Monday, October 31, 2011


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

On November 5th SFU Gallery (Burnaby) will open Jerry Pethick: Works 1968-2003 from Collections on Hornby Island. The exhibition, whose theme is more or less explained in the title, will be accompanied by an image-rich catalogue, with essays by curator Bill Jeffries, Geoffrey Farmer and myself (see below):


Distance is not an evil that should be abolished. It is a normal condition of any communication – Jacques Ranciere, The Emancipated Spectator[1]

Descriptions of Hornby Island often begin with directions on how to get there. That the island is described as a destination, and not a place where people live, has bearing on our perception of it. Although many Hornby Islanders began as tourists, some were born there and never left. Descriptions of Hornby as a tourist destination render its residents invisible.

Jerry, Margaret and Yana Pethick were familiar with Hornby before moving there in 1975, enough to know that the sparsely populated island would allow Jerry room to make his art. Jerry’s practice was the impetus behind this move. What was not evident to those who did not know them was that the studio was disproportionate to the size of their living quarters: Jerry's studio was immense, their Hornby home much smaller.

On the south wall of Jerry’s studio is a map[2]. Those familiar with Jerry’s work will know that this map is comprised of concentric rings, text, and is quartered by an “X”, within which lies the artist’s reckoning of space, time and locus, a grand theory devised by someone who grew up with grand theories concerning everything from political economy (socialism) to science (relativity), aesthetics (modernism) to gender relations (feminism).

But for all its totalizing, for all its Blakean circumscription and personal history, Jerry’s map is a formal pattern that relates to the means by which most of us travel to and from the island, and that is by propeller.

At the beginning of her 1994 Stadtgalerie Saarbrucken catalogue essay on Jerry’s bias arrays[3], Barbara Fischer quotes a passage from an article Jerry wrote 18 years earlier for Vanguard magazine [4]. I am unsure whether it was Fischer’s intention to arrange this passage as poetry, but in doing so she suggests a parallel between the propeller’s function (to lift up like a helicopter or to push forward like a ferry) and the mutability of language through form.

Boats in motion on the still water,
skimming across the sky.[5]

Earlier in the Saarbrucken publication, gallery director Bernd Schulz provides an anecdote that begins with Jerry’s placement of a Spectrafoil propeller shape on his Vancouver Art Gallery catalogue, then relates it to Jerry’s appreciation of Brancusi, Duchamp and Leger’s visit to the 1909 Paris Air Show, where Duchamp was alleged to have said: “Painting is dead. What artist can make anything better than these propellers?” From there, Schulz connects “the image of the rotating propeller…to the concept of transparency that plays such a great role in [Duchamp’s] work,” the propeller a “programmatic sign of a bridgehead between philosophy, science, and art” in Jerry’s. [6]

Like Jerry, I am intrigued by any form that erases itself in the act it is designed to achieve. Returning to Duchamp, it was four years after the Paris Air Show that the French artist gave us one of his first readymades, what many consider to be the first instance of kinetic art: Bicycle Wheel (1913/1951). “I enjoy looking at it,” said Duchamp of the wheel spinning atop its stool. “Just as I enjoy looking at the flames dancing in the fireplace.”[7] Who among us has not experienced a similar sensation when, as children, we stared at the spinning wheel of an upturned bicycle, resisting the temptation to stick our finger into that which has been rendered invisible?


Although many of his artworks contain movement -- activated, as it were, by the circling viewer -- Jerry would not have considered himself a kinetic artist. Indeed, the question of the viewer and their relationship to three-dimensional art was a popular one when Jerry was majoring in sculpture at Chelsea Polytechnic (1957-1960), and later at the Royal College of Art (1961-1964). Another question concerned materials.

An emergent voice in the sculpture conversation was Anthony Caro. A former assistant to Henry Moore, Caro is known for opening up the sculptural object -- eschewing the plinth, employing “found” materials and placing the resultant object in a one-to-one relationship with the viewer. Ideas such as these seem commonplace today, but in the mid-1950s they were considered radical.

Even more radical was a questioning of the medium itself. After a 1967 viewing of Dennis Gabor’s holography, Jerry turned to the inventor and said, “Maybe you’ve made sculpture obsolete!”[8] a statement that implies the insufficiencies of the medium, but also sheds light on what Jerry aspired to as a maker of art. Not unlike Duchamp, when faced with those propellers.

In 1970, Jerry’s fascination with Gabor’s work in “spatial vision” led him and Margaret to San Francisco, where he and physicist Lloyd Cross co-founded the San Francisco School of Holography. From there he continued his research, notably in the development of sand table holographic technology. Modern sculpture, by then, was a contested affair, with Donald Judd arguing for a non-metaphorical anti-sculpture that gave primacy to materials and their spatial arrangement[9], while art historian and critic Michael Fried accused Judd and other “minimalists” (Judd loathed the term) of having abandoned the modern sculptural project for an art experience reliant not on “presentness” or “absorption” or “grace” but “theatricality”[10]. Although Jerry would have condoned Judd’s abandonment of capital “S” Sculpture, he would have disagreed with Fried’s proscriptive stance, having by then transcended the medium in pursuit of broader questions concerning the interface of perception, bio-physics, eastern mysticism and (like Caro) “found” materials, areas neither Judd nor Fried were particularly interested in. Indeed, as Jerry’s practice progressed, more specific inquiries into phenomenology, panorama, Cezanne’s flattened picture plane, Boccioni’s attempts at temporal and spatial synthesis and Lippmann’s integral photography would become evident in his work.

By 1975, Jerry’s holographic research had come to an end -- partly due to endless hours spent in darkened rooms, partly due to inconsistencies in funding. Ironically, it was the collapse of a related project in three-dimensional photography that resulted in Jerry receiving two thousand plastic lenslets from a Michigan-based group with whom he had been working, material with which he constructed the first of his arrays. Jerry describes what he did with these lenslets in his essay “Animals Dream”:

One night, I used one of these lens sheets and placed a piece of black and white film behind it (a crude, light-tight little camera); I then exposed the film through the lens sheet with an electronic flash, developed the negative and replaced it in the camera, registering it as well as I could to its original position. On looking at it through the lens sheet, instead of there being all the little black dots created by the negative film exposed by each small lenslet, those little black dots formed one enormous black dot. This astonished me; it was a first real comprehension of viewing a composite image and of what it might lead to. The exciting realisation lasted until I was able to make my first small array of "Margaret, Yana and the Century Plant" [1972] in the backyard of our house on Sixth Avenue in San Francisco. The large format arrays, such as "Homeship/Faux Terrain" [1990-92] followed with the finding of the right lenses and with the existence of the new and now ubiquitous automatically-run machine prints.[11]

When Jerry arrived on Hornby, the array, whether he knew it then or not, would become the defining work in his oeuvre, a space (and time) machine comprised of high and low technologies, new and “found” forms, serial photography and expressive and conceptual rhetorics through which “ideas that push and pull one into creative commitment” could travel [12]. However, even in its earliest stages, the array (or “bias array,” owing to the particularities of the pre-conditioned viewer) was unlike anything being produced on the island. Which leads one to ask: How were these works, these ideas, received within the local conversation, let alone three ferries rides away in Vancouver?


Hornby Art, if one can say such a thing with any authority, begins with an understanding that anyone who defines themself as an artist contributes to the cultural ecology of the island, from those who design their homes to those who produce objects and gestures based on a set of aesthetic decisions, whether intuitive or informed by an ongoing conversation. A broad spectrum, but one with which islanders are in polite agreement.

Within this spectrum is a conversation that came to Hornby via Vancouver, beginning in the late-1960s. Artists and writers such as Tom Burrows, Annette Hurtig, Gordon Payne and Doris and Jack Shadbolt were Hornby home-owners familiar with international modernism’s storyline, its local variants, interdisciplinarity practices and Art as Life expressions. Theirs was a conversation Jerry fell in with, one that provided him an early audience and a connection to the Vancouver scene, where most had residences and held jobs, and where Jerry would soon be exhibiting.

Yet of these conversationalists, none were born and raised on the west coast. Like Jerry, they came west as adults, in search of new opportunities, new surfaces. And they brought with them their distance, ideas formed elsewhere, which they applied to the landscape, awed by its natural forms – the way light animates the oak and arbutus, the Pacific’s silver sheen, the way herring milts tint her waters and where ravens and eagles engage in a burlesque of what lies below. Artist Tom Burrows was born in Southern Ontario and studied in England before coming to Hornby from Vancouver; writer and educator Annette Hurtig came from the Prairies and began her curatorial career as an exhibitor of Jerry’s work; artist Gordon Payne came from the British Columbia Interior; Jack Shadbolt, who succeeded Emily Carr as the region’s leading abstracted landscape stylist, was born in England; while Doris Shadbolt, an art historian and authority on Carr, came from Southern Ontario, a town (Preston) later amalgamated into the town in which Burrow’s was born (Galt). Though it was not often mentioned, the group’s migration to the island was as much a unifying bond as the artistic and intellectual pursuits that brought them together.

Jerry’s arrival on Hornby also marked his return to Canada. Indeed, not only was he returning to the country he was born in but to a region as far removed from his London, Ontario birthplace as London, England was to San Francisco. Something that had not changed, no matter where you where in Canada, was a belief in a monolithic Canadian Art, an at-times over-administered mosaic made up of regional elements, not unlike the federal government’s (now-defunct) multicultural policy.

Despite the west coast’s reputation as a site of experimentation, ideas about west coast art were still being determined in Central Canada, as evidenced by a Ministry of Supply and Services textbook entitled Introduction to the Arts in Canada (1977), whose author, Robert Fulford, has little to say about west coast sculpture apart from passing remarks about Iain Baxter’s use of “plastics” and Robert Murray’s “work at the Vancouver Airport,” a high modernist non-representation by a “first-class artistic talent.”[13] Worse (for its lack of hindsight), a 1983 Canadian Pacific Railway-bankrolled publication called Visions: Contemporary Art in Canada, which includes a rather formless discussion of three-dimensional work, ranging from Iain Baxter’s Bagged Place (1966) to Murray Favro’s Synthetic Lake (1973), where an image (of a lake) is projected onto a motorized bolt of fabric (contrast this with Jerry’s more proprioceptive arrays, where the image is both inside and outside the apparatus)[14]. Like Jerry, Favro has a connection to London, Ontario. Yet while Visions celebrates London’s artists, Jerry, who was born there, goes unmentioned.

So it was within this context that Jerry returned to Canada, a context that, if not necessarily important to him, was real by its consequences. With that in mind, and with participation in a Canadian Art no longer an aspiration for certain west coast artists, nor a legitimate category apart from the imperatives of the National Gallery and the Canada Council, it was the burgeoning relationship between west coast practices and their equivalencies in international urban centres big (New York) and small (Dusseldorf) that would give the Hornby-Vancouver conversation its rigor.

And what was that conversation? First off, any discussion of Vancouver art after the mid-1960s is complicated by an increasingly ambivalent relationship between artist and medium, just as it was for Duchamp after the Paris Air Show (re: painting) and for Jerry after his encounter with Gabor (re: sculpture). Among younger artists, no longer was it accepted that painting and sculpture were the means by which one asserted oneself artistically. Although artists such as Roy Kiyooka, Gary Lee-Nova and Michael Morris continued to paint, they also explored writing, performance, music, film, photography and installation, interrogating those mediums, looking for equivalencies, exploring previously unheard of notions of interdisciplinarity, Art as Life. How could one talk of sculpture after Iain Baxter’s Bagged Place (1966) or musician Al Neil’s flotsam assemblages? Yet as much as the disintegration of capital “S” sculpture opened up possibilities for the reception of Jerry’s work, it also created the conditions by which it would be read through that medium.

In an effort to make a case for a new west coast sculpture, the Vancouver Art Gallery mounted Mise en scene in 1982, a group exhibition that featured Kim Adams, Mowry Baden, Roland Brener (Adams’s teacher), Al McWilliams, Liz Magor and Jerry -- all of whom were considered to be among the region’s leading sculptors, none of whom were working in the high modernist “tradition” of Vancouverites such as David Marshall, nor engaged in anything resembling Baxter’s consumer-wrapped environments or Neil’s bricolage.[15] Nor were they adherents of Judd or Fried. Though it could be said that the works in Mise en scene were receptive to the “kinesthetic demands placed upon the body”[16] -- from the body engaged (Adams, Baden, Brener and McWilliams) to the body represented/implied (Pethick/Magor) -- of greater significance was the vast array of materials that these artists were drawing on, from audio recordings of VAG board meetings found in the museum’s basement (Brener) to silicon (Jerry). A vast array of materials, but no array from Jerry.

It would be eighteen years after his first experiment with lenslets that Vancouver audiences would see one of Jerry’s arrays. Wheelbarrow/Cabin (1987-89), included in the Contemporary Art Gallery’s 1990 group exhibition arbora versa, is comprised of two elements: the first is a profile of a wheelbarrow form made of large glass bottles held in place with silicon and loaded, as it were, into a stack of cord wood; while the second is comprised of a lens field (also held together by silicon), behind which is a photo series of a cabin in a field with trees. Despite its inventive composition and arresting physical presence, the sculptural element acts as an inversion that sets up the ocular reorientation provided by the array. It also relates to other works in the exhibition, especially Rodney Graham’s inverted photographs of trees.

Unlike the Mis en scene exhibition, with its emphasis on sculpture, arbora versa was a thematic show that sought an (inter)relationship between “nature, language and perception”[17], one involving the mediums of painting, photography, printmaking, writing and sculpture. Though curator Bill Jeffries is right to refer to Jerry’s contribution as “photo-sculpture,” the democratic inclusion of mediums, conscious or otherwise, allowed for the perception that Jerry was there as a sculptor. This might seem like a quibble, but if one considers that the local conversation concerning photography was developing at an inverse proportion to sculpture, one might understand how a reading of Wheelbarrow/Cabin in purely sculptural terms might preclude it from being seen in relation to photographic projects such as Graham’s Camera Obscura (1979), a site-specific plywood camera obscura shack installed at a Fraser Valley ranch; or the montage photographic tableaux of Jeff Wall; or, given the distance between Jerry’s lenses and his serial photos, the monochromatic “derive” surfaces of Wallace’s photo-paintings and the “theatrical” voids of Ken Lum’s furniture sculptures. To extend this notion of the void, one might include the last line of March 31 (1966) by Dan Graham, who reminds us that “.00000098 miles to cornea from retinal wall” is where the image that enters our eye is, like Graham’s trees, inverted.

A clue to why Jerry’s work was absent from the photography conversation might be found in what then Vancouver-based visual artist Robin Peck says in a lecture delivered the same year as the arbora versa exhibition. Here, Peck refers to the medium as having a “lower-class status;” that it is “a poor cousin to painting, architecture and photography,” and has “largely exhausted its premise as a reaction against the negative impact of twentieth-century industrialism.” In short, “an art of the tomb.”[18] Also that year, Wall published his “Four Essays on Ken Lum”, where he contrasts artists who “concentrate on the conflict between the city and its natural setting” (himself, Rodney Graham and Lum) with a “hippy ethos” that seeks a “closeness to nature and its concern for organic life” (Burrows, Magor and Jerry)[19] -- a conservative (if not misleading) argument that has less to do with Jerry’s work (coming as it did in advance of Wall’s montages, but also Brian Jungen’s repurposed consumer goods) than the need to reassert mediums whose boundaries had been challenged in the 1960s. With apologies to William Carlos Williams, perhaps too much depended on a glass bottle wheelbarrow.


Jerry had been a resident of Hornby Island twenty-eight years when he passed away in 2003. During that time he had designed and realized a number of works, some of which, particularly the larger ones, are in museum collections and installed in public space, while smaller pieces have found their way into private homes, some of them on Hornby. A recent tour of these island works revealed the compositional and material tendencies we have come to associate with Jerry’s practice. Among these works is the magnificent Light, Smoke, Le Chemin de Fer. The Dark, Daguerre (1987), an omnibus wallwork (based on a train station cigarette machine) of enameled steel, “Payne skin”[20], silicon, Sectrafoil, mirror, plastic lenses and aluminum, much of it sourced at the island’s Co-op store, as well as its recycling depot. Other works, such as Easel Shadow (1985), are two-dimensional pieces that take up structure and material composition not as the means by which the art experience is mediated but as the painted subject.

During these visits I heard many stories of Jerry, all of which attest to a man of intelligence, passion, humour and insight, someone who brought – and kept – people together, whether at a community work party, such as the building of Joe King Park (a keep-your-shoes on counterpoint to the more refined Hornby Community Hall), or in installing an exhibition, where, when asked by a French museum director to join him for dinner at the end of the work day, Jerry showed up with the institution’s preparators. Indeed, in hearing stories such as these it occurred to me how the bonds Jerry formed found their material expression in one of the world’s most basic elements, one that Jerry used to unite glass, metal, plastic and wood, a material that worms its way across the south facing window of Jerry, Margaret and Yana’s kitchen, and that is silicone [21].

But as much as Jerry liked to bond, as much as he was interested in the synthesis of ideas and things, he was, like many of us, resistant to that which narrowed the conversation. Although I have read nothing on what Jerry thought of the art and writings of Caro, Judd and Fried, the closest I have come to ascertaining his thoughts on Sixties sculpture is derived from stories concerning his late-night visits to the home of another Hornby-based artist, Jeffrey Rubinoff. Like Jerry, Rubinoff trained in sculpture (with Caro) and is a longtime island resident; unlike Jerry, Rubinoff is a high modernist, the author of a 50 hectare sculpture park featuring 95 of his welded and cast steel works which, in his words, “extend the ancient narrative of art and consequently rekindle the historical spirit of modernism.”[22] That Rubinoff has created a Kane-sized Xanadu is his business[23], but to restrict oneself to a conversation whose time and place has passed makes Rubinoff something of a ghost, as much a spectre of high modernism’s closed system as its “historical spirit,” one that might have haunted Jerry.

Which leads to another metaphor, one that speaks to yet another material Jerry had use for, and that is Vaseline. Unlike silicon, a bonding agent that remains visible in his work, Jerry made a number of drawings with Vaseline on Spectrafoil, which he then treated with lye. While the lye de-silvers (or etches out) the Spectrafoil, the Vaseline resists the lye and can be removed later with the wipe of a cloth. A notable work in this series is Light Dispersal – Vienna Suite (1982), a Bonnard-like bathtub scene, sans figure (a pun on figure-ground?). Had Jerry worked with only one of these materials, either silicon or Vaseline, his compositional skills were such that he would always draw us in, hold our interest, encourage our “creative commitment.” However, that he worked with both, with an awareness of their contrasting qualities, their distance from each other (from silicone’s binding presence to Vaseline’s protective disappearance), allows for the kind of overtone important to any artistic practice, one that remains, like the map in his studio, both total and open.

Michael Turner


1. Jacques Ranciere, “The Emancipated Spectator,” 5th International Summer Academy, Frankfurt, Germany, August 20th, 2004

2. Known as “Marking Time,” this map was created in 1998.

3. Barbara Fischer, “Jerry Pethick: Bias Arrays,” Notion of Nothing, Saarbrucken, Germany: Stadtgalerie, 1994

4. Jerry Pethick, “Bias Arrays: Un process sans cesse,” Vanguard (December 1976/January 1977): 4

5. Fischer, ibid., p. 32

6. Bernd Shulz, “Foreword,” Notion of Nothing, Saarbrucken, Germany: Stadtgalerie, 1994: 5

7. Calvin Tomkins, Duchamp: A Biography, Henry Holt and Company, Inc., New York, 1996

8. Robert Amos

9. Donald Judd, “Specific Objects,” Arts Yearbook 8, 1965

10. Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood,” Artforum 5, 1967: 12-23

11. Jerry Pethick, “Animals Dream,” Collection, Open Space, Victoria, BC, 1999

12. Jerry Pethick, ibid.

13. Robert Fulford, An Introduction to the Arts in Canada, Copp Clark Publishing, Toronto, 1977: 84-85

14. Robert Bringhurst, et al., Visions: Contemporary Art in Canada, Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver/Toronto, 1983

15. Mis en scene was curated by the entire VAG curatorial staff – Jo-Anne Birnie-Danzker, Lorna Farrell-Ward and Scott Watson.

16. Robert Morris, “Notes on Sculpture, Part 2”, Continuous Project Altered Daily, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1993 (originally published in Artforum, October,1966)

17. Bill Jeffries, “Introduction”, arbora versa, CAG, Vancouver 1990: 5

18. Robin Peck, “Sculpture and the Sculptural in Halifax and Vancouver”, Vancouver Anthology, Stan Douglas, ed., Or Gallery/Talon, Vancouver, 1991: 207-223

19. Jeff Wall, “Four Essays on Ken Lum”, Ken Lum, Witte de With/Winnipeg Art Gallery, Rotterdam/Toronto, 1990: 39

20. An invention of Gordon Payne, “Payne skin” is made from the application of layered acrylic paint to polyurethane and backed by black painted cheesecloth. Once set, the “skin” is peeled off its polyurethane surface and re-applied.

21. According to Margaret, Jerry used a manufactured product called Silicone Sealant, which Jerry referred to as “Silicone seal.”

22. Jeffrey Rubinoff,

23. Another of Hornby’s sculpture parks can be found in a forest at Downes Point, behind the home of Gordon and Mary Payne.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Vancouver/Vancouver exhibition has been held over to November 4th. Below is an early draft of my curatorial essay:


“Collecting is an addiction. Once acquired there is no remedy or cure – but still, I love it.”
--anonymous collector, quoted in Vancouver Collects [1]

The above is a complicated statement that conveys, rather naughtily, a passion for art collecting and, rather arrogantly, the privilege of those who can afford such a passion, one without criminal or mortal consequences, in a city where intravenous drug use and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome have claimed untold lives. That a statement so insensitive to the plight of our city’s drug addicted could be included, without challenge, in a publication by our city’s leading art institution speaks less of the ostensible neutrality of language than our willingness to accept in words what we would never accept in pictures. (No wonder the collector wishes to remain anonymous.)

Most of Vancouver’s private art collections are known by the names of their collectors. J. Ron Longstaffe, who initiated the VAG’s Vancouver Collects exhibition (and has a gallery at the VAG named after him), amassed a substantial modern Canadian collection, much of it left to the VAG when he passed in 2003. Longstaffe was an older kind of Vancouver collector, one who believed that public institutions are the best place to share one’s collection, but also one’s time, sitting on her boards and taking an active role in her exhibitions, as he did when he wrote the “Introduction” to the Vancouver Collects publication. Also in that category is former VAG board chair Michael Audain, whose collection of British Columbia art will be the subject of its own VAG exhibition this November.

Vancouver has many more modern and contemporary art collectors today than it did when Longstaffe began collecting in the 1960s. Some, like Longstaffe and Audain, have forged ties with our city’s public institutions (the O’Brian Family and the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology also comes to mind), while others have created spaces of their own, from the art-first home of Laing and Kathleen Brown to the exhibition wing at the residence of Brigitte and Henning Freybe; from Ross Hill and Jane Irwin’s repurposed Fraser Street church to Bob Rennie and Carey Fouks’s multi-level Chinatown palais. And now Vancouver builder Rick Erickson, whose Gallery 1965 on Main Street will open this September.


Vancouver/Vancouver is a two-part exhibition comprised of art works from Erickson’s collection. When asked if I would be interested in curating this show (the collection’s first public outing since Erickson began collecting some thirty years ago), I had doubts as to whether I could represent the collection’s range, and whether representation (a troublesome word for artists and curators) was indeed something to aspire to. What I had seen of the collection prior to leafing through its catalogue was on display at Erickson’s former Dunbar Street home. Some of it, like A Chen’s Title Unknown (Cityscape) (1980) floated comfortably above the wainscoting, while other works, such as an untitled Charlie Robert’s “dance” sculpture, looked as though it had kicked aside the love-seat that had stood there before it. But that was the work in the context of an out-sized Edwardian house. Gallery 1965 is a modern space, designed by the collector with the public in mind.

There are over 400 works in Erickson’s art collection, much of it acquired directly by Erickson, some of it on the recommendation of friends and advisors. While these latter works include attractive pieces by Terry Frost, Jasper Johns, Larry Rivers, Kenneth Noland and Andy Warhol, it was decided that an exhibition featuring the work of Vancouver artists – drawing, painting, photography, sculpture; both figurative and abstract; some of it given as gifts – would be a fitting way to celebrate Erickson’s new space. And because of its range, two shows, divided not by medium or genre but by something that might present itself after the selection process was completed, a process that began with an eye to formal recurrence, but also to serendipities that would allow for further exploration.

One pattern that occurred during my earliest viewings concerned the many works with holes. The hole is not a new subject in Vancouver art (one could, if permitted, mount an entire exhibition on the holes of Jeff Wall). However, in Erickson’s collection, the frequency of holes gives way to that which looks like holes, such as circles, loops and spirals. Thus the drawn and painted holes of Neil Campbell, Charles Rae, Derek Root and Peter Schuyff are met with the circularity of Tim Barber’s The Burner (2002), Khan Lee’s Placemats (2009) and Judy Radul’s photo-montage of her and poet Deanna Ferguson’s nipples. From there, another theme – doubling – which can be found in George Clutesi’s The Whale (1960) and in Rodney Graham’s Grimms Brothers’ studies, and is, of course, related to the exhibition’s title: an allusion to Erickson’s eastside (Vancouver) roots and his westside (Vancouver) homes, but also the ongoing dissolution of a social divide that had, until the mid-1980s, the eastside as ethnic working-class and the westside as Anglo middle-class. Which of course suggests another category, the divide, something that can be seen in the works of Dana Claxton, Terry Ewasiuk, Ken Lum, Esther Shavez-Gerz and Ian Wallace, to name a few.

Additional patterns reveal a tendency towards alphabets, taxonomies and mapping. Paul Wong, who is well-represented in this collection, gives us a serial photograph where flora from the Flower Factory below his Main Street studio is framed by its corresponding letter-shapes (A for Alstroemeria, etc); while Eric Metcalfe, a participant in a local LIP grant supported alphabet project from the early 1970s, has abstracted letter-shapes into sperm. Not unrelated are a selection of germs etched by Marc Rudis, an annotated intestinal tract by Graham Gillmore, an anonymous tattoo flash from the 1950s and a sociological fashion-and-attitude work by Charlie Roberts. Works based on mapping can be found in Antonia Hirsch’s formal re-alignment of political boundaries and Ewan McNeil’s chart boats. These tendencies, along with Erickson’s interest in portraiture, will be featured in the second exhibition, while the first exhibition will focus on holes, circles, loops, spirals, doubling and divides.


When speaking of art collections, words like taste, theme and coherence often come to mind. Unlike 17th portrait painting, where the flattened subject appears surrounded by the subject’s equally flattened holdings, an art collection, once installed, takes the form of sculpture, perhaps suggesting those words I mentioned earlier, but also a record of activity, or a map, given the collector’s passage through the places where the work was purchased.

As someone who has visited numerous exhibitions, private collections and auctions, and has written reviews and catalogue essays on the work of local artists, I see not only what is made and displayed in Vancouver but also where, and with whom, the work “ends up.” While much of what is acquired by private collectors comes from commercial galleries, auction houses and artist studios, a significant portion is from fundraising dinners held by public institutions such as the VAG, the Contemporary Art Gallery, Presentation House Gallery, the Western Front and Centre A.

What excites me about Rick Erickson’s collection, besides the work and its various interrelationships, and besides Erickson being one of few local collectors to have grown up with artists (the “Main Streeters”), is that map. Erickson’s collection, more than any Vancouver collection I know of, has achieved the distinction of having turned time into space, returning us to where its works were purchased: to private galleries, auction houses and artist studios, but especially to those fundraising dinners where, in our increasingly privatized world, “the public” is not only celebrated but defended; where anyone who has ever contributed to one of these events – be they an artist, a curator, a director, a board member, all of us patrons in one form or the other – would never be mistaken for anonymous.

1. Vancouver Collects (Vancouver Art Gallery: Vancouver, 2001), p. 116

Michael Turner

Sunday, October 23, 2011

An exhibition of early-1960s David Mayrs oil paintings opened at Trench Gallery last week. Below is my exhibition essay:


“…a sort of Pango Pango quality mingled with sausage and mash and generally a rather puritan atmosphere. Everyone fast asleep and when you prick them a Union Jack flows out of the hole.” – Malcolm Lowry on Vancouver, 1947 [1]

Advances in temporal reckoning have allowed the early-1960s to enter the realm of “historical drama.” With television programs such as Mad Men and Pan Am comes a conversational interest in the era -- realism for those who lived it, science fiction for those who did not. Central to both programs is an essay on gender relations and sexual expression. Less relevant to Pan Am than Mad Men are issues that face the creative individual. How can I make art when I spend all my time jobbing to pay the rent? How can I paint using representational imagery when the critics are pre-occupied with abstraction?

A studio practice and a salaried position were slightly more manageable in 1961 than they are in 2011, and for a time David Mayrs attempted both, eventually leaving advertising in the late-1960s to teach at the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University), a job that allowed him to paint in the same clothes he went to work in. Although it would be incorrect to focus solely on occupational and aesthetic tensions in Mayrs’s paintings, one can find traces of each. Where there is representation, there is abstraction; where there is illustration, there is expressive painting; where there is archetype, there is ambiguity; and where there is liberation, there is of course repression.

Mayrs’s Trench Gallery exhibition brings this last tension to the fore with liberation narratives such as La Dildo (196X), The Queens (196X) and St George Ten Minutes After Slaying the Dragon (196X) on the east wall and repressions such as The Bachelor (196X), The Eunuch (196X) and The Old Maid (196X) to the west. Alone on the south wall is the first painting one sees upon entering the gallery, a work that manages to both complicate and explain the logic of the exhibition layout -- Mirror, Mirror (196X).

Like La Dildo, Mirror, Mirror contains within it a hard-edge grey-scale field. While this field floats improbably under the blanket in La Dildo, in Mirror, Mirror it is the wall on which floats a mirror and its reflected subject. That this subject is reminiscent of de Kooning’s “Woman” series speaks to Mayrs’s recognition of a new and emergent female subject, one more complex and ultimately more powerful than her 1950s predecessor; that she is wearing a life-like penis (as opposed to a gender neutral appendage) has her less a lesbian “top” than a woman performing her strap-on agency (whether this performance is an affirmation of her empowerment, or its burlesque, is debatable). However, what is operative is not the female subject but the unlikelihood of the room in which she is painted, where the hard-edge wall upon which her mirror is placed stands in opposition to the abstract expressive wall behind her. Velazquez’s Las Meninas (1656) and Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergere (1882) come to mind. So too does the relationship between the paintings on the east and west walls.

And what of that west wall? In the Baconesque Eunuch a chubby figure dressed in blue shorts, a red jacket and a pointed yellow cap (a primary schoolboy in primary colours) stands ramrod. His body, like the air around him, is rendered in lashes, not strokes, over which fall drips similar in colour to his shorts. Although tempted to see these drips as tears, there is nothing in the eunuch’s posture to suggest that he is crying, despite a castration that has forever chained him to his pre-pubescent youth. So the tears are the viewer’s tears, and they are shed for someone who cannot repress that which he does not desire. Thus repression is imposed, not by the artist but by the empathetic viewer. Whether the eunuch’s emasculation resulted from a world that had begun to question male privilege, or is a reflection of the artist’s frustration with a criticism that has figurative painting passé, is also for the viewer to decide. Suffice it to say, Eunuch is less a portrait of someone for whom castration occurred over time (use-it-or-lose-it atrophy) than an advertisement for a condition that has our decisions made for us.

The repression found in The Bachelor and The Old Maid is also imposed, this time by the artist’s titles, which belong more to a “puritan” society than the subjects’ relationship status (unmarried). A fourth painting, Peggy & Pauline (196X), is something of a departure. Although the most abstract of all the west wall paintings, Peggy & Pauline is still a work of expressive figuration, and only after consulting its title does a second (and perhaps third) figure appear. Indeed, upon first looking at this painting I saw not a coupling (two women whose faces meet in profile) but a transformation, where one does not intertwine herself with another but becomes another, a new person, a road out of the repressive cycle that characterized what was until the end of the decade a British Vancouver, one that received its culture, as opposed to generating it. While the title and composition of Peggy & Pauline suggests a particular, if unspoken, relationship between two women, it is on the east wall that we find it consecrated.

In The Queens, a “femme” in a wedding gown and a Stein-like “butch” stand at the altar while a third figure (a witness?) looms behind them. While the wedding of two women would have shocked viewers in the early-1960s, it is the archetypical (stereotypical?) pairing of “femme” and “butch” that viewers today would have trouble with. But the pairing is a wash when compared to the third figure, who is painted in a manner closer to Max Beckmann’s Self-Portrait in Tuxedo (1927) than the cartoon couple, someone many early-1960s women looked up to -- Jacqueline Kennedy. But what is “Jackie” doing at a same-sex wedding, other than to say that a woman marrying another woman is something she would sign her name to? Also worth noting is that it is “Jackie”, not the “butch”, who arrived at the wedding in pants. That the shadow cast by all three resembles a piece from a jigsaw puzzle speaks to their role in what advertisers today refer to as the “bigger picture.”

The best known of Mayrs’s paintings is St. George Ten Minutes After Slaying the Dragon. Like La Dildo, this is a work that, when first shown at Douglas Gallery in 1966, drew the attention of local media, but also the police, who insisted that the gallery place a “restricted” sign in its window. While not as explicit (and ironic) as La Dildo’s “male frontal nudity,” St. George’s offense was that it showed not a sexual act but a sexual act involving an English military saint, something that would have galled British Vancouver, and did. Narrative content aside, what is notable in this painting are the many styles Mayrs employs, not merely illustrated figures foregrounding an expressionistic landscape, but a saint in cartoon profile and an anonymous maiden who, despite her nudity (or because of it), is more realized than her lover.

Art in the early-1960s depended on where one lived. The art of Vancouver was the abstracted landscape painting of Jack Shadbolt and Gordon Smith, a pragmatic blend of our province’s scenic beauty and a recognition of abstraction as the dominant international style. In the United States, the blend began with artists who had emerged from the commercial field – Ed Ruscha in Los Angeles and Andy Warhol in New York. But where Ruscha and Warhol used photography and screen-printing to make their everyday serial artworks, Mayrs combined multiple drawing and painting styles -- from the expressionism of Beckmann and de Kooning, to the hard-edge fields of Noland and Stella, to the Playboy cartoons of Interlandi and Sneyd. And while all three were familiar with the role of sex in advertising, it was Mayrs who took it the farthest.

Looking back on Mayrs’s paintings I am struck by the courage it took to make and display them. Although a well-managed controversy can do wonders for an art career today, that was not always the case in the early-1960s, where the conflation of high and low culture (the kind Ruscha and Warhol would become famous for) was not looked upon favorably in Vancouver -- to say nothing of the insertion of psycho-sexual imagery. Indeed, it was another twenty years before Vancouverites would cheer the expressionist canvases of Attila Richard Lukacs, a reception that could have only come about with the liberation of those once referred to as “bachelors.”

1. Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano (Philadelphia and New York: J.B. Lipincott Company, 1965), 121.

Michael Turner

Saturday, October 22, 2011

In the pornography that is Moammar Gadhafi’s final minutes we see the Colonel led by militia men as he is kicked, punched and photographed then mounted on the hood of a truck before his body is delivered to a rabid mob. It is a horrific montage, made more so for its jerky cubist assembly. Of the versions I have clicked on, all are derived from at least three still and moving sources.

Gadhafi’s final minutes brought to mind the capture of other recent newsmakers, such as a Saddam Hussein, who we first meet outside his "spider hole” before his clean-shaven court appearances and a final walk to the gallows. As for Osama bin Laden, the closest we get to his demise is watching it on the faces of Barack Obama and his advisers, who in turn watched it via the helmet cam of a U.S. Navy SEAL.

While Hussein and bin Laden were captured by U.S. armed forces, Gadhafi was given the Sebastian Venable treatment, perhaps for no other reason than to advertise to the world that the new Libya is in need of a taming only Big Oil and her host nations can provide. Heaven help anyone with crude in their pockets.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Guys, lets just get one thing straight: this is a simulation. I understand everyone has there own view on things, but this is not the place to argue politics. I just put this up to give you guys a little look at one of the many machines the Air Force uses. And before anyone asks, I'm actually in the army. PFC Stanford, MOS-13D. I'll be going to my first assignment soon."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

This just in from e-flux:

Released on October 8, the second issue of the Occupied Wall Street Journal included an editorial note entitled "No list of demands," responding to the perceived absence of strong messaging offered by the movement. The note specified that:

"The exhausted political machines and their PR slicks are already seeking leaders to elevate, messages to claim, talking points to move on. They, more than anyone, will attempt to seize and shape this moment. They are racing to reach the front of the line.

 But how can they run out in front of something that is in front of them? They cannot.

 For Wall Street and Washington, the demand is not on them to give us something that isn't theirs to give. It's ours. It's on us. We aren't going anywhere. We just got here."

It is a sophisticated defense of a movement deliberately weak in language and growing strong in numbers. While the movement has made declarations, the statement suggests that nothing will be demanded of those who have perpetuated and legitimized a system that has repeatedly worked to consolidate a society's wealth in the hands of 1% of the population. In place of heroic ideology, an ostensible silence evades recuperation and maintains an opening through which collective sentiment can take the time to formulate its own terms without having to acknowledge the current regime as a necessary precedent.

Here it becomes clear that, in place of making demands, the project of the demonstrations will be to gradually reconstitute society itself through its sheer numbers—a claim to both the right and the capacity to project a new world in broad, open-ended terms.

In this issue, Jan Verwoert finds in the work of Stano Filko a means of articulating totality by claiming the world as his medium and mode of address; Jalal Toufic posits the elusiveness of messianic time against the possibility for contemporary events; Antke Engel looks at the chronopolitics of Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz's work No Future / No Past; Sotirios Bahtsetzis considers nihilism, repetition, and notions of taste in a depoliticized and fiscalized society; Asli Serbest and Mona Mahall reveal mobilization in architecture as both an economic imperative and a mannerist response to classical ideals, and Joshua Simon concludes his three-part "Neo-Materialism" series by recognizing how the commodity speaks the language of our world.

—Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle

In this issue:

Jan Verwoert—World as Medium: On the Work of Stano Filko
"So, when it articulates a world, a diagrammatic drawing or simple gesture in principle has the same status as a fully designed room installation. Even the smallest thing can show the big picture. These are conditions of autonomy produced within a material practice: Filko creates the freedom to define the value of any artifact or sign according to his own terms, that is, according to the terms of the world systems that he constructs."

Jalal Toufic—The Contemporary Is Still Forthcoming
"There can be no museum of contemporary art since while now we can have museums but not contemporaneity, with the coming of the messiah we are going to have contemporaneity but no museums—there is going to be no need for a museum in the redeemed world, a world where one finds only what is willed to eternally recur."

Sotirios Bahtsetzis—The Time That Remains, Part One: On Contemporary Nihilism
"The perverted, late capitalist version of such an engagement with art—the disinterested attitude, Kant's definition of aesthetic experience—always demands its pre-validation not by the historical Other (for Kant the ahistorical, subjective-universal judgments posed by the genius), but by contemporary society's proper neosovereign rule: that is, the globalized and institutionalized managers of taste, the individuals nurtured by a depoliticized and fiscalized society. It is through this perversion that the contemporary "homo aestheticus" is born."

Asli Serbest and Mona Mahall—Eupalinos and the Duck: Conceptualism in Recent Architecture
"Today, skyscrapers are designed to be viewed not at 120, but at 500 kilometers per hour from an airplane. Whether or not they sing is of little importance, because they are too distant to be heard. Furthermore, they are less products of an architectural culture of late capitalism than they are the products of a few major capitalist players."

Antke Engel—Queer Temporalities and the Chronopolitics of Transtemporal Drag
"This ethics remains bound to violence—the violence of crime and normalcy—and thus confronts the punk archive with the challenge of facing heteronormativity, postcolonialism, and the impossibility of remembering that these produce."

Joshua Simon—Neo-Materialism, Part Three: The Language of Commodities
"The commodity is the form in which things come to be in this world. Beyond any concept of alienation in relation to labor, we can see that the commodity's material is constituted by our very social relations. This composition gives the commodity a subjectivity that is not particular to any one of us, but is rather one in which we all participate in forming."

Letters to the Editors: Responses to Jon Rich's "The Blood of the Victim" by Jessica Kornheisl and Natasha Llorens

Monday, October 17, 2011

Last Saturday, after a sun-filled brunch at the Waldorf Hotel, I entered the body count that is Occupy Vancouver. Not sure what I was expecting as I made my way west from the library parkade, though the three young men in front of me, one of them in the throes of his own open-to-outcome curiosity, had me reflecting on last April's hockey riot. Everything this guy saw was a source of wonder. "Fuck man, a fire hydrant! Fuckin' fire hydrant, man! Just poking out of the ground like that! Fuck!" He applied a similar sentence structure to a bicycle rack and a stop sign.

No sooner had I arrived at Howe Street when I saw a crowd gathered behind a Scientology banner. Then a parade of animal rights activists. Only after crossing the street did the numbers that have become so familiar to us appear with any frequency -- a sea of ones and ninety-nines. Amidst them, an orderly row of tents; and on the art gallery's north-facing steps, a public address system that had, according to Wayde Compton, momentarily lost power.

After milling through the crowd I sat down on the lip of the gallery's fountain, turned off in honour of the occupation. Overall the crowd seemed happy, many of them, like me, trained to look for someone in charge. Maybe that is what is so particular about an event like this: the lack of such a person.

Over the past couple days I have heard endless (corporate) media reports downplaying the Occupy project, accusing the non-Wall Street version of lacking focus, egged on by financial analysts such as our ex-premier's brother Michael Campbell who have been ridiculing Canadian Occupistas, gleefully reminding us that Canadian financial institutions have been more responsible than their U.S. counterparts, and that occupations like Vancouver's are "unnecessary."

But I disagree. I think there is a focus. Whether or not that focus has been articulated is only a matter of time. What is at stake here is not the ends (what Michael Campbell likes to call the "bottom line") but the means; not what will happen but how it will happen. Seems to me we are living at a time when the issues have less to do with who has the material wealth, and who does not, but the values that have allowed for such disparities. That is what I take to be the focus of the Occupy project. Values -- and who shares them.

Sunday, October 16, 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.

While waiting for my tea to steep I removed a button near the collar of my work shirt and sewed it to the spot where the middle one fell off. I am not certain how I lost this middle button, but it was there this morning when I stepped outside to collect some leaves.

Nothing I did while collecting leaves could have dislodged this middle button. Like the leaves, it must have fallen off on its own.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Saturday, October 8, 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.

Because I forgot to close my closet door last night I awoke to the sound of my neighbour's television, a news story concerning U.S. drones and their most recent strike in Yemen. One commentator spoke of the drones "efficacy," how if someone is "pissing you off" (i.e. getting in the way of your pipeline or shipping route), you "take 'em out." Another spoke of diplomacy as the "slow road," comparing it to "the fattest kid at school -- the one the others lap in gym class."

Years ago, when I was ill, an argument arose over my treatment. The surgeon insisted that certain lymph nodes be removed immediately because the cancer was on the verge of spreading; while the oncologist said that surgery, at this stage, could result in malignant cells entering the bloodstream, and that chemotherapy (csisplatin and vinblastine) would shrink the infected nodes to the point where their removal, if necessary, would be less threatening.

Turns out the oncologist got his way, and after four courses of diplomacy, the surgeon "took out" three less-than-responsive nodes, every one of them dead on the inside.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The double standard works both ways.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Saturday, October 1, 2011