention by Rachelle, who published work in an earlier issue, and who read two carefully cryptic pieces, one of them about taking her cat to the spa.

In the midst of this was Bunny, who, as my babushka would say, is blestyashchiy, and who read in a flat unmodulated voice a series of confessionals that began with this line (or something like it):

self-indulgence should be a crime punishable by death

Following that, lines like these:

I am scared to think your word is not law

safety hurts in bed where I belong

people use proper spelling when they want to return the hurt

he is allowed to look at me like that because something was established

can you say that thing about audience again?

I wouldn't call it a bag of tricks; I would call it a bag of advantages

you and your earplugs

snowflakes sans snow

I imagine a cat named Ketchup

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Monday, March 24, 2014


A small room inside 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 morning it is not the view that has my attention but a collection of recent pictures taken and stored on my phone.

Snowdrops, crocuses, narcissus, and as of yesterday, a hyacinth, the first one I have seen this year that has reached out from its bud and, for the most part, bloomed.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Deals and Resignations



In his March 21 editorial, CKNW junkyard dog Bruce Allen spoke of the recent resignations of Alberta premier Alison Redford and the senior staff and board of the Portland Hotel Society as ice berg tips suggestive of larger issues. While we may never know what these issues are, or indeed if there were any, he was correct to point out that backroom deals often accompany such resignations.

Although I would prefer not to wade in on the life and times of the late Jim Green (a dealmaker if there ever was one), one person who always comes to mind when I think of resignations and deals is one of my favourite politicians, ever, and that is our former mayor Larry Campbell, who, for but a single term as frontman for the Vision party, managed to make city hall more like a Charles Grodin interview than a slow-motion WWF bout.

Among my favourite "episodes" of the Larry as Mayor show were his interactions with then-NPA councillor Lorne Mayencourt, who exasperated Larry in a way that managed to reflect what was both galling and funny about life in general. Wish I could recall what Mayencourt once said to the media that had them chase after Campbell for a response, but Campbell's attempt to discredit the former councillor focused not on the content of Mayencourt's comment but on its speaker's lack of responsibility: that Maynecourt has declared personal bankruptcy on more than one occasion.

Which brings me back to Campbell, resignations and dealmaking -- in particular, what forces were in play that had Campbell choose not to run for a second term at city hall, and why, out of nowhere, he ended up with a senate appointment (instigated by the federal Liberals). If ever anyone suggests that there is not a link between these two levels of government, this is the first thing I think of. And while I think Campbell had nothing to hide by not running again, his perfect mix of popularity and integrity clearly had some people in this city scared.

Friday, March 21, 2014

On Your Mark



Awoke this morning as I often do to our city's once top-rated commercial AM radio station and its morning host interview, with a degree of genuine hostility, the former front man of the Portland Hotel Society, Mark Townsend, as the latter explained in a calm and reasonable voice some of the "questionable expenses" the PHS accrued while managing the 17 million dollars or so of government contracts given to his society to help with the lives of those that too few in this city give a shit about, lives that the PHS helped to turn around, and, in many cases, save.

As someone who has lived and worked in the downtown eastside, someone who has dedicated the better part of his life to a means over ends philosophy, I can relate to the particularities of this most complicated place and how sometimes these particularities lead to decisions (sometimes contradictory) that are geared more towards things happening than the way they happen, something I learned as an auxiliary volunteer at The Lookout emergency services shelter in 1983, and later (1987-1993) as a musician working the neighbourhood's bars and clubs (many of the musicians of this era went on to work at aid agencies like the PHS and The Lookout).

All of which is to say that I am sympathetic to Townsend and admire the way he handled himself on a program designed not to explain the particularities of the work the PHS did in the downtown eastside (and indeed throughout the world) but further inflame those ignorant of this kind of work. For example, when the radio host asked about expenses for flowers, Townsend spoke of PHS managers who, after experiencing a particularly stressful assignment, were sent bouquets in recognition of that stress (compassion). Same with expenses related to bringing to town the deputy mayor of Rio de Janeiro, whose knowledge of his city's social issues were seen to be relevant to our own (knowledge sharing).

Of course in saying all this I am aware that private radio stations are under the illusion that they need to take a provocative approach to reportage rather than one of conciliation, as outrage, they insist, drives ratings, and ratings raise ad revenues. Townsend knows this, and I am sure he was equally aware that this radio station's approach to him (Townsend is not Rob Ford) would be the price he had to pay to explain to those tweeters and emailers who, no matter how hard you try, will forever cling to narratives impressed upon them about worlds they feel threatened by and, as a matter of childish pride, refuse to understand.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The First Day of Spring



The first day of spring, and change is in the air. Following Russia's bullshit referendum imposed upon a country not its own comes the equally imposed resignation (no doubt a collaborative effort by all three levels of government) of the co-founders, managers and board of downtown eastside social developers The Portland Hotel Society, not to mention Alberta Premier Alison Redford's pollster imposed resignation for a 45k trip to South Africa so that she could party at the graveside of Nelson Mandela.

What's next? Hyacinth?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Monday, March 17, 2014

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Friday, March 14, 2014

Beuys Painting (2010)



Later this month Rebecca Brewer will open an exhibition entitled The Written Face at Catriona Jeffries Gallery. Like fellow Vancouver-based artist Steven Shearer, who applies various historical palettes to young men associated with teen fan magazines of the 1970s, Brewer's model of choice is based on the architecture (hat, posture) of the artist Joseph Beuys.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Boom Boom (1993-2004)



Neil Campbell is an artist for whom painting includes "painting". The work above is documentation of his painting Boom Boom (1993-2004), installed at the Contemporary Art Gallery on the occasion of an exhibition curated by Roy Arden, entitled Beau Dick and Neil Campbell: Supernatural, one of my favourite exhibitions of the mid-00s. Read Arden's exhibition essay here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Persian Rose, Chartreuse Muse, Vancouver Grey



Among the exhibitions I look forward to this month is Persian Rose, Chartreuse Muse, Vancouver Grey, curated by Vancouver-based painter and educator Mina Totino (see above).

The exhibition will include mostly paintings, but in some instances prints (Tomma Abts) and objects (Mary Heilmann), by a range of contemporary artists, all of whom Totino has sought out and brought together, with Equinox Gallery supplying the barn.

From what I have gathered from my conversations with Totino, this exhibition is not about "painting" (in scare quotes), but painting as an accumulation of actions, attitudes and altercations.

In addition to those mentioned (parenthetically), expect to see works by established older artists like Bernard Frize, mid-career artists like Silke Otto-Knapp, early-mid-career artists like Monique Mouton, emerging artists like Aaron Carter, not to mention the late Raoul De Keyser.

Monday, March 10, 2014

"Who Loves the Sun" (1970)




In yesterday's post I spoke of Lou Reed as a simple songwriter, the proverbial poet who picked up a guitar and, like Leonard Cohen, made something more (and less) of his words.

What makes Reed's songs more resonant, more memorable, is his band, the Velvet Underground, a band that features John Cale, who, like the Rolling Stones's Brian Jones, is a brilliant colourist; as well as Nico, a vocal interpreter who, at the insistence of the band's first producer, Andy Warhol, allows a selection of Reed's songs their melancholic heart.

But there is another singer in the Velvet Underground, a multi-instrumentalist named Doug Yule, who took over from Reed after Reed left the band in August of 1970.

The song above, selected on the occasion of a bright sunny morning after a Saturday of rain, is a Reed composition, but sung by Yule, who, I believe, is also the author of the four-bar instrumental break (1:57) that enters this song like a meteor crashing to earth.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Songwriting




The songs of Lou Reed combine a spareness, a lyricism and an urgency that is difficult to achieve if one knows too much about poetry and music. In some ways his songs feel like the songs a poet writes upon first learning the guitar.

On the topic of songwriting, Reed once said "One chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you're into jazz," which had me thinking about one chords songs in the popular culture. The closest I came were the Beatles "Tomorrow Never Knows" (1966), from their ground-breaking Revolver album, and Sonny & Cher's "The Beat Goes On" (1967).

What is interesting about these songs is their respective orientations. While "Tomorrow Never Knows" concerns the internal world (the world LSD advocates like Timothy Leary told us we had to change before we could change the world around us), "The Beat Goes On" focuses on the external world, where trends (be they clothing styles or political interventions) come and go, but the underlying structure remains the same (something Leary would have cited as a reason to expand one's mind through the careful and considered use of drugs).

Something else worth noting: after recording their compositions, The Beatles left England for an extended visit to India, to study Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, while Sonny & Cher took their act to Vegas.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

"To hang like beaded curtains…"




Environment Canada has issued a rainfall warning for the south coast of British Columbia, with Vancouver to expect between 50mm to 70mm.

The song above was written by Joni Mitchell in 1967 and recorded by Fairport Convention. It appears on the band's 1969 album What We Did on Our Holidays.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

"Hunky" Bill's




Restauranteur "Hunky" Bill Konyk is one of Vancouver's best-known Ukrainians. Well before Vancouver restaurants imposed time-limits on seatings, refused to seat those awaiting the remainder of their party, and re-charged patrons the full price of a tea upon receiving more hot water, Bill was perfecting his perogies, which were the first in this city to be made gluten-free.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Reverse Incursion



Yesterday we were told that pro-Russian troops (as opposed to Russian troops) are now in possession of a ferry terminal in the Ukrainian city of Kerch.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968)




The last time the world's eyes were on the Crimean Peninsula was in 1853, when Russia and the Ottoman Empire began a complicated war that quickly included England, France and the Kingdom of Sardinia.

In 1968, British film director Tony Richardson gave us an equally complicated film about this war, a film that begins with the above title sequence.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Saturday, March 1, 2014

"Love Letters" (1992)


I would give my husband drawings for grocery lists,
with smiling faces on the eggs, and spider feet
dangling everywhere. I could draw letters too.
fat senseless alphabets, lexical landscapes of
pointed trees and bloated clouds. that is how I
wished words were, with changing colours and
feathers in their spines. on road signs in my
dreams, they shimmied, their Rockette heels a
variegated sunburst. unlike the stiff black
knots and stakes that glared at me from envelopes
and books. an unchanging and cruel exotica,
like smelling Cuban cigars wherever you go or
the same screaming opera. he said that I did
not need to learn with him there, reading slowly
aloud, but sometimes in silence. that drove me
insane, he would laugh or frown at something
on the page, and look as if he were a creeping
vine on a tombstone, a coffee stain on a piece
of clean manilla. I practice learning on a stack
of mail he kept in his sock drawer, and I
finally learned dear. Dear Hank, it felt like
having a perfume sample fall from a magazine
in a sweet sudden breath. it made me think of
velvet antlers, of his rumpled cardigan sweater
and my love for him, a word which slayed me,
with its clean lines and quick exhalation,
the swelling heart in its middle. I began to
scream things all day long, and I felt the first
affection for poetry through the ringing sounds
of advertisements, soapbox labels and advice to
the lovelorn columns. words were heroic, huge
killing things, and they beat in my head and
bled from my eyes and fingers. I would be ironing,
and a giant phrase or comma would barrel into
the room, its veins bulging, its arms around
my waist. Dear Hank, I miss you especially
your sexy hands, mine clenched when I got that
far and then some. then I knew for sure that
reading was magic, it conjured up these long
eyelashes and white Harlow hair, and the guilty
baldspot and shaking dewlap of my faithless
husband, adrift on the libretto of his private
life. he would still read to me in his annoying
way while I squirmed on my novels and texts,
that lay under the couch cushions like misplaced
scissors. I drew him an elaborate list one day,
of pink champagne bottles and support girdles,
and wrote my first words. I left them with his
letters, on the back of our marriage certificate,
I think they were my finest, I said, Dear
Hank, the end. and right away began working on
a longer book.