Saturday, July 22, 2017
Drove north from UBCO yesterday to see Scott August's completed exhibition at the Lake Country Art Gallery (the now demolished bandshell shown in an earlier post was located on the West Kelowna bluffs and was known to host concerts by bands like Trooper and Cheap Trick).
After that, a haircut in Vernon, and then to the ranch, where preparations are underway to bring the Airstream down from the hay barn.
In the meantime, dull stuff like laundry: turning fitted sheets into jelly fish.
Friday, July 21, 2017
Yesterday at 4:30 p.m. Syilx artist and FCCS MFA classmate Mariel Belanger gave a performance at the UBCO Commons. Entitled Undoing the I Do, Mariel arrived at the foot of the Commons pond dressed in her wedding gown and carrying with her a woven bowl that contained a tin pot full of soil and/or ashes and a small box of soap, as well as a bouquet. To the tune of Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me" Mariel "washed" herself, the bouquet and the dress of that colonial fantasy known as "Indian Princess".
Thursday, July 20, 2017
Although originally billed as keynote presentations by Jeannette Armstrong and Shawn Wilson, we were told by the afternoon’s emcee Stephen Foster that Richard Armstrong would be opening for Jeanette, followed by Shawn, and that pleased me some because Richard’s July 14, 2016 introduction to Syilx cosmology, preceded by Carmen Papalia’s Blind Field Shuttle (July 12, 2016) and followed by Fahreen HaQ’s Being Home performance at the Alternator Gallery (July 15, 2016), had a profound effect on how I have come to understand everything from indigenous land pedagogy to relationality to collaboration.
One of the more remarkable things that happens when listening to Richard, something that is rarely experienced these days when in the company of even the most experienced public speakers, is the complete lack of “ums” and “uhs” in his presentations. Could it be that Richard, who reminded us more than once that the knowledge he carries is not generally found in books, has rehearsed his words to the point where they flow in and out of him as naturally as bats from a cave? As someone who is always considering the presence of form as content in writing a work of art, in writing on a work of art or, increasing, in writing with a work of art, I have come to experience what Richard says of the land’s participation in our growth as human beings an instance of Richard performing that land. Or if not the performance of that land, then perhaps more humbly its embodiment.
It is my understanding that Richard gave a more recent introduction to Syilx cosmology last week, as well as took part in what emcee Foster described as an “inspiring” conversation with visiting artist Alex Janvier at the FINA Gallery. But as there likely were details about art and artists that occurred to Richard after his conversation with Alex, details particular to the Syilx people, Richard no doubt saw the need to address these things to an Intensive comprised as much of artists as scholars. And so it was for this reason that, after a few words about who he is (a Syilx knowledge-keeper) and where he comes from (an Okanagan Valley divided into two colonial spheres by a politicized 49th Parallel), he announced that he would speak to art and artists.
“Are there things an artist should not be doing?” Richard asked rhetorically. And then of course the answers.
The first answer began with some context concerning that reductive popular cultural mediator known as Hollywood. Richard told us of Hollywood’s persistent use of red ochre face paint when depicting indigenous people in its films. “Red ochre is sacred,” Richard began, and from there he told us how it has particular uses, like the marks found on petroglyphs. Artists can mix red ochre to make paint for use in paintings, he added, but red ochre should never be applied to one’s face. The second verboten concerns the use of a deer’s dew claws in the making of an artwork, for these, too, are sacred. “These are used to make rattles for the Winter Dance,” Richard told us, before moving on to what at first sounded like the unrelated topic of “land law,” but was, as we have come to know (also) through the writings of Oglala Lakota theologian Vine Deloria, Jr and more recently through those of Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, writer and artist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, another contextual introduction to how stories are told both of and from the land, and if “[a]rtists can use stories to make art,” as Richard encouraged us to do so, then the laws of the land that provides us with such stories must be observed.
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
As part of UBCO's Summer Indigenous Intensive, Dene Suline and Saulteaux artist Alex Janvier was invited to use the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies' FINA Gallery as a studio. In recognition, Alex invited interested participants to visit him.
When I stepped into the gallery yesterday Alex was just pushing off from his work table after cleaning his brushes. Before him hung twelve recently completed paintings tacked side-by-side to the wall. "Sit down," he said pointing to a chair. I introduced myself and from there, as the song says, "I fell into a dream."
Forty-five minutes passed, and when I left, I knew something. I knew I knew less, not more, than I knew before, and that I needed to let go of more, and how difficult it is to go about it.
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
A collaboration that begins with entering the word (collaboration) into a computer search engine so ubiquitous (Google) as to transcend its function (search engine) and provide that which is shown below (though reformatted):
the action of working with someone to produce or create something.
"he wrote on art and architecture in collaboration with John Betjeman"
traitorous cooperation with an enemy.
"he faces charges of collaboration"
I am familiar with the first example -- working with someone to make a book -- but the second example feels pejorative. Could not “the action of working with someone” in a “traitorous" capacity be better expressed in a word like conspiracy? Bad enough that the world has for so long looked down on literary collaboration as a transgression of the romantic notion of singular genius than to find it maligned through its “cooperation with an enemy.” Is this the market talking, where the preferred form of literary authorship -- or indeed of authority in general -- privileges the one above the many?
But returning to the first definition: Is it necessary that “the action of working with someone” has that "someone" limited to another human being?
Scholars from Oglala Sioux theologian Vine Deloria, Jr. to Secwepemc artist Tania Willard have written and spoken of the land as a sentient being -- a parent, a teacher, a collaborative agent able to “produce or create something.” I suppose the same could be applied to that artificially intelligent landscape known as the internet, which in the early 21st century gave us poems "mined" from unusual word pairings entered into search engines. The name given to this style of poetry is flarf. The name given to stories born from the land varies from community to community, but among the Syilx-speaking people of the Okanagan they are known as captikwl.
Monday, July 17, 2017
First it was a cold and snowy winter, then it was spring floods, now it is summer fires. What will the fall bring?
If we are to believe that the land is a living being, like a teacher or a parent, what lessons remain of a land that is pushing itself to extremes in order to help us understand?
"To every season, turn, turn, turn..."
And with fall around the corner -- does anything ever happen in the fall? Could it be rains this year?
Sunday, July 16, 2017
While at Lake Country (Winfield) last Friday I visited the Lake Country Art Gallery to speak with curator Wanda Lock and artist Scott August, who were installing.
Scott's exhibition, entitled Furbish: Remnant Themes of Post-Amusement, is a re-imaginging of the work of Okanagan-based Peter Soehn, who for many years animated the region, as well as parts of the Lower Mainland and Alberta, with eye-catching billboards and moulded sculptures, like those commissioned by the former Kelowna Zoo and Old Macdonald's Farm.
The picture atop this post is an inset from a larger montage Scott created for Furbish. In addition to the concrete concert stage that once stood at the centre of this whispering field are billboards, not just those managed by media giants like the Pattison Group, but by local companies as well.
I had hoped to have more to say about this former concert stage (information I thought I might gather from my visit to the gallery this afternoon), but when I arrived the door was locked, and it was only then that it occurred to me that the person in charge of sitting the gallery was likely delayed due to the wildfire that broke out last night at the other side of Lake Country (Okanagan Centre) -- which sadly turned out to be the case.
In a couple of weeks I should have a more comprehensive piece written on Scott's exhibition. In the meantime, thank you to Scott and Wanda for allowing me to photograph the exhibition in the midst of its installation.
Saturday, July 15, 2017
Just as the Lower Mainland absorbed the towns of Haney and Hammond into Maple Ridge, so too has the Okanagan absorbed the towns of Oyama, Winfield, Carr's Landing and Okanagan Centre into Lake Country.
The picture up top (taken yesterday) is of a "hand launch" site at the foot of Bottom Wood Lake Road. As you can see, water levels remain high. As you can't see, the sandbags that once stood there...
Also unavailable to pedestrian view are the "sandbanks" (Austin's word) that remain in front of houses that cannot be accessed due to high water levels, but also trespassing laws that protect private property from those curious enough to find themselves transgressing them.
Friday, July 14, 2017
Above is the second paragraph of 221A's announcement of its participation in documenta 14's Under the Mango Tree -- Sites of Learning. (If Documenta has learned anything from Athens, maybe it's time to learn something with Documenta?) Of note is the assertion that "the structures of formal education systems are increasingly reaching their productive and epistemological limits." But if this is the case, what about the possessive apostrophe (or is it a contraction?) in the first sentence ("221A's shifts its...")? How productive are gaffes like that? As for the title ("Under the Mango Tree"), Freire's critical pedagogy is to graduate colloquia what Berger's Ways of Seeing (1972) remains to first-year art school courses -- a staple.
I am all for artist-run centres providing educational opportunities. Years ago Vancouver's Kootenay School of Writing promoted itself as such, offering courses and workshops led by visiting writers and artists like Charles Bernstein and Abigail Child. More recently, the 2012 Institutions by Artists conference exemplified the ever-blossoming relationship between artist-run centres and the academy. If these "limits" are to be addressed, perhaps we might find them in relational expressions, not those limited to disingenuous generalizations and unchecked typographical errors*.
* now corrected
Thursday, July 13, 2017
On Wednesday July 12 the Summer Indigenous Intensive featured keynote presentations by cultural studies scholar Monika Kin Gagnon followed by artists Chris Creighton-Kelly & France Trépanier. Although indigeneity was at the forefront of both presentations, each took a different form, with Monika adapting an illustrated three-part expository essay (introduction, body, conclusion) and Chris & France enacting a polemical, if somewhat overlapping, “grand narrative” point-counterpoint dialogue that included “live” camera, projected intertitles and ceremonial regalia. While tempted to discuss the relational subject position achieved in Chris & France’s work, it is Monika’s presentation that I will respond to.
In this year of anniversaries (150 in Canada, 375 in Quebec), Monika chose the 50th anniversary of Expo ’67 to dedicate herself to both a book on this Montreal-based world’s fair (of which she is a co-editor) and a visual art exhibition (of which she is a co-curator). Her aim here is not to celebrate the fair, but to “rethink” it in relation to current events, with a particular focus on the fair’s inclusion and representation of indigenous peoples as manifest in the Indians of Canada Pavilion.
In her presentation Monika provides a cursory introduction to Canada’s colonial history and how world’s fairs have been used to entwine technological innovation and commerce (she misidentifies Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism, 1993, as Culture and Empire), before turning to a brief history of the Indians of Canada Pavilion, her “culture jamming” exhibition at the Musée d’Art Contemporain, then, finally, a hurried conclusion that emphasizes the collaborative potential of research-creation between artists and scholars (she appreciated Ashok’s mention of “creative archiving” in his introduction). Only later, during the Q&A, did Monika remind the audience that “in my field of Cultural Studies we’re interested in conjunctions,” a methodological detail that could have appeared at the beginning of her presentation, to orient the listener, not at the end, as if to justify what was left unsaid.
My critical response to Monika’s presentation is based largely on what I have come to see as a general failing in a lot of modern art discourse, where art is seen as autonomous, unbeholden to contexts such as siting, which, like the museumological white cube, is considered a neutral space. What I wanted to hear more of concerned the siting of Expo ’67, the contested land on which it was mounted. I suppose this is why my Q&A question focused on the affect Vancouver’s Expo ’86 had on Monika’s “rethink” of Montreal’s Expo. Those present will recall Monika’s response: “I wasn’t living in Vancouver then -- I didn’t move there until 1990.” But as many Vancouver culture workers know, the negative consequences of Expo ’86 remained present long after the fair closed its doors -- just as the negative consequences of Expo ’67 remain present in Montreal today.
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
From Brian's down to Westside Road, north to Hwy 97, then south down Old Kamloops Road to 30th Avenue, east to 30th Street, south to Commonage, Carr's Landing, and then Okanagan Centre, where I stopped to take pictures of sandbags.
I like these old bags!
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
Monday, July 10, 2017
Sunday, July 9, 2017
There's so little beach left.
"You should've seen it last week," said the woman three trees over, pointing to the tree behind her -- "the water was up to here!"
Heavy winter snowfalls coupled with a sudden rise in temperatures equals higher than usual water levels, compromised septic fields and, as you can imagine, closed beaches.
Saturday, July 8, 2017
As we stepped from the Rotary Centre last night I remarked on the intensity of the sun. Tania said it looks that way because of the forest fires.
I had heard about forest fires near Ashcroft and Princeton earlier that day, but Tania had more recent news: the province had issued an evacuation order for Cache Creek.
When I turned on the radio this morning the province had taken things even further, declaring a state of emergency for all of B.C.
Friday, July 7, 2017
Thursday, July 6, 2017
I have always admired the work of stonemasons, particularly those who practice uncoursed rubble masonry, where intact stones of various sizes are used to create a range of structures, from those that go unseen (foundations), to those that protect those who don’t want to be seen (compound walls), to those that denote the lodgings of those whose labour is devalued when discussing economies where the capitalist mode of production is operative (worker housing).
As a teenager I was told that if I insisted on writing unspectacularly I would do well to learn a trade -- so I read everything I could on masonry. When reflecting on a life in writing, I sometimes wonder if I, like Hesse’s Goldmund, might have been happier had I chosen to make my poems with, say, river rock, sand and earth, and not ink, paper and letters (and now plastic and electricity).
This April the Okanagan Valley experienced a confluence of conditions that resulted in rising water levels and flooding. Because I sometimes live here, and because I believe in the power of the occasional poem, I thought I would propose a collaborative project that linked my work as a (local) writer with those whose work is, if not masonry in the way we have come to know it, based on similar principles -- but with softer, homogenous and more expedient results: sandbagging.
What would such a collaboration look like? What are its terms? How and where would it begin? These are difficult questions to answer. Difficult because if I had answers, I would be on my own with them -- a failed collaborator.
A place to begin my inquiry could be with those who manufacture sandbags. Another place could be with those who have assembled sandbags and placed them in areas susceptible to flooding. A third place could be with those who distribute sandbags at times of emergency -- namely, government (a branch of which is the military).
As far as production methods go, that too is to be determined, based in part on terms offered up by my collaborators. With that said, in whatever discussions I enter into I will introduce the relationship between the written poem and that which is made with river rock, sand and earth, a form that has more in common with something we walk on -- a pathway -- than a poem or a prose paragraph.
At present, my proposal is a fantasy. Or if not a fantasy, it begins as such, perhaps similarly to the way Roland Barthes began his 1977-78 Collège de France lectures. In an essay prior to the posthumous publication of his lecture notes (The Neutral), Barthes writes of his interest in a “phantasmic teaching” concerned with the “comings and goings of desire,” and “that at the origins of teaching such as this we must always locate a fantasy, which can vary from year to year.”
This year’s fantasy is a trauma fantasy -- brought on by flooding.
2. Roland Barthes, “Lecture,” trans. Richard Howard, October, no. 8 (spring 1979): 5
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
A picture I took earlier this year. The artist is Shaye-Lee Fleming and somewhere she(?) is in Grade 9.
Wish I could remember where I saw this hanging. Context suggests it was either the halls of Kelowna's Rotary Centre for the Arts or the Kelowna Art Gallery. Either way, I love it! Shades of Guston on the grapefruit and the watermelon.
Hope you're still painting Shaye-Lee!
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
Monday, July 3, 2017
Here is Buffy's musical adaptation of Leonard Cohen's text "God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot" from his novel Beautiful Losers (1966).
Sunday, July 2, 2017
The first brand new album I ever purchased with my own money was Steve Miller Band's Fly Like an Eagle (1976). I was thirteen, a Kerrisdale Courier paperboy, and on weekends I would go downtown to where the albums were before visiting my father in the West End. A&A Records was at the corner of Robson and Granville (or was it Nelson and Granville?) and A&B Sound further north on Seymour and Dunsmuir.
When the Hard Rock Miners were touring regularly (1988-1993), the van was our rehearsal space. I don't remember it as a place where we got a lot of writing done, but for rehearsing and arranging, it was great.
I love the Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers Van Sessions. Great musicianship, great humour, great friends, too, I hope. Their video above is one of my favourites. As for the song, I liked it as a kid, but I like it even more now.
Could it use another verse between the third and the fourth? It seems like there was one there once. But just as well -- more room to imagine what Bobbie Sue slipped away from, how she did it, and where Billy Joe was.
Saturday, July 1, 2017
Back in the early-1990s, when the St. Marks Poetry Project still put out its newspaper, I remember reading a reference to Douglas Coupland that described him as an "Establishment poster boy." Just what that Establishment looks like today is a little more complicated, though we know it when we see it, right?
Doug has been a target of late, and it's not surprising. Some might say it's about time, while others might wonder, what's the point -- there's no there there. Criticizing what ails you, as Samuel Beckett reminded us more than once, only makes that which ails you stronger. Better to ignore.
But to those who wonder, let's not forget that Vancouver writer/Toronto artist Douglas Coupland is as much a perceptual entity whose observations have real consequences as he is an instance of 3D printed click-bait for the laziest and most powerful among us.
In 2015 Canadian Art editor/co-publisher David Balzer received a writing prize from a mysterious organization for a critical review of Doug's ROM exhibition. Three weeks ago art historian Andrew Witt published a lopsided essay that focused a little too much (as in doth protest...) on Doug's honkey middle-class responses to postwar Vancouver street photography. And now yesterday David returns with an adapted talk that has Doug looking less like the Establishment's poster boy than one of its settler-colonial Omega Men: a know-it-all who doesn't know anything goddammiting his way through a world that, as revealed to us at the outset of this film reference, might be an hallucination.
Of these three texts, all are worth reading for various reasons, and I appreciate the writers taking the time to write them. But the question remains, Is Douglas Coupland a worthy subject of criticism? Could these writers' energies not be redirected from obvious targets like Douglas Coupland towards those that we who live and work in this (art) world assume we know but might benefit from knowing in a different way?
I still think Gabby Moser put it best when she wrote in an August 20, 2013 Canadian Art online post: "Coupland's work looks like what popular culture would have us think contemporary art is supposed to look like."