Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Jordanian Sunrise

Time-lapse sunrise, with time-code.

Monday, December 30, 2013

"holes of cultural experimentation"

As mentioned in yesterday's post, "One" was written by Harry Nilsson. Though an accomplished songwriter, Nilsson was also a great interpreter. One of his biggest hits was his rendition of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'", which was the signature song for a film I have posted on in the past, Midnight Cowboy (1969).

Before it was a film, Midnight Cowboy was a novel written by one James Leo Herlihy (1927-1993), a lesser known figure (at least these days) who lived a remarkable life and whose Wikipedia page is a start. 

Something I learned about Herlihy was that during the 1960s he spent six months travelling the United States visiting communes, from which he concluded that the "holes of cultural experimentation" that the communal experience provides would one day "bring forth new cities and the state will become servant to the communal structure."

This augurs with some of what I have been thinking about lately concerning the impossible city of Vancouver, which is cruel to its youth, particularly those interested not in (market) certainty but in (cultural) ambiguity. If these people were to leave Vancouver for its forested edges, might they be the ones to lay the foundation for the cities Herlihy is referring to? I hope so. Because as things stand, something's got to give.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

One (1968)

"One" was written after its author, Harry Nilsson, made a phone call to a friend and found the line to be busy (hence the repetition of the opening note). Like the song in yesterday's post, "One" has been recorded by numerous artists, but the version most of us are familiar with is by Three Dog Night.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

One Tin Soldier (1969)

This song was written two years after Steve Marriott and Denny Lane wrote the song from yesterday's post. Although "One Tin Soldier" has been recorded many times, it was Coven's version that appeared in the film Billy Jack (1971), whose titular character, played by the remarkable Tom Laughlin (who also co-wrote and directed the film), passed away sixteen days ago at the age of 82.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Tin Soldier (1967)

At the 102:18 mark of the film I posted yesterday a younger member of the town says to the matriarch, "Old One, I am coming into your mind," and in that moment I was reminded of what Small Faces singer/songwriter Steve Marriott once said of the song "Tin Soldier" (1967):

"The meaning of the song is about getting into somebody's mind - not their body. It refers to a girl I used to talk to all the time and she really gave me a buzz. The single was to give her a buzz in return and maybe other people as well. I dig it. There's no great message really and no physical scenes"

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The People (1972)

I love the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. Regular patterns disintegrate, time slows.

As a child, my parents and their friends hosted open houses at Christmas. While the parents partied, the children gathered in the den to watch the films the networks showed at that time of year -- The Wizard of Oz, Lawrence of Arabia, A Christmas Carol (the one starring Alastair Sim as "Scrooge").

Nowadays we are free to construct our own schedules, and for my part I search the internet for the made-for-TV films I watched (or begged to watch) on school nights, in particular those presented by the American Broadcasting Company through their ABC Movie-of-the-Week series.

The film above is one that has stayed with me all these years -- The People.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Song

One of the many singles Jethro Tull recorded that found its way onto their Living in the Past (1972) double-album.

"A Christmas Song" is followed by the album's title track, one of the few songs in the time signature of 5/4 that found its way onto the popular charts.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Cheryl Siegel

For the past couple of Christmases I have posted a picture of the seasonal tree that librarian Cheryl Siegel displays at the Vancouver Art Gallery library from Hanukkah into the New Year.

But this year I wanted to post a picture of Cheryl, and in doing so scanned the web for something that might give a sense of her grace, wit, intelligence and beauty. (Oh, but if you could hear her voice! Her low and slow contralto! Cheryl Siegel is to my mind the sexiest person in Vancouver.)

Here is Cheryl working her magic with 100-year-old artist John Koerner at the Burnaby Art Gallery for the launch of his latest book, Now & Before: John Koerner: Drawings & Observations (2013).

Seasons Greetings to you both!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Five-Letter Word for a Unit of Snow

Yesterday marked the first snowfall of the year.

(No two crossword puzzles are alike.)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Walter Scott

Literary representations of the contemporary art world have been with us awhile now. For my generation it is Tama Janowitz's novel Slaves of New York (1986); for those born in the 1980s it is Walter Scott's comic series Wendy (2011-).

Earlier this year I was introduced to Walter at a VAG opening, where I learned he had recently moved to Vancouver and was preparing an exhibition that opened this fall at Macaulay & Co. This too was a notable show.

Comprised equally of spare free-standing sculpture and wall works that mix minimal and figurative motifs, Scott's show bears little resemblance to the shallow cartoon art world he is not so much satirizing but "relocating" from reality to the illustrated page. But what stood out first, at least for this viewer, was the recurrence of a safety colour we associate with traffic control: orange. (Walter is Kahnawake Mohawk and grew up amidst the Oka Standoff.) Also in evidence are shapes and textures that conspire to form masks and screens, most of which are, in some form, open (or opening).

Perhaps it is the relative openness of these objects that has allowed the gallery artist to emerge from behind the comic book author who depicts those anxious to engage in such a world -- fictive artists like "Wendy". But whatever the case, I expect we will be hearing more from Walter in the coming years.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Best Ofs

Normally I shy away from participating in year-end "Best Of" lists. But because much of what I see throughout the year does not make it into my writing, "Best Of"s (at their best) allow us to revisit notable events in what has become a genre all its own.

Three exhibitions I did not write reviews on, but felt worthy of attention, were posted today on Canadian Art's online joint. Another exhibition I enjoyed very much was Isa Genzken at Galerie Buchholz in April.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Crowds and Flowers

Molly (Lamb) Bobak was born in Vancouver in 1922, the daughter of the ineffable Harold Mortimer-Lamb, who is the subject of a current exhibition at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. Bobak studied with Jack Shadbolt at the Vancouver School of Art before eventually settling in New Brunswick, where she took a teaching position.

Crowds and flowers are two of Bobak's favourite subjects. I have always believed that her poor eyesight might have contributed to her seeing in these subjects more similarities than differences. For example, I too have looked down at certain kinds of crowds and seen flowers, just as I have looked down at certain kinds of flowers and seen crowds.

The painting above is entitled The Rink (1960). Although a static view of skaters, Bobak is skilled enough to convey the sensation of something turning. This is all many of us aspire to in life -- to "feel to be a cog in something turning," as Joni Mitchell once sang in her effort to describe a rather crowded event she skipped in favour of appearing on a more flowery television talk show.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


I am not disposed to the post-1970s paintings of Gordon Smith, but I will look twice when I come upon one, particularly those whose season is winter.

Although Creekside Grasses, #1 (2009) does not have its season in its title, we know it is winter, just as we know that the artist is in the winter years of his long and remarkable life.

For me this pairing of age and season is a resonant one, just as a child's drawing of a flower will sometimes have me turning the paper this way and that, in search of the flower that I am told is there.

Below are two drawings by children, both of which have flowers in them, both of which come from an essay on childhood grief that was published in the American Medical Associations Journal of Ethics.

The first drawing is by Sienna. The accompanying inscription reads:

Ella in heaven giving flowers to God next to a rainbow, with the sun and clouds in the sky and a big yellow and green flower. Ella has wings and a halo and is wearing slippers!

The second drawing is by Dawson.

Ella in heaven with a big, hot sun, 2 (red) clouds above her, with grass, a black flower, and a red tree below her. Ella has wings and a halo and toes!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Moth in the Woods (1975)

Jack Shadbolt is one of British Columbia's great moderns, a link between Emily Carr and the abstracted landscape painters that have survived him, a group that includes Gordon Smith, who is still painting at 94 years of age.

Shadbolt's Moth in the Woods (1975) is notable for its inclusion of the northwest coast formline motif in the wings of its insect. In another Shadbolt painting, the triptych known as Leopard Moth (1977), we have evidence of our province's other most enduring motif -- the geodesic.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


In the early 19th century, the dominant moth in Northern England was the peppered moth. In 1848, a black moth was discovered in Manchester. By 1895, all but 5% of Manchester's moths were black.

In 1956, British Parliament passed the Clean Air Act. In the years that followed, black and peppered moth populations declined, while the white moth population grew.

Saturday, December 14, 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.

All morning long I watched a moth on the wall above the door, waiting for it to move. Eventually I drew the blinds, turned off the light and counted sixty seconds in my head before turning on the light again.


Nothing but time passed.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Language and Communication

In September of 1983 I returned to Vancouver from Port Edward, B.C., where I had for the previous four summers slung fish at a Skeena River salmon cannery. Rather than proceed from there to Victoria, to resume my studies at UVic, I decided to take a half year off and give more thought to my major, which had me leaning towards the Faculty of Human and Social Development, and from there to UBC to pursue a Masters of Social Work.

Jobs in social services were difficult to come by in those days, but because my summer cannery job staked me, I was open to volunteering. And that's what I did -- taking an "Auxiliary" position at The Lookout emergency services shelter on Alexander Street, where I was tasked with chaperoning residents to Vancouver Canucks hockey games at the Pacific Coliseum.

Something I noticed between my time at The Lookout and my time living around the corner at 441 Powell (1987-1994) was an increase in the number of people with mental disorders, a situation that was exacerbated by a provincial Social Credit government that, like the Reagan administration in the United States, had closed public institutions that cared for the mentally and physical ill -- not because these institutions were inhumane (as they said they were) but because they were costly. While it is fine to close down institutions because they are inhumane (they are), it is not fine to do so without supplying community support, something the SoCreds and the Reagan administration grossly underfunded.

Mental illness was on my mind this morning after reading about the fellow who provided sign language at the Nelson Mandela memorial. As reported in the Daily Mail, the signer was "a fake;" his movements, according to South Africa's Deaf Federation, had "no meaning." When this fellow was asked to account for himself, he replied that he had suffered a "schizophrenic" episode, and was sorry. Is he worthy of our forgiveness. Of course he is. In fact, my forgiveness comes in the same breath as my forgiveness of Nelson Mandela's great-granddaughter Pumla, whose preference for "disorientated" over "disoriented" reminded me why I chose linguistics over social work, and my eventual major -- anthropology.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Oppenheimer Park

On the south side of the 400-block Powell is Oppenheimer Park (the picture above looks northeast). Opened in 1902 on land donated by Vancouver Mayor David Oppenheimer, the park served most notably as the home field for the Asahi baseball team (1914-1941), as well as a congregation point for those protesting police brutality (Bloody Sunday, 1938). After World War II, the park became the home of Vancouver's longest-running community celebration (the Powell Street Festival, 1977-), but also a launching point for the city's crack cocaine trade (1987-).

Last spring I was invited by artist Juan Manuel Sepúlveda to view some of the remarkable footage he shot at this park, towards a video he is making as a Master of Fine Arts candidate at Simon Fraser University's School for the Contemporary Arts. Though Sepúlveda's video is not yet complete, it will eventually join a growing number of recently-produced long-form videos made by Vancouver artists such as Isabelle Pauwels and Dan Starling, all of whom enlist the city not as a generic location, but as a specific place in time.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Crossing Powell (1984)

The picture above was made by Fred Herzog and is entitled Crossing Powell (1984). The section of Powell Street is the 400 block, at the northwest corner of Powell and Jackson.

Crossing Powell is among Herzog's finest pictures (the shadow cast is from sunlight reflected from the building behind the crosser) and was supposed to provide the cover image of the book that Grant Arnold and I helped to make for Herzog's 2007 Vancouver Art Gallery exhibition, but was vetoed by those in sales. Instead, we have a picture of this Granville Street chicken hawk, what is comfortably known as Flaneur (1959).

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Tale of Two Kidnappings

Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave (2013) has just ended its first month in wide release. Much has been written on this film, with more writing to come, I am sure. The same might be said of its viewership, which will only accelerate once the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences releases its 2014 award nominations.

I am relatively late to this film and had not read much about it prior to seeing it on Saturday. That said, I am familiar with McQueen's work, though less as a feature film director than as a visual artist who places his film-based works in museums. For those who have seen McQueen's feature films and are curious about his museum works, consider the scene where "Solomon" is left on his tip-toes with a noose around his neck as the kind of looping film-based installation you might find under McQueen's name in a museum.

Another example of what a visual artist like McQueen is capable of, as opposed to a feature film director like, say, Martin Scorsese, takes place in the cotton fields, where we see the hands of slave pickers and the cotton they have been ordered to pick. For it is here that the hands of "Patsy" reveal her to be not necessarily a harder worker than "Solomon" (whose hands have been trained to play the violin), but someone in possession of a greater skill than the men and women she picks with.

This detail functions as a seasoning in 12 Years a Slave, particularly when we step back from the close-ups to see "Patsy" standing with the other slaves at the end of the working day, where her totals are always the highest (and growing higher), with the lowest taken outside for a whipping. This same motivational method is employed by our province's wealthiest businessman, Jimmy Pattison, who, as a used car dealer, would fire his lowest-selling salesperson at the end of each month -- and boast about it.

When it comes to cotton-picking production, "Patsy" never receives a whipping -- her skill protects her from that. But could it be said that it is this skill that transforms her from a rather plain-looking woman into an object of desire by a slave-owner whose reputation is based on his ability to get the most from his slaves? This is something I wrestled with upon leaving the theatre, something that kept me dumb while others in the lobby were attempting to verbally trace the complexities of this most extraordinary film.

In order to answer the question of the slave-owner's obsession with "Patsy", I returned to the question of the slave-owner -- who he is and what he wants. If it is not "Patsy"'s skill, is it her skill's negation of his prowess as an accelerator of slave productivity that has him not only sexually penetrating her every night but strangling her within an inch of her life as well (to say nothing of the whipping she receives later for telling the truth, where "Solomon", on the other hand, has avoided his by lying)? Is this man's motivation based on sexual gratification or protecting his reputation as a slave labour innovator, or are the two conflated to the point where they are one in the same? 

What drives men of industry? What do they want?

Tonight I will be responding to visual artist Dan Starling's The Kidnapper's Opera (2013), a feature-length video that will be screened at the Pacific Cinematheque at 7PM. Like McQueen's film, The Kidnapper's Opera is structured more like a book of lyric poetry than a narrative fiction novel. Both are based on a kidnapping: in 12 Years a Slave, "Solomon" is kidnapped in the (free) North and sold in the South, while in The Kidnapper's Tale, it is the 1990 kidnapping of Pattison's daughter that provides Starling's title its singular possessive noun.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

441 Powell Street

On Friday I attended a press conference regarding the City-ordered demolition of a 122-year-old building at 441 Powell Street. The conference was organized by Instant Coffee, a "service-oriented artist collective," who, at present, rent the building's storefront and a portion of its rear space from the Ming Sun Reading Room, a benevolent society who, among other things, operate in the upstairs portion an eight-room boardinghouse for recent immigrants.

What has hastened this demolition is concern that the building is unsafe and could collapse at any moment, much like the building that once stood directly to the east of it (451 Powell), which was torn down rather quickly this past summer based on a structural problem that the City, in a fit of operative hysteria, deemed irreparable. Of course another version has it that the City is eager to get rid of these two-storey non-profits so that it can issue building permits to developers who will build in their place a larger denser form of market housing, and thereby supply the City with wealthier tenants who will presumably consume more high end products and contribute more money to the local economy.

From 1987 to 1994 I lived in a somewhat comfier version of the space that Instant Coffee currently occupies, and from my doorstep saw the neighbourhood through a number of changes, from an area shared by small Asian-Canadian businesses, seasonal resource workers (mostly men in SROs) and social service agencies, to one increasingly populated by those at risk (mental illness, drug addiction), to say nothing of those who prey upon them (pimps, drug dealers). Throughout this time the area also attracted artists and activists who, because their work is undervalued in our market society, cannot afford to live anywhere else.

Although much was conveyed at this one hour press conference, something that stuck with me came from current Ming Sun Reading Room member David Wong, who spoke of the cultural services that his organization and its building provide, which he likened to a "museum," one that, through below-market rent, "subsidizes" those who live and work there. Indeed, it was in this building's storefront that the artist Alan Storey devised what is arguably one of the most popular works of publicly-accesible art this city has ever known: Broken Column (1987). For my part, it was in this same storefront that I wrote my first two books, the first of which, Company Town (1991), is the story of a dying salmon cannery town on the northwest coast of B.C.; the second, about a punk rock band called Hard Core Logo (1993).

But of all the artists who have occupied this space, I am thankful that it is Instant Coffee who are there now. For I cannot think of anyone in the artistic community with the means and the wherewithal to bring to light what this building has contributed to the local ecology, but also to make a case for its survival and continuation in the face of a municipal government (regardless of its political stripe) who, like the provincial Social Credit government of the early-1980s, seem intent on transitioning Vancouver from a place where people live (a city) to one where people visit (a resort). 

Saturday, December 7, 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.

The racket outside is a musical figure, part of a larger work. A hammer pings until its nail is flush. Then it makes a deeper, more painful sound. From another source: the crunch of wood. Destruction.

A house gets a dormer, while the one beside it -- a better example of its kind -- is razed. In its place, two larger houses with a front lawn the size of a doormat.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Renovation Conversation

FRIDGE: What do you make of the reno?

STOVE: What does it matter, they're getting new appliances.

FRDIGE: Fom an aesthetic point of view.

STOVE: As opposed to what, a personal point of view? A stove's opinion?

FRIDGE: The ceiling came out well. 

STOVE: The ceiling can go to hell for all I'm concerned.

ESPRESSO POT: I'm staying. 

STOVE: No one's talking to you.

ESPRESSO POT: Yes, but I'm staying. They said.

STOVE: The only consolation in all this is that what they once did in the kitchen, they are now doing in the bathroom.

FRIDGE: When your bathroom becomes your kitchen, is it a "kathroom" or a "bitchen"?

ESPRESSO POT: It's a bitchen!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"Everything included, no contra[c]t"

From eBay Classifieds comes this bedsit in Hialeah, Florida, a densely-populated, largely Cuban municipality within Miami-Dade County. Here is the description:

PROMOTIONAL RATE: Deposit- $55-$65 Daily Rent- $55-$65 Weekly Rent- $195- $295 Monthly- $645-$795 We have 3 locations: 100 E 17 St Hialeah, FL 33010 903 W 1 Avenue Hialeah, FL 33010 508 W 1 Avenue Hialeah, FL 33010 PLEASE CALL: 786-370-3394 786-370-5074 786-355-2817 Stay as long as you like, no contracts, everything included. Please call 786-344-2546 or 786-370-3394 or 786-370-5074

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"You Just Gotta Listen"

From the bedroom to the boardroom. Or in this case, command control. Tom Cruise busting a move in Tropic Thunder (2008).

Monday, December 2, 2013

"Look At My Shit"

In this instance of actor improvisation, James Franco bursts from a feature-film with his bedside poem about violence, accumulation and "looking":

This is my fuckin' dream, y'all.

All this shit.

Look at my shit.

I got -- I got shorts. Ev'ry fuckin' colour.

I got designer t-shirts.

I got gold bullets.

Motherfuckin' vampires.

I got Scarface on repeat.

Scarface on repeat -- constant, y'all.

I got "Escape". Clavin Klein "Escape".

Mix that shit up with Calvin Klein "Be" -- smell nice. I smell nice.

And a fuckin' bed that's a fuckin' art piece.

My fuckin' space ship. U.S.S. Enterprise on this shit. I go to different planets on this motherfucker.

Me and my fuckin' Franklins here -- we take off. Fuckin' take off.

Look at my shit. Look at my shit.

I got my Blue Kube.

I got my fuckin' nunchuka.

I got shurikens.

I got different flavours.

I got them -- I got them scythes.

Gimme that shit -- I got scythes, I got blades.

Look at my shit. This ain't nothin'. I got -- I got rooms of this shit.

I got my dark tanning oil. Lay out by the pool, put on my dark tanning oil.

Machine guns.

Look at this, look at this motherfucker here. Look at this motherfucker, huh?

A fuckin' army up in this shit.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"I pose in loving memory"

Between 1940 and 1980 (roughly the life span of John Lennon), Quentin Crisp (1908-1999) lived in a bedsit at 129 Beaufort Street, London, after which he moved to New York City, where he lived until his death in 1999.

Crisp was amongst a growing legion of effeminate men who appeared in the popular media when I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s, a group that included Truman Capote and Andy Warhol, both of whom came to attention through their artistic accomplishments.

But apart from a popular memoir, Crisp spent most of his working life as an artist's model, until his arrival in New York City, where he performed one-man shows and made himself available to whomever wanted to buy him dinner.

Crisp's Wikipedia entry is a good one, and if you click here, you will come upon observations like this:

I always thought Diana was such trash and got what she deserved. She was Lady Diana before she was Princess Diana so she knew the racket. She knew that royal marriages have nothing to do with love. You marry a man and you stand beside him on public occasions and you wave and for that you never have a financial worry until the day you die.

And then upon word of her death:

She could have been Queen of England – and she was swanning about Paris with Arabs. What disgraceful behaviour! Going about saying she wanted to be the queen of hearts. The vulgarity of it is so overpowering.