Friday, May 31, 2013


Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Artist Is Present (2010)

In 2010, New York City's MoMA mounted a Marina Abramović retrospective. Shortly after the opening I was flipping through the channels of my television when I came upon Lady Gaga seated across the desk from her interviewer, CNN's Larry King, who, at the time, was nearing the end of his 25 years at the network, and who, it seemed, had little left in the tank for anything other than getting off the air.

After King read the first question, Gaga responded with a non-sequitir: how blown away she was by the Abramović exhibition. In an effort to work with Gaga's declaration, King asked the singer to tell "us" why. But Gaga could not get the words out -- or at least not in an order that made any sense.

One of the most talked about art works in Abramović's exhibition is The Artist Is Present (2010), where the artist shares a minute with those lined up to share that minute with her -- Abramović on one side of a table, the patron on the other.

The video above is from the opening day of Abramović's exhibition, where the artist is surprised by her former lover and collaborator, Ulay. For those who might mistake this video for a performance document, consider the camera work, the music, and the sentiment that causes Abramović to break from her shared face into one for whom those perplexed by her medium tend to lean on when it comes to meaning.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"in a sentence"

Another great face-maker is California State Prison inmate #B33920. When an interviewer asks the inmate to tell him ("in a sentence") who he is, the inmate provides a mimed response, then this poem:


I'm nobody

I'm a tramp
A bum
A hobo

I'm a box car
And a jug of wine

And a straight-razor
If you get too close to me

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

All Divided Selves (2011)

Last night I attended a screening of Luke Fowler's All Divided Selves (2011) at the Pacific Cinémathèque. As one might infer, the film's title is derived from its subject's best known book, The Divided Self (1960), whose author, the Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing, was required reading in R.B.J. Walker's 1985 Political Theory 300 course at the University of Victoria, along with Enlightenment critic Frederich Nietzsche and French post-structuralist Michel Foucault, among others.

If I remember correctly, it was in Walker's course that I first heard the name Frederic Jameson, whose article, "Postmodernism, or, The Culture of Late-Capitalism", had just been published in the New Left Review (July/August, 1984), an article that spoke of the capitalist mode of production's power to spatialize the culture; divide it up, as it were.

Fowler's film behaves similarly, for it is less a linear documentary of the man and his medicine than an epic portrait based on recurrence and scenic mitosis; not quite the equivalent of Stein's literary Cubism, but enough to remind us that "composition as explanation" can occasionally result in a work of art whose content suggests its form. Which is something the Glaswegian artist achieves in his too-long collagist film, drawing on what feels like 500 miles of documentary footage grouted together with his own brand of cinematic cement.

Monday, May 27, 2013


Sunday, May 26, 2013


In light of recent revelations that Toronto city councillor Doug Ford began his adult life as a hashish dealer, Stein co-vivant Alice B. Toklas's 1954 recipe for Hashish Fudge:

This is the food of paradise – of Baudelaire’s Artificial Paradises: it might provide an entertaining refreshment for a Ladies’ Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR. In Morocco it is thought to be good for warding off the common cold in damp winter weather and is, indeed, more effective if taken with large quantities of hot mint tea. Euphoria and brilliant storms of laughter; ecstatic reveries and extensions of one’s personality on several simultaneous planes are to be complacently expected. Almost anything Saint Theresa did, you can do better if you can bear to the ravished by “un évanouissement reveillé”.
Take 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 whole nutmeg
4 average sticks of cinnamon
1 teaspoon coriander
These should all be pulverized in a mortar.
About a handful each of stoned dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: chop these and mix them together.
A bunch of Cannabis sativa can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together.
About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient.
Obtaining the Cannabis may present certain difficulties, but the variety known as Cannabis sativa grows as a common weed, often unrecognized, everywhere in Europe, Asia and part of Africa; besides being cultivated as a crop for the manufacture of rope.
In the Americas, while often discouraged, its cousin, called Cannabis indica, has been observed even in city window boxes. It should be picked and dried as soon as it has gone to seed and while the plant is still green.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


Stein's Tender Buttons (1914) is subtitled "Objects, Food, Rooms". Had Stein read much Freud by the time this book was published?

In her book Reading Stein: Body, Text, Gnosis (1991), Lisa Ruddick says that by the time Stein was writing The Making of Americans (1925) she was familiar with Freud's idea of the unconscious, and had taken to it, particularly in relation to her idea of "repetition".

Friday, May 24, 2013

"Rooms" (1914)

Time to read Stein's "Rooms" again.
Act so that there is no use in a centre. A wide action is not a width. A preparation is given to the ones preparing. They do not eat who mention silver and sweet. There was an occupation.

A whole centre and a border make hanging a way of dressing. This which is not why there is a voice is the remains of an offering. There was no rental.

So the tune which is there has a little piece to play. And the exercise is all there is of a fast. The tender and true that makes no width to hew is the time that there is question to adopt.

To begin the placing there is no wagon. There is no change lighter. It was done. And then the spreading, that was not accomplishing that needed standing and yet the time was not so difficult as they were not all in place. They had no change. They were not respected. They were that, they did it so much in the matter and this showed that that settlement was not condensed. It was spread there. Any change was in the ends of the centre. A heap was heavy. There was no change.

Burnt and behind and lifting a temporary stone and lifting more than a drawer.

The instance of there being more is an instance of more. The shadow is not shining in the way there is a black line. The truth has come. There is a disturbance. Trusting to a baker's boy meant that there would be very much exchanging and anyway what is the use of a covering to a door. There is a use, they are double.

If the centre has the place then there is distribution. That is natural. There is a contradiction and naturally returning there comes to be both sides and the centre. That can be seen from the description.

The author of all that is in there behind the door and that is entering in the morning. Explaining darkening and expecting relating is all of a piece. The stove is bigger. It was of a shape that made no audience bigger if the opening is assumed why should there not be kneeling. Any force which is bestowed on a floor shows rubbing. This is so nice and sweet and yet there comes the change, there comes the time to press more air. This does not mean the same as disappearance.

A little lingering lion and a Chinese chair, all the handsome cheese which is stone, all of it and a choice, a choice of a blotter. If it is difficult to do it one way there is no place of similar trouble. None. The whole arrangement is established. The end of which is that there is a suggestion, a suggestion that there can be a different whiteness to a wall. This was thought.

A page to a corner means that the shame is no greater when the table is longer. A glass is of any height, it is higher, it is simpler and if it were placed there would not be any doubt.

Something that is an erection is that which stands and feeds and silences a tin which is swelling. This makes no diversion that is to say what can please exaltation, that which is cooking.

A shine is that which when covered changes permission. An enclosure blends with the same that is to say there is blending. A blend is that which holds no mice and this is not because of a floor it is because of nothing, it is not in a vision.

A fact is that when the place was replaced all was left that was stored and all was retained that would not satisfy more than another. The question is this, is it possible to suggest more to replace that thing. This question and this perfect denial does make the time change all the time.

The sister was not a mister. Was this a surprise. It was. The conclusion came when there was no arrangement. All the time that there was a question there was a decision. Replacing a casual acquaintance with an ordinary daughter does not make a son.

It happened in a way that the time was perfect and there was a growth of a whole dividing time so that where formerly there was no mistake there was no mistake now. For instance before when there was a separation there was waiting, now when there is separation there is the division between intending and departing. This made no more mixture than there would be if there had been no change.

A little sign of an entrance is the one that made it alike. If it were smaller it was not alike and it was so much smaller that a table was bigger. A table was much bigger, very much bigger. Changing that made nothing bigger, it did not make anything bigger littler, it did not hinder wood from not being used as leather. And this was so charming. Harmony is so essential. Is there pleasure when there is a passage, there is when every room is open. Every room is open when there are not four, there were there and surely there were four, there were two together. There is no resemblance.

A single speed, the reception of table linen, all the wonder of six little spoons, there is no exercise.

The time came when there was a birthday. Every day was no excitement and a birthday was added, it was added on Monday, this made the memory clear, this which was a speech showed the chair in the middle where there was copper.

Alike and a snail, this means Chinamen, it does there is no doubt that to be right is more than perfect there is no doubt and glass is confusing it confuses the substance which was of a color. Then came the time for discrimination, it came then and it was never mentioned it was so triumphant, it showed the whole head than had a hole and should have a hole it showed the resemblance between silver.

Startling a starving husband is not disagreeable. The reason that nothing is hidden is that there is no suggestion of silence. No song is sad. A lesson is of consequence.

Blind and weak and organised and worried and betrothed and resumed and also asked to a fast and always asked to consider and never startled and not at all bloated, this which is no rarer than frequently is not so astonishing when hair brushing is added. There is quiet, there certainly is.

No eye-glasses are rotten, no window is useless and yet if air will not come in there is a speech ready, there always is and there is no dimness, not a bit of it.

All along the tendency to deplore the absence of more has not been authorised. It comes to mean that with burning there is that pleasant state of stupefication. Then there is a way of earning a living. Who is a man.

A silence is not indicated by any motion, less is indicated by a motion, more is not indicated it is enthralled. So sullen and so low, so much resignation, so much refusal and so much place for a lower and an upper, so much and yet more silence, why is not sleeping a feat why is it not and when is there some discharge when. There never is.

If comparing a piece that is a size that is recognised as not a size but a piece, comparing a piece with what is not recognised but what is used as it is held by holding, comparing these two comes to be repeated. Suppose they are put together, suppose that there is an interruption, supposing that beginning again they are not changed as to position, suppose all this and suppose that any five two of whom are not separating suppose that the five are not consumed. Is there an exchange, is there a resemblance to the sky which is admitted to be there and the stars which can be seen. Is there. That was a question. There was no certainty. Fitting a failing meant that any two were indifferent and yet they were all connecting that, they were all connecting that consideration. This did not determine rejoining a letter. This did not make letters smaller. It did.

The stamp that is not only torn but also fitting is not any symbol. It suggests nothing. A sack that has no opening suggests more and the loss is not commensurate. The season gliding and the torn hangings receiving mending all this shows an example, it shows the force of sacrifice and likeness and disaster and a reason.

The time when there is not the question is only seen when there is a shower. Any little thing is water.

There was a whole collection made. A damp cloth, an oyster, a single mirror, a manikin, a student, a silent star, a single spark, a little movement and the bed is made. This shows the disorder, it does, it shows more likeness than anything else, it shows the single mind that directs an apple. All the coats have a different shape, that does not mean that they differ in color, it means a union between use and exercise and a horse.

A plain hill, one is not that which is not white and red and green, a plain hill makes no sunshine, it shows that without a disturber. So the shape is there and the color and the outline and the miserable centre. It is not very likely that there is a centre, a hill is a hill and no hill is contained in a pink tender descender.

A can containing a curtain is a solid sentimental usage. The trouble in both eyes does not come from the same symmetrical carpet, it comes from there being no more disturbance than in little paper. This does show the teeth, it shows color.

A measure is that which put up so that it shows the length has a steel construction. Tidiness is not delicacy, it does not destroy the whole piece, certainly not it has been measured and nothing has been cut off and even if that has been lost there is a name, no name is signed and left over, not any space is fitted so that moving about is plentiful. Why is there so much resignation in a package, why is there rain, all the same the chance has come, there is no bell to ring.

A package and a filter and even a funnel, all this together makes a scene and supposing the question arises is hair curly, is it dark and dusty, supposing that question arises, is brushing necessary, is it, the whole special suddenness commences then, there is no delusion.

A cape is a cover, a cape is not a cover in summer, a cape is a cover and the regulation is that there is no such weather. A cape is not always a cover, a cape is not a cover when there is another, there is always something in that thing in establishing a disposition to put wetting where it will not do more harm. There is always that disposition and in a way there is some use in not mentioning changing and in establishing the temperature, there is some use in it as establishing all that lives dimmer freer and there is no dinner in the middle of anything. There is no such thing.

Why is a pale white not paler than blue, why is a connection made by a stove, why is the example which is mentioned not shown to be the same, why is there no adjustment between the place and the separate attention. Why is there a choice in gamboling. Why is there no necessary dull stable, why is there a single piece of any color, why is there that sensible silence. Why is there the resistance in a mixture, why is there no poster, why is there that in the window, why is there no suggester, why is there no window, why is there no oyster closer. Why is there a circular diminisher, why is there a bather, why is there no scraper, why is there a dinner, why is there a bell ringer, why is there a duster, why is there a section of a similar resemblance, why is there that scissor.

South, south which is a wind is not rain, does silence choke speech or does it not.

Lying in a conundrum, lying so makes the springs restless, lying so is a reduction, not lying so is arrangeable.

Releasing the oldest auction that is the pleasing some still renewing.

Giving it away, not giving it away, is there any difference. Giving it away. Not giving it away.

Almost very likely there is no seduction, almost very likely there is no stream, certainly very likely the height is penetrated, certainly certainly the target is cleaned. Come to sit, come to refuse, come to surround, come slowly and age is not lessening. The time which showed that was when there was no eclipse. All the time that resenting was removal all that time there was breadth. No breath is shadowed, no breath is painstaking and yet certainly what could be the use of paper, paper shows no disorder, it shows no desertion.

Why is there a difference between one window and another, why is there a difference, because the curtain is shorter. There is no distaste in beefsteak or in plums or in gallons of milk water, there is no defiance in original piling up over a roof, there is no daylight in the evening, there is none there empty.

A tribune, a tribune does not mean paper, it means nothing more than cake, it means more sugar, it shows the state of lengthening any nose. The last spice is that which shows the whole evening spent in that sleep, it shows so that walking is an alleviation, and yet this astonishes everybody the distance is so sprightly. In all the time there are three days, those are not passed uselessly. Any little thing is a change that is if nothing is wasted in that cellar. All the rest of the chairs are established.

A success, a success is alright when there are there rooms and no vacancies, a success is alright when there is a package, success is alright anyway and any curtain is wholesale. A curtain diminishes and an ample space shows varnish.

One taste one tack, one taste one bottle, one taste one fish, one taste one barometer. This shows no distinguishing sign when there is a store.

Any smile is stern and any coat is a sample. Is there any use in changing more doors than there are committees. This question is so often asked that squares show that they are blotters. It is so very agreeable to hear a voice and to see all the signs of that expression.

Cadences, real cadences, real cadences and a quiet color. Careful and curved, cake and sober, all accounts and mixture, a guess at anything is righteous, should there be a call there would be a voice.

A line in life, a single line and a stairway, a rigid cook, no cook and no equator, all the same there is higher than that another evasion. Did that mean shame, it meant memory. Looking into a place that was hanging and was visible looking into this place and seeing a chair did that mean relief, it did, it certainly did not cause constipation and yet there is a melody that has white for a tune when there is straw color. This shows no face.

Star-light, what is star-light, star-light is a little light that is not always mentioned with the sun, it is mentioned with the moon and the sun, it is mixed up with the rest of the time.

Why is the name changed. The name is changed because in the little space there is a tree, in some space there are no trees, in every space there is a hint of more, all this causes the decision.

Why is there education, there is education because the two tables which are folding are not tied together with a ribbon, string is used and string being used there is a necessity for another one and another one not being used to hearing shows no ordinary use of any evening and yet there is no disgrace in looking, none at all. This came to separate when there was simple selection of an entire pre-occupation.

A curtain, a curtain which is fastened discloses mourning, this does not mean sparrows or elocution or even a whole preparation, it means that there are ears and very often much more altogether.

Climate, climate is not southern, a little glass, a bright winter, a strange supper an elastic tumbler, all this shows that the back is furnished and red which is red is a dark color. An example of this is fifteen years and a separation of regret.

China is not down when there are plates, lights are not ponderous and incalculable.

Currents, currents are not in the air and on the floor and in the door and behind it first. Currents do not show it plainer. This which is mastered has so thin a space to build it all that there is plenty of room and yet is it quarreling, it is not and the insistence is marked. A change is in a current and there is no habitable exercise.

A religion, almost a religion, any religion, a quintal in religion, a relying and a surface and a service in indecision and a creature and a question and a syllable in answer and more counting and no quarrel and a single scientific statement and no darkness and no question and an earned administration and a single set of sisters and an outline and no blisters and the section seeing yellow and the centre having spelling and no solitude and no quaintness and yet solid quite so solid and the single surface centred and the question in the placard and the singularity, is there a singularity, and the singularity, why is there a question and the singularity why is the surface outrageous, why is it beautiful why is it not when there is no doubt, why is anything vacant, why is not disturbing a centre no virtue, why is it when it is and why is it when it is and there is no doubt, there is no doubt that the singularity shows.

A climate, a single climate, all the time there is a single climate, any time there is a doubt, any time there is music that is to question more and more and there is no politeness, there is hardly any ordeal and certainly there is no tablecloth.

This is a sound and obligingness more obligingness leads to a harmony in hesitation.

A lake a single lake which is a pond and a little water any water which is an ant and no burning, not any burning, all this is sudden.

A canister that is the remains of furniture and a looking-glass and a bed-room and a larger size, all the stand is shouted and what is ancient is practical. Should the resemblance be so that any little cover is copied, should it be so that yards are measured, should it be so and there be a sin, should it be so then certainly a room is big enough when it is so empty and the corners are gathered together.

The change is mercenary that settles whitening the coloring and serving dishes where there is metal and making yellow any yellow every color in a shade which is expressed in a tray. This is a monster and awkward quite awkward and the little design which is flowered which is not strange and yet has visible writing, this is not shown all the time but at once, after that it rests where it is and where it is in place. No change is not needed. That does show design.

Excellent, more excellence is borrowing and slanting very slanting is light and secret and a recitation and emigration. Certainly shoals are shallow and nonsense more nonsense is sullen. Very little cake is water, very little cake has that escape.

Sugar any sugar, anger every anger, lover sermon lover, centre no distractor, all order is in a measure.

Left over to be a lamp light, left over in victory, left over in saving, all this and negligence and bent wood and more even much more is not so exact as a pen and a turtle and even, certainly, and even a piece of the same experience as more.

To consider a lecture, to consider it well is so anxious and so much a charity and really supposing there is grain and if a stubble every stubble is urgent, will there not be a chance of legality. The sound is sickened and the price is purchased and golden what is golden, a clergyman, a single tax, a currency and an inner chamber.

Checking an emigration, checking it by smiling and certainly by the same satisfactory stretch of hands that have more use for it than nothing, and mildly not mildly a correction, not mildly even a circumstance and a sweetness and a serenity. Powder, that has no color, if it did have would it be white.

A whole soldier any whole soldier has no more detail than any case of measles.

A bridge a very small bridge in a location and thunder, any thunder, this is the capture of reversible sizing and more indeed more can be cautious. This which makes monotony careless makes it likely that there is an exchange in principle and more than that, change in organization.

This cloud does change with the movements of the moon and the narrow the quite narrow suggestion of the building. It does and then when it is settled and no sounds differ then comes the moment when cheerfulness is so assured that there is an occasion.

A plain lap, any plain lap shows that sign, it shows that there is not so much extension as there would be if there were more choice in everything. And why complain of more, why complain of very much more. Why complain at all when it is all arranged that as there is no more opportunity and no more appeal and not even any more clinching that certainly now some time has come.

A window has another spelling, it has "f" all together, it lacks no more then and this is rain, this may even be something else, at any rate there is no dedication in splendor. There is a turn of the stranger.

Catholic to be turned is to venture on youth and a section of debate, it even means that no class where each one over fifty is regular is so stationary that there are invitations.

A curving example makes righteous finger-nails. This is the only object in secretion and speech.

To being the same four are no more than were taller. The rest had a big chair and a surveyance a cold accumulation of nausea, and even more than that, they had a disappointment.

Nothing aiming is a flower, if flowers are abundant then they are lilac, if they are not they are white in the centre.

Dance a clean dream and an extravagant turn up, secure the steady rights and translate more than translate the authority, show the choice and make no more mistakes than yesterday.

This means clearness, it means a regular notion of exercise, it means more than that, it means liking counting, it means more than that, it does not mean exchanging a line.

Why is there more craving than there is in a mountain. This does not seem strange to one, it does not seem strange to an echo and more surely is in there not being a habit. Why is there so much useless suffering. Why is there.

Any wet weather means an open window, what is attaching eating, anything that is violent and cooking and shows weather is the same in the end and why is there more use in something than in all that.

The cases are made and books, back books are used to secure tears and church. They are even used to exchange black slippers. They can not be mended with wax. They show no need of any such occasion.

A willow and no window, a wide place stranger, a wideness makes an active center.

The sight of no pussy cat is so different that a tobacco zone is white and cream.

A lilac, all a lilac and no mention of butter, not even bread and butter, no butter and no occasion, not even a silent resemblance, not more care than just enough haughty.

A safe weight is that which when it pleases is hanging. A safer weight is one more naughty in a spectacle. The best game is that which is shiny and scratching. Please a pease and a cracker and a wretched use of summer.

Surprise, the only surprise has no occasion. It is an ingredient and the section the whole section is one season.

A pecking which is petting and no worse than in the same morning is not the only way to be continuous often.

A light in the moon the only light is on Sunday. What was the sensible decision. The sensible decision was that notwithstanding many declarations and more music, not even notwithstanding the choice and a torch and a collection, notwithstanding the celebrating hat and a vacation and even more noise than cutting, notwithstanding Europe and Asia and being overbearing, not even notwithstanding an elephant and a strict occasion, not even withstanding more cultivation and some seasoning, not even with drowning and with the ocean being encircling, not even with more likeness and any cloud, not even with terrific sacrifice of pedestrianism and a special resolution, not even more likely to be pleasing. The care with which the rain is wrong and the green is wrong and the white is wrong, the care with which there is a chair and plenty of breathing. The care with which there is incredible justice and likeness, all this makes a magnificent asparagus, and also a fountain.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

No Weather In Heaven

As we pass above the clouds, everything is blue. Then black. Stars here and there, and planets, if you know what you are looking at.

Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) is an important U.S. painter, a "second generation" abstract expressionist, who, when describing her latest canvases, referred to them as "My black paintings -- although there's no black in them."

Here is a BOMB interview with the artist that begins at her home in Vetheuil, France, in October, 1985.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


The phenakistoscope is built on a succession of formal symmetries that, once activated, produce a narrative. In yesterday's example the narrative is a succession of ascending balloons.

As a child, the ascension of a balloon was my first indication that the sky could be infinite, that once released, a balloon would rise forever, with nothing to stop it. Only later I did I learn that atmospheric pressure would eventually pop that balloon, but the idea of the infinite sky remained with me.

In February 2012, Kevin Schmidt released a balloon in Northern Alberta. Attached to the balloon was a camera, which eventually fell to earth.

Below is a picture of what Schmidt hoped to capture with this year's balloon launch:

This is what he came up with:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Something to make on a rainy day. Like today.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Whirling Dervishes

So slowly, with such grace.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


The Tilt-a-Whirl is my least favourite amusement park ride, one that my sister and I were forgotten on at the PNE one summer's night in 1971, when the operator began flirting with our mother.

Unlike the centrifuge Antoine struggles against in yesterday's post, the Tilt-a-Whirl is a more individualized variant that jerks more than it rotates.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Les 400 Coups (1959)

Yesterday's post included an excerpt from Dan Graham's Body Press (1972), while today's post is something of an inversion: a scene that appears early in Truffaut's Les 400 Coups (1959) that has its subject(s) flattened and at the edge of a centre, not amidst it. This scene in some ways parallels the opening credit scene, where the Eiffel Tower provides the centre point.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Body Press (1972)

Two-minutes-and-three-seconds of Dan Graham's filmic installation Body Press (1972), part of the 2007 Flick Collection show at Berlin's Hamburger Bahnhof.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Der Spiegel

An intense prank.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"The Body Ritual among the Nacirema" (1956)

This 1151 word essay is to introductory social science classes what John Berger's Ways of Seeing (1972) is to those in first-year visual arts.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Nude Self-Portraits

Last Thursday a relative sent me a link to two nude self-portraits by George W. Bush (see above) and asked for my "professional opinion." What could I say? Is it fair to assess a painting based on its reproduction? Does a former United States president who condoned murder in the name of market certainty deserve to have his paintings taken seriously as works of artistic ambiguity?

Painting aside, I am intrigued by Bush's self-portraits. Yes, the wall to the left of the bathtub defies perspective, just as the face in the mirror does not line up with its subject. But these "errors" only contribute to the compositions' ambiguity. As for the setting, the bathroom is to the self what the kitchen is to others: a private space closer to ones thoughts than any other room in the house, a place where you can dwell naked without anyone asking why.

John Ashbery's "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror" (1975) has more to do with Parmigianino (c. 1524) than what one pops zits with. Indeed, the closest Ashbery gets to the bathroom is "to the bathed, aired secrecy of the open sea." If people feel comfortable with their bodies in the bathroom (be it singing in the shower or painting from the tub), then let's return to it and see where it leads.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Touch Me

Yesterday's post carried a link to questions based on an excerpt from Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia (1977). The questions concerned the "distance" Chatwin keeps from what he is observing, how he "remains a minimal presence in the book." The last question likened that distance to the distance Joan Didion keeps when observing The Doors in the recording studio. Here is that excerpt:

 IT WAS six, seven o'clock of an early spring evening in 1968 and I was sitting on the cold vinyl floor of a sound studio on Sunset Boulevard, watching a band called The Doors record a rhythm track. On the whole my attention was only minimally engaged by the preoccupations of rock-and-roll bands (I had already heard about acid as a transitional stage and also about the Maharishi and even about Universal Love, and after a while it all sounded like marmalade skies to me), but The Doors were different. The Doors interested me. The Doors seemed unconvinced that love was brotherhood and the Kama Sutra. The Doors' music insisted that love was sex and sex was death and therein lay salvation. The Doors were the Norman Mailers of the Top Forty, missionaries of apocalyptic sex. Break on through, their lyrics urged, and Light my fire, and:

Come on baby, gonna take a little ride
Coin' down by the ocean side
Gonna get real close
Get real tight
Baby gonna drown tonight—
Coin' down, down, down.

On this evening in 1968 they were gathered together in uneasy symbiosis to make their third album, and the studio was too cold and the lights were too bright and there were masses of wires and banks of the ominous blinking electronic circuitry with which musicians live so easily. There were three of the four Doors. There was a bass player borrowed from a band called Clear Light. There were the producer and the engineer and the road manager and a couple of girls and a Siberian husky named Nikki with one gray eye and one gold. There were paper bags half filled with hard-boiled eggs and chicken livers and cheeseburgers and empty bottles of apple juice and California rose. There was everything and everybody The Doors needed to cut the rest of this third album except one thing, the fourth Door, the lead singer, Jim Morrison, a 24-year-old graduate of U.C.L.A. who wore black vinyl pants and no underwear and tended to suggest some range of the possible just beyond a suicide pact. It was Morrison who had described The Doors as "erotic politicians." It was Morrison who had defined the group's interests as "anything about revolt, disorder, chaos, about activity that appears to have no meaning." It was Morrison who got arrested in Miami in December of 1967 for giving an "indecent" performance. It was Morrison who wrote most of The Doors' lyrics, the peculiar character of which was to reflect either an ambiguous paranoia or a quite unambiguous insistence upon the love-death as the ultimate high. And it was Morrison who was missing. It was Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger and John Densmore who made The Doors sound the way they sounded, and maybe it was Manzarek and Krieger and Densmore who made seventeen out of twenty interviewees on American Bandstand prefer The Doors over all other bands, but it was Morrison who got up there in his black vinyl pants with no underwear and projected the idea, and it was Morrison they were waiting for now.

"Hey listen," the engineer said. "I was listening to an FM station on the way over here, they played three Doors songs, first they played 'Back Door Man' and then 'Love Me Two Times' and 'Light My Fire.' "

"I heard it," Densmore muttered. "I heard it."

"So what's wrong with somebody playing three
of your songs?"

"This cat dedicates it to his family."

"Yeah? To his family?"

"To his family. Really crass."

Ray Manzarek was hunched over a Gibson keyboard. "You think Morrison’s going to come back?" he asked to no one in particular.

No one answered.

"So we can do some vocals?" Manzarek said.

The producer was working with the tape of the
rhythm track they had just recorded. "I hope so," he
said without looking up.

"Yeah," Manzarek said. "So do I."

My leg had gone to sleep, but I did not stand up; unspecific tensions seemed to be rendering everyone in the room catatonic. The producer played back the rhythm track. The engineer said that he wanted to do his deep-breathing exercises. Manzarek ate a hardboiled egg. "Tennyson made a mantra out of his own name," he said to the engineer. "I don't know if he said Tennyson Tennyson Tennyson' or 'Alfred Alfred Alfred' or 'Alfred Lord Tennyson/ but anyway, he did it. Maybe he just said 'Lord Lord Lord.' "

"Groovy," the Clear Light bass player said. He was an amiable enthusiast, not at all a Door in spirit.

"I wonder what Blake said," Manzarek mused. "Too bad Morrison's not here. Morrison would know."


It was a long while later. Morrison arrived. He had on his black vinyl pants and he sat down on a leather couch in front of the four big blank speakers and he closed his eyes. The curious aspect of Morrison's arrival was this: no one acknowledged it. Robby Krieger continued working out a guitar passage. John Densmore tuned his drums. Manzarek sat at the control console and twirled a corkscrew and let a girl rub his shoulders. The girl did not look at Morrison, although he was in her direct line of sight. An hour or so passed, and still no one had spoken to Morrison. Then Morrison spoke to Manzarek. He spoke almost in a whisper, as if he were wresting the words from behind some disabling aphasia.

"It's an hour to West Covina," he said. "I was thinking maybe we should spend the night out there after we play."

Manzarek put down the corkscrew. "Why?" he said.

"Instead of coming back."

Manzarek shrugged. "We were planning to come back."

"Well, I was thinking, we could rehearse 6ut there."

Manzarek said nothing.

"We could get in a rehearsal, there's a Holiday Inn next door."

"We could do that," Manzarek said. "Or we could rehearse Sunday, in town."

"I guess so." Morrison paused. "Will the place be ready to rehearse Sunday?"

Manzarek looked at him for a while. "No," he said then.

I counted the control knobs on the electronic console. There were seventy-six. I was unsure in whose favor the dialogue had been resolved, or if it had been resolved at all. Robby Krieger picked at his guitar, and said that he needed a fuzz box. The producer suggested that he borrow one from the Buffalo Springfield, who were recording in the next studio. Krieger shrugged. Morrison sat down again on the leather couch and leaned back. He lit a match. He studied the flame awhile and then very slowly, very deliberately, lowered it to the fly of his black vinyl pants. Manzarek watched him. The girl who was rubbing Manzarek's shoulders did not look at anyone. There was a sense that no one was going to leave the room, ever. It would be some weeks before The Doors finished recording this album.I did not see it through.

(from Didion, Joan. The White Album. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

In Patagonia

Evidence of how windy it gets in Patagonia.

For a passage that describes the wind, the "distance" Chatwin keeps, as well as some questions at the end, click here.

Saturday, May 11, 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.

Spread out on the bed before me is a map of Patagonia, an area that comprises parts of Argentina and Chile, and whose name is derived from the name given by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1520 to the Patagónes he believed to be living there.

I never had much interest in Patagonia until I read Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia (1977), which begins with the author's life-long interest in the area based on a piece of dinosaur hide his grandmother kept in her living room cabinet. This is a book I re-read every couple of years for the brevity and clarity of its anecdotes.

Another book on Patagonia is Paul Theroux's The Old Patagonian Express (1979), which I read after Chatwin's. While I enjoyed this book as well, my favourite passages come at the beginning, as Theroux sets out to retrace the historic route from his home in Massachusetts, travelling on commuter trains through Boston and Chicago, before reaching the North American plains.

Friday, May 10, 2013


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Different Isaac

Leonard Cohen sings a song, tells a story, is spoken of, is interviewed and recites a poem. The story is reminiscent of a contemporaneous poem by Nova Scotia's Alden Nowlan, though instead of taking it to its inevitable end (as Nowlan does his poem), Cohen veers sideways, taking us elsewhere.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


On this day in 351 A.D. Jews revolted against an increasingly Christianizing Roman Empire in Palestine. The revolt was led by Isaac of Diocesarea, who, with others, stormed a Roman garrison, where they armed themselves before setting off on a killing spree that included not just Romans but Greeks and Samaritans. The revolt was put down the following year by Ursinicus, whose soldiers destroyed two of the rebel held cities, in addition to Diocesarea, which was razed to the ground. Thousands of Jews were killed. Many of them children.

Monday, May 6, 2013


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Fallen Blossoms

The cherry blossoms that bloomed along my street are down now. (The above photo courtesy of Utopia-X.)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Weird Postcards

Googled "weird postcards". These were the top three.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Three Postcards from Victoria

Raymond Boisjoly

Geoffrey Farmer

Julia Feyrer

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Postcard from Victoria

Some installation views of A Postcard from Victoria.
Click here for Morin & Dufour's video (and advance to 1:55).

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

An Essay from Victoria

Victoria is a place I will forever associate with my youth. Why I chose to come here for my university schooling, I am still not sure.

After high school, and a well-paying summer job slinging salmon on the Skeena River, I travelled through Europe and Northern Africa for six months, equipped with little more than a knapsack and rail passes, a non-stop dérive that had me moving from city to city, beach to beach, as if "pursued by furies," to quote Malcolm Lowry, happier to depart than arrive.

So how is it that, upon my return, I chose to root myself in a place so staid, so unadventurous, so invested in a repressive British past as Victoria?

When I come here now, I come as someone for whom this place is so well-suited to who I am today that it scares me. What made me this way? Have I always been this person, or have those earlier years made me so?

With the exhibition more or less installed, and the last media interview completed, I spent the remaining daylight hours driving through the southern half of the city, visiting my old abodes: the house in Fairfield, the one in James Bay, all the while marvelling at the care people take with their homes and gardens, how rich the soil is, the contentment on the faces of those passing by.

In many ways, Victoria is still the "sea of white faces" anthropologist Eric Wolf once said of it back in 1982, when, after taking the podium, he stared back at us with a mix of world-weariness and contempt, asking first, What can I tell you? before laying on us his depiction. The only other cities I know of that could be described this way are Belfast, Northern Ireland, and a town more recently fetishized in an Independent Film Channel comedy series, Portland, Oregon.

Perhaps this is what scares me: feeling comfortable in a city that happens to be among the world's whitest. At the same time, I have never felt more uncomfortable in a city than I have in Portland, Oregon -- for that very reason. Is it the difference between how the United States does homogeneity versus how it is done in Canada? Or is this simply the jet-lag talking?

Below is a draft of my exhibition essay:


The postcard is a nineteenth century invention attributed to Theodore Hook, a London-born man of letters who, in 1840, addressed to himself a piece of card that carried with it a hand-painted caricature of British postal workers on one side and the requisite Penny Black stamp on the other. The postcard was delivered, and from there the sending of postcards evolved into an equally requisite activity undertaken by a burgeoning class of travellers, a succinct way of reporting on ones adventures while conveying a picture that would have been taken had the traveller a camera, access to a photo lab and the time to wait for that picture to be developed. Today, the speed and relative affordability of travel is matched by technologies that allow us to take a picture with our phone, add a text message and send it in an instant, making the postcard less a redundancy than something twee and endearing, like the city of Victoria is said to be by those who visit it.

A Postcard from Victoria is an immersive exhibition that began during a 2010 Western Front Media Residency in Vancouver, where I came upon an archived 16-minute video entitled A Post Card from Victoria (1983) by the Montreal-based duo Robert Morin and Lorraine Dufour, who themselves participated in an earlier Western Front Media Residency that resulted in the video. In this picaresque docudrama we meet a middle-aged working class woman and recent émigré from Northern England. The video opens with her in Elizabethan dress outside a re-creation Anne Hathaway Cottage, after which we step back in time to her job interview with the cottage's more-English-than-thou owner. Following that, she leads a cottage tour, then takes high tea alone at the Edwardian-era Empress Hotel. From there, a tracking shot as she walks past increasingly impoverished houses to her bedsit, where she munches on leftovers while watching a newscast of growing tensions between the Social Credit provincial government and public sector employees. On three occasions -- at the cottage, at the Empress and at her home -- we see her sift through postcards, perhaps deliberating on which ones to send, and to whom (if at all).

Accompanying the video is a table, chair and place-setting from what is now the Fairmont Empress Hotel tea room positioned against the gallery's east wall, while on the wall above the table, behind a pane of glass, hangs an array of historic postcards (1900-1960) of the Empress from the Philip Francis Collection -- what is, at least from the array's central column, a view to where one takes tea as rendered by an artist from where the tea-taker might be looking. The final element in the exhibition, near the west wall, is a carousel that includes postcards that were for sale when Morin and Dufour made their video, interspersed with recently-commissioned postcards by artists asked to "interview" the video (just as the Northern English woman was interviewed by the owner of the cottage). The resultant postcards reflect the eerie quality of Morin and Dufour's work (Did you notice that when the maid pours the cottage-owner her tea, nothing comes out?). Raymond Boisjoly provides a lurid image of the video scanned from his smart phone; Julia Feyrer a staged still-life that implicates an infamous Victoria-set book from 1980 on satanic cults and repressed memory (Michelle Remembers); and Geoffrey Farmer a drawing of a ghost-like figure seated "within" an appropriated drawing of Anne Hathaway's Cottage at Warwickshire, England.

A further impetus for this exhibition is personal history. Prior to my move to Victoria in 1981, to attend university, I lived in the decreasingly British city of Vancouver, where I grew up with bittersweet tales of a Victoria told to me by my Shanghai-born Eurasian father, a boarder at what was then University School (now St. Michael's University School), where he was sent in 1946 as a ten-year-old after his family's wartime internment in Japanese-occupied China. These tales, coupled with my own experiences in a Victoria that anthropologist Eric Wolf once dismissed as a "sea of white faces" (at the opening of his 1982 University of Victoria lecture), have remained with me, and have informed my thinking on a range of topics, such as colonialism, hegemony, historical memory, entitlement, repression, racism, the occult, social class and identity. This is not to say that I hold a dim view of Victoria, for in many ways it was the absence of what I experienced in this city (a lack of diversity and self-reflexivity) that allowed for a figure-ground view that, through difference, informs how I experience the world today.

While I continue to see traces of the "old" British Empire Victoria (as a tourist once again), I also see a city that, like most cities now, operates less on its own terms (in "splendid isolation," to use a phrase once associated with late-19th century British foreign policy) than one that bears the mark of a de-centralized "Empire" driven by global market forces and its ghostly flow of capital, to which we are all subject, whether we refuse that world or not. Interestingly enough, this shift towards a global market economy, aided by government deregulation (like that initiated by the Social Credit provincial government of the early 1980s), was in full swing when Morin and Dufour made their video. Although the effects of this transition are not always visible, they can be "seen", most notably in the recent history of the Fairmont Empress Hotel, where, in 1999, the Canadian Pacific added "Fairmont" to all their hotels (after their acquisition of San Francisco's Fairmont), and in 2006 when CP sold those hotels to Saudi Arabia's Kingdom Hotels International. Of course to know this is not to see it but to seek it, to ghost-hunt it, as it were; and it is this ghostliness that artists Raymond Boisjoly, Geoffrey Farmer and Julia Feyrer have both captured and reflected in their postcards.