Friday, October 31, 2014

The Centre of the Universe

Fifty kilometres east of Kamloops is the Vidette Lake Gold Mine Resort. To Tibetan Buddhist monks, the area overlooking the lake (from where this picture was taken) is known as the Centre of the Universe. The  Secwepemc have their own names for these places.

Here is how Tourism Kamloops introduces the Centre of the Universe:

There are many interesting sites you can visit in the Kamloops area and one of them is a short trip to the Centre of the Universe. The experience at the Centre of the Universe is not an attraction as you may think of one. This is a very spiritual place where people will come away with an experience based very much on what they believe in. Do not expect admission turnstiles and hotdog stands or souvenir shops. It is a quiet, rustic and isolated spot and we recommend that visitors do some research prior to visiting to have realistic expectations of what they will see and experience.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Doubletree by Hilton

Now that the province has raised the speed limit to 120 kph, getting somewhere also means getting there faster. What was once a four hour drive to Kamloops is now closer to three-and-a-half -- this despite torrential rains.

Tomorrow marks the opening of Luminocity, Kamloops Art Gallery's foray into public art programming. Although Luminocity is scheduled to run all week, I am only here for the weekend, primarily to review Khan Lee's latest video (for Canadian Art), but also to partake in Instant Coffee's Pink Noise.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Stangers On a Train

Tonight at 7PM the Langara College English Department kicks off Strangers On a Train, a monthly reading series at the Railway Club. On the bill are Raj Grewal, Mariner James, Sarah Selecky and yours truly.

Not sure what I will read, but in the "something borrowed" category, most likely a piece I subtracted (from) after a recent tour through the Okanagan.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)

It is not what Linus wrote in his letter, but how he sent it.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Lou Reed Tribute

Last month, while crossing Main Street at East Broadway, I noticed a hand-drawn, black-and-white poster for a Lou Reed Tribute concert. The poster did not list the names of those involved, but provided info for those interested in taking part.

Later that day I received an email from Dallas Brodie, someone I had known since Grade Three but lost contact with after graduation, asking if I would contribute to her event -- a Lou Reed Tribute concert.

In considering Dallas's request, I put on the Lou Reed album that means the most to me, the one Reed penned but walked out on before it was completed -- the Velvet Underground's Loaded (1970).

As most Velvet fans know, not all of the tracks on this album feature Reed on lead vocals, including my favourite song, the one I was thinking of performing -- "Who Loves the Sun".

In thinking further about this album, I began to think about the different ways to approach my contribution. The one I decided on is to perform the text from "Sharkey's Day" by Reed's partner, Laurie Anderson.

Also participating in this event is another school chum of ours, Phil Comparelli, who will act as musical director. For years Phil was a member of 54.40, until his retirement in 2005.

The Lou Reed Tribute will be held tomorrow Monday October 27th, 7PM - 9PM at 3289 Main Street.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Vancouver Opera's Production of Stickboy

At bottom is the result of five hours of thinking, reading and writing (10PM - 3AM), what I submitted and what was published in today's Globe and Mail. The only difference between the text at bottom and the text in the paper is a correction I made (my fault) to Paragraph 6: it is Act One to which I refer, not Act Two.

Music by Neil Weisensel
Libretto by Shane Koyczan
Performed by Vancouver Opera
At the Vancouver Playhouse
Thursday Night

An opera about a boy bullied for his chubbiness should have no problem casting its lead. A bigger problem lies in assembling a cast slender enough to keep him from blending in. No difference, no problem, right? But bullying is more complex than that, and if there is a prescription for this social problem, it might be found not in what sticks out on life's playground, but in our relationship to stereotypes -- such as the one that has opera singers as chubby. 

Understanding the construction and perpetuation of stereotypes is among the challenges that face Vancouver Opera's adaptation of librettist Shane Koyczan's 2008 novel-in-verse Stickboy: Does this production simply supply us with a feel-good recovery narrative, populated by stock characters, one suitable for all audiences? Or does it attempt to convey the more complicated interior conversation of its source material?  

The Boy at the centre of this opera is not the Stickboy but the conductor of an internal chorus made up of inner selves with whom The Boy converses. We meet him first at the schoolyard, where he is walloped by Chris, a bully two years his senior. The attack (one could hardly call it a fight) is broken up by the Old Man, a war veteran who, after a few too many recitative lines, takes The Boy home to his sympathetic Grandmother and remains with them as she tends The Boy's wounds.

The visual transition from schoolyard battleground to kitchen triage is slight, aided by the Playhouse's revolving stage and coloured by the equally spare story book animation of Giant Ant, whose manic images are projected onto three window-to-the-mind-style screens. As is the case with more-recent North American operas, where historical periods (Romantic, Modern) stand in for mood (sadness, anger), composer Neil Weisensel's score is similarly patterned, though in its fluidity it often feels more like design than art.

But it is the relationship between The Boy, played to perfection by lyric tenor Sunny Shams, and his Grandmother, mezzo Megan Latham, that lifts this production and provides us our love story. Although little is asked of them musically (apart from a soaring duet in Act Three), their union benefits from recurrent scenes where the two exchange notes under The Boy's bedroom door, with their cursive texts projected onto the screens as if written by the melisma of their vocal lines.

As for the remainder of Act One, The Boy returns to school and is again attacked by Chris, after which he discovers the word FATASS written on his locker. "Maybe if you lost some weight," the Janitor intones. But it gets worse. Upon entering class, The Boy is harassed by his fellow students, then blamed by his Teacher for provoking them. When the Principal asks The Boy who defaced his locker, he refuses to say, and is given a detention -- with Chris. Once home, The Boy punches his bedroom wall. Following that, he receives the first of his grandmother's notes.

Unlike the Old Man and his Grandmother, who rescue and console him, the Janitor, the Teacher and the Principal blame him. This is where Koyczan's libretto threatens to transcend the stock characterization and stereotypes associated with more hyperbolic operatic roles, revealing the libertarian side of the "personal responsibility" argument that has come to infiltrate our schools and those we elect to fund them. Nowhere is this argument more manifest than in the United States, where one of its biggest lobby groups has as its slogan: "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."

And so it is in Act Two that The Boy, amidst further debasements, becomes acquainted with his Grandfather's gun. However, despite his attempt to take the gun to school, the gesture is just as quickly diffused by his Grandmother who, in a riveting passage, declares that neither The Boy nor the gun will be leaving the house because "We are sick today." Although this would have made a fine end to Act Two, this time it is the energy of that passage that is diffused through the Grandmother's subsequent attempt at a teaching moment.

Act Three begins with the Grandmother announcing to The Boy that they are moving. Things go well at first -- until a classmates teases The Boy and he explodes, beating him up. Thus the bullied becomes the bully, and in confronting his new status we meet the Stickboy inside him, an equally explosive daemon who, through self-mutilation, causes The Boy more harm than before, until he ends up in the hospital.

Rather than contrive the situation towards a triumphant end, the opera concludes not with an aria but with The Boy speaking to the audience directly, like the disembodied Narrator at the beginning. Only this time the tense has shifted -- to the present. "I can only tell you how it feels," he says. And in telling us without song, he returns us to its source.

Friday, October 24, 2014

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.

Awoke late this morning -- from a late night of writing. Cannot remember the last time I had a nine hour deadline, but that was the case. I got home from the opera at 10PM, and had until 7AM to hand in my review.

Strange thoughts visit the writer after 2AM, and some of them found their way into my piece. We shall see what survives the edit, what evidence remains of my haunting.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"evolving visual landscape"

For Philip Guston, the "evolving visual landscape" led him from figurative painting, to abstract painting, to a hybrid of the two -- not merely figuration, as many suggest.

Earlier this year we noted a similar evolution in the painting of Elizabeth McIntosh, as featured in an exhibition Mina Totino curated at Equinox Gallery, entitled Persian Rose, Chartreuse Muse, Vancouver Grey.

A painting included in this exhibition is McIntosh's The Girl (2014):

When I first saw this work, I recognized it as a McIntosh painting for its use of colour, its attention to line and form -- this despite the presence of a figure.

After Guston debuted his figurative paintings in 1970, critics turned on him. Guston, who was clearly bothered by this, withdrew from the art scene, but continued to paint. A painting he made some years later was of the composer Morton Feldman, a friend who turned on him after he changed his style.

Here is Guston's Friend -- to M.F. (1978):

Although I would never suggest that the figure in McIntosh's The Girl is someone who turned away from the artist after her introduction of a figure into her painting, one wonders if in the midst of such a painting she might have considered for a moment what had happened to Guston.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Press Release

In 1963, the Jewish Museum in Brooklyn gave us Towards a New Abstraction, an influential exhibition that featured Dan Flavin's first light tubes. Now, some fifty years later, the museum invites us to a panel discussion entitled What's At Stake For Abstract Painting Today -- and Where Do We Go From Here?

The panel, led by Bob Nickas, includes artists Joanne Greenbaum, Philip Taaffe, and Stanely Whitney. It asks:

Why, at a time when there is greater interest in abstraction, is so much art seemingly unconcerned with evolving the visual landscape? And why is so much of it embraced by collectors, and not by critics and curators? Perhaps one question answers the other. This panel considers: What's at stake for abstract painting today.

When much of what we see today isn't actually painted, claims to be conceptual, borders on design, eagerly lends itself to branding, and, self-satisfied to have been quote/unquote emptied of meaning, provides an inoffensive backdrop to an endless succession of art fairs and auctions. Of one point we are certain: there is nothing in any way abstract about this recent turn of events.

Reading through this description, one cannot help but ask: Are the questions raised based in reality? Is there a greater interest in abstraction?

I would say no more than usual.

Of this abstraction, is it "seemingly unconcerned with the evolving visual landscape?" If the question of an abstraction "embraced by collectors, and not by critics and artists[,]" constitutes an aspect of the "evolving visual landscape" (not so much the abstract work of art, but its function as a flag of conquest in the private spaces of collectors), then I would say, as much as art can be "concerned" with anything, its makers and agents are very much aware of -- and indeed contribute to -- this "evolving visual landscape."

To ask, "What's at stake for abstract painting today?" is (Eli) broad enough.

The sentence that leads off the second paragraph leads nowhere. Shouldn't it be placed before the sentence that ends the paragraph before it? As in:

This panel considers: What's at stake for abstract painting today[, w]hen much of what we see today isn't actually painted, claims to be conceptual, borders on design, eagerly lends itself to branding, and, self-satisfied to have been quote/unquote emptied of meaning, provides an inoffensive backdrop to an endless succession of art fairs and auctions[?]

As for the final sentence, let me rewrite that one too:

Of one point we are certain: there is nothing in any way abstract [about my reading of this press release].

Saturday, October 18, 2014

"red water in the swimming pool from some mysterious source of rust"

Arthur Erickson's "Graham House" was something of a marvel when it debuted in 1963, a work inspired by the Villa d'Este near Rome. But the house suffered birth defects; and though the original budget was $35,000, it ballooned to over twice that.

In his biography of Erickson, Stouck provides details of a letter David Graham wrote to project manager Garry Hanson in 1966 that cite "nine major problems and omissions," which include "stains throughout the house, unlevel beams, and red water in the swimming pool from some mysterious source of rust."

But the house endured, until it fell into disrepair in the late-1980s. In December 2007 it was torn down.

Friday, October 17, 2014


In his biography of Arthur Erickson, David Stouck devotes space to the architect's lecture at the closing of the 1963 Festival of the Contemporary Arts at UBC: "In North America, Arthur reminded his audience, the most present visual symbols were power poles rather than church steeples, the traffic exchanges rather than the pedestrian space. Where to find the indigenous forms that were waiting to be discovered and transformed was the specific questions he posed for his audience. Architectural form is eloquent only in context, he said, and in a poetic vein continued: 'The act of siting betrays to us the tenor of human aspirations, the shape of God, and the worth of man.'" (p.179)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

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.

At my bedside table, a copy of David Stouck's biography of the architect Arthur Erickson, who affected me at the memorial for art historian and curator Doris Shadbolt some eleven years ago, when he said, "We have lost the ability to converse with one another, have conversations."

This was a comment that brought to mind a line from Evelyn Waugh's novel The Loved One (1948), when Sir Francis Hinsley, sitting in the fading light of his backyard in West Hollywood, and on the topic of Americans, turns to the younger Barlow and says: "Always remember that, dear boy. It's the secret of social ease in this country. They talk entirely for their own pleasure. Nothing they say is designed to be heard."

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Stranger Song (1967)

  1. a person whom one does not know or with whom one is not familiar.
    "don't talk to strangers"
    • a person who does not know, or is not known in, a particular place or community.
      "I'm a stranger in these parts"
      synonyms:newcomer, new arrival, visitoroutsidernewbie
      "they were taught to fear strangers"
    • a person entirely unaccustomed to (a feeling, experience, or situation).
      "he is no stranger to controversy"
      synonyms:unaccustomed to, unfamiliar with, unused to, new to, fresh to,inexperienced in; 
      archaicstrange to
      "I'm afraid I'm a stranger to these automated methods"

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Andrew Keen

Still thinking about Kaja Silverman's talk the other night. Specifically her thesis: how photography has always been with us, even before its invention.

Yesterday morning I listened to a CBC radio interview with Andrew Keen on the latest phenomenon in our "sharing" economy: Uber. But it was what Keen said at the outset that stuck with me: how the internet's lack of regulation -- or rather, the lack of regulation at some of its "sharing" sites (from uploaded music to airbnb) -- has nasty consequences. Not just for artists whose work is distributed without remuneration, but for Uber users who think nothing of stepping into a stranger's car.

Although I have yet to read the details of Silverman's argument, it seems her idea of photography, or the photographic, involves a particular set of criteria that we are unaccustomed to associating with the medium.

When the question of criteria is applied to the internet, I am now thinking of it less as an "information super highway," as it was originally billed, or a robot-patrolled surveillance/data accumulation service, as it has become, but as a celebration of the (government) deregulation that took root in the west in the mid-to-late-1970s, which resulted in attacks on the welfare state and, ultimately, what comforts us when we think of democracy: electing representatives to look after our best basic human needs -- with empathy and compassion.

Perhaps what I am saying sounds naive, a duh moment, as it were, but that is how I am now thinking of the internet: not as a game-filled free playground, but an advertisement for a libertarian tomorrow. That this advertisement might feature a smart phone, a stranger's car and a road to hell is wholly apropos.

Friday, October 10, 2014

View from the Window at Le Gras (1826 or 1827)

The Gernsheims' 1950s retouch of View from the Window at La Gras.

Fontcuberta's 2005 Googlegram version.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

"Unstoppable Development"

Kaja Silverman's talk last night was from the second chapter of her upcoming book The Miracle of Analogy, to be published in February, 2015 by Stanford University Press. The title of her talk was "Unstoppable Development".

As one might expect with a second chapter, the talk was less an introduction to the propositional content of her book than a series of descriptions in support of its assertions (that the world has always known photography, even before its invention).

As such, Silverman began by taking us back to our first "photograph": Niépce's View from the Window at Le Gras (1826 or 27). From there she pressed forward, through Daguerre and Fox Talbot, all the while returning to Niépce's picture in language both lush and inspiring.

Like Lucy Lippard, Silverman is seamless in her presentation of her writings and the writings of others, so much so that at times I lost track of who said what.

Looking through my notes this morning, I noticed a number of unattributed quotes.

"Objects moving are not impressed."

"Nature in motion is not represented."

"Every disclosure is a concealment."

"…until photography was chemically stabilized."

"When the houses are finished the trees are not."

"Vacillating objects made indistinct pictures."

"Faded before the eyes of the nations assembled."

"Drawn with the pencil of Nature."

"Archival noise."

"The human psyche is another place where the photographic image develops."

Let's see what happens when I feed these lines to Google.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Kaja Silverman

Art historian Kaja Silverman had an enormous influence on Vancouver writers, scholars and artists while at Simon Fraser University in the 1980s. The video above was posted three hours ago by the publisher of her most recent book, Flesh of My Flesh.

At 5:30PM tonight Dr. Silverman will be lecturing at the University of British Columbia's Lasserre Building. Do not expect to find Al Razutis in the audience.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Americans Abroad

This scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) never sat well with me.

I saw the film shortly after it came out, at the once grand Totem Theatre in Prince Rupert.

The scene received a huge laugh when it flashed across the screen, but as a young anthropology major, I knew how images like these are damaging, how they contribute to disrespect, and how that disrespect comes back to us in the West in the form of staged decapitations.

Here is another scene from another film that is at least aware of how such images allow for, and perpetuate, the attitudes they pander to:

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Article 23

A five minute pro-West gloss on the relationship between the People's Republic of China and Hong Kong.