Sunday, March 31, 2013

After Finitude

"I decided to curate a show in the same fashion I would paint a picture," writes Eli Boronowsky, a thirty-something artist who has, for some years now, contributed to the conversation that is Vancouver Art.

Though primarily a painter-first artist, Eli, who works at the Or Gallery (and in many ways has become its aesthetic face), has curated a number of projects throughout the city, one of which was the highlight of my Candahar program for the 2010 Cultural Olympiad, part of his Clamour and Toll series, an ongoing project that includes films, but also (a la Candahar) sound.

Eli's latest curatorial effort, the one alluded to in the opening quote, is a group exhibition entitled After Finitude at the Or. The exhibition features works by Neil Campbell, Hanne Darboven, Nicole Ondre, Cheyney Thompson and an essay by Eli.

The first works one sees upon entering the gallery are three small drawings by Cheney, all entitled Ten Metres (2013) -- the first in tinpoint, the second in silverpoint, the third in copper point. Despite their subtle material differences, what holds my attention is how these minute curling squiggles add up to the measurements carried in their titles. A primer, perhaps, for how I might approach the rest of the exhibition?

The remainder of the exhibition appears in the larger gallery. At the smaller west and east walls are two works by Neil Campbell, Hangdown (2013) and Probe (2013), both of which are applied to the walls using vinyl acrylic. At the centre of the longer south and north walls, a painting comprised largely of diagonal marks (on the south wall) and its print (a work on paper hanging on the north wall) by Nicole Ondre, a single work entitled Cadmium Yellow Window (2013). Evenly interspersed among these large-scale works are five acrylic on linen paintings by Cheney, each of which are titled by their corresponding colour codes, as well as the volume of paint used in each painting (65.72 ml). From the speakers above comes a series of "selected musical compositions" (Baroque works when I was there) by Hanne.

Despite the exhibition's ordered layout, and the mathematical and mimetic processes by which the works are constructed, the main gallery exudes a resonance larger and woolier than the sum of its parts. Maybe not the overwhelming sensorium of the 1966 Trips Festival, but one that feels attuned to the moment: a time not of unfettered expression but one that accepts and works within the limits of constraint. I enjoyed imagining the "third" work implied by Neil's two pieces, what is effectively a longer, fatter "probe", just as I enjoyed chastising myself for seeing Probe less as an autonomous work than as a subtraction from Hangdown. Or maybe that's the point? An inversion of Luce Irigaray's work on the phallus and the vagina?

Same with Nicole's Cadmium Yellow Window, the implied inseparability of the (mono)print from its source, and the endurance of that print after the gallery walls are painted over. Here, it is the mother who dies shortly after the birth of her child; and in thinking this way, particularly in light of the purity of the medium, Nicole's "window" is less a view from the afterlife than a smudged pane that carries the fingerprints of the child who, perhaps through prayer, searches for the essence of its mother. Could it be the auspiciousness of the day that has me thinking this way, today being Easter Sunday?

When an event appears larger than the sum of its parts we can speak of it as achieving overtone, a feeling whose presence, in this instance, is both matched and supplemented by the smell of Nicole's oil paint and the soothing musical selections of Hanne.

On March 18th DIM Cinema hosted an evening of not unrelated film and video works selected by Eli, under Clamour and Toll. I say not unrelated because the works Eli chose -- Michael Snow's lyrical New York Eye and Ear Control (1964) and James Benning's more structural Twenty Cigarettes (2011) -- relate to ideas about composition suggested in After Finitude. Rather than attempt to connect the dots between these ideas, let me conclude by saying that what Eli seemed to prepare us for in viewing these film and video works was not to see them as related to painting but as a painter might see them, how those sensations might encourage different ways of thinking about painting.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A small room inside a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

There is more gold in today's sun than in yesterday's. Not the golden sun of autumn but a gold that feels younger, almost unrefined, though I know that can't be true.

Gold is gold. An element, irreducible. You can add to it, and therefore subtract from it its purity. But gold is gold.

So what's in today's sun?

Straw, honey, pineapple, morning. 

Friday, March 29, 2013


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gutter with Rags #2 (2002)

Yesterday's picture could be seen as an example of what artist Roy Arden has called the "landscape of the economy," a term he coined in the 1990s to organize a series of works that show the impact of the capitalist mode of production on the natural environment. Not the built environment itself, such as towers and roads and the intersections between public and private space, but the dross we heap atop it, like the discarded wood (from a film production?) at the centre of Robertson's picture.

The above picture is by Roy Arden, entitled Gutter with Rags #2 (2002), from the artist's website. The picture below is the same picture but from the website of a private gallery who represents Arden's work. Note the difference in resolution, the care the artist takes in presenting his work versus that of a commercial dealer -- a difference so great as to constitute an entirely different work, one that could well be dubbed the "cyberspace of the economy."

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Finished Wood

In 2007 University of British Columbia Department of Critical and Curatorial Studies Master of Arts candidate Sophie Brodovitch fulfilled her degree requirement by mounting an exhibition entitled The Backlot, based on her research into Hollywood studio backlots and how the Vancouver region as a whole came to provide that function.

The above picture, Still Doing the Best I Can (2005) by Matthew Roberston, was included in that exhibition, along with works by Corey Adams, Roy Arden, Geoffrey Farmer, Angus Ferguson, Jacob Gleeson and Anne Ramsden.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


A driftwood shelter somewhere along the California coast. Everything needed to build this shelter came not from the road behind it but from where this picture was taken: the ocean.

Who built it? An architect? Maybe not an architect but someone who looks twice at the built environment and has a passing interest in it.

Maybe young people -- locals or travellers. Sheltertects.

Monday, March 25, 2013



An Arab shepherd is searching for his goat on Mount Zion
And on the opposite hill I am searching for my little boy.
An Arab shepherd and a Jewish father
Both in their temporary failure.
Our two voices met above the Sultan's Pool
In the valley between us.
Neither of us wants the boy or the goat
To get caught in the wheels
Of the "Had Gadya" machine.

Afterwards we found them among the bushes,
And our voices came back inside us
Laughing and crying.

Searching for a goat or for a child has always been
The beginning of a new religion in these mountains.

Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000)

Sunday, March 24, 2013


"dar in sale jadid aramesh,salamati,shadmani va khoshbakhti ra baraye to va kasani ke doosteshoon dari arezoomandam."

dar in sale jadid: in the coming New Year
aramesh: peace
salamati: health
shadmani: happiness
khoshbakhti: prosperity
baraye to: for you
va kasani ke doosteshoon dari: and for your loved ones
arezoomandam: I wish

Friday, March 22, 2013

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Dupes (1971)

Among the highlights of Okwui Enwezor's Documenta XI (2002) was a screening of Tawfik Saleh's The Dupes (1971).

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mona Hatoum

A four minute studio visit with the artist Mona Hatoum.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Arab Business Practices

A couple years ago my friend Hassan excitedly told me about his latest job prospect. Although I cannot recall the company, it was a nationally-based (Canadian) firm looking to attract Middle Eastern investors. Hassan mentioned that the company was having trouble connecting with potential investors because their sales staff were not familiar with "Arab business practices." Because Hassan is Egyptian, he was offered the job.

On the evening prior to Catherine David's presentation at UBC I attended a small dinner in her honour. As David spoke of her work in the Middle Eastern and Arab worlds I took the opportunity to ask her if she was familiar with the term "Arab business practices" and how these practices differed from her work with public and private institutions in the West.

David's response was brief, abstract, and focused largely on finance. Missing in her response was mention of labour relations, particularly the temporary importation (and treatment) of foreign workers, like those hired to build the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Why she chose to speak of finance, not labour, spoke more of the context we were in -- whose home it was, how we were dressed, the quality of the food and the colour of our skin.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Conveyor Belt (1964)

Yesterday, while clicking through those pricey emails from e-flux, I came upon Guggenheim Abu Dhabi's May 2013 public programme, which will include works by El Anatsui, Chant Avedissian, Feng Mengbo, Youssef Nabil and James Rosenquist.

The lone work by Rosenquist, Conveyor Belt (1964), is a curious choice, particularly in light of GulfLabor's boycott of the Guggenheim over the foundation's treatment of workers hired to build its Abu Dhabi museum.

In the Fall 1965 issue of the Partisan Review, Rosenquist is interviewed by Gene Swenson. Swenson begins by asking the artist about the U.S. Air Force's latest killing machine, the F-111, and the conversation turns to art and technology (though Swenson's "hole" card is Ethics).

Rosenquist's use of the conveyor belt analogy is revealing:

"The way technology appears to me now is that to take a stance -- in painting, for example -- on some human qualities seems to be taking a stance on a conveyor belt: the minute you take a position on a question or an idea, then the acceleration of technology, plus other things [my italics], will in short time already have moved you down the conveyor belt. The painting is like a sacrifice from my side of the idea to the other side of society."

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Walid Raad au Louvre

Three weeks left to see Walid Raad: Preface to the First Edition at the Louvre's Salle de la Maquette.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Abu Dhabi Art Fair Blues

Above is a video put together by the Meem Gallery, a site-less gallery that exists only at art fairs. Why the Meem chose a Chicago-blues soundtrack to animate its video and an editor prone to cutting off speakers in mid-sentence is no doubt irrelevant to its greater ambitions: "to promote the work of modern and contemporary Middle Eastern artists, and inspire viewers to engage with, and gain a deeper appreciation for, the art of this region."

Friday, March 15, 2013

"Intentions in Arabia Altogether"

At last night's presentation we learned that Catherine David's interest in the Middle East and Arab worlds began in advance of documenta X, in 1997, where she was Artistic Director. No longer content to shop the planet for modern and contemporary art, David has since sought to explain how the categories of "modern" and "contemporary" have been imposed from without as "interruptions" of (modern) developments that were already underway in those worlds.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

David at UBC

Curator Catherine David lectures at UBC tonight at 6:30 p.m.

Here is a quote supplied by the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory's Critical and Curatorial Studies Program:

"In the context of the art market and contemporary art collections, many artists from non-western or geocultural spaces appear to be 'emerging' ... as from nothing, or from a black hole. And there are indeed many reasons for the ignorance or denial of modern cultures developed by several generations of artists in many parts of the world, beginning with the Middle East and Arab world."

There are no respondents scheduled for David's lecture, though I expect to hear from another curator for whom the Middle East is more than a cartographic reality -- the indomitable Mo Salemy.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Monday, March 11, 2013


Sunday, March 10, 2013

"Stop It With Your Strategies"

George Stanley is one of Vancouver's great civic poets, a master of the interior-exterior inversion. Back in February I posted on George, a post that includes the cover of The Capilano Review's "George Stanley Issue" (3.14), a picture of George taken outside UC Berkeley in 1965.

Brook Houglum is the editor of TCR. When she asked if I would contribute a piece to a George Stanley issue I wrote a poem called "Self-Portrait on George". Another piece in that issue is a conversation between Joshua Clover and Chris Nealon, entitled "Public Transportation: George Stanley's Vancouver".

Clover was in town this week for the University of British Columbia Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory's 36th Annual Art History Graduate Symposium, where he gave what artist Tim Lee described as a "rousing" keynote. Unfortunately I was unable to make this event but, in the way one attends and conveys to the other, I learned that the poet-scholar began by identifying his "two favourite Canadian cities" -- Montreal and Vancouver -- and spoke of them as ports from which surplus flowed. From there Clover took the audience on a journey through time and space, a journey that included the monochromatic.

In their TCR conversation, Clover asks "why is the long poem so profoundly indexed to the city itself?" and in his "reply" Nealon notes how "[taking] the bus links what I think are the two great themes of Stanley's poems since the '80s, class relations and ageing." Yet another instance of transportation as the poet's stylus.

Last night I transported myself to the Anavets Unit No. 298 Legion at Main and 23rd, where another poet-scholar, Clint Burnham, hosted drinks in Clover's honour. Having never met Clover before, and by way of an introduction, I brought with me a poem from George's forthcoming collection, After Desire, a poem I printed from galleys sent to me last week by George's publisher, New Star Books, a poem in response to the questions that followed Clover's initial question ("Is this relation as evident as it seems? Is it culturally specific? What about the 21st century?"), a poem entitled "The Past".

Here is an excerpt from the "The Past"'s mid-section, its gut, as it were:

Any change is a change to the given, the already,
the model of right which is the most recent model
that you did wrong by striking out from.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Province Journalism

Is it really so "unclear" why people are protesting Pidgin (located across the street from Pigeon Park) and not other restaurants in the DES?

Did the reporter think to ask that question? And if she did not get a response from the protester she spoke with, did she not think to ask another protester?

Seems to me the protester made it clear that Pidgin was a "line in the sand" between the affordable eastern part of the DES and its "gentrified" western aspect -- yet the reporter denies the clarity of the protester's response in her conclusion.

If I was Larissa Cahute's editor I would ask that the reporter abandon this "angle" and return to the story.

The protesters outside Pidgin are not strategically vague about why they are there (a la the Occupy Movement); they are there because Pidgin is, as one of them clearly said, a "line in the sand."

Friday, March 8, 2013

Poets and the Social Self

Yesterday I took part in the latest instalment of Am Johal's SFU Woodward's presentation series, an evening devised by writer Renée Saklikar, entitled Poets and the Social Self.

I have taken part in a number of panel/reading/talks in my life, but the shape this event took was extraordinary -- the way Renée framed the evening in terms of her own practice as a poet, introducing it not as a discrete event but within the context of her "life-long poem chronicle" the canadaproject.

Renée's format -- that of poet/editor -- altered how I felt amidst it, more a happy stanza than a tired writer drifting in and out of public space. I would extend this feeling to how I listened to what my fellow panelists Joanne Arnott and Wayde Compton had to say, as well as the audience, to say nothing of Renée herself, whose introductions to our work, and her readings of it, were impressive.

Renée's partner is NDP provincial MLA and party leader Adrian Dix, who was also in attendance. While driving home last night I wondered what Adrian might have to say about Renée's form of social and aesthetic "governance", how a proprioceptive model (as opposed to an egoceptive one) could be applied to public service.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Montauk, New York

As a landscape photographer, Spencer Tunick is to nudity what Edward Burtynsky is to the capitalist mode of production. Both are showmen, slaves to spectacle. We look once, we look again, and that's it.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


The year 1989 marked the "official" break-up of the Soviet Union. An artist who has made the consequences of that break-up a focus of his work is Saatchi Gallery favourite Boris Mikhailov (b. 1938 Kharkov, Ukraine).

The photo above is from Mikhailov's "Case History" series (1997-1998). On this picture, Mikailov writes: "BOMJI. It is a term made of capital letters, recently coined. It literally refers to those people without a stable residence, practically living in the streets, wherever they can stretch their bones."

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Music Video Nudity

Wikipedia has a page called "Nudity in music videos", whose list begins with Queen's "Bicycle Race"(1978). At the end of the 1980s, R.E.M's video for "Pop Song 89", directed by the band's Michael Stipe.

Does Stipe's video feature nudity? From what I can tell, the visual presentation has more to do with toplessness than nudity.

The practicality of shoes and socks aside, "Bicycle Race" is nudity.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Magazine Photography #3

As mentioned in yesterday's post, Playgirl was the first mainstream male skin mag for women. It was also the first mainstream male skin mag for homosexual men, an audience Playgirl quickly recognized and spoke to in the same veiled way male model (or "beefcake") mags spoke to homosexual men in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Magazine Photography

Another way to date a nude photograph (in the absence of indicators mentioned in yesterday's post) is the presence and presentation of a woman's pubic hair. The above picture features model Celeste Sarah Dreyfus, listed on the The Seductive Jewess site as Type IV/#52.

Regardless of what Dreyfus's classification means, to say nothing of the impetus behind this very strange site (its subtitle reads: "Case Studies on the Racial Anatomy, Provocative Sexuality and Subversive Behaviour of the Female Jew"), what we have near the centre of this picture is that which first appeared in Penthouse magazine in June 1970 and was followed nine months later by its rival, Playboy.

As to the date of this picture, I would guess from the lacquered pink chair that it was taken in the very-late 1970s, well in advance of the waxing trend that continues to this day.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Four of a Kind

Hard to tell when this picture was taken. Usually we look at clothing, appliances, cars and architecture to date things, but this picture has none of that.

The woman third-from-the-left has a 1970s hair-do, but the guy she is looking at is thoroughly mid-60s. Could it be a time-space thing, where she is a modern girl from New York or California and her friends are from a small Midwestern town?

Where are we, if we are not at a nudist colony?

As for the material quality of the image, that too is hard to tell. Are we certain that this picture was shot on film?

Notice that all four are wearing medallions. These could be St. Christopher's medals, which were very popular amongst younger travellers in the 1970s.

But are they travellers? And if so, where did they come from? And where did they go from here?