Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pair in an Expressionist Dance (1930)

Gerhard Riebicke (1878-1957) is well-known for pictures that depict the human body in the natural landscape. This is the body I spoke of yesterday, the one that followed the Von Gloeden body: the (modernist) body that "improves" itself through mechanical exercise or the expressive arts.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Von Gloeden

The above picture was taken by Wilhem Von Gloeden (1856-1931) in Taormina, Sicily (circa 1890) and was printed onto an 8"x 6" piece of salted paper. Although the picture remained untitled during the artist's lifetime, those who know it know it as (Untitled) Boy With Flying Fish.

Looking at this picture, one might think that the glass plate its image was captured on was overexposed. It was not. The appearance of overexposure likely occurred during the printing process, or the print could have faded from prolonged exposure to the sun. Either way, it lacks detail. And in lacking detail it re-enforces something of the social conditions in which its model emerged.

Here is a better print, a Von Gloeden double portrait:

When Von Gloeden arrived at Taormina in the 1880s he did so as an aristocrat with bad lungs who was told by his doctor to live somewhere warmer, or die young. So, like Goethe before him, he travelled to the impoverished cliff-top fishing village of Taormina, where, after a period of time, he befriended the villagers (and most importantly, its priest) and set out not to paint what he saw, for he had studied painting, but to take pictures with this new fangled device called a camera.

Von Gloeden's earliest pictures were ethnographic studies of the village and its industry. However, once he had gained the trust of its residents, he began asking that they "sit" for his photos. The subject of these photos soon enough focused on the village's young men, whom Von Gloeden often dressed up as ancients and placed in the natural landscape or, as you have seen, did away with dress altogether.

The two biggest fads at the end of 19th century were antiquity and photography. The former fetishized an arcadian past (in contrast to a potential workers utopia based on a "dictatorship of the proletariat"); the latter a new way to capture life and, like the head of an animal shot on safari, something to hang on your wall. As the 19th century gave way to the 20th, Von Gloeden signed a contract with a post card manufacturer.

Prior to Von Gloeden, Victorian representations of the body were ethereal, wispy, Symbolic -- not at all related to the "base" earthy body that Von Gloeden had captured (nor the "improved upon" body advocated by Rudolf Steiner that eventually supplanted Von Gloeden's). Once released, Von Gloeden post cards proved to be extremely popular, so much so that fans flocked to his studio, eager to purchase larger prints, but also to meet his models. Some of these fans included Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt and Douglas Fairbanks.

A question that often comes up on the topic of Von Gloeden is, Did he compensate his models? He did. But he did not pay them money, he gave them gifts, as was the local tradition. Clothing, food, appliances -- but never money. Another question is, How was he allowed to take these pictures? The answer to which comes from the locals themselves, a people proud of their bodies, aware that their bodies reflected the work they did but also their underexposure to certain nutrients, which explains the distended malnourished bellies.

In the winter of 2001 I was invited to a Canadian Studies conference in Messina, Sicily, where one of the local scholars, a man in his late-sixties, took me to Taormina and toured me through its village. Although small, this was by no means the waning fishing village that Von Gloeden arrived at in the 1880s but a impeccably-detailed well-heeled tourist destination with a Gucci store. At the end of its narrow cobbled road was a huge public patio that overlooked the Mediterranean and, in the distance, Mount Etna.

While impressed with the view, what held my attention was not the sea or the volcano but those on the patio, many of them middle-aged American men, a number of whom had the unmistakeable look of end-stage AIDS. It was then that I turned to my guide and, before I could say anything, he told me how, after the Second World War, American men would arrive at Taormina with huge bales of Levi-Strauss jeans, and these bales would tell you why they were there and what they were interested in.

On our return to Messina I asked the scholar if Taormina is still a site of sex tourism, to which he replied that it is less a site of sex tourism than a reluctant memorial to one, as evidenced by the dying faces on the patio, but especially the quiet trade shopkeepers engage in behind their counters, where Von Gloeden products are sold.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Leopold Museum

Only six days remaining before the close of the Leopold Museum's Nude Men from 1800 to Today.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Dan Siney

The crowd that gathered for Michael Drebert's Gather (2013) included a tall handsome man in his mid-30s. An artist, I gathered from his conversations. A photographer, to be more specific. Someone coy about his current project, but spoke of it anyway. Dan, as his friends called him. Dan Siney? I asked, and he nodded a guilty yes.

My introduction to Siney's work came a number of years ago, as a member of the Presentation House Gallery fundraising committee. The picture Dan gave us focused on the stump of a large Douglas fir tree in the middle of a forest. Although the two spaces near the top of the stump give the impression of eyes, they are in fact slots loggers made so that they could insert planks that would allow them a platform from which to saw through and fall what remained of its tree, turning that tree from a work of Nature into a platform, or plinth, in "support" of what was.

The other Siney picture I am familiar with is another work he donated to PHG. In this picture we have both the shadow of a window (a bay window?) and its reflection against a heavily Verathaned wooden floor. Could this floor be compromised of what gave us the stump in the previous picture?

Curious to know what else I was missing, I spent a few minutes this morning in search of other Siney pictures.

Here is a Siney picture that brought to mind another picture:

Here is that picture:

The above picture is by Wolfgang Tillmans, an artist whose work has influenced a legion of artists, most notably Tim Barber and Ryan McGinley. Like Barber and McGinley, Siney has also contributed to that design aesthetic known as Vice Magazine.

Here is a picture Siney contributed to Vice:

Not sure what I have to say about this picture, but it haunts me, and perhaps one day I will have something to add to its conversation.

Here is another picture that comes up when you Google "Dan Siney", and click on "Images":

What is this baby in the shadow of? The rest of his or her life?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gather (2013)

During my years as a board member at Presentation House Gallery I had the pleasure of working with staff on a number of projects -- the 2010 Candahar program (see yesterday's post) but also the gallery's annual fundraising dinners. One of those staff members is artist Erik Hood, the gallery preparator.

A few months ago I received an email from Erik apprising me of a gallery he was opening in his garage, called Hardscrabble Gallery, after a farm on Mayne Island that Erik and others recognize as a node in their cultural ecological network (the mandate of the gallery is to "satisfy both country self and city self"). While I missed Jacob Gleeson's The Tent Shop (2012), I was able to attend last night's exhibition/performance/vernaissage -- Gather (2013) by Michael Drebert.

I have been interested in Drebert's work since I was first introduced to it as a writer for the Contemporary Art Gallery's 2009 Sentimental Journey exhibition catalogue. For the CAG show, Drebert took a ball from Crash Crawley's ball room, dipped it in the Ganges River, then returned it to Crawley's upon his return to Vancouver. A more recent Drebert work is his contribution to the Or  Gallery's Things' Matter exhibition, which had the artist engage in a similar mission-driven project, only this time it was to return to Japan a glass fishing float that had washed up on the shores of Haida Gwaii.

For Gather, Michael and Erik travelled to Steveston's Garry Point, where they filled a car with water-logged beach wood, after which Michael arranged the wood into two piles in Erik's garage, along with two wall works Drebert had drawn (with eyes closed) based on the eagles he and Erik had seen during separate stays on Haida Gwaii. Last night, Michael burned this wood in a three-brick-high fire pit Erik built from chimney bricks taken from a nearby demo.

Originally my plan was to drop into Hardscrabble for the 7PM "lighting," en route to the Western Front for Ieva Misevičiûté's performance (part of curator Jesse Birch's Edible Glasses exhibition). But from the first touch of Drebert's match to the fist-sized paper balls tucked inside their tiny wooden pyramid, I was rapt -- as much by Drebert's lesson in fire-building as his essay in water management (allowing the fire to dry his wood before feeding that wood into it).

I've seen fire, and I've seen rain, but I've never seen firewood cry so hard while awaiting incineration.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

"Candahar (Is it Far?)" (2010)

Last night I attended a "live" concert recording session of the Rodney Graham Band at the former site of Ted Harris Paints (757 East Hastings).

As usual I arrive on the dot, where I find what is now Andrew Dadson's spacious north-south rectangular studio broken in the middle by a horizontal east-west chandelier, below which (from the east wall) is a floor-level stage populated with monitors, instruments and foot-lights.

Zane, the only other person in the room as I entered, walks with me as I make my way to the rear of the building, where I assume the bar is, with Zane casually stepping behind it as I stare at the bottles on top. I point to a nicer-than-average merlot and Zane places a small plastic wine glass before me, then pours. Three sips later the room is filled with the well-dressed crowd I see at everything Rodney does.

Although scheduled for 9PM, the concert does not begin until 9:30, when Rodney's bandmates, all of who share the same flu virus, take to the stage. I have known three of the four musicians since they were in high school, when I was active in the local music scene, but now I know them as world-weary musicians who, among other gigs, are regulars in Rodney's band.

Rodney's songs are straight-ahead mid-tempo numbers that forsake rhythmic complexity for bright washes of colour supplied by lead and steel guitars, allowing his finite vocals to sit like a chip from a 7Up bottle in a diamond-encrusted setting. While I have heard his words both "live" and on his records, they are inaudible in a room built for paint, not music

After six songs I decide I have had enough "live" music for the evening and slip out the door, recalling an early concert of Rodney's when I programmed the Candahar Bar for Presentation House Gallery at the 2010 Winter Olympics. The first thing I did upon receiving this commission (held in conjunction with Theo Simms's bar-in-a-box) was to write a theme song, the lyrics for which (except for the line "Everyone is high but me") were plucked from twelve Rodney Graham songs. This is the song I had in my head as I made my way to the Dunlevy Snack Bar, for a nightcap.

Friday, February 22, 2013


(Victoria Williams)

The lights on the city look so good
Almost like somebody thought they would

What kind of song would you give if you had a song to give?
What kind of life would you live if you had a life to live?
Now wouldn't you want to make something good that you could look on?
It would give you lots of pleasure, yeah you would

What about this thing that you gave?
What if it weren't quite perfect?
What if there was something bad about it?
Wouldn't you still love it just the same?
Wouldn't you still care about it?

The lights on the city look so good
Almost like somebody thought they would

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Drawing Party

The Drawing Party, "L.A.'s Newest and Most Original Girls Night Out," promises "More Fun Than You Should Be Allowed," a claim that speaks volumes of a culture where if the ceiling on fun is not clearly defined," it is perceived to be.

Here's the rest of the pitch (with the original links):

"Tired of the old bar scene? Want to have fun with your girlfriends and expand your artistic skills at the same time? Then plan a Drawing Party at ArtWorks Studio. Open the night with some food and champagne, then learn the basics of sketching the male form with help from our experienced instructors, plus an actual live (and nude) male model! Drawing parties are perfect for birthdays, bachelorette parties or just an unforgettable girls night out."

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Vagina Dialogues

Women have been in dialogue with the vagina long before Eve Ensler gave us The Vagina Monologues (1996). Two examples include Shigeko Kubota's Vagina Painting (1965) at the Perpetual Fluxus Festival in New York City and Carolee Schneemann's Interior Scroll (1975), first performed at East Hampton and later that year at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Deep Throat (1972)

Of the three X-rated films of the early-1970s, Deep Throat (1972), starring Linda Lovelace, is the best-known, the most popular and the campiest, in some ways the last link to the vaudeville era. Within a year of its release, the title entered the lexicon as the name Bob Woodward gave to the informant who helped him and Carl Bernstein piece together what became known as "Watergate", a political scandal that brought down the Nixon Administration.

While middle-class audiences lined up to see Deep Throat (and the seedy theatres that showed it), some denounced the film as sexist and exploitive, while others, such as Linda Williams, took its tag-line ("How far does a girl have to go to untangle her tingle?") as a story of female empowerment: a woman, unable to orgasm, seeks professional help and is told by her doctor that her clitoris is in her throat. From there she pursues those who can reach it.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Not "I"s

Tomorrow DIM Cinema screens Sara Driver's You Are Not I (1981) at the Pacific Cinematheque. Also on the bill is Ileana Pietrobruno's Cat Swallows Parakeet and Speaks (1996) .

Below are a few prefatory words by actor Billie Whitelaw before her performance of Samuel Beckett's Not I (1973). (And here, another potential "not I" subject -- the Grimms' "Clever Elsie".)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Georgina Spelvin

Georgina Spelvin plays "Justine Jones" in Gerard Damiano's The Devil in Miss Jones (1973). Al Goldstein is the founder and editor of Screw.

Here is the second part of their conversation.

Friday, February 15, 2013

On Fuses (1967)

Fragments of Carolee Schneemann's Fuses (1967) are available on YouTube, but with a content warning, and thus for "members" only. Fragments of Fuses are available through another YouTube post (see above) because they are part of an essay presentation. Hooray context!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Behind the Green Door (1972)

The best-known X-rated feature films are in fact pornographic films. They are Deep Throat (1972), Behind the Green Door (1972)  and The Devil in Miss Jones (1973). Deep Throat and Miss Jones were shot on the east coast by Gerard Damiano, while Green Door was shot on the west coast, in the Bay Area, by the Mitchell Brothers.

Common criticisms of pornographic films include trite story, bad acting and shoddy production. At the same time one could say that the very things that make a film "trite," "bad" and "shoddy" make them worth watching.

Someone who belongs to YouTube thought so when they found a way to post Green Door. Where once we had sexually explicit scenes, now we have a head-shot of the principal actor (Marilyn Chambers) inserted before them, a gesture that makes these scenes as much about breathing as looking.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

92 in the Shade (1975)

Midnight Cowboy (1969) is the only feature film to receive both an X-rating and an Academy Award for Best Picture. Those familiar with the film know that it ends with "Joe" helping a dying "Enrico" realize his dream of quitting New York City for Florida, a dream Enrico only barely realizes, as he passes away shortly after the bus they are travelling on crosses the state line.

Had the two made it further, to the southern end of the state, they might have brushed shoulders with the three writers who appear in yesterday's fishing video -- Richard Brautigan, Jim Harrison and Thomas McGuane -- all of whom lived for a time in Key West.

McGuane's novel 92 in the Shade (1973) is set in Key West and in 1975 was made into a film by its author. For the launch of American Whiskey Bar (1997), I screened a very scratchy print of McGuane's film (preceded by Haskell Wexler's 1969 Medium Cool) at the Pacific Cinémathèque, an experience that has led me to curate other screenings at this great and storied venue.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Monday, February 11, 2013

Motion Picture Production Code

Yesterday's post featured the Motion Picture Association's GMRX rating system. Prior to that (1930-1966), the Motion Picture Production Code saw to it that all films made in the United States conformed to a single set of standards -- which they continue to do, in a manner of speaking, given the increased emphasis on commerce, not art.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

George Stanley

There is a lot to know about the poet George Stanley. There is a lot to know about a lot of people, but with George it does not stick.

I am not sure why this is, why it does not stick, and in saying so I do not mean to deny George, for he deserves more than he is given.

If George wanted more, if he told us he wanted more, every one of us would raise a collection. Problem is, we all have our ideas about George, and because George is not interested in helping us, he gets less.

Ted Byrne is a gifted and generous reader and writer who, when he writes, gives us his best thoughts in their best clothes. In his reading of George's A Tall, Serious Girl (2003), Ted gives us companions to our own thoughts about what George does when we read him.

A Tall, Serious Girl contains a poem that Ted describes as "perfect," in the way perfection allows a poem to enter a high school anthology, "alongside Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost." That poem is "Veracruz".

What makes "Veracruz" perfect is not its technique, nor its content, but Ted's imagination of it in a high school anthology (the kind that "probably don't exist anymore"), where it could probably do some good.

Might we say the same about perfection?

The San Francisco George left in the 1960s does not exist anymore. Nor does the Vancouver he left in the 1970s, nor the Terrace he left in the 1980s, nor the Vancouver he lives in today. Everything George leaves does not exist as it once did and, as Baudelaire wrote, "this question of moving about is one that I discuss incessantly with my soul."

George's most recent book is Vancouver: A Poem (2008), a book I cherish yet want more from. More in the way we want more from the diffident, particularly when we are attracted to them.

At one point George recognized his diffidence. Back then it was his shield; now it is his club, his shillelagh. What I do not get from Vancouver: A Poem is George beating me with his shillelagh.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

"Apparitions Are Not Singular Occurrences" (1966)

Yesterday's post includes mention of the poet Diane Wakoski, as well as a picture of her likely taken in the early-1950s. Today's picture is from 1968, a photograph of the poet impressed with a recording of her reading "Magellanic Clouds".

Wakoski was born, raised and educated in California, after which she spent time in New York before taking a faculty position at Michigan State University (East Lansing), where she taught creative writing. Although associated with the "deep imagists," she has read and written beyond that, and is conversant with historic east coast (William Carlos Williams) and west coast (Jack Spicer) sensibilities.

I first encountered Wakoski's poetry in the basement of Duthie Books, but it was not until I was at university that I had someone to look at it with. The course was English 100, and our instructor, Sheila Prins, took us so deep into Wakoski's "Uneasy Rider" (1968) that I had to race home afterward and, well, whatever.

Below is a recent video of Wakoski reading a poem dedicated to a poet she met during her time in New York, a poet who moved to Vancouver in the late-1960s, where he has spent the better part of his life (though he might argue with me over what "better" means). The poet's name is George Stanley, and I will post on him tomorrow.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Books Sections

Last summer the Globe and Mail folded its "Books Section" into its "Arts Section", where it was given a heading and three or four pages. Last week rumours began to circulate that the paper was cutting its "Books" editorial altogether, after its prince, Martin Levin, was moved to the "Obituaries Section" and his assistant, Jack Kirchhoff, was not promoted. As of today, the Globe is looking for a new books editor -- but for what many suspect will be an even smaller sub-section.

As most of us know, the reason for discrete sectioning is advertising. If there are enough advertisers, particularly for something as recognizable as books, then you gather them together, create activities for them (content based on whatever goods they are selling), and call it a section. The reason many North American newspapers dropped their books sections is based on decreasing advertising revenues from publishers and retailers, and a general decline in hard copy newspaper sales. (If the same were to happen with automobiles, the Vancouver Sun would drop its "Wheels 1"and "Wheels 2" sections.)

Do we miss books sections?

What I miss most about books sections is what I also miss about being a teenager and walking into Duthie Books at Robson and Hornby -- the circular staircase that led downstairs to its Poetry section, where handmade (and often well-made) books lay on a table surrounded by those made in factories, their spines out. Seems every Saturday there was something new in this section, or something to look at again, like Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology (1915) or Diane Wakoski's The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems (1968), books I had to look at twice before buying.

But then the day came when the section stopped changing, replenishing itself with new books. Sure there were books that had not been there the week before, but they only looked like different versions of books that had been there the week before that, and I did not feel the need to look at them again. Of course by then I was getting that kick at Granville Book Company, who could support their varied Poetry section through the sale of computer books, until those books became available online, not as books but as information, a situation that led them, like Duthie's, to close.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

"On Being Human"

A recording of Al Purdy reading "On Being Human" and, for some reason, a black & white reproduction of a Tom Thomson painting.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Crack Shack or Mansion?

Those who have read Claudia Cornwall's recent and recommendable (ch)oral history of Vancouver poet, artist, boatbuilder and software inventor Curt Lang (1937-1998) will have noticed mentions of the poet Al Purdy (1918-2000), who spent a fair bit of time here when not at his homes in Sidney, B.C, and Ameliasburgh, Ontario. Those familiar with the late-poet might also know that his crudely-built Ameliasburgh A-frame (with add-on) is something his fans are trying to save.

A couple days ago the Quill & Quire updated readers on how that preservation project is going, with an article that features quotes (like the one below) from Al Purdy A-frame Association advocate Jean Baird.

“[The house] was intrinsic to Al’s coming of age as a writer,” says Baird. “When they purchased the property in the late 1950s, Al thought of himself as a failure of a man, and he certainly thought of himself as a failure of a poet. Within five years of buying the property and building, Al had won his first Governor General’s Literary Award.”

While I have no problem with people trying to save things (particularly a "quaint A-frame" and a "work-in-progress," as the Q&Q have called it), I could not help but recoil from Baird's justification, not only in light of her ongoing interrogation of the award-vetting process but her assumption that property ownership makes a man a man, and that man a poet.

Baird's justification brings to mind the same kind of ad copy we see from Vancouver real estate companies trying to sell downtown condominiums, where commands like "Be bold or move to the suburbs" are tossed around as if people have enough money to even consider such a decision.

Back in 1994 Paul Delany edited an anthology that includes an essay by another Vancouver poet, Jeff Derksen, whose text ("Sites Taken as Signs: Place, the Open Text and Enigma in New Vancouver Writing") also makes mention of a company out to determine a singular subject position, in this instance through an epigram taken from a mining company's television ad:

"Jeanine is a living example of Noranda's attitude to employees."

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Skinny on the Straight

Last month our friends Vish and Billy visited from Los Angeles. Vish attended school here, before leaving for L.A. to do his MFA. Billy is originally from Texas but has lived in L.A. for the past twenty years, writing plays and the occasional Simpsons episode. Until last month, Billy had never set foot in Canada.

On Vish and Billy's last night, our friends Ron and Sylvain threw a party, where Billy referred to us as "a bunch of skinny Canadians," a comment that was met with laughs. But it was true -- everyone in the room was skinny. Including Billy.

Vancouverites have gotten skinnier over the years. I would say the same of our city's dailies and weeklies, particularly the Georgia Straight, which, apart from an increase in back page dating opportunities, seems dependent on a diet of real estate ads.

Just as the Georgia Straight featured movie and rock stars on its covers in the 1980s (in order to gain access to them), today's Straight is beholden to real estate marketers. How else would you explain the paper's recent profile on another skinny Vancouverite, Bob Rennie -- in an educational supplement, no less. (For those who recall Rennie's attack on VAG director Kathleen Bartels, check out the profile's last lines.)

The Rennie profile was written by anther skinny Vancouverite, Charlie Smith -- the same Charlie Smith who had the temerity to take on Waldorf Promotions during a recent wave of sympathetic media coverage. Of course another way of looking at Charlie's investigation of Waldorf Promotions is that of a man whose paper is underwritten by real estate companies, a group that includes Bob Rennie.