Saturday, March 31, 2012

Friday, March 30, 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

Be Careful What You Watch For

Below is a list of plausible responses to what some think is evidence of a marijuana grow operation.

1. All windows are covered, often with dark plastic or newspaper.

I cannot afford to heat the house for more than a couple hours a day. Garbage bags and newspaper are inexpensive, if inefficient, insulators.

2. Condensation forms on windows due to high humidity levels inside.

I have a respiratory condition that requires the use of a ventilator. Sometimes, if it’s really bad, I boil water on the stove.

3. Residents may only be in the home occasionally and for short periods of time.

I work two jobs, one of which has me sleeping over three nights a week.

4. Unusual visitor behavior – no visitors or frequent visitors for short periods of time.

I have few friends. Occasionally I supplement my income by renting out a spare room on a short-term basis.

5. People access the home only through the garage.

I have a nest of skunks living under the front stairs. Rather than disturb them, I have asked that people enter from the rear of the house.

6. Strange skunk-like odors.

Like I said, I have a nest of skunks living under the stairs.

7. Unusual garbage – little or no garbage or unusual items such as pots, soil and wiring.

I tend to be forgetful. On a number of occasions I have put water on to boil and the next thing I know I have ruined the pot.

For the past few years I have been repairing a model train set I picked up at a flea market. Though the train itself is in good condition, the platform was poorly executed and requires constant rewiring.

8. Unusual wiring on the outside or signs the hydro meter has been tampered with.

The previous tenant installed an intercom system linking the rooms through exterior cables. As for the hydro meter, a couple years ago I banged into it with the lawnmower and, in attempting to repair it, might have made it worse.

9. Little snow (or steam) on the roof in winter.

The house is poorly insulated

10. “Beware of Dog” or “Guard Dog On Duty” signs and excessive security.

I have had more than enough break-ins in my life. Rather than get a dog, which I cannot afford, I chose to double up on signs.

11. Localized power surges or brown-outs.

There might be a grow-op in the neighbourhood.

12. Bright interior lights left on all day and night.

I want people to know there is always someone home.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Thursday, March 22, 2012

In the fall of 2009 I was approached by two documentary filmmakers researching the “Vancouver School,” a name given by the French art historian Jean-Francois Chevrier a couple of decades earlier to identify an unaffiliated group of Vancouver-based artists who, like the “Dusseldorf School”, work in, and with, photography. Would I, as someone who writes on visual art, be interested in meeting with them, share with them my thoughts on these artists and their contribution to contemporary visual art? I said yes.

As is often the case in advance of such meetings – meetings where I will be asked not only what I know but also what I think – I began to anticipate the questions and, in turn, rehearse my responses. What would I have to say about Ian Wallace, Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham, Ken Lum, Stan Douglas and Roy Arden, and why is it that these are the names that come to mind when someone says “Vancouver School”? Should I begin by taking issue with Chevrier’s sobriquet, insisting that what is true for the Bechers and their students at the Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf is not true for Ian Wallace and those who studied under him at UBC and ECUAD? Or should I bypass the “Vancouver School” classification and instead speak of how the work of these artists sets them apart from each other, as opposed to that which they have in common?

After the first ten minutes it became clear that the filmmakers were less interested in details than working within the proverbial box, creating not a critical view of the “Vancouver School” classification but one that celebrates its successes – as if “success” is what its “members” have in common. But really, what was I expecting from the authors of Superkids (2004) and Stand-up Samurais (2001)? And what is success anyway?

Last night I finally got around to watching the documentary. Picture Start (2011) is a 48 minute film that profiles Ian Wallace, Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham and, in a role that is uncredited on the DVD box, Christos Dikeakos. Indeed, it is from the cover of this box that we are given the tagline “How a small group of artists launched an unlikely city into the fine arts stratosphere,” a reduction so repugnant that it reaffirms my belief that the current crisis in documentary filmmaking owes less to a lack of content than an adherence to a format that makes all stories sound the same – and this from the director portion of the Picture Start team who once wrote a book called The Tyranny of Story (1998).

Like the premise of MASS MoCA’s “Oh, Canada” exhibition, we are subjected to a synopsis that opens with this: “The members of the so-called Vancouver School are the biggest international art stars to ever come out of Canada, yet they remain little known, even to many Canadians.” Again, where does one begin to unpack such a reduction? Further on we read about Wallace, Wall and Graham’s participation in “the most uniquely talented rock band in Canadian history,” U-J3RK5, a band formed “along with famed sci-fi author William Gibson” (an untruth if ever there was one), until we come crashing to earth with the promise of “how and why their ascent occurred in a city [that] until recently [was] known more for its surrounding forests than its artists" -- a “how” and “why” that might well have been replaced with a more expansive examination of their practices and the local art historical milieu in which they emerged.

Is the film worth seeing? If you want to hear four artists talk thoughtfully and intelligently about their work, then yes, it is, because these artists have a lot to say in the time they are given. As for the directors, curators, gallerists and critics who comment on these artists, validate their successes, that varies, as one would expect. Did I allow myself to be one of them? No. Even from the beginning I could see where this was headed.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

We were a week into our first-year anthropology course when our professor gave us our first example of something that was happening now, not 10,000 years ago: the Quebec government’s reorientation of the Le Grande watershed towards the creation of hydro-electric power, a project (the James Bay Project, as it is known) that began in 1974 and continues to this day.

The example was raised in the context of the James Bay Cree, who were cruelly displaced by this extraordinary – and financially profitable -- mega-project. I was reminded of the JBP some fifteen years later, during the 1995 Quebec referendum, when citizens were told by Parti Quebecois economist Jacques Parizeau that Quebec sovereignty would be underwritten by hydro-electric exports, most notably to Massachusetts.

Below are the supporters of MASS MoCA’s upcoming “Oh, Canada” exhibition:

Lead Sponsors: 
Canada Council for the Arts, 
TD Bank Group

Major Sponsor: 
W.L.S. Spencer Foundation

Contributing Sponsor: 
Francis J. Greenburger and Time Equities, Inc.

Associate Sponsor: 
Consulate General of Canada

Additional Support by 
Manulife Financial, Scott and Ellen Hand, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and Québec Government Office in Boston.

While I am not surprised to see the Canada Council for the Arts as a supporter, their co-“Lead Sponsor” status suggests that their capital investment should be larger than that of MASS MoCA board member Suzy Wadsworth’s Spencer Foundation (“Major Sponsor”) and real estate developer (and Dan Brown literary agent) Francis Greenberger’s Time Equities (“Contributing Sponsor”). That the Canada Council is on par with co-“Lead Sponsor” TD Bank also seems odd, given TD’s enormous assets and reputation for hearty contributions to the arts. Which leads me to wonder: How much is the Canada Council contributing towards this exhibition, compared to, say, their commitment to Canadian artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Geoffrey Farmer, Brian Jungen and Gareth Moore, all of whom are participating in this June's Documenta 13? Or is the Canada Council a “Lead Sponsor” not for its monetary contribution but for the cultural capital only it can provide?

But it is the last supporter that is most revealing – the Quebec Government Office in Boston. Seems to me an exhibition like “Oh, Canada” might well have been generated by such an office, given the importance of Quebec hydro-electric power exports to Massachusetts and, as I mentioned in Sunday’s post, the role of the symbolic in political economic relations. Could it be that the elevation of the Canada Council to co-”Lead Sponsor” is a cover for lobby groups like the Quebec Government Office in Boston, that the latter’s “Additional Support” role be inverse to their instigation of an exhibition that, the more I look at it, seems in service of something other than the art it purports to celebrate? What are the ambitions of the Quebec Government Office in Boston, or those of real estate developer Francis Greenberger? Is TD Bank Greenberger’s bank? We know TD was instrumental in the half-billion dollar banking consortium that financed the James Bay Project in 1978, but what are they up to now?

Art exhibitions, like scientific experiments or business plans, are no longer about objects under study but a series of trajectories; no longer an object but a field. Which is why we need to take a closer look at this exhibition, from those underwriting it to the rationale of its curator. Because as it stands, "Oh, Canada" is not about Canadian artists in Massachusetts but something more insidious. After all, the Quebec Government would not have an office in Boston if not for the James Bay Project -- a project built on the backs of the James Bay Cree.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Monday, March 19, 2012

Back in the late 1980s I was approached by filmmaker Craig Berggold of the Mayworks Festival of Working People and the Arts to program the festival's cabaret. As this was the first time I was asked to contribute something other than my musical abilities (Hard Rock Miners had played previous Mayworks Festivals in Vancouver and Winnipeg), I said yes, and for three years I worked with Craig, Gary Cristall, Erin Mullen, Jeannie Kamins and others on the program.

Craig is the son of Carole Conde and Karl Beveridge, Toronto-based artists who create dioramic installations and photo-montage tableaux that feature heightened instances of cultural resistance and banal depictions of working class life. For some, this work is seen as extreme; for others, a sometimes needed hyperbolic dimension (less socialist realism than political cartooning) of a larger project undertaken by those who employ similar compositional strategies (Jeff Wall, Ken Lum, Stan Douglas), but usually in a more subtle form.

Something I have noticed since my work with Mayworks is a steady decline in a working class artistic culture, one that parallels a shrinking North American union membership and a rise in part-time employment. That said, in 2011 W2: Community Media Arts in Vancouver revived Mayworks after a five year hiatus.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

What is “Canadian Art”? Is it similar to what the writer George Bowering suggests when he asks himself, What is Canadian Writing? and then responds by unpacking the category so that we think not of Canadian Writing but of writing in Canada?

Art made by Canadians is Canadian Art, just as art made by United States Americans is American Art. But we don’t say American Art, do we? Nor do we say art in America, unless we are referring to the magazine Art in America.

Canada has a magazine called Canadian Art. As its name suggests, it is concerned with art made by Canadians and, to a lesser extent, art shown in Canada. Those familiar with the magazine will note that Canadian Art covers a range of visual art activity within (and without) the country, notably through its overture section, “Fast Forward,” an announcement of what is up and what is coming from Newfoundland to British Columbia, with special attention paid to Toronto, not because the art made and shown there is especially relevant (Canadian?) but because that is where the bulk of the magazine’s advertising revenues are generated.

Defenders of Canadian Art magazine might think me cynical for pointing this out, that I am grousing about Toronto getting more attention, but this is something even Toronto-based Akimblog will admit to when asked why Vancouver posts appear every four months, while Toronto posts seem to occur on a weekly basis. That we are to accept these “realities” without questioning them (lest we be called “whiners,” etc.) speaks not only to contradictions in the art world but to those found in everything from Canadian domestic policy to America’s foreign wars. (Like Julian Stallabrass says in Art Incorporated [2004]: the art world does not mirror the business world -- it is the business world.)

Canadian Art is a modern phenomenon that began not with a single work of art but a collection of works by Canadian male artists in the 1920s and early-1930s, painters who painted the country’s numerous regional landscapes with an awareness of the various modern (European) styles. Although I am sure a painter like Lawren Harris would have developed a reputation had the Group of Seven not existed, it was his identification with this group (painting within his own geographical milieu) that made the Group of Seven painters more relevant than had they not been bunched together. For me, it is the work made under the banner of this group, not any one particular work, that is the basis for a Canadian Art.

This collected approach continued into the 1960s, not through the medium of painting and the (petite-)genre of landscape but through the integration of mediums such as poetry, performance, photography, installation, film and video; as well as artist collectives and the country's first artist-run centres. Region played into this insofar as what was happening in Halifax was also happening in Vancouver, and that there was a dialogue between the two. The same could be said in the 1980s, with an awareness of identity, multiple modernisms, critical theory. Where Canadian Art began to wane occurred around the same time concepts such as nation, political ideology, even modernism itself, were being challenged. We saw this in Vancouver when pedagogical artist-educators like Jeff Wall began to identify not with what was going on in the rest of the country but what was then going on in Dusseldorf, eschewing Canadian (private) galleries for those in New York, turning his students into cadets…

Nowadays I am not sure what the basis for a Canadian Art might be, if it could be said to exist at all. The critique of neo-liberalism has it that nations are puppets of the one-percenters and that Canadian Anything should be looked at with suspicion. While I am inclined to agree, I would suggest that puppetry, too, is an art form and, like all cultural forms, capable of generating consequences that, if perceived as real, are real by their consequences. This leads me back to the Roy Arden essay I mentioned in Friday's post (“Supernatural”, CAG, 2004) – his suggestion that art made by First Nations artists in Canada is the “new” Canadian Art. Indeed, what better way to continue the subjugation of First Nations people than by giving them not political and economic power, but symbolic power.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

From June 23-September 25, 2011 la maison rouge in Paris, in conjunction with Plug-In ICA in Winnipeg, hosted an exhibition of over 70 contemporary Winnipeg artists, entitled My Winnipeg (the show was later remounted at MIAM in Sète). Below is a promotional video put together by la maison rouge.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Oh, Canada

The current issue of Canadian Art magazine has hit the stands and, as one might expect, the cover features an image from MASS MoCA’s “Oh, Canada” exhibition, due to open in May. The curator of the exhibition is the museum’s Denise Markonish, a 36-year-old United States citizen and graduate of Bard College, who, after 400 studio visits from Newfoundland to BC and parts north, has put together “the largest exhibition of Canadian Art ever held on American soil.”

News of “Oh, Canada” has been in the air for some time now. Below are the first three sentences of an announcement that appeared on the MASS MoCA website last year:

"Canada is the second largest country in the world by area and boasts both a vibrant nationwide arts community and a strong public commitment to culture. And yet Canadian contemporary art has not received widespread attention outside Canada's borders. The largest survey of contemporary Canadian art ever produced outside Canada, Oh Canada features work by more than 60 artists who hail from every province and nearly every territory in the country, spanning multiple generations and working in all media."

The careful reader will note that what was once billed as “[t]he largest survey of contemporary Canadian art ever produced outside of Canada” has been amended to “the largest exhibition of Canadian Art ever held on American soil.” The reason for this could be the 2006 Intertidal: Vancouver Art & Artists exhibition at Antwerp’s MuHKA, what was then the largest exhibition of Canadian art abroad since the 1973 Canadian Trajectories exhibition in Paris.

Also worth noting is that, despite being “the second largest country in the world by area…,” “Canadian contemporary art has not received widespread attention outside Canada’s borders,” an assertion that is either untrue or merely unaware of the work (and influence) of contemporary Canadian artists such as Ian Wallace, AA Bronson, Michael Morris, Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham, Paul Wong, Liz Magor, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, Ken Lum, Roy Arden, Jessica Stockholder, Jin-me Yoon, Stan Douglas, Sabine Bitter, Rebecca Belmore, Kelly Wood, Myfanwy MacLeod, Judy Radul, Steven Shearer, Ron Terada, Geoffrey Farmer, Brian Jungen, Althea Thauberger, Kevin Schmidt, Gareth Moore, Isabelle Pauwels, Tim Lee… all of whom were either born or are based in Vancouver, Canada; many of whom have exhibited at numerous biennials, Documentas, art fairs and private galleries the world over.

While I understand the need to hype “Oh, Canada,” it would help if MASS MoCA’s copy began with a recognition of these and the many more Canadian artists working on the international stage, if for no other reason than to convince the informed (and curious) reader that the curator knows what she is talking about and that this is an exhibition worth waiting for. Moreover, to disqualify Vancouver when it comes to Canadian art (or art made by people from, or working in, Canada) is a problem that goes back to an earlier Canadian Art cover – the 2006 Intertidal: Vancouver Art & Artists exhibition at MuHKA – which features an exhibition review so vituperative, so eager to Miss Piggy, that it opens with a "critique" of the Antwerp airport. (Interestingly, it was one of the artists included in Intertidal, Roy Arden, who suggested in a 2003 CAG curatorial essay on Neil Campbell and Beau Dick that Canadian Art is no longer art made in Canada by Canadians but art made in Canada by First Nations artists.)

At bottom is Sarah Milroy’s recent interview with “Oh, Canada” curator Denise Markonish (taken from the Canadian Art website). The careful reader will note the absence of the 1973 Canadian Trajectories exhibition in Paris, and that the “trail goes cold” well before Intertidal.


Opening on May 27 at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), in North Adams, Massachusetts, “Oh, Canada” will be the largest survey of Canadian contemporary art ever held on American soil, or, arguably, anywhere. It is thus an historic occasion in a trajectory of stops and starts.

As a people, we Canadians have proven ourselves constitutionally squeamish about summarizing curatorial statements. The National Gallery of Canada’s comprehensive and definitive “Songs of Experience” exhibition back in 1986 comes to mind—one of several aborted missions to get a Canadian art biennial off the ground (though the gallery’s recent practice of displaying its contemporary acquisitions every two years is a step in the right direction).

Beyond our shores, Jean-Christophe Ammann presented “Canadian Artists” at the Kunsthalle Basel in 1978, showcasing 16 artists, including Robin Collyer, Shirley Wiitasalo, General Idea, Paterson Ewen, Lisa Steele, Ian Carr-Harris and Greg Curnoe. The 1982–83 “OKanada” show at the Akademie der Künst in Berlin, which highlighted the work of Max Dean, Betty Goodwin and John Massey, combined contemporary Canadian art with historical work. And Tilman Osterwald’s “Künstler Aus Kanada: Räume und Instaliationen” at the Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart in the same year introduced 15 Canadian artists to the European scene, among them Lyne Lapointe, Rober Racine, Melvin Charney and Krzysztof Wodiczko.

After that, however, the trail goes cold, thanks both to our government’s faltering commitment to the promotion of cultural export, and to the pervasive disenchantment, at home and abroad, with nationalism as an organizing curatorial premise.

Who could have predicted, then, that a 36-year-old, American-born Bard College grad would be the one to take up the torch, with a zeal that borders on obsessive? Visiting 400 Canadian artists’ studios over the past three years, Denise Markonish has come up with a list of 62 artists that is producing double takes in Canadian art circles. Where, we ask, are the photo and conceptual legacies that have defined us on the international scene? And where are our established heavy hitters: artists like Jeff Wall, David Altmejd, Stan Douglas, Ken Lum, Peter Doig, Liz Magor, and Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller?

Instead, Markonish has brought forward a number of new names, proposing a kind of counter-narrative to the Canadian art A-list we thought we knew. What this show will look like is anyone’s guess; that it will be worth thinking about and looking at is beyond question. I spoke with Markonish as she neared the end of her research, before the great unveiling.

Sarah Milroy: What was it that triggered this project?

Denise Markonish: I had started noticing that a number of artists I was interested in were Canadian. I kept having this moment, like: “Oh, they’re Canadian, they’re Canadian?” Rodney Graham, Janet Cardiff, Marcel Dzama—all artists whose work I responded to. I started calling them “the secret Canadians.” I know Canadians assimilate really easily, but, I mean David Altmejd, Rodney Graham and Terence Koh have all been in Whitney Biennials—biennials of American art. I have to wonder: How did that happen? Then I started thinking: “Are there more?” I started to wonder why there was not more of an exchange.

At the same time, I was pushing back against what I was seeing as a trend toward a kind of exoticism on the part of many curators, who were saying, “Let’s find the next big thing. Let’s go to China. Let’s go to India…” When I realized that I knew more artists from China than I knew from Canada, I started to get really interested. I figured the best thing to do was just to go and start looking.

SM: Did it end up being exotic?

DM: Well, one of the more unique studio visits I took was driving from Dawson City 15 hours up the Dempster Highway and back with Charles Stankievech. When I had first visited the Prairies, I thought: “I have seen the sky for the first time.” I felt I could understand what Edmund Burke had meant when he was writing about the sublime, because it is completely awe-inspiring, beautiful and terrifying at the same time. But then when I got up to the Yukon, I thought: “No, this is really what he meant.”

When we drove the Dempster, it was snowing and the road was closed and there were no cars. We saw maybe two cars and one truck in 15 hours, and it was just unbelievable. Sometimes you don’t know you’re on the road. We did spin out at one point. I thought: “Oh my God, I’m going to die here.” Part of the drive was in the night, so you just put on the high beams and you can kind of see where the snow is tamped down a little, and you just keep on going.

I have read Margaret Atwood’s Wilderness Tips (1991), and she talks about this sense of nature as indifferent. It’s not even that it’s menacing, but that it has a presence that is uncanny, and there is this sense of vast space. I began to think about the sense of accumulation in some of the work I was seeing—like Chris Millar’s paintings and sculptures, for example, or Eric Cameron’s work—a feeling almost of hoarding against that emptiness.

SM: How different is the art scene in Canada from that in the US?

DM: Well, I think many Americans have the perception that “Oh, Canadians are Americans. They are just like us.” Which is clearly not the case. For example, I’ve done lot of thinking about the funding systems in Canada, about the way that art gets made. I think it goes more toward a European model, which has a similar system of museum and government support. This seems to lead to a more project-based, experimental kind of work rather than market-driven work, which is what the States is mostly after.

SM: Do you think that affects the art being made?

DM: Well, I noticed a return to, or a rethinking of, craft. In Canada, you find someone like Shary Boyle learning how to cast porcelain—and that’s just one of the media she uses. Or Luanne Martineau using felt, but making it so disgusting and beautiful at the same time. She’s a great example of an artist using a material with history to talk about the body in a way that is new, using craft but drawing from the history of surrealism, and from feminism.

Or Clint Neufeld—he’s almost like Luanne, but he’s talking about the masculine, casting car engines in ceramic and delicately painting them with Delft flowers. They are just stunning objects. Even someone like Kim Adams, who is using found objects, is using material in a way that is wholly unique. In some way, he’s the mad tinkerer. But none of this work is just craft for its own sake.

I wonder if it has to do with the fact that these artists seem to spend more time just being artists. Being able to spend the time to experiment means you don’t fail once and have to give it up because you don’t have the time to try things. In Canada, I think there’s more of a work ethic.

SM: Your list is already seen as quite eccentric. It excludes a whole generation of Vancouver artists who leapfrogged Canada and made important careers abroad: Jeff Wall, Ian Wallace, Stan Douglas and Ken Lum being the most striking examples. Notwithstanding the work of people like Betty Goodwin or Liz Magor or Paterson Ewen, Canadian art has been known abroad principally for this more photo-based work. You were obviously after art practices more rooted in bodily experience.

DM: Absolutely. If you look at the artists from Vancouver in my show, it is an unusual Vancouver list. There were certain trends that the Americans think of as Canadian, which have tended to overshadow everything else being made. In my mind, that didn’t need to be the case again here. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to talk about that legacy in the catalogue, but again, I wanted this not to be your usual ideas.

Then there were other Canadian artists, like Jessica Stockholder, Rodney Graham and Janet Cardiff, who are well known in the US already, and who I would be inclined to work with in the future—but I wanted this to be a show that could be surprising. I started to have to make hard decisions around—well, do they really need to be in this show? I think one of the biggest compliments I had when I released the list was having a number of artists say that they were surprised, that they were excited, and that there were artists there that they didn’t know. I thought: “Okay then, I did the job I set out to do.” But I say to people, “you’ll have to look at my shows from here on, because there’s going to be Canadians in all of them.” I found remarkable strength.

SM: It seems, then, that this will largely be a show about the new, the emergent.

DM: Yes, but I have also included some more senior artists like Michael Snow, John Will, Eric Cameron and Rita McKeough. These are people who are always renewing themselves, who have never settled into one specific approach. In college and grad school in the US, you are shown Snow’s Wavelength (1967), you learn a little bit, but then when you go deeper there is so much variety, such an evolution. His career is a perfect example.

SM: What do Americans know about Canadian contemporary art?

DM: Other than Vancouver photoconceptualism, I think the biggest thing is the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. I remember in art history classes learning that John Baldessari made his famous print I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art (1971) there, or that Vito Acconci and Lawrence Weiner visited as well, and I thought that was the history.

But then when I started researching this show, I found out that they never taught us about Garry Neill Kennedy, or about David Askevold and Jerry Ferguson, both of whom were born in the US but made their lives and their contributions in Canada. They didn’t mention the people who made it possible. In America, that story gets rewritten. It was so great getting to spend time in Halifax and be introduced to Garry, and to see how the school is now fostering another young generation of artists who are taking on that legacy and playing with it in different ways. I have also been teaching myself Canadian art history. I was taught about the Hudson River School. I didn’t know about the Group of Seven.

SM: Can you give me some examples of how Canadian art has had an influence in the US and internationally?

DM: Of course, the artists in Vancouver have had a huge impact on how photography gets made and experienced. Certainly, one thinks of the links to the Düsseldorf school, in terms of the use of photography as a conceptual medium. I think it is still unclear which way the influence was going—from Vancouver to Düsseldorf or the other way around. It seems to me that ideas were emerging concurrently. But Düsseldorf is much more uber-conceptual, whereas in someone like Rodney Graham or Jeff Wall you get these flashes of humour. Maybe that is more the Canadian way of looking at things.

I then find myself thinking about the impact of Rodney Graham, in his comic mode, on an artist like Mika Rottenberg, and her use of photography and video as performance. Or someone like Gregory Crewdson. In fact, Crewdson has made many of his photographs at MASS MoCA, in our black-box studio. Sarah Anne Johnson went to Yale and worked with Gregory on some of those projects. It’s fascinating to see the influences moving back and forth.

There are also artists like Janet Cardiff, who has had a huge impact on sound art. She took sound from being exhibited as speakers in a room to a remarkably theatrical experience. You see more and more artists exploring that idea now.

SM: What else do you see as distinctive about Canadian contemporary art?

DM: The First Nations art being made in Canada was a real eye-opener to me. In the US, art by First Nations people is on the rise, but here in Canada, it’s just remarkable—you get an artist like Kent Monkman, who is not only dealing with history in his work but also with issues of gay identity, or an artist like Rebecca Belmore, who explores history, identity, the body.

A good number of First Nations artists in the US are still just scratching the surface, dealing with the clichéd image of the Indian in a way that is ironic, sarcastic even. But that work seems to me to have less emotional content.

I am interested in someone like Terrance Houle, who started in that more sardonic, in-your-face mode, but lately has been making work that is so much more nuanced, like the video he made recently where he interviewed his mother and father about their experiences in the residential school. It brought tears to my eyes, it was so beautiful. It was interesting to me that he could be this young angry artist and then say, “Well, that’s not serving me anymore. I did that, it needed to be done, but now—how can I dig deeper?”

SM: What do Americans think of Canada, if they think at all?

DM: They don’t. I mean, during the Bush years they did, because they thought: “Let’s move there! There’s free health care; it’s a beautiful place.” But in fact, I think there’s always that thing in the back of the American mind, you know: “Could they get us? They’re really big. They have these phenomenal resources.” I think there is that little bit of “maybe if we don’t think about them, nothing bad will happen.” Recently, President Obama urged people to buy American resources over Canadian resources—that does show a kind of unease.

SM: I’m thinking, as you talk, about Robin Williams’ “Blame Canada” song-and-dance number at the Academy Awards. It seems like we always get blamed for the bad things, like winter storms or terrorists crossing the border. Of course, 2012 is the 200th anniversary of the only war that the Americans have ever fought and lost, and that is the War of 1812.

DM: Well, originally this exhibition was going to be in 2009, but once I got into it, I realized, “Lord, I need more time.” Then, when we settled on 2012, my friends in Canada were all very excited. Also, I figure if the Aztecs are right, and 2012 is the end of the world, then why not end with Canada?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Every few years British Columbians open their newspapers to a story concerning our (right-of-centre) provincial government “floating” the idea of (re)training Lower Mainland welfare recipients for under-filled jobs in smaller communities. Like the story I read in today's Globe (at bottom).

Usually these stories are met with horror by our (left-of-centre) opposition, who rightly make the case that many welfare recipients are unemployable due to a range of health issues, some of which include alcohol and drug addiction. Indeed, there is something totalitarian in such training-for-relocation "proposals", even though our federal immigration system has long favoured those willing to live in smaller communities over settlement in larger urban centres.

While my own feelings on this issue are skewed by what I see as the inevitable migration of younger Lower Mainlanders from cost prohibitive cities and polluted suburbs to smaller towns like Lillooet, Quesnel and Fort St John, it is not the “news” contained within this article that interests me but how that news was made. Was there a press release, or was this idea tossed out informally (but deliberately) by provincial MLA’s? And if the latter, to what end?

With the provincial Liberal Party sagging in the polls, I cannot help but wonder if this “trial balloon,” as the Globe described it, has less to do with filling jobs and bolstering small town economies than appealing to those middle class voters who have come to fear the homeless, the unemployed. As for where exactly those jobs might be, I am sure some of them will lie between the Alberta tar sands and Kitamaat.


"LIberals eye jobs in Interior for welfare recipients"
Terri Theodore, Vancouver

British Columbia's governing Liberals are floating a controversial idea to put welfare recipients to work: train them and ship them north.

Liberal cabinet ministers are openly musing about offering people on social assistance the opportunity to receive training and then relocate to areas of the province facing a labour shortage, such as northern B.C. and the interior.

The province's finance and environment ministers described it as a no-brainer that would put people to work and help employers, while critics suggested it would ignore the underlying reasons people find themselves needing assistance in the first place.

“... You can get people off of welfare, which is costing government money, and put them into a job,” Finance Minister Kevin Falcon told reporters in Victoria on Wednesday.

Mr. Falcon suggested such a program could even finance itself.

His cabinet colleague, Environment Minister Terry Lake, called it common-sense.

“So often we hear of young, employable people who can't find jobs in certain parts of the province, whereas we know that in other parts of the province, the northwest, the northeast in particular, there are opportunities,” he said at an unrelated event in Vancouver.

Mr. Lake stressed that no one would be forced into such a program.

Neither minister could say how many people might jump at the opportunity. In fact, Mr. Lake said the plan was in the “feedback” stage, admitting the idea was a merely trial balloon.

“Sometimes in government when you get sort of common-sense ideas, there are all kind of reasons why they can't happen. Hopefully this is one that can happen.”

When he introduced his budget last month, Mr. Falcon said the province was considering providing training, accommodation and transportation for unemployed workers, but he didn't elaborate.

Carole James, the Opposition New Democrats' social development critic, said such a program wouldn't address the underlying problems that lead some people into social assistance, such as addiction and mental illness.

“Giving them a ticket to move up north is not going to solve the poverty struggles and the education struggles that those individuals are facing,” she said.

Ms. James said the government has already missed opportunities to help low-income British Columbians by cutting funding for training in recent years.

A report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released in 2010 examined two B.C. government training programs for welfare recipients and concluded neither “provided a pathway out of poverty.”

The report, written by University of British Columbia professor Shauna Butterwick, focused on people who had multiple barriers to employment, such as addiction, mental and physical health problems or physical disabilities.

Ms. Butterwick, whose report did not specifically address relocating social assistance recipients, said provincial training programs in B.C. have been used to reduce the welfare caseload and increase the supply of low-wage workers rather than to address underlying issues.

“An employment focus must be balanced with meeting client needs, which is the welfare system's primary function,” the report said. “It is clear from our study that the main interests of government is cost-saving, not providing social programs for those in need.”

Ms. Butterwick made nine recommendations, including improved access to longer-term education and training.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I post this robotic instruction video wondering if it might one day save lives.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

This morning's Globe features an engaging profile of Charlotte Gill, author of Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe (Douglas & McIntyre, 2011).

"Tree-planting made me a really patient person," says Gill of her 17 years in the field, during which time she planted over a million trees.

A million trees!

A million anything.

Below is what a million pennies looks like (compliments of artist Gerald Ferguson). Below that, how to plant a seedling.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Awoke to the windiest morning in years. That was five hours ago – and it’s still blowing.

There are at least twenty trees outside my window and I have been watching them sway back and forth, amazed at how rooted they are, because some of these gusts are incredible.

The only time I experienced anything like this was on a boat, and I remember feeling similarly about the power of the ocean.

Boats and trees, and how the boat I was on was made of such trees.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The last music clip I will post from 1983.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Before social media, bands would occasionally form through newspaper want ads (1:09).

Below is another musical clip from 1983 -- X's performance of Otis Blackwell's "Breathless" (1958).

Friday, March 9, 2012

The c.1983, Part 1 exhibition at Presentation House Gallery is coming to a close. Below is my favorite music video from that year -- a tour of Sunset, Fairfax, Santa Monica, and more.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Tuesday night's Ryeberg event at the Waldorf featured an essay called "Silence" by Miriam Toews. Below is John Cage on the same topic:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

For B.C.'s striking teachers:

Monday, March 5, 2012


Sunday, March 4, 2012

One of my first television memories, but not something I will be showing on Tuesday night.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

This Tuesday writers Charles Demers, Stephen Osborne, Miriam Toews and I will present our commissioned "Ryeberg" essays at the Waldorf Hotel. A project of Erik Rutherford, Ryeberg is an online magazine/museum that posted its first "Ryeberg" (a hybrid of text and online video) in June 2009. Since then Ryeberg has posted dozens of Ryebergs and has hosted numerous events. Tuesday's event will be their first outside of Toronto.

Friday, March 2, 2012

On December 6, 1969 the Rolling Stones hosted a free concert at the Altamont Speedway in Northern California. Jefferson Airplane performed at the concert, where, during the Stones' set, 19-year-old Meredith Hunter was murdered by a member of the Hells Angels.

The Altamont Free Concert is considered one of a handful of events that signaled the end of the peace and love era. Evidence of Hunter's murder can be found in the documentary film Gimme Shelter (1970). At bottom is an excerpt -- Jefferson Airplane's version of Fred Neil's "The Other Side of This Life" (1965).

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Back in the early-1980s, while attending the University of Victoria, I was given a Vanguard Records LP of mid-60s folk singers by my friend Garnet McPhee. On that LP was a song called "Green, Green Rocky Road" by a group listed as Alabama School House. Because of its title, and because Jim Green was born in Alabama, I went looking for this song to post on websit. Little did I know that there are many versions of "Green, Green Rocky Road" -- yet none of them by Alabama School House.

The version below is by Fred Neil, who features prominently in Bob Dylan's beautifully picaresque Chronicles, Volume One. Fans of the late Jeff Buckley, and his father, Tim (who predeceased him), will note the influence of Neil on their work. Which reminds me: another great LP Garnet brought to my attention was Neil's The Other Side of This Life (1971), a collection of "live" and alternate tracks.