Friday, August 31, 2012
W2 TV produced this video around the time of Vancouver's 2010 Winter Olympics. In it, the question of affordable housing is raised ("affordability" is now the number one issue facing Vancouver). The video also cites Bob Rennie's mention of Vancouver as a "resort town," as if that were a good thing.
As with most resort towns, a nearby town is required to supply the resort its workforce. This was true of Pemberton when Whistler emerged as a destination sky hill back in the 1970s. Same with the town of Wells in relation to the tourist town of Barkerville, home of BC's first gold rush.
Prior to the Olympics, a previous Vancouver extravaganza was Expo '86, a provincial (Social Credit) government mega project whose theme was transportation. To highlight this we were "given" Skytrain.
Though a monument to transportation, Skytrain was devised to bring cheap labour into Vancouver from the Fraser Valley (that alone is why transit fares are not enforced). Prior to that, those who worked in Vancouver as theatre ushers and hotel staff could afford to contribute to the city both as residents and as workers, whereas now these people visit the city as tourists do -- only to work in it, not to live in it.
Last year's hockey riot is related to this dislocation, where those who work and play in Vancouver, but cannot afford to live there, acted out. And who can blame them? These are people who have no stake in this city, who have come to resent it as either a job site or a place so expensive they are made to feel like they are being robbed of their pay cheques.
If Vancouver continues down this path, worse things will happen. If not more riots, then more cops patrolling its streets -- a provocation all its own.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
As we enter the final month of summer those of us who were friends in winter find ourselves reunited at stationary superstores and cafes, where we provide summaries of travel, island getaways or drapes-drawn staycations. From there the conversation turns to what we have in common. If that is the arts -- the visual arts -- then we discuss the Globe and Mail's recent visit with condominium salesman and art collector Bob Rennie, who suggests that instead of moving the Vancouver Art Gallery into a new ($300M) building, why not have "eight to 10" smaller ($30M) VAGs spread about town.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Sunday, August 26, 2012
This super-8 film was shot in front of the Towne Cinema on Granville Street (between Smithe and Nelson) in July 1981. The woman we hear from early on (who appears near the end as well) is the Reverend Bernice Gerard, a Christian evangelist and former Vancouver city councillor who, for many years, was first out of the gate on matters pertaining to sex and sexuality.
Thank you to hanssipma's channel for this excellent document.
Friday, August 24, 2012
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Mecca Normal (David Lester and Jean Smith) have been performing, recording and activating since 1984. To my mind there is nothing like them.
A few years ago it was learned that Jean Smith had entered the online dating scene. Although I have not seen her profile, evidence of her participation can be heard in Mecca Normal songs like "Attraction is Ephemeral" (2006), one of their finest works to date.
Here is Mecca Normal performing "Attraction is Ephemeral". After that, Lana Del Rey doing the same for "Video Games" (2011). Compare and contrast.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
In addition to her work with Mecca Normal, and her writing (her first book of fiction, I Can Hear Me Fine, was published by Get to the Point in 1993), Jean Smith paints. (She grew up with painters and attended art school.)
Jean's latest book, still in manuscript form, is called Obliterating History: a Guitar-Making Mystery, Domination and Submission in a Small Town Garage and features a character named "Martin Lewis", who is, among other things, a painter. In an effort to expand her novel, Jean has created a series of abstracted landscapes by "Lewis" on a scale similar to those manuscript pages.
In the video below we see Jean at work on those paintings.
Monday, August 20, 2012
Every year I hear the call of the Pacific National Exhibition, or the PNE. This year the call came early. Admission from 9 a.m. to noon was free -- and it wasn't raining. How could I refuse?
After meandering through East Vancouver I arrive at the Renfrew and Hastings entrance, lock my bike and stroll through the unmanned turnstiles. To my immediate left is The Market, where as a child I marvelled at men in starched white shirts and bow ties demonstrating the latest in food prep. Only now these men have been replaced by twenty-something women in low-cut blouses. Every time one of them leans forward, attention shifts from the product to the process.
I step outside and purchase a handful of popcorn ($3.50). Suddenly I hear the voice of Dal Richards booming from the concert stage. Dal is 94-years-old and continues to lead a big band. I have to see this.
After the second song I turn around, to take in the crowd (Who else had to see this?). Leaning against a guard rail is Jean Smith. Despite her sunglasses I know it's Jean because of her mouth, which is tight and full. She is staring right through me. I don't take this personally because I have been in this situation before: she knows it's me, just as she knows there are other things going on besides those who know her.
We talk about writing, and I mention a piece of hers I read in a recent issue of West Coast Line. I have always liked Jean's writing and I tell her why -- not so much the content, in this case, but the construction of her paragraphs, which often begin with intriguing lines followed by a mix of deduction and derive. The early Kathy Acker had that quality, as do a number of writers who come to fiction through poetry. Or in Jean's case -- song.
I want to spend the rest of the day with Jean, but I don't want to push my luck, either.
My favorite thing about the PNE are the animals. This year they seem sadder than ever, especially the bulls, who are on short leashes and face the wall. One bull in particular looks very unhappy. And no wonder -- someone has named him Cashflow.
It is hard to carry on after that, but I do. A quick walk through Playland, past kids screaming from rides, extended families (one dowager was being carried in a sedan chair), a toddler going through sugar withdrawal, beehives of cotton candy, over-inflated basketballs, Whale's Tails, camel toes, before doubling back, first to the Agridome, where a cowboy is mounting a bull (not Cashflow), and then the Pacific Coliseum for the Peking Acrobats, where the sign reads, appropriately enough, FULL HOUSE.
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Saturday, August 18, 2012
On Thursday someone asked me if I remember where I was when Elvis died.
I was at Jericho Beach, almost fifteen-years-old, smoking Player's Light cigarettes, drinking homemade wine from an army surplus canteen and listening to CKLG-AM on a white transistor radio. I was with two friends my age; one I know for certain, the other an abstraction, maybe a composite of two.
It was hot that day, and this man came up to us, younger than our fathers but older, much older, than anyone's oldest brother, and asked my friend (the one I remember) if he would apply suntan lotion to his back, which he qualified by saying he had broken his arms in a motorcycle accident and had limited mobility.
My friend reluctantly took the tube and made a face as he squirted the lotion onto his palm. One, two, three strokes and my friend said, "There," and kneeled away -- just as the DJ broke the news of Elvis's death.
Last night, while scrolling through my PVR, I noticed that I had taped a 1973 film that followed Elvis over a fifteen city North American tour in the summer of 1972. While never an Elvis fan I found myself riveted, not only by the man but by the construction of the film, known simply as Elvis on Tour.
Of greatest interest to me (a former touring musician) were the arrangements of the songs Elvis and his twenty piece band performed on this tour. Not the songs he became famous for but those that were hits for others shortly before Elvis added them to his concerts, songs such as "Polk Salad Annie" (1968) and "Proud Mary" (1969), songs The King and his arrangers had sped up, coloured with horns and background vocals, and subjected to numerous crescendo seeking key changes, each completed by Elvis's version of a karate move, as if the song had been wrestled to the ground, only to be finished off by a death blow. That these songs were occasionally broken up by ballads made their formulae all the more apparent.
As the concert progressed I found myself back at Jericho Beach, sharing a joint with the man who asked my friend to rub lotion onto his back. My friends had gone by then, but I was too interested in this guy's story: how as a youngster he was lured to the city from a northern logging town, where he too was sped up, coloured (by drugs and alcohol), subjected to numerous key changes, etc., before turning his life around and working to help those less fortunate.
Once done, I thanked him for the joint and got to my feet, brushing the sand off my legs. It was then that he reached for his tube and asked if I might apply a little more lotion to his back before leaving, which I did, with the same three strokes my friend supplied. "Ah," he said reaching behind his back, a finger just under his shoulder blade. "There. Right there. You missed a spot."
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
As I child I began my weekdays with a four block walk up the hill from Cypress and 33rd, where I lived, to 37th Avenue, where I turned right, walked another block, before arriving at my school, Quilchena Elementary.
On that walk I would pass a large lot dominated by trees and shrubs, within which stood a small derelict house. Not once did I notice anyone home at this house, though much of my walking time was devoted to thoughts about who might live there, for how long, and what might this person be like.
Last spring, while walking home from Main Street, I came upon three boys walking slowly in the other direction, their attention fixed on a similar house as the one I passed when I was their age. The image brought to mind conversations I'd had with friends who took the same route to school as me, each of us sharing versions of what we thought went on in that too small house.
But the boys walking towards me that day were silent, taking in the house and the creepy vines that clung to it. Only when I passed did one of them speak up, and that was to say, "Wow, you could put three, maybe four houses there."
Monday, August 13, 2012
Every year I see three plays: a Shakespeare play at Bard on the Beach, a hybrid play at the PuSh Festival and a contemporary play. This year's contemporary play was an Actor's Equity Co-op/Paige 18 production of Mike Batistick's Chicken (2007), which just completed its run at the Havana Restaurant Theatre. Rather than provide my own synopsis, here is what I found on doollee.com:
Wendell's wife, Lina, is pregnant. His wayward best friend, Floyd, sleeps nightly on their couch. And as if things aren't stressful enough, he's under constant pressure to "father" his messed-up neighbors in the Bronx. In an effort to get some money together, Wendell takes in a rooster to train for an illegal cockfight. As they discover that training a bird for a death match in Washington Heights is not for the faint of heart, this dysfunctional family comes to blows before the fight ever takes place. In this devilish comedy, playwright Mike Batistick investigates power, community and loss, and searches for grace in the most unlikely places.
While I enjoyed watching this play, as I do all plays, "good" or "bad," what struck me most about Chicken was either a) the unexamined suppositions behind its construction, or b) the author's unacknowledged attempt at allegory.
"Floyd" is Cuban, or part Cuban, something that is brought to our attention early on, in the form of an essentialism that has him genetically disposed to training chickens to fight. Cuban or part Cuban, Floyd stands in for the immigrant, versus Wendell, who, if only because his ethnicity goes unmentioned, is not. Floyd is aggressive, violent even, a taker, while Wendell is passive, benevolent, morally upstanding, beleaguered, fearful (chicken?) and, as a result of his love of McDonald's, fat. (As for the women in this play, they exist only to further "Floyd" and "Wendell"'s binary relationship.)
To not read this play as a commentary on a country in decline ("Wendell") based on the consequences of its immigration policy ("Floyd") is difficult, yet nowhere in Colin Thomas and Mark Leiren-Young's recent reviews in the Georgia Straight and Vancouver Sun, respectively, was this mentioned. I wonder why? Is it that we have stopped looking for allegory (intended or otherwise) when watching contemporary U.S. plays, focused as we are on watching for elements of all modern U.S. plays, from O'Neill to Williams to Shepard to Shanley (not to mention TV sitcoms like The King of Queens)? Or has this racist, anti-immigration narrative become so entrenched in the white North American psyche that it, like the immigrant Other, has become "naturalized"?
The last time I felt this way came after watching Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers (1997), an art house dissection of U.S. foreign policy disguised as a studio action film. Whether Batistick was as in control of his material as Verhoeven and screenwriter Edward Neumeier were of theirs remains to be seen. In the meantime (and in the words of Shanley), I have my doubts.
Sunday, August 12, 2012
A strange thing just happened. I wrote a short post on Tino Sehgal's performance/installation at dOCUMENTA (13), then added an embedded youtube code of its documentation. Just before clicking on "Publish" I had a change of heart, based on Seghal's misgivings about the public availability of his work in documented form. Rather than delete the code I added a line about the artist's misgivings and another that said I have replaced the letters y-o-u-t-u-b-e with X's. I then clicked on "Publish" and what should come up but a porn site. I entered "websit" into Google and was once again directed to the porn site. Only after reaching my blog from an earlier post was I able to get inside and remove the altered youtube code. As Tom Hank's character once said to his friend "Wilson" in Castaway (2000), "Never again! Never again!"
Saturday, August 11, 2012
An art news service I subscribe to is email@example.com. Every night at 9PM (PDT) I receive a selection of cut-and-pasted articles, usually organized by theme. Yesterday's "paper" focussed on public art, from the monumental to the performative. The article below (a spoof, with a surface knowledge of artists like On Kawara and Tino Sehgal) was written by Bob Odenkirk for a recent issue of The New Yorker:
PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST
He has never been interviewed. He refused to meet me in person, talk on the phone, or sit still for this profile.
He has never made a film or a painting, nor has he written a poem, taken a picture, or tried to “make” anything. Despite all this, he has fascinated the art world and captivated New York society for the past year. He’s been praised as “unfathomable at best” and “bafflingly circumlocutory at worst” by ArtFinger. He scores twelve out of ten on BaffleMag’s “Scoring the Downtown Scene,” and has been named a “Notable Nelly” in ArtScrape Magazeen’s midyear wrap-up three times in the same list.
When I was assigned to profile him, all I knew was rumors and scuttlebutt. But further reporting only caused the rumors to solidify and the scuttlebutt to harden. Do you know what I mean? You don’t? Read on.
He’s a man of habits, believing that they “simplify life and make room for brainstorms.”
He wakes each morning at exactly 7:43 A.M., catnaps throughout the day, and goes to sleep at precisely three in the morning.
Every day, he puts on his “uniform”: moccasins, tuxedo pants, one of a variety of pajama tops designed especially for him by L. L. Bean, and his signature duck-billed hockey mask.
He wears the same pair of underwear for a month, then puts on a fresh pair over the old pair, until he has twelve pairs on, at which point he knows that New Year’s Eve is right around the corner.
Every day for lunch, he eats two hot dogs (sans buns), a slice of lemon pie, and half a bottle of Yoo-hoo chocolate drink, room temperature. He puts it all in a bowl, microwaves it, and eats it like porridge. He says it makes his mouth taste like “a food closet.”
He puts up a Christmas tree once a week and decorates it, then takes it down the next morning.
A voracious reader of history, he’s been known to clip favorite words from books and eat them.
Sometimes he’ll eat whole paragraphs. His New York Public Library card has been permanently revoked.
He doesn’t observe Tuesdays. He wears a watch that he smashed on purpose at exactly twelve o’clock. As a result, scheduling is not his strong suit. He famously missed his own birthday by three months.
He’s had the same assistant for ten years—his cat, Rodolfo. He pays Rodolfo in crickets. His East Village apartment has been condemned for cricket infestation three times in six years.
He reads the Bible in Aramaic to himself through a bullhorn every night and says it’s the perfect mix of the old and the new.
He is a master of air hockey and has the highest score ever recorded in Pong, having played once for four months straight.
He has been baptized, circumcised, exorcised, and bathed in the Ganges—all within a hectic month of self-discovery—but he now calls all religion “too literal to be believed.”
He has three children by four women whom he has never met. He has adopted a man older than himself whom he has affectionately dubbed Grandbrother and with whom he trades birthday cards three times a year.
He claims to hate “all drawings.” He has a tattoo of his right hand on his left hand so that “my right hand knows what my left hand is doing.”
He runs marathons but always quits at mile twenty-five, because he likes “feeling like a quitter.”
He votes Republican, claiming to love Ronald Reagan for his silhouette.
His favorite TV show is “Mayberry R.F.D.,” with the sound drowned out by a Grateful Dead live bootleg.
He throws a Super Bowl party every year the day after the Super Bowl, locking the doors once the pre-recorded game “starts” and unlocking them when the game is over and the post-show recap is capped. He invites only one person to the party—himself. He records himself receiving the invitation, sending his R.S.V.P., receiving the R.S.V.P., greeting himself at the party, eating chips, and cheering on his chosen team. No one has ever seen these recordings and, according to him, “no one ever will—they’re for me and my personal edification.”
When asked to comment on his son’s life and work, the artist’s father, a retired plumber in Nyack, New York, simply shook his head and muttered, “That guy’s a fraud.”
Friday, August 10, 2012
Thursday, August 9, 2012
A couple days ago Christina, who is staying with us in advance of her September exhibition, presented me with a copy of All Roads Lead to Wells: Stories of the Hippie Days (Caitlin Press, 2012) by Susan Safyan. Later that afternoon I found myself flipping through the book's 300 pages, the way one does when there are pictures inside. Two hours later I had read what amounted to the book's middle-third and decided to "begin" it again at bedtime.
Like Claudia Cornwall's At the World's Edge: Curt Lang's Vancouver, 1937-1998 (Mother Tongue, 2011), All Roads is an oral history. Where the two books differ is in the weave. The artist Jeff Wall once said of his montaged pictures, "If you can see the seams in my work, I have failed," and this seamlessness can be found, as it were, in Cornwall's book, but not Safyan's. This is by no means a failing but an instance where the content -- the lives of Wells's learn-as-you-go, back-to-the-land dreamers -- suggests the form, which is akin to a roughly-stitched quilt, like those that feather the homes Safyan describes in All Roads.
At a time when "reality" TV is one of the biggest fictions going, these transcribed histories are gripping in their honesty -- not for their adventures but for their exquisite banalities (in that sense they have much in common with the work of Jeff Wall). While true that we get more than our share of adventures, both tragic and comic, we also get tales of day-to-day life, where young people struggle with interpersonal relationships, the weather, what they thought they were coming to and what they left behind.
None of the voices in All Roads are more compelling than the others. (Indeed, just as they have worked together to form a community, they have come together to comprise this book.) But some, at least for me, are more attractive than others. More than once I wished I was drinking dandelion wine with Stuart "Zubin" Gillespie in his multi-tiered treehouse, or was one of the lovers Susan Bessette recalled to keep herself awake while working as a highway scale operator.
In addition to the book's quilted structure, Safyan, who lived at Wells between 1980 and 1985 (and still visits), provides a solid, well-researched introduction, where we are told of the books that led younger people to seek new lives in rural North America in the 1960s and 70s, but also the books that were written as a result of such adventures, like Mark Vonnegut's The Eden Express (1975), a real-life account of an upstart commune in Lund, B.C. And while I would have liked to hear Safyan's take on novels such as T. Coraghessan Boyle's Drop City (2003), that book, unlike All Roads, is a fiction (based on fact), not the other way around.
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
My first day out and about. The dance that is pedestrian traffic is different here than it is in Berlin. Vancouverites are slower and slinkier, while Berliners have a slightly more mechanized gait. A gross generalization, to be sure, but one I was not looking to make.
Since my return I have heard further tales of development and the City's role in it. Vancouver has always been run by developers, only now the means have changed. Not so long ago I believed that the difference between developers in the 1970s and today is that the latter care about what people think of them. I would modify that to say that these people only give the appearance of caring. The City is complicit in this because their role is not merely to approve development applications but to sell them back to us (something that became apparent around the time Bob Rennie transformed himself from real estate agent to Rennie Marketing Systems). Under the current council, everything approved comes wrapped in "green"; under the previous council, the EcoDensity stamp of approval. Both are window-dressings.
Something that has not changed, something I am noticing more of, are the many young people moving through the city strapped to larger and larger knapsacks. Years ago a young person carrying a large bag on their back was headed to the laundromat; today these people are more often than not bussing from one part-time job to the next, between which they might squeeze in a course or two. They carry their day on their backs because they are living at the edge of the city. Not because they want to but because that is all they can afford.
And what of those living spaces? Back in the early-1980s, when I was a full-time university student, three people could rent a five bedroom house near the centre of the city and pay 25% of their student-loan-and-grant-subsidized income on rent. Today that person is a part-time student working two-part time jobs, collecting a student loan (the provincial non-repayable grant was abolished in 1984) and paying close to half their income on a three-bedroom house rented by five. Making matters worse, many of the young people I talk to have accepted this as a reality, and are looking not at critique and activism to change their situation (and those following them in age) but how to maximize their market potential, a sensibility encouraged by cultural brokerage houses like the Cheaper Show and the gang that turned Pecha Kucha into a market-state Nuremberg Rally, Cause + Affect.
Whither Vancouver? I don't know. But the way things are going, I am less and less optimistic that the city can afford 99% of its youth. The only recourse for those younger is to leave. But to where? Other cities?
Three years ago, en route to visit friends on Hornby Island, I took the Sunshine Coast route; partly for a change of scenery, partly because I wanted to check out property in Powell River. What I found in Powell River, in addition to its mill and the generations who grew up working there, were young people who had left the city to open cafes, make their art, take part in community related activities. Those that I talked to all had similar stories about Vancouver and where they thought it was going. When asked where they thought they were going, most were happy to stay in Powell River, participate in the cosmopolitan city through social media, but live and work within a (rural) community whose growth they could contribute to without it rolling back on them, crushing them, leaving them in its wake. There were knapsacks everywhere that day, but they belonged to those like me who had just pulled into town.
Monday, August 6, 2012
As expected, I awoke early, jet-lagged. Only instead of pushing myself back to sleep I went outside and stared at the purple Coast Mountains, their outline hard against a tea-stained milky blue sky. The few stars that remained were the five-point triangles we drew as kids. If you stared at them long enough, they twinkled.
Watching the sky open reminded me of the one I watched close three nights earlier, with Judy, Hadley + Maxwell and Olivia at Tempelhof Airport. While it would be unfair to describe Tempelhof as defunct, it is true that planes stopped landing there in the mid-2000s, replaced, as it were, by Rastafarian and gypsy campers, Ultimate enthusiasts, roller bladers, cyclists both amateur and professional -- a vast place, happy in its non-specificity, but open, like this morning's sky, to outcome.
Sunday, August 5, 2012
Saturday, August 4, 2012
The Kaufhaus des Westens, or KaDeWe, is ten blocks directly north of us, between Wittenbergplatz and Breitsheidplatz. At 60,000 square metres it is the largest department store in continental Europe.
Though the store opened in 1905, much of it was destroyed during World War Two. In the early 1990s, a 7th and 8th Floor were added, the former a mix of food court and wrapped goods.
The KaDeWe food court is an inversion of the North American model. In North America, vendors are built into the walls, with patrons purchasing their food and eating it at the centre of the court. At the KaDeWe, the vendors are situated throughout the court, often in circular "open-air" stations, around which patrons gather to eat.
There are no transnational franchises at the KaDeWe food court. Nor is their evidence of a deep fat fryer. Is that why North American food courts have their vendors with their backs to the wall, to keep us from entering that deep fat atmosphere?
Thursday, August 2, 2012
The past few days an Eisensteinian montage of bicycle wheels, traffic lights and patio lanterns. Gallery and studio visits have devolved into articulation points, forming shapes that fall like Tetris tiles. I am tired of thinking about what I am looking at. Hence the recent string of poems.
Last night we rode our bikes to the open air Freiluftkino in Kreuzberg to watch David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, the story (a story) of Freud and Jung and their personal and intellectual relationship. Normally I like films like these (Cronenberg is a director I have patience for), but the cinema's (raked) seats seem designed for young bums, or at least those who brought their pillows with them.
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
what it comes in and when
what it comes in is finished
a tiny 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 left
O O O O O Of O O O O it