Tuesday, April 30, 2013


If the nineteenth century gave us melancholie, a condition Baudelaire captured so gently in his prose poems, it was the twentieth century that gave us jet-lag, where space is comprised of competing times.

In "Anywhere Out of the World", Baudelaire writes:

This life is a hospital where every patient is possessed with the desire to change beds; one man would like to suffer in front of the stove, and another believes that he would recover his health beside the window. It always seems to me that I should feel well in the place where I am not, and this question of removal is one which I discuss incessantly with my soul.

Who is our jet-lag poet? Is that person even a poet?

Hunter S. Thompson comes to mind. As does Tom Wolfe. Joan Didion too. The "New Journalism", as opposed to Donald Allen's New American Poetry (1960).

I am writing from Victoria, from Room 205 of the Oswego Hotel, where I have come to install my exhibition A Postcard from Victoria at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. It is dark, the streets filled with bird chirps similar to those along 20 Innsbruckerstrasse only a couple of mornings before. NPR whispers softly from the nightstand -- Gershwin's thoroughly modern Rhapsody in Blue (1924) -- while I type into this plastic case words that might return me to the arms of Morpheus, allow me to wake with others, feel part of this place and not two places, until my work is done.

But sleep does not come. The more I type, the less tired I am. I want to get out of bed and ride to Cafe Sur. But that is 4850 miles away, or nine-plus hours by jet.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Cherry Blossoms

Above is a picture taken of an area near the Burrard Skytrain Station. The picture is one of many by photographer Kevin Eng, who posts on a local real estate website.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


Friday, April 26, 2013

Letter #3 (Postcard)

May 16th marks the opening of an exhibition I am curating at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, entitled A Postcard from Victoria. The exhibition will be up as of May 2nd, but for those interested in hearing me speak on it, I hope to see you on the 16th.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Letter #2 (Cold War)

all day long we accumulate, and when it occurs to us what we are doing, we are shown a Soviet bread line, a winter's day in July

a spy satellite explodes -- the Space Shuttle -- and Israel responds by bombing Southern Lebanon

South Africa is a class problem, not a a race problem, and for saying so she is beaten by her sisters

all day long we accumulate, engage in some form of pyramid-making, while our elected officials sit around untelevised

and peel back the welfare state, remove what is conducive, toss its shielding aside

we knew it was wrong, we protested, but we never imagined what it would look like, what monsters it would let loose

and now they are here, not up top but among us, our friends, suddenly full of shrugs where once they had thoughts

Let the market decide is now a friend of that shrug, and I want to kill myself, return to what was best about my youth and how it works in heaven

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Letter

a walk alone not lonely

amidst ourselves as thought

as always

thoughts of others

theirs of us shadows past

lives fertilize what is about to

blossom an absence not

of space but of time for now

what is coming as always plans

made and kept a passing held

like blossoms gathered

a light left on this morning

went undetected yet

at night returning

a window glows in waiting

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Last Letters from Stalingrad

The above comes from a series on German soldiers writing home from the Russian Front, as posted on El Pollo Real.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Women Gathered

While in Berlin last summer a weekend did not pass where I did not visit the Schöneberg Rathaus flea market. It was there that I purchased photographs, most of them from the thirties, forties and fifties. Of those photos, many appeared to be from East Berlin, though sometimes it was hard to tell.

Yesterday was my first visit to the market since last summer -- but only one table had photos. In this case, a small box, inside which lay evidence of a life that appeared to end early: that of a woman who perhaps lost her husband in the war and raised her son on her own.

After looking through the photos the vendor told me I could have the entire box for twenty euros. I told him I was only interested in one photo.

Ten euros!

I shook my head.

Okay, he said disappointedly -- one photo, one euro. A bad deal for you.

I gave him his euro and he plucked the photo from my hand.

I have to see what is so important, he said.

Yet having seen the photo, he was still unsatisfied.

What is it about this photo? he asked.

I asked him to give it back to me and I would read from it every word.

Six women gathered, I began.

Five, he said quickly, as if to catch me in a lie.

Six, as evidenced by the empty seat.

Why not seven? The photographer being the seventh.

He had a point.

Six women, he continued. One is in the kitchen, and the photographer is a man.

Feeling goaded, I returned to the apartment and Googled the handwritten date on the back (27 February 1958).

Three things came up:

The USSR performs a nuclear test at Novaya Zemlya.

Nancy Spungen is born.

The president of Columbia Pictures dies of a heart attack.

I returned to the photo.

Five women, the sixth having left her chair to take the photo.

The four women in the background listen at various registers: anticipation, amusement, politeness, impatience. The woman in the foreground is reading from a letter. How she is captured -- the angle, with just the right amount of shadow and light -- has her at some remove. For that reason I want her to be the subject. But she is not, and I will get to that.

The room they are in is small, as evidenced by the door, which three of the four women in the background are seated in front of. It could be a closet door, but it is too wide. The room could also be in East Berlin, in which case placing oneself before a door is a good way to buy time when the Stasi come looking for letters. But that might be premature. Based on their clothing it is likely we are in the early-forties.

Near the upper-right corner is the shadow of a lampshade and, to a lesser degree, the lampshade itself. Between it and a picture hung rather high on the wall is a fireplace, likely built long after the building in which it sits (you can tell by the design of the door), perhaps in the thirties.

From my recollection of the other photos it appears that the mother of the boy whose father might have died in the war is the woman on the far left, her husband not yet dead, and that the letter being read is news from the front. I recall as well that there were pictures of the boy standing before information that might tell me when this photo was taken.

So I returned to the market to once again look through the photos.

The vendor saw me coming. He was smiling. I sold them, he said proudly, just after you left.

He seemed to enjoy my disappointment.

While we were talking an older man was looking over your shoulder. As soon as you left he paid me ten euro.

I pulled out the photo, to look at it again. Then I showed it to him. Did he look like this woman here, on the far left? I asked him.

He looked at me aghast. Then he burst into laughter. He was a man, he said. He didn't look like a woman -- he looked like a man!

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Renger-Patzsch is a restaurant in Schöneberg. Renger-Patzsche is also a photographer (first name, Albert) who made "objective" pictures of the natural world and the world that we, as human beings, have made of it. After our return from Hannover last night, Judy and I dined at Renger-Patzsch, where she had the mushroom "flame cake" and I had the ox cheeks.

We had travelled to attend the opening of Brian Jungen's exhibition at the Hannover Kunstverein. The following day, Brian, Judy and I walked the city's streets, explored its main Rathaus and marvelled at the contents of its Sprengel Museum, which featured excellent exhibitions of Robert Michel and Ella Bergmann-Michel, Boris Mikhailov and Meret Oppenheim, in addition to an impressive (early) modern collection that included rooms by El Lissitzky (Kabinett der Abstraktion, 1927) and the locally-born Kurt Schwitters (MERZbau, 1933), as well as some attractive paintings by the Expressionist Emil Nolde (1867-1956).

With respect to Brian's exhibition, it 
coincides with what is now the completion of eight years work since the touring "mini-retrospective" generated by the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2005, which in turn was comprised of artworks made since 1997. The difference between these first and latest eight years will be the subject of my upcoming review for Canadian Art. But in the meantime let me say that while the last eight years have not produced anything as spectacular as Prototypes for New Understanding (1999) or the subsequent "whale series", the artist has accomplished what many of his sharpest supporters have hoped for, and that is a move beyond the propositions that had Nike trainers turned into masks and plastic chairs into skeletal forms (Shapeshifter, 2000) for explorations that begin, in this instance, with more primary sources (the hides of elk) and "end" with an even wider range of outcomes, from an earlier (pre-war) form of abstract sculpture (Sound Space, 2010) to a series of process-orientated articulated prints (Five Year Universe, 2011).

While our 24 hours in Hannover accounted for much of our dinner conversation, we did allow ourselves to focus on the virtues of our food and wine while inside what is, for the most part, a large rectangular room decorated with prints by a photographer who, according to Met curator Maria Morris Hambourg, is more interested in reality's "texture" and the "essence" of its objects than what is, at times, wearily referred to as art.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


Friday, April 19, 2013

Colours of the Market State

When travelling, news from home has a different sheen. What is big news sometimes appears small, depending on where one is looking. Conversely, what is small can sometimes find its parallel in a local variant, making the world smaller, more engaged. But again, depending on where one is looking.

When I heard the news that the Vancouver Art Gallery won City approval to fundraise for a move to Larwill Park I was enjoying the unsecured server of a cafe whose walls are filled with art. Not the art I see at the Vancouver Art Gallery, but that which its patrons gave it in exchange for meals.

The Vancouver Art Gallery has served up a number of thoughtful meals over the years, sometimes to my liking, sometimes because they are good for me, sometimes for those whose interests are so different from mine as to mistake art for fashion, conflict for affirmation, criticism for hype. But all in all I appreciate the VAG, and am among the first to recognize that in its attempt to be all things it can only skimp at times on what I want and what is good for me.

Although I am not in town to share the VAG's news, I imagine many are happy to hear it, particularly those who feel the most important part of the VAG is not its building or its location but its collection, which many of us hope to see displayed on a permanent basis, where the (symbolic) stories of our city and our moment can be discussed, debated, supplemented and synthesized.

Of course not everyone will be happy to hear about the VAG's move. Some will complain that taxpayers will be expected to bear the brunt of it, while others will say the collection is not worth a hill of beans, while others still will say that giving up the centre of the city as a site of ambiguity will only make Vancouver more certain, less mutable, the market state one step closer.

One person who will be unhappy about the VAG's move is real estate agent/artist collector Bob Rennie, who has proven over the years that his problem is not with the VAG but with its director, Kathleen Bartels, a problem he contracted from dealer/art consultant Patrick Painter, who once advised Rennie to acquire works by artists whose relevance has risen dramatically over the years and whose ongoing complaint that Bartels would not buy from him provided the starter for Rennie's sourdough.

Evidence of Rennie's unhappiness can be found in his recent de-accessioning of the work of an artist most active in the campaign for a larger, art-friendly VAG: Roy Arden. Further evidence can be found in another de-accessioned work, this time by an artist not active in the campaign but whose boyfriend is: me.

Is it a stretch to suggest that my girlfriend's work has been sent to auction (along with Arden's) because I have supported the VAG and, perhaps especially, because I have questioned Rennie's behaviour as a human being? I don't think so. In fact, I have evidence to suggest that Rennie's motivation is exactly that. But rather than divulge my sources, I would prefer instead to ask those of you who do business with Rennie to ask yourself what it is you are exchanging. Unless of course that exchange is, as they say, just business. In which case that is very big news, no matter where I am in the world.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Schöneberg Sunrise

Jet-lag has opened my eyes to some great sunrises. One of the more memorable came in the fall of 2003, when I was invited to Paris to take part in a conference called America, whose mission it was to revitalize Franco-American relations, post 9/11. Whatever. The event had more to do with diplomacy than literature, and the participants took it out on each other, embarrassed perhaps that we might fall for such a thing, that whoever says yes to such initiatives can only say so for escape, not engagement. Rick Moody was the best at this, taking aggressive indifference to new levels, though the writer I found most annoying was a North Carolinian by the name of Alan Gurganus, who, in his own with-me-or-against-me way, was merely a pinker version of a president (GWB) he did not like.

So it was on the first morning after my arrival that I awoke to a sky no lighter than the one I fell asleep under. But as I was awake, wide awake, I knew there was no point in turning over the pillow and starting again, so I leapt from my bed, put on my clothes and, as if called, made my way from the hotel in Vincennes to the Seine.

If you know the streets that lead to the Seine you will know that many of them are old and winding, often narrow and unlit. The night sky was still dark, though darker still because you would expect more from those who ran businesses along these streets. If their businesses were closed for the day, then so too were their exterior lights. I am sensitive to stuff like this, particularly in advance of my panel talk, concerned as it was with the colours of the market state after the 1980s deregulation policies (and rationalizations) of U.K. prime minister Margaret Thatcher and U.S. president Ronald Reagan. So I noted this too.

Eventually I settled on a view of the Pont Neuf Bridge, where I watched not the sunrise but the light slowly bleed from the bridge's spandrels and cornices. That's all I really have to say about what I saw of the sun that morning -- that which comes from within.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


A warm Berlin morning as I set out for Cafe Sur, already caffeinated but happy to connect with my favourite outdoor patio, if only to remind myself that I am here, in Berlin, and not dreaming.

Purchased some postcards along the way, as well as some pencil crayons and a few sheets of 4"x 6" paper, in the event that I might make my own.

In the afternoon Judy and I rode to Kurfürstendamm, to the KaDeWe, but also to Galerie Buchholz, where we saw a nicely managed "Early Works" exhibition of Isa Genzken, which included vitrines of contextual material, serial and permutating pieces, as well as those indicative of her means over ends tendency.

Such an intriguing artist, Isa Genzken. People still talk fondly of her installation at the German Pavillon for the 2007 Venice Biennale.

As we were leaving I noticed a small square mirror set waist-high in the middle of the downstairs gallery door. Instinctively I reached into my pocket and handed the mirror the exhibition's folded-over press release.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

20 Innsbruckerstrasse

Yesterday's British Airways flight to Berlin (via Heathrow) was one of my better Atlantic crossings. From now on I want to fly to Europe only in the evenings.

Arrived at 20 Innsbruckerstrasse at approximately 7:30PM, following a short bus and S-Bahn trip from Tegel. Some wine and cheese on the balcony with Judy, then another S-Bahn trip, this time to Oranienburg, where we dined with Juan Gaitán and the staff of the 2014 Berlin Biennale at their KW headquarters in Mitte.

Among those gathered on this balmy first night of spring was the artist Shahryar Nashat, a most generous conversationalist whose studio I will visit next week.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Trains Collide at Prince George

Fallen revenues have resulted in a number of newspapers turning to the medium responsible for their decline. The Prince George Free Press is no different. Here, writers like Bill Phillips also serve as online "TV reporters", approximating a style that feels closer to the news I watched as a child in the 1960s than the high-octane delivery we get on TV today.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Writing and Community

On Friday afternoon I flew to Prince George, where I had been invited to read as part of the 3rd annual John Harris Award. This was an honour, as John Harris is someone I admire, not only for his fine book of fiction, Small Rain (1989), but for his work as an educator and, because of his commitment to education, a reformer.

Shortly after my arrival I learned of a "poetry war" that has divided the city's writing community, a division not unrelated to the division that has always existed between the College of New Caledonia (where Harris and another senior member of the PG writing community, Barry McKinnon, taught for many years) and the University of Northern British Columbia, which opened its doors in the 1990s.

While it is not my place to describe this division (click here for an ex-pat's take), I do think it unfortunate that differences amongst writers often results not in an expanded conversation but the absence of conversation altogether. Hopefully someone in PG will publish an essay on just what these differences are and how they might be embraced and returned to the larger conversation that is writing and community.

In the meantime, congratulations to this year's recipient of the John Harris Award -- A. Warren Johnson -- and a thank you to Graham Pearce for inviting me.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


Thursday, April 11, 2013


"Every little movement you do makes a big difference."

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Sylvia Fellows is a silhouette artist.

Kara Walker is an artist who works with silhouettes.

(Lacanians take note of what Kara says at the outset: "A lot of my work has been about the unexpected, kind of wanting to be the heroine and yet wanting to kill the heroine at the same time.")

Monday, April 8, 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.

On the table before me lies a collection of paper I have saved this past year -- tissue paper, cardboard from shirts I have purchased, envelopes from India. Enough to make a collage.

In my hand is a pair of nose-hair scissors, while on my mind are the silhouette artists I remember from Disneyland, who, without looking, would cut from black paper your profile.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


Saturday, April 6, 2013

I Am Woman (1972)

It would be difficult to overstate how important this song was when it came out in the spring of 1972. By Xmas of that year it had topped the Billboard charts, and could be heard blaring from every third house in my neighbourhood the night Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in what was known as "The Battle of the Sexes".

Friday, April 5, 2013

Nadja (1928)

The opening lines of André Breton's Nadja (1928):

"Who am I? If this once I were to rely on a proverb, then perhaps everything would amount to knowing whom I "haunt." I must admit that this last word is misleading, tending to establish between certain beings and myself relations that are stranger, more inescapable, more disturbing than I intended. Such a word means much more than it says, makes me, still alive, play a ghostly part, evidently referring to what I must have ceased to be in order to be who I am."

Click here for a reading of this book by Karin Cope.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Brand Academy

In yesterday's post I hyperlinked to a Georgia Straight article on Bob Rennie's lecture to Killarney High School students, where he said, among other things: "Everyone in this room is a brand...[a]ll that you have is your name."

For $2,500 the cultural brokerage house of Cause + Affect will admit you into their Brand Academy, where you will receive four in-office group sessions of three hours in duration and a private session with C+A "tastemakers" Jane & Steven Cox, who "will give you the ability to define not just 'what you do', but 'who you are.'"

A more direct route can be found here, and here.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Selling Emptiness

Klein's Zone works continue to be played out long after the artist's death, albeit grotesquely. A local variation is provided by real estate agent Bob Rennie, who sells emptiness in the form of condominium apartments, along with a lifestyle that parallels that emptiness.

Rennie's version also differs from Klein's in that instead of gold he accepts money, which he collects for the developers who hire him to do their selling. In return, the developers throw a percentage of that money at him.

Like Klein, Rennie is aware of the imbalance that comes from selling emptiness. In an effort to correct that, he buys art, displays it in his home/office and throws parties to demonstrate his own sense of balance.

But Rennie has proven himself unbalanced of late, so whatever balance he is offering should be considered in that light. For those in the visual arts (artists, curators, directors, critics, collectors and audiences), Rennie has sought respect through acquisition, patronage and dealmaking, the effect of which has artists and institutions reluctant to criticize him, or to be seen supporting people and projects that he has spoken out against, like the Vancouver Art Gallery's current director and her efforts to better share with the public the gallery's massive collection.

The original mandate of the Western Front, one our city's oldest artist-run centres, is "to promote and encourage the role of the artist in determining the cultural ecology." Rennie has done the opposite: he has indentured artists by de-accessioning the work of those whom he perceives to be against him, as well as making those who would benefit from his patronage frightened to say anything that might limit their prospects. The same applies to institutions to whom he gives money.

And now Rennie is initiating a city-wide exhibition of one of our best-known, most-respected senior artists, an exhibition that will involve some of our finest public institutions, led by Rennie's private gallery.

Is this something that will benefit our cultural ecology, or will it represent a more literal expression of Rennie's administration of it? If this exhibition should come to pass, it has the potential to mark yet another turning point in our city, where artists and the institutions that serve them are less an autonomous presence than co-opted agents of emptiness, motivated not by curiosity but by its opposite: fear.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Yves Klein is known for his exploration of painting, performance and space. Zone de Sensibilité Picturale Immatériale (Zone of Immaterial Pictorial Impossibility) is a work Klein created in 1959 that had the artist offering empty spaces in the city (Paris) in exchange for gold. Proof of the exchange came in the form of a certificate derived from the eight chequebooks Klein had made for the occasion. If the purchaser agreed to set fire to the certificate, Klein would throw half the gold into the Seine (in an effort to "restore" the imbalance created by selling emptiness). With the other half, he made his monogolds.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Ondre and Rae

Nicole Ondre's decision to title the source of her monoprint and the monoprint itself as a single work suggests how she might like us to experience Cadmium Yellow Window, particularly as we find our bodies in-between these two related gestures.

For me, being in the midst of a work is what Michael Taussig attempted last week during his self-consciously performative lecture at SFU's Goldcorp Centre for the Arts -- a talk that tried a little too hard to merge the lyrical composition of a Walter Benjamin essay with the proprioceptive poetry of Charles Olson.

However, where Taussig's lecture eventually succumbed to its form, Nicole's activation of the physical space between source and print contributed to our appreciation of the larger exhibition, allowing After Finitude its overtone.

Back in 1997, Vancouver artist Charles Rae began a series of similarly constructed works entitled Institutions, where he painted what might be called a Benjaminian arcade on one side of the canvas, only to fold the canvas over and complete its picture in the form of a print. A crude attempt at mechanical reproduction, but a reproduction (and an "original" work of art) all the same.

The image above is a painting (oil on vinyl, diptych 43" x 81") entitled Harmonic Reverie (2000). I am not certain but I believe this work was made using the same process as the Institutions series.