Monday, December 31, 2012

A Night In

For those who prefer to stay home and watch a film on New Year's Eve, let me recommend Frank Vitale's Montreal Main (1974). This is a film that is rarely discussed when the topic of Canadian cinema is raised, and does not bear a mention in film critic Katherine Monk's "populist-oriented primer" Weird Sex & Snowshoes (2001).

Like Jackie Burroughs, Louise Clark, John Walker, John Frizzell and Aeryln Weisman's A Winter Tan (1988) (adapted from Maryse Holder's 1979 memoir Give Sorrow Words), Montreal Main is about desire. Unfortunately (for some) it is the wrong kind of desire. Keep that in mind while watching Vitale's understated yet emotionally complex film.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Analog Deathwatch

Apropos of yesterday's post the artist Raymond Boisjoly sent me no less than thirty links to people who plugged in their analog-only TVs to record their final seconds.

The links are fascinating, but the one I thought most poignant was from Milwaukee, Wisconsin -- what sounded like a grandfather and his grandson gathered in a basement workshop.

This is the vid I would have posted had it not been "disabled by request."

Saturday, December 29, 2012

First in Colour, Last in Analog

In 1861 Thomas Sutton saw what theoretical physicist James Clerk Maxwell saw six years earlier (red, green and blue) when he "took" the first colour photograph, a picture that is referred to informally as the "tartan ribbon."

Just as wet photography gave way to digital processes, this year marked the end of analog broadcast signals in Canada. So these "ears" (below) are useless too.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Holiday Viewing

I enjoy the days between Christmas Day and New Year's Day. I enjoy how patterns change, how that which moves slowly blooms, and that which moves quickly is suspended -- invisible yet echoing.

Television is fun this time of year, a time to catch up on the movies I recorded on my PVR.

Last night I watched Vanilla Sky (2001) and thought it a fairly accurate snapshot of our times, where libertarianism, narcissism and mental health issues overlap, become indistinguishable, regardless of the filmmakers' intentions. After that, a film that is suddenly 32-years old -- The Blue Lagoon (1980).

Like Xaviera Hollander's The Happy Hooker (1972) (a best-selling book that, in its nonchalance, features racism, homophobia, heterosexual pederasty and bestiality), The Blue Lagoon is a film that would not be made today. Not because no one would watch it but because questions concerning childhood and, invariably, sexuality are topics that have become rooted less in love than in fear.

In 2007 I was invited by the Witte de With to take part in an on-stage interview with Hollander at a bar in Rotterdam, an event I have little recollection of, apart from being struck by how someone with a mind as quick and expansive as Hollander's could be so narrow on certain topics. Or maybe it was me. Maybe I mistook precision for narrowness, conviction for privilege.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Bowie and Der Bingel

The "Bing Crosby Christmas Special" was a seasonal mainstay in our house. Watching it as a child was to visit a world that had long-since passed -- until the night David Bowie showed up to sing with Bing this duet.

Monday, December 24, 2012


Judy Radul is my co-vivant of nineteen years. Her mother's brother, David Lucas, and his co-vivant, Margret Samson, have been going steady for at least twice that long. Margret's brother's son is the singer-songwriter John K. Samson, making John my second-cousin twice removed (I think).

Five years ago I flew to Winnipeg for Christmas, where I met Judy and David, who were en route after two weeks vacation in Buenos Aires. Judy and I stayed at the Fort Garry Hotel, and the following night we had Christmas dinner with Margret's brother's family, which included John and his wife, the singer-songwriter Christine Fellows.

The Samsons are an important Winnipeg family. Margaret's father owned and operated a printing press that served the Icelandic community and their fellow workers of the world, most notably through the Icelandic Quarterly, which amalgamated with another Icelandic paper in 1959, owned by Margret's father's sister's husband. John has carried on this tradition with a book publishing company, Arbeiter Ring.

A recurring topic at the Samson dinner was Iceland's gift to cuisine -- the vinarterta. Margaret is a passionate historian, advocate and maker of this prune- and cardamom-infused dessert, and John gave me every indication that he too is a fan. "Have you ever written a song about it?" I asked him, to which he replied, "Everything I write is in some way related to the vinarterta."

Sunday, December 23, 2012

VAG Librarian

The Vancouver Art Gallery has a librarian. Her name is Cheryl Siegel.

Over the years Cheryl has helped me on a number of projects, most recently an exhibition I co-curated with Scott Watson in January.

Every December Cheryl erects her Christmas tree at the VAG library. In the spirit of the advent calendar, click here to see it.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Friday, December 21, 2012


One of the many vacant storefronts I saw during my most recent walk along Robson Street is the ground floor/basement of the former Vancouver Public Library main branch, at the northeast corner of Burrard and Robson.

Designed by Semmens and Simpson, the VPL opened in 1957 and remained a library until 1996, when it was redesigned for retail and commercial use -- CTV and the Globe and Mail upstairs; a Virgin Megastore and, later, an HMV below that.

But now that lower space is empty. Who its new tenant might be will depend on who can pay its rent. That this space has sat empty for the past six months tells us that the rent is higher than a tenant's ability to make a profit. The same could be said of the other high-traffic corner spaces along Robson west of Granville.

At dinner last night someone suggested this space would make a great art gallery. Some suggested an annex of the VAG, while others suggested a new home for the Contemporary Art Gallery, whose current Yaletown location (below a condo tower) has never sat well with me -- a design that looks as if it was built less for an art gallery than a former art gallery, one that could easily be converted into a retail shop.

Does the City of Vancouver still own the former VPL site, or was it sold to someone rich enough to keep its lease rate high enough that no one can afford to rent it?

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Songs to Aging Children Come"

Tigger Outlaw's version of a 1969 Joni Mitchell song from Arthur Penn's 1969 film version of Arlo Guthrie's 1967 song "Alice's Restaurant Massacree".

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

7 Up

Among the finer documentaries of the past fifty years is not a feature-length film but a serial work: Michael Apted's Up Series (1964-).

In the first film (7 Up) we meet a selection of seven-year-olds spread throughout the British Isles. Some board at charity homes, others live with their families in council flats, while others still are among the privileged, like Suzy, who, for many Up fans, remains a favourite.

The above video is a fifteen minute segment from the first film -- 7 Up.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

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.

From the table I hear children, young children. Not a pair of children -- the first plural of "child" -- but a few, what our teacher once told us (when I was a child) meant "three to five."

The voices of children -- some high and melodious, others rough and husky. I cannot see them but I know that their voices are shaped by their motions -- voices that appeared out of nowhere, as if descended from birds.

What has them in motion?

I listen for what I do not hear -- the skid of a soccer ball, an object. But more than likely theirs is an instant game, the kind some of us were good at making up, while others argued over what should be its rules.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Broad Strokes

Eli: "What Zaha Hadid did is certainly iconic."

Zaha: "It is great to have a champion like Mr. Broad."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Vancouver Art Gallery System

What is the role of the art critic? Is it to look at art as an autonomous enterprise, on its terms, and report on it, point out where it succeeds and fails? Could that be amended to include the larger social context in which that art occurs, such as where and when, and the times we are living in today?

Yesterday I received David Baxter and Bob Rennie's 22 page pdf: "VAGS - A Community Centered (sic) Vision of the Vancouver Art Gallery System". This document was not sent to me by its authors but by those who received it directly from them. Those who also did not receive this document directly include the director of the Vancouver Art Gallery, who, according to the authors (their mail-out list was unsuppressed), is not part of their "Community". Not a good start.

Here is their email preamble to the pdf:

To all of you on this email...David and I are not just looking for a solution to the VAG here .... we want to bring to the surface and create a real discussion around puplic (sic) and private support of arts and culture and philanthropy in this new economy. 

The attached document does come with the non-negotiable that Vancouver is not a Head Office city and that the limited resources for philanthropy and tax dollars cannot be towards any single arts and cultural institution at the expense of all others....David and I just took a practical approach to a 15 year water cooler discussion that we thought deserved a broader discussion amongst some of the voices on this email...

WHO SHOULD DECIDE THE COMMON GOOD...was the title of a panel discussion at the Trudeau Foundation that I participated in last month...and if the question is asked of Arts & Culture ...the answer is....easy....all of you on this email...should decide the common good along with everyone you care to share this document with...

Seriously thank you for allowing David and I to have a voice here.

David Baxter/Bob Rennie 

I suppose in fairness I should include the authors' "Vision" in this post. (Indeed, I would have done so if their preamble was not in need of unpacking.) Suffice it to say, what is said in this "Vision" includes an idea Rennie floated in the Globe and Mail last summer, about multiple VAG galleries, or what is now, like his own company, a "System."

Is the VAG in need of a "solution"? If so, it might help to know what the problem is? And if there is a problem -- or problems -- why does Baxter and Rennie's report not "bring [that] to the surface" as well?

Perhaps in their attempt to be positive, appear constructive, present a "Vision", the authors, like many of us, have eschewed critique altogether, preferring to dismiss it as negative, counter-productive, "mean-people"? But is a deeper understanding of the structural problems facing public institutions today not a bigger asset to helping these institutions achieve what we, the public, expect of them than beginning at the top -- a problem the VAG encountered after trying to excite public interest in their proposed move to a new building? Is it not part of the "real discussion"?  I am all for private and public partnerships, regardless of who instigates them, but I cannot help but be suspicious when the authors of this "Vision" cannot even spell the word "public" correctly.

To say that Vancouver is not a "Head Office City" does not take into account its many self-employed residents, from independent writers such as myself to janitors who, after their unions have been busted by private companies, work on contract. Because we are self-employed, are we not our own "Head Offices"? Ah, but if by "Head Offices" the authors mean corporate "Head Offices", why did they not say so in the first place?

When Barack Obama was first elected President of the United States, the bulk of his campaign contributions came from individual donations under twenty dollars. If the VAG received twenty dollars from every self-employed person in Vancouver, the City would surely take notice -- not for the money raised but for the votes those dollars represent. That the authors of this "Vision" have ignored these many individual "Head Offices" for a few corporate ones tells us their first priority is a corporate VAG, not a public one.

"WHO SHOULD DECIDE THE COMMON GOOD," they shouted. Well, for starters, it might begin with those who speak in lower case letters.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Art Critic

Above is what I imagine to be an excerpt from a larger video on the end-stage Robert Hughes (1938-2012), whose art criticism appeared in print and on TV. While I have laughed out loud at some of his pronouncements, as well as marvelled at his prose, Hughes was a connoisseur who, through his force of personality, saw no problem conflating the personality of the artist with his or her work (an example of which can be found in Hughes's almost child-like assessment of Warhol).

Friday, December 7, 2012

Newspaper Criticism

For the past three days I have been in correspondence with a newspaper that approached me about writing and reporting on visual art. What they asked of me was, forty years ago, what they would have asked of someone hired to fulfill the now-defunct role of staff art critic. Like a lot of jobs today, what was once a staff position (with great pay and benefits) "belongs" to that of the freelancer (poor pay, no benefits).

The post below is a slightly revised version of my latest contribution to the correspondence, a correspondence that began with what the newspaper was looking for, followed by my brief exegeis on the importance of "community art".

Dear ___________,

I think I know what you are getting at, but for me capital "A" Art is all art, just as capital "B" Business is all business and capital "C" Criticism has been supplanted by capital "P" Publicity. These capitalizations -- these categories -- are not unrelated.

As I mentioned earlier, within capital "A" art there are subsections, one of which -- the capital "A" to which you refer -- is art that is part of a Modern (western canonical) continuum, what is referred to by those who manage its terms -- critics, art historians, private galleries, collectors, artist-run centres and museums -- as contemporary art. This is art that is made with an awareness of that continuum, a dialogical quest for the "new" that carries with it traces of the old, expanding on its suppositions and/or critiquing them.

The continuum that runs through my neck of the woods begins with painting -- the abstracted landscapes of Emily Carr, followed by Jack Shadbolt. The 1960s gave us intermedial practitioners such as Roy Kiyooka (an artist who quit painting for poetry) and Michael Morris, a co-founder of the performative art-as-life Western Front in 1973.

The late 1960s brought with it an interest in conceptual practices; it's pater familias being Ian Wallace, who begat Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham, Ken Lum and Roy Arden -- the so-called Vancouver School. The 1980s saw the emergence of Post-Modern practices, which included a de-centering of the Modernist continuum, one that allowed for multiple, identity-based modernisms. The 1990s saw sculpture give way to installation, which gave us Geoffrey Farmer and Brian Jungen.

One hundred years ago Marcel Duchamp put a bicycle wheel on a stool and called it art, his materials "ready-mades." Fifty years ago Andy Warhol, a commercial illustrator by trade, remade Brillo Boxes and displayed them in serial form, forcing us to look at them not as objects but to consider our relationship to them as unilateral consumers.

The contemporary art conversation today includes "relational aesthetics," or what is spoken of now, this minute, as "social practices." The emphasis here is not on objects but on systems and their supports. While these systems include artist-run culture and public funding, they also include private galleries, museums and big business. Whereas art criticism once provided both the chisel and the grout within these systems, today it is has been replaced by publicity and advertising.

This line I have drawn is not a horizontal line but vertical line, not a spatial line between us but a temporal one, a continuum that is real by its consequences.

Ten years ago I supplied your paper with reviews. Two hundred dollars for five hundred words. My peers laughed at me, said I was wasting my time. But I believed that the contemporary art conversation was important, and that your paper was a good platform. I would say the same today, except your platform, like a lot of platforms, has gone from observation deck to backdoor stoop. 

Please don't take this the wrong way, but after three nights sleep I have come to the conclusion that writing for your paper will do me more harm than good. I just can't reconcile myself to a system that is paying me less (for more) than I was receiving ten years ago.

Thank you for thinking of me. Good luck finding that "reporter and critic."

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Protect Me from What You Want Them to Say

A pioneer in public text work is U.S. artist Jenny Holzer (b.1950). In 1977, Holzer began pasting her Truisms (anonymous legal-sized broadsheets drawn from her Whitney Independent Study Program reading lists) onto walls and utility poles around Manhattan. Five years later, her tweet-sized texts were appearing on electronic surfaces, such as the Spectacolor billboard at Times Square.

Another artist who has made something of text in public space is U.K.-based Gillian Wearing (b.1963), whose emergence coincided with Holzer's often garish attempts to modify her texts for museum display.

While Wearing works in a number of different mediums (video, photography, performance), she first came to our attention with Signs that Say What You Want Them to Say and Not Signs that Say What Someone Else Wants You to Say (1992-1993), where she approached people in public space and asked them to write down the first thing that came to mind.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Having Said it with Flowers

In 2007 artist Lauren Marsden, along with a team of volunteers, performed an unauthorized planting of red impatiens on the tomb-like mound at the east end of the Dunsmuir Viaduct (between Union and Prior Streets, just east of Main). I say tomb-like because underneath this mound once lay the entrance to Hogan's Alley, Vancouver's first African-American neighbourhood.

Both the Dunsmuir and Georgia Viaducts are the closest Vancouver came to having an inner-city freeway, the initial stage of a massive public/private development known as Project 200. The abandonment of Project 200 came about in the late-1960s, after a citizens' group formed to block the freeway proposal's second stage and yet another potential erasure: Chinatown. The core of this ad hoc group went on to form Vancouver's COPE party.

As anyone who has visited a graveyard knows, it is customary to leave behind flowers -- a fresh sign of life to show those passed that they remain with us today. Marsden has done just that with her uncut shade-loving impatiens, whose plantation scheme follows words solicited from the Hogan's Alley Memorial Project: HOGAN'S ALLEY WELCOMES YOU.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Vision Critical

One of my favourite public text displays was the Vision Critical sign at the north end of the Cambie Street Bridge. Then one day, like a lot of things in Vancouver, it disappeared.

Despite its function as a market research engine, Vision Critical gave us a text work in the form of business signage, one that, inadvertently or otherwise, set the tone for a day's looking and thinking. I am sorry to see it gone.

Monday, December 3, 2012

"Unlimited Growth Increases The Divide"

The above photo (compliments of Scout Magazine) captures a text -- UNLIMITED GROWTH INCREASES THE DIVIDE -- installed by artist Kathryn Walter over the entrances of the Del-Mar Hotel and, to the south (left), what was then the Contemporary Art Gallery (555 Hamilton Street), who commissioned this work in 1990.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

"shoulders, necks"

Poet and Thursdays Writing Collective member Elee Kraljii-Gardiner reminded me of another text-based project in Vancouver's downtown eastside -- the Whispers Project.

The above text, located on the east wall of 58 Powell Street, is an excerpt from a larger poem by Intrepid Pens collective member Amanda Grondahl. Yesterday afternoon I walked past this text on my way to Mina Totino's talk at Artspeak Gallery, where the artist spoke on her Cloud Studies (1997-2010), as well as a history of clouds and their naming.

What attracts me to Amanda's text, apart from its proximity to the storefront tattoo parlour it shares its wall with, is the poet's decision to use a comma, not the conjunctive and, between that which "used to fit so well together."

Would "our shoulders, necks" fit better together with that and between them? I don't think so -- I find the comma's seriality more connective, capable of uniting the entire body in a smooth, less intrusive fashion. Yet this section of her poem (itself removed from what precedes it) asks us to consider just that.

Click here to read Amanda's poem.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A New Sign in Town

Nathan Coley's current exhibition at Vancouver's Contemporary Art Gallery includes an illuminated sign -- WE MUST CULTIVATE OUR GARDEN -- atop the Pennsylvania Hotel at the corner of Hastings and Carrall. Re-opened in 2009, the Pennsylvania is comprised of 44 studio apartments, in addition to support services for its low-income residents. (The above photo, by Liz Nall and Bella Edgely, is of the sign's installation in Paris.)

This is the second text work on a block that already features Martin Creed's EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT atop the Wing Sang Building around the corner, an earlier -- and permanent -- commission by real estate marketeer/art collector Bob Rennie.

In 2010, Vancouver-based artist Kathy Slade attempted a call-and-response with the Creed work through the installation of her Pablo Ferro-inspired IS EVERYTHING GOING TO BE ALRIGHT? sign in the window of the SFU School for the Contemporary Art's Audain Gallery. Of course Coley's is the more subtle of the two, supplying not a question, like those asked at a place of higher learning (the Audain is also a "teaching gallery"), but a generative conclusion, in this case drawn from the last line of Voltaire's Candide.

The Pennsylvania is a site of social housing; the Wing Sang houses Rennie, his private businesses and his extensive art collection. Yet while the differences between these two buildings and the roles they play add specific weight to our readings of their signs, they are not necessarily representative of extreme positions but, provided we CULTIVATE OUR GARDEN carefully, respectfully, a potential complement, what some might consider ALRIGHT.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Eleanor Antin at the Belkin

Yesterday I attended Eleanor Antin's reading and conversation (with Michael Morris) at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, part of the State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970 exhibition that runs until December 9th.

For those unfamiliar with Antin, she was a force in the burgeoning California art scene of the 1970s. In speaking of her practice (as a preface to her reading) she said "writing and visual art go together -- whatever you need, whatever you have to do, is fair game."

In the 1960s, "fair game" was body-based work. Later, photo-tableaux (the above image, The Artist's Studio [2001], is from her "Last Days of Pompeii" series). But today it is memoir, a collection of chapters chronicling her life growing up in the Bronx as a "red diaper baby." The name of her memoir is Conversations with Stalin.

During her almost hour long reading, Antin, who is 77-years-young, regaled us with stories of family, religion, sex and death, delivered in her thick-New York accent (something she retained despite her 30 years at UCSD). While I would have liked to have heard from her adult life, many of the themes that occur in her work are rooted in her youth. Particularly poignant was a story concerning her sister, a musical prodigy who left music, only to regret it later.

Though deceptively simple, Antin's memoir is more Fran Lebowitz than Kathy Acker, more Woody Allen than Dodie Bellamy, Lydia Davis or Eileen Myles. This is not a bad thing, but I was expecting a greater degree of formal engagement from an artist who, at the outset of her visual and written career, took such huge artistic risks, someone who, like Acker, quite literally put her body on the line.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Station Identifications

A chronology of station identifications from the American Broadcasting Company (1948-2011).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Made-for-TV Double Feature

As promised, a made-for-TV double-feature concerning themes of "returning" and "home", compliments of the American Broadcasting Company.

The first film, Maybe I'll Come Home in the Spring (1971), is the story of a teenage runaway who willingly returns to her suburban family home after living with her boyfriend on the streets and beaches of Los Angeles. Most notable about this film is its casual yet effective use of flashbacks, voice-overs, scoring, repetition and freeze-frame to "tell" not a linear story but a cyclical one. As with certain ABC MoWs, not much happens plot-wise. Instead we get interior acting, in addition to slow and thoughtful filmmaking.

The second film, Crawlspace (1972), is the story of troubled young man who is "adopted" by an older childless couple after they discover him living in the crawlspace of their exurban Connecticut home. How this adoption comes about -- how it is handled -- is what makes this film so resonant. Despite its title, and its many claustrophobic shots, Crawlspace allows us room to consider where this young man is coming from (is he a Vietnam War vet? a drug casualty? bi-polar? autistic?) and what he, too, might be thinking.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The ABC Movie of the Week

The ABC Movie of the Week was my Grimms' Fairy Tales.

Last year I began researching these made-for-TV films, towards developing a series at the Pacific Cinematheque; but now that the more intriguing ones are online, I suppose I could do that here, at websit.

Tomorrow I will link to two films that I remember seeing as a child, both of which involve themes common to American youth in the late-60s/early-70s -- "returning" and "home".

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Cassiar Cannery

Sara Diamond's video of salmon cannery workers brought back memories of Cassiar Cannery, just south of Port Edward, B.C., where I spent my summers (1973-1983) -- first with my family, then, as the company expanded, on my own as a young worker.

Feeling sentimental, I went looking online. Sure enough there are more than a couple Cassiar Cannery albums. The video up top features an appearance by yours truly (1:14-1:18). Think I had just turned seventeen when that picture was taken, making it 1979.

So nice to see the faces of those so important to me, both then and now.

Hello Ambrose, Audrey, Barry Jr., Billy Rush, Bobby, Bonita, Carrie-Lee, Chapman, Chris, Corey, Curly, Daisy, Dwayne, Dorinda, Eilagh, Frankie, Fred, Doug Grassick, Harold, Nora, Georgie, Hazel, Mike Postak, Roddy, Ronnie, Sheila, Teddy, Todd, Violet, Walter...

Friday, November 23, 2012

Year of the Strike, Hour of the Knife

Last night I attended the second of three curated video presentations in VIVO's Anamnesia: Unforgetting series: Ph.D. poet/activist Donato Mancini's "Year of the Strike, Hour of the Knife", a program of "[a]rt videos and activist tapes from 1975–1989 that publicize the dialectic of Santiago, Chile and Vancouver, Canada within neoliberal mythology."

While Donato's selection looked great on paper, sitting through its sixty-plus minutes was something of a chore. Following a short food and drink break, Donato then presented a rather dense, quickly read philosophical passage from his accompanying essay concerning, appropriately enough, Time. Although respondent Juan Manuel Sepulveda did his best to open a window on Donato's poly-temporal theorization of the topic (Donato's essay will be part of an upcoming publication), I remained distracted by the curator's categorization of the works in his program, most notably his reference (once at the beginning, once at the end) to Sara Diamond's Ten Dollars or Nothing (1989) as (temporally) "linear," a work whose linearity, it seems to me, is dealt with (dialectically) through a reorganization not of Time but of Space, a la the passe-partout device so common to video at that time.

Vancouver has a number of English Ph.D. poets who write on, and work in, the visual arts. However, while I often enjoy what these scholar/poets bring to their readings, there are occasions where I find their views lacking when it comes to discussions particular to the medium or materials under study. This was evident last night, where Donato alluded to Jane Wright's Electronic Sunset works (#35, #43) as the more artful of his program's videos, without saying why. But of course we know why, for these are works that abstract nicely, where the presence of the medium's raster lines coincide with /contribute to their ongoing and patterned transformation, much like the sunsets both the artist (Wright) and the curator (Donato) associate these transformations with. (Yet when it comes to Ten Dollars or Nothing -- a work that combines both formal abstraction and expressive ethnographic rhetorics -- Donato speaks of this work not at the forefront of his program, but to the side.)

Although it was obviously not Donato's intention to explore the individual works included in his program, perhaps he will do so in his essay. Indeed, as to my question concerning the length of his program, his answer gave me hope -- "it is not the length of the program that is the problem but the chairs we are sitting on." What's that old expression -- It is a poor workman who blames his tools? Maybe so. For as logic tells us, a false premise can lead to a true conclusion. Maybe this (too) is what Donato has achieved with his program.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Below are five poems, the first of which ("Vial") is a revision of a poem I posted on August 1st.


what it comes in and when

what comes in it is finished

a little glass cylinder with

an end and an opening and a

tiny tiny cork that got lost in

its emptying stands small on

the window sill O’ing O O

O O mOre than just empty

is all O O O O that is O O

left O O O Of it O O O O O



O O O O that Peruvian rag

the alpaca O O O who stOOd

fOr it O O beside O O the fire

birds O O O O up O O O up

O O the chimney O O cOpper

goblets' O O O O bellies O O

O O O glOw O O taxidermy's

glass-eyed Owl O O O gOes

hOOOO-hOOO O O a blue

saucer O O O a crust Of pie



SO O O O O O Orange O O O

O O in O O O its O O O O O

furnace O O O O O smOke the

O O O genie O O O calms O O

O O O O O O O O O O O from

the O O O O ceiling O O O O O

O O O O O O O O legless O O

your O O O O O O O O O O O

O O O wish O O O O O O O O

O O O O O O O O O is O O O















like lose a verb but like its noun

found the vial once again corked

rolling between thumb forefinger

passed absently from hand to hand

where it is rolled again and again

the air trapped a thought had or

imagined a fact a fabrication to be

deployed saved but the cork is there

pressed into place designed neither

to fit nor protect only to remain

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Byron Black

Last week marked the return of Byron Black to Vancouver -- for the first time in thirty years. Black, who has been living in Southeast Asia since 1982, is the subject of an early career retrospective curated by VIVO's Alex Muir, part of the artist-run centre's Anamnesia: Unforgetting series, a three-part curatorial endeavour drawn from the 4500-piece Crista Dahl Media Library and Archive, where some of Black's earliest film and video works are housed. On November 22nd Donato Mancini will screen a selection of videos that attempt to draw parallels between Vancouver and Chile, while on November 29 Cicely Nicholson will explore aboriginal title, protest and suppression.

Black first arrived in Vancouver in 1970, "on the run from the F.B.I.," as he put it in advance of Thursday's screening. Prior to that he was teaching English to South Vietnamese youth at Fresno State College, "so that they might return to their country better capitalists than when they left it." Just how the 28-year-old son of an U.S. Airforce Colonel found himself drafted is a mystery, unless we take into account how drafts and conscriptions have always played a punitive role in the "running" of a country, something Black alludes to when he says that in exchange for English lessons these South Vietnamese youth "politicized" him, opened his eyes to the cruelties of U.S. foreign policy.

On Saturday I had the pleasure of hanging out with Black, taking him and DIM Cinema's Amy Kazymerchyk to the Belkin, to see the State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970 exhibition, then to Aphrodite for pie, where we met with his long-time friend, Tony Reif, who attempted to interview Black after DIM's Monday night screening of Black's extrapolation on paranoiac hippie Vancouver, The Holy Assassin (1974), a film that, according to Reif, had not been shown since its debut.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

On Wallace

Tonight at 7:30 p.m. artist Dana Claxton and I will be at the VAG for a walk-and-talk on the work of Ian Wallace (Dana on Wallace's "Cinematic" works, me on "Text"). For those interested I reviewed Wallace's exhibition for Canadian Art's online platform.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Friday, November 16, 2012

Oakridge Mall

Kingsgate Mall is one of two Vancouver malls slated for (re)development. Recently it was announced that Oakridge Mall at 49th and Cambie would be converted from a low-rise two-storey structure (with acres of outdoor parking) to a city-within-a-city megapiece featuring 13 towers, the tallest at 45 storeys (see above). Within this mass, 2800 private homes and 350 retail shops.

While the Beedie Group (the current lease-holders of the Kingsgate Mall) have yet to reveal their plan, area residents continue to express concern over the scale of recent development applications, particularly in light of the controversial Rize proposal at Broadway and Kingsway, or the Stong's Markets site in Dunbar. As is often the case with these developments, the first to assure us are not the developers but the architects. On the topic of Oakridge, Stantec Architecure Ltd.'s Darren Burns had this to say: "I think you have to look long-term and think what the city will look like in 2050."

Like a lot of architects, Burns not only designs buildings (for developers) but sells them to area residents. Implicit within the architect's expanded role of "seller" is the changing role of area residents who, increasingly, want a say in that which they will be living next to. Indeed, as new models for developments take shape (such as the city-within-a-city structure at Olympic Village) so too are area residents forming their own critical structures.

Mediating between builders and concerned citizens are municipal governments, who approve development applications, ideally through community consultation. Have these governments developed new structures to consider the increasingly sophisticated concerns of area residents? That is the question being asked by those currently gathered on the steps of Vancouver City Hall, many of whom have imagined this city in 2050 and do not like what they see.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Kingsgate Mall

A resident of the Kensington-Cedar Cottage area in which I live has apprised neighbourhood listserve subscribers of a pro-community consultation rally tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. on the steps of City Hall. Although her motivation is based on the "Little Saigon" designation, a larger one looms: the proposed development of that most eccentric and wholly affordable of marketplaces -- Kingsgate Mall.

Readers of Kerry Gold's Globe and Mail article (see link) will notice not a news story but a halftone profile of Ryan Beedie, son of Beedie Group founder Keith Beedie. While I am hopeful that Gold's article marks the first of a series on the Kingsgate proposal (articles that include the voices of area workers, residents and social housing advocates), I have my doubts. Gold's real estate beat tends more towards affirmation than balance. Reading her these past few years you would think she is an embedded publicist for Rennie Marketing Systems.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

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.

On the table is a vase by the potter Mick Henry (its scrubbed-clean emptiness fills the room). Yesterday it was flowers, today it is music -- what Mick heard when his vase rose up between his hands, spoke to him, told him it was done.

Potters who make vases, knowing that we might stuff them with flowers. But vases unto themselves, first, perfect in advance of their utility.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Monday, November 12, 2012


Everywhere I look is
The autumn opens its bra for the sky to suck
its huge imagination
In the darkness, streets are overturned 
Garbage dumps fly through the sky
People breathe a strange and fresh air
Deaf black houses are silently shocked 
by each tick-tock
Lying down in darkness
I feel consoled
that my eyes are still embedded in 
cubits of darkness, the most attractive color
for clothing, which I use to cover my face and furious body.
The faint lines in my chaotic thought
and the feeling of being prevented from sharing an apartment 
are completely nasty. 
The rippling black glances of my son this morning
when he looked at me meant: “Mom, please die!” 
His four-year-old hatred
makes me remember the freshness of loving,
the kind I haven’t seen for a very long time
because everything is colored 
and covered by foil
The blackness of spoiled fish
fried and yellowed in tomato juice
is an epicurean blackness
a memory to be shot and smashed 
The ambition of blackness
makes me lose sleep unceasingly
licks me 
makes me smile and want to be at peace,
but it still crawls up my body and swallows my youth. 
In the end, I return to my room
needing a loss of memory
and the door is completely closed!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"Little Saigon"

Since posting my letter on Saturday (here, and on the neighbourhood list serve last Sunday) I have, over the course of three days, bumped into a number of area residents who have shared with me their comments, in addition to those I have heard from through email. While most are in agreement with what I have written, others have related stories of residents upset with the proposed designation, who feel Cedar Cottage is a perfectly good name, and why should we change it?

The naming question is not a new one. About ten years ago there was a move on the part of some area residents to name the area between East 12th Avenue (north) and King Edward Boulevard (south), and Knight Street (east) and Fraser Street (west), Dickens, after the two schools within the area (Charles Dickens Elementary and Charles Dickens Annex). This group, which formed shortly after I moved into the area, in 1994, began as a neighbourhood watch organization who initiated nightly foot patrols in order to remind sex trade workers and their clients, as well as anyone else who looked like they did not belong, that their presence was noted, and as such were not welcome. Shortly after that, one of its members started the Dickens Community Group List Serve (DCG listserve), which now totals almost two thousand subscribers.

While I have no problem with people organizing within their neighbourhoods (in fact, I encourage it), I cannot help but look on such groups with the same eyes they use to look on those they assume do not belong, particularly where public space is concerned. A case of watching the watchers? Maybe. Do I understand this tendency? I am not sure. But one thing I am sure of is that it is a difficult thing to proceed in this world with good intentions, to feel that what you are doing is right, without losing sight of the particulars that make life what it is.

I saw something similar back in 1995, when the City announced that the much larger area of Kensington-Cedar Cottage would be one of two test sites (along with Dunbar) for what was then called CityPlan, the result of a city-wide polling process that had asked all Vancouverites what was important to them with respect to the direction the City should take as an urban planner -- the result of which was a neighbourhood-based self-conception, as opposed to a centre-margin model.

I attended the first of these meetings but left not long after when it became clear that the fifty of us largely Anglo-European descendants that had gathered at these meetings were making decisions on behalf of an area whose ethnic diversity was not represented. When I complained to the City's planners that no one from the study group was from Vietnam or the Philippines, and that there were only two people whose ethnicity was Chinese (the dominant ethnic group in the area), I was told that the City was working on it. When I asked why the literature they had distributed to solicit our group was not written in Vietnamese or Tagalog, they said they were working on that too.

Those who came to dominate the CityPlan group included those who put forth the Dickens name. Is the name Dickens representative? Given the ethnic diversity of the area, certainly not (this despite the influx of Anglo-European descendants who have moved into the neighbourhood over the past fifteen years). Would I support it? No, because this is a name that harkens back to the Vancouver I grew up in, the ethnocentric British Vancouver of the 1960s and 70s, where the Union Jack was everywhere and the cops had Scottish accents; where repression ruled the day and anything outside that was exoticized, if not criminalized.

As for the "Little Saigon" designation, I am uneasy with that too, for reasons I mentioned in my letter, but also for those I did not.

The impetus behind the "Little Saigon" designation is attributed to a group called the Metro Vancouver Vietnamese Canadian Business Association (MVVCBA), and was picked up by City Councillor Kerry Jang last autumn. Jang, who is well aware that Vietnamese-Canadians account for Vancouver's fifth biggest ethnic population, took it to Council, who voted unanimously on its implementation (somewhere on Kingsway, between Nanaimo and Fraser Streets). When confronted by concerned residents (rightly so, because there was no public consultation), Jang was quick to point out that it was a vote towards its consideration, not its implementation; that there would be a public consultation process, and that Council would consider the results before making their decision.

Two weeks ago that consultation (held at a community house on Victoria Drive) came and went. This was an event described to me by participants not as a conversation but a celebration, complete with banner proposals. When I shared my letter with Jang, he said City staff collected a number of written comments at this session, and that these would be collated and read by Council in advance of a final decision. My guess is that the designation will pass, and that those ninety or so area residents (by today's count) who have signed the "Stop the Little Saigon Designation" petition, and those who submitted written comments at the consultation session, will exist merely as evidence of the consultation process. As for the MVVCBA, I went looking for them online and found that their domain name had expired. Not a healthy sign.

The MVVCBA, which I believe is located in Surrey, was not the first attempt by a business association to speak for those operating along the Cedar Cottage stretch of Kingsway. Some eight years ago a local businessman of Anglo-European descent, the same businessman who complained in the Vancouver Courier how area businesses were predominantly "nails and noodles" (now removed from the Courier site), tried to organize local businesses but, perhaps owing to his "nails and noodles" comment, failed to do so. This too is unfortunate, because any attempt at naming should come from within, not from without (MVVCBA, City Hall).

Something else worth noting is the celebration that took place in a parking lot on the south side of Kingsway's 1000 block last spring. This event, sponsored by the MVVCBA, featured the food, music, dance, dress and comedy of Vietnam, and was attended by Vietnamese-Canadians and non-Vietnamese Canadians alike. While I did not see many of my non-Vietnamese Canadian neighbours there, I did see a number of civic politicians mingling among local shop owners and community elders, some of whom arrived in uniforms they wore as officers in the South Vietnamese Army, a gesture that tells me those from the north should, and perhaps did, steer clear.

The presence of Vietnam's long-defunct South Vietnam army makes it apparent to anyone concerned that "Little Saigon"will not represent the larger Vietnamese-Canadian presence in this city, and that if it is gestures such as these that are intended to celebrate Vancouver's Vietnamese presence, why is the city not taking a unifying position with respect to its Vietnamese-Canadian population rather than one that privileges the southern part of the country over the north? We have "Little Italy" and "Little India" (the latter comprised of multiple ethnicities), so why not "Little Vietnam"? This is a question that must be addressed before the City votes not only to designate an area "Little Saigon" but, potentially, open wounds that go back long before French and U.S. soldiers arrived in Vietnam.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Two Readings

This past weekend saw two literary events at the Western Front -- on Friday, Chris Kraus; on Saturday, Sarah Schulman. While Sarah's Cineworks-sponsored reading was moved to the Front in advance of a Simon Fraser University job action (it was originally scheduled at the Woodward's downtown campus), Chris's was part of the Front's monthly Scrivener's series, organized by Exhibitions curator Jesse Birch (Chris's visit was co-sponsored by VIVO, who hosted a screening of her films at the Cinematheque). Both events were well-attended, with Chris reading from her new novel, Summer of Hate (2012), and Sarah, a former member of Act Up (1987-1992), from an essay called "AIDS and Gentrification". Questions followed.

Although I enjoyed both events -- Chris's fictive portraits and Sarah's social history -- it was Sarah's detailing of the AIDS crisis in her home borough of Manhattan that was most resonant. For those who might see this as yet another triumph of "Non-Fiction" over "Fiction", let me add that it is Sarah's strength as a fiction writer that makes her essay the document it is. I noticed this first when she talked about those rent-controlled apartment residents who, upon passing from AIDS, had their possessions tossed into the street. Sarah could have told us that many of these people worked in theatre, and how that community was disseminated by AIDS, but chose instead to show us, through an anecdote that had her walking down the street one afternoon, a box of Playbills nestled between two garbage cans. It is details such as this one that anchor not only the numbers (rate of infection, death tolls, percentage of rent hikes) but attitudes towards AIDS that persist to this day (government memorials for those who died on 9/11, but not for those who died of AIDS).

What hit hardest from Sarah's presentation was what she called "Old AIDS," that period between 1981 and 1996 when so many died of this disease. Although I can say that I remember this time (I was nineteen in 1981), it is the details -- the very details Sarah is so adept at placing in all aspects of her written and filmic work-- that were returned to me through her presentation, taking me back to March, 1987, when I moved from my small attic apartment off Commercial Drive to a recently-renovated bachelor suite at the Berkeley (north-east corner of Bute and Nelson). What did not occur to me at the time -- what I saw but did not feel -- were the open doors of the apartments as I climbed the stairs to my suite, the many people running to and from them with steaming plates of food or armfuls of linen, the wasted-looking men inside these rooms who did not mind having their doors open to those assisting them during what, I gathered, were their last days. Yes, I knew these men were dying of AIDS, and that those who tended them were good people, but I did not feel it. Not like I feel things today.

One of these men, a helper maybe ten years older than me, I came to know through our mutual patronage of what was then the only Vietnamese restaurant in the West End -- the Green Hut at Broughton and Robson. Over time, while I dined on imperial rolls and pork brochettes and he on pho, we began to sit together, sharing our meals and the world around us. It was he who told me about the influence of (colonial) French culture on Vietnamese cuisine and literature, the importance of poetry in Vietnam, and Nguyen Chi Thien's debt to Charles Baudelaire; just as is it was I who sat and listened, never asking his name nor what he did for a living. Nor did he ask me. Only later did I hear from another tenant who this man was, or at least enough about him to understand how he came to know so much about Vietnam and poetry, and, through deduction, why he kept so much to himself. But that is another story, one I don't feel like getting into right now; a story someone else might bring out of me, like Sarah Schulman did with her fine and thoughtful essay.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

"Every Day I Would Go"

Every day I would go to the tea shop
At a time when it is almost deserted
I would pick a table in the innermost corner
Where I could sit by myself reading the paper and brewing
I don’t give too much attention to the news
As I flip over the pages then leave the paper alone
I would sit back almost as a manner of relaxation
Not letting my mind be burdened by any thought
Out of habit I would smoke but hardly feel the taste
Only sighing quietly from time to time
Or shaking my head in an attempt to shake away
The images blurred and rather melancholic
Of a meaningless life, almost thrown away.

The poem above is Nguyen Chi Thien's "Every Day I Would Go" (1958), from his collection Flowers from Hell (1984). The translation is by Nguyen Ngoc Bich.

Nguyen Chi Thien was born in 1939, in the North Vietnamese city of Hanoi. He passed away last month in Santa Ana, California.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Open Letter

To the Author(s) of the "Stop Little Saigon Designation" Petition,

While I agree that public consultation is essential before any act or designation is passed by City Hall, and acknowledge that the public consultation process that Councillor Kerry Jang promised area residents last year after council unanimously passed a motion to pursue the naming of a stretch of Kingsway "Little Saigon" did not come about (if it did, I missed it), I must take issue with the argument this petition has mounted against the "Little Saigon" project.

1) To argue that the social and cultural diversity of this stretch of Kingsway mitigates against naming it "Little Saigon" is not one that celebrates diversity but exploits it in favour of the status quo. Let us not forget that the naming of what is now Kingsway came when England's King Edward visited Vancouver in October, 1913. Not only was Kingsway named after him, but so was King Edward Boulevard, a name the Aquilinis took up for their development at the south-east corner of Knight and Kingsway (King Edward Village) -- what was once, I believe, the site of the Cedar Cottage Nursery, where a diverse mix of plants were sold to those who built the houses that many of us live in today.

What also came to pass -- this time in advance of King Edward's visit -- was the removal of the Khat-Sah-Lano village under what is now the south end of the Burrard Street Bridge. While I would never argue that the Cedar Cottage Nursery was complicit in the removal of this First Nations village, the Cedar Cottage Nursery is historically contemporaneous with it and the attitudes of the day. This is not to say that I want to see the name Cedar Cottage removed, only that the name belongs to a past that, like "Little Saigon", does not reflect the diversity of the current area.

2) Like the "Little Saigon" naming project, "diversity" is the result of a similar naming process -- an update of what was once called "multiculturalism." For those who remember the 1970s and 80s, Multiculturalism was an official federal policy, a department under both Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments and a key to Canada's immigration policy. Although heavily critiqued and eventually discarded (as official policy), Canadian Multiculturalism provided this country's citizens with a number of positive lessons, one of which -- the one I divined -- goes like this: if in a country dominated by one culture (mostly English speakers of European descent), then there should be provision for another individual culture to be celebrated -- not above the others but supported by them.

It is in this spirit that I have no problem naming a stretch of Kingsway to reflect a particular ethnic community. However, unless this naming comes about properly, through public consultation, it has the potential to create a negative feeling, and no one wants that. (On that note, let me add that the leaders within the Vietnamese-Canadian community that support this naming have already created a negative feeling within the very community they claim to speak for by focusing their celebration not on all of Vietnam but on the southern part of the country -- hence, "Little Saigon", and not "Little Hanoi" or, even more apropos, "Little Vietnam".)

Finally, let me say that I am thankful I live in a country where initiatives put forth by a community can be taken seriously by local government; where petitions such as the one put forth by the "Stop Little Saigon Designation" author(s) can be allowed to circulate without censure; and where I can speak as both an empathetic and critical subject to an issue that, while philosophically supportive of it, must happen in a way that celebrates not only the ends but the means by which all good decisions are made.