Thursday, December 31, 2015

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Cry For Me Argentina

Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia (1977) is a book I read once a year, usually in the spring or fall. Like another favourite, Thomas Bernhard's The Voice Imitator (1978/1997), the book is comprised of short prose pieces -- 97 in Chatwin's book, 103 in Bernhard's. For me, nothing (else) in Chatwin's oeuvre comes close, not even his best known book, Songlines (1987).

Here is a line from In Patagonia:

I pictured a low timber house with a shingle roof, caulked against storms, with blazing log fires inside and the walls lined with all the best books, somewhere to live when the rest of the world blew up.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Let the Sun Go Down On Me

I first saw Daphne Odjig's The Lady Teacher (1970) in Herbert T. Schwarz's Tales from the Smokehouse (1974), a curious book that features a number of Woodland creatures, like Earth Mother. Not sure if The Lady Teacher was part of Odjig's 2009 National Gallery of Canada exhibition (if it was, it would have appeared behind the exhibition's privacy wall). Checked the NGC's online collection and saw that it was purchased that same year, though its image is still listed as "not available."

Monday, December 28, 2015

I Want to Live Like a Refugee

The CBC tells a story of woman who is adapting Bratz dolls for Syrian refugee children.

Years ago a friend returned to Vancouver from rural Peru with a woman he was hoping to marry. When their wedding day came, his friends showered them with gifts, a few of which were handmade ceramic bowls made by local potters. The woman was thankful, of course, because she saw in these gifts not the object itself but the thought behind them. However, of all the gifts they opened, the one that brought her to tears was a six-speed mixmaster -- "con la función de pulse!"

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Spirit of Christmas Past (Mid-Century Film Version)

Dickens's "Spirit of Christmas Past" is a thoroughly Victorian figure whose representations are wide and varied.

It was a strange figure -- like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child's proportions. Its hair, which hung about its neck and down its back, was white as if with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the tenderest bloom was on the skin. The arms were very long and muscular; the hands the same, as if its hold were of uncommon strength. Its legs and feet, most delicately formed, were, like those upper members, bare. It wore a tunic of the purest white and round its waist was bound a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful. It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand; and, in singular contradiction of that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed with summer flowers. But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.

Friday, December 25, 2015


I remember watching this when it first aired as part of Bing Crosby's November 30, 1977 Christmas special. We knew David Bowie was scheduled to appear, but not to sing with Bing, who died six weeks before that.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

from A Christmas Carol (1843)

Yes! and the bedpost was his own. The bed was his own, the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the Time before him was his own, to make amends in!

'I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future.’ Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. `The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley. Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this. I say it on my knees, old Jacob, on my knees.’

He was so fluttered and so glowing with his good intentions, that his broken voice would scarcely answer to his call. He had been sobbing violently in his conflict with the Spirit, and his face was wet with tears.

`They are not torn down.’ cried Scrooge, folding one of his bed-curtains in his arms,’ they are not torn down, rings and all. They are here -- I am here -- the shadows of the things that would have been, may be dispelled. They will be. I know they will.’

His hands were busy with his garments all this time; turning them inside out, putting them on upside down, tearing them, mislaying them, making them parties to every kind of extravagance.

`I don’t know what to do.’ cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Laocoon of himself with his stockings. `I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody. A happy New Year to all the world. Hallo here. Whoop. Hallo.’

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Child's Christmas in Wales (1954)

When I was a child, it never snowed for more than four days and four nights in a row. Dylan Thomas, who was born in Swansea, Wales, in 1914, and raised there, is unsure whether it snowed for six days and six nights when he was twelve (1926), or twelve days and twelve nights when he was six (1920).

Looking through Swansea's weather records, I see that neither of the years Thomas mentions in A Child's Christmas in Wales received the snowfalls he is unsure of. The only year that comes close is 1947, when Wales was "buried beneath huge amounts of snow," and Thomas and Caitlin were sponging off the Taylors in Disley.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

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 radio next door is the finger of its operator riding a dying signal: the barking voice of a Welsh poet sharing his childhood.

A car idles on the street below. Inside it, a cassette tape slowed by years of gunk. "Ring out these bells! Ring out, ring solstice bells!" 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Prototype for a Model of a Theory (1999)

Before joining the firm(ament) of Wallace, Wall, Graham and Lum, Roy Arden was attracted to collage and its 3D cousin, assemblage. His 1985 essay on Al Neil, published when he was 28 years old, announces an intellect that continues to both inspire and enrage.

Around fifteen years ago, Arden returned to the mediums that first attracted him to visual art practice. Collage and assemblage, but also painting. (Sorry, here not there.)

Above is a sculpture Arden made in 1999, entitled Prototype for a Model of a Theory. I have seen variants of this work at the CAG and Monte Clark Gallery, but never in this form. Thank you to Christopher Brayshaw for sending it to me.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Beba Coca Cola (1957-1964)

Last Saturday, Robert Kardosh Projects hosted the launch of Letters: Michael Morris and Concrete Poetry.

Published by Black Dog, Letters features essays by myself and Jamie Hilder, David MacWilliam, Scott Watson and William Wood, in addition to reproduced images of works (such as the one above) that appeared in the exhibition of the same name that I curated with Scott at the Morris and Helen Belkin Gallery in 2012.

Below is another "Coke" inspired concrete poem that was, until at least the early-1980s, a staple of Norton's English Literature anthologies.

Friday, December 18, 2015

"That's the song I sing"

The difference between the Coca Cola jingle "Buy the World a Coke" and its spin-off "uncommercial" version "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" is apparent in the first line. Where the "uncommercial" version uses the word "build" (as in "I'd like to build the world a home"), the commercial version uses the word "buy".

I was a child when the first "Hilltop" Coke ad debuted -- nine years old in July 1971. Shortly after that, the New Seekers came out with the "uncommercial" version. I noted the difference.

This is how my nine-year-old mind worked: if one were to "buy the world" something, who would the seller be? Mars? Venus? But if one were to "build the world" something like a home, that would too much for one person, and you would never get it done, like the guy who spent his life building Vancouver's seawall (James Cunningham), and died trying. (The original version of the seawall was completed in September 1971, two months after the Coke ad hit the airwaves. The Stanley Park portion was completed in 1980.)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Talkin' 'bout Our Conversation

I am not on Facebook, but some of my friends are, and they know I like it when they share with me its "pages".

This morning I awoke to an email from Raymond Boisjoly who sent me 25 pages of a conversation that began late-afternoon yesterday and continued into the evening. It is one of the more candid conversations I have read on art, identity, appropriation, intentionality and criticism.

Could this conversation have happened if it was put together for a symposium or conference? I am not sure. Why this conversation succeeded, where so many like it have failed, has everything to do with the triumph of Love over one of its more reified forms -- Respect.

Viva Facebook!

Haw'aa Beaucoup, Ray Ray!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Seasonal Tree

Librarian Cheryl Siegel is no longer at the Vancouvery Art Gallery. But her seasonal tree is!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Clint "Fashion Santa" Burnham

Every phenomenon has its prototype. Before Yorkdale Mall's Fashion Santa, there was Kingsgate Mall's Clint Burnham.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Vexation Island (1997)

Twenty years before Rodney Graham's dealers saturated the market with his photo-based work (to the point where the artist has no choice but to stop making this kind work in order to excite a re-interest in it), he "represented" Canada at the Venice Biennale with a 9 minute looping film called Vexation Island (1997).

Although many point to Vexation Island as Graham's breakthrough (as a market artist), I prefer to see this piece not as the beginning of Graham's commercial success as a maker of short films (in which he stars), but, by virtue of the small abstraction on his forehead, the beginning of his work as a painter.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

La Biennale di Venezia

For those who continue to insist that the Curator has surpassed the Artist for second row (behind the Collector, of course) at that fashion show known as the Art World, well, let's just say that I remember a time when it was the curator who chose the artist (to work with) for the Venice Biennale, not the other way around.

Friday, December 11, 2015


On Tuesday, Holborn Group CEO Joo Kim Tiah (second from right) issued a statement in response to calls that he “un-licence” the Trump name from his Vancouver development, based on the US Republican presidential candidate's recent comments concerning Muslims and the United States:

Holborn is a Vancouver-based private real estate development company that owns Trump Vancouver. When Trump Vancouver opens in 2016, we will create as many as 300 jobs. Holborn, a company that has contributed immensely to the growth of Vancouver, is not in any way involved in US politics. As such, we would not comment further on Mr Trump’s personal or political agenda, nor any political issues, local or foreign. Our efforts remain focused on the construction of what will soon be the finest luxury property in Vancouver and beyond.

Also on Tuesday, the proprietors of Le Marché St. George added a text to their website in response to a conclusion drawn by a City of Vancouver building inspector who responded to a blind neighbour’s complaint that Le Marché was not looking after its sidewalks, and that she needs those sidewalks looked after (unobstructed) in order to “see” where she is going. Here is the first paragraph of that text:

Le Marché St George is a corner store, a café, a meeting place, and a home. It’s a husband, wife, and daughter, a sister, a best friend, an aunt, 3 chickens, 2 cats, a fish and 2 bee hives who all reside here. It's a place where everyone is welcome. It’s seeing the neighbourhood kids growing up together. It's love stories that have lead to happily-ever-afters. It’s where the mothers and fathers come to relax with their kids. It’s first dates and first babies. It's running groups and knitting groups, community vineyards, and mariachi bands. It's keeping spare keys to the neighbours houses, It’s honest people who work long hours. It’s a funky, handsome, all-crooked, old building where all of this is happening... and we want to keep it that way!

Finally on Tuesday, the Turner Prize announced the winner of its 2015 award. Here is what Guardian art critic Adrian Searle had to say about the winning artist(s), Assemble:
Assemble’s win signifies a larger move away from the gallery into public space that is becoming ever more privatised. It shows a revulsion for the excesses of the art market, and a turn away from the creation of objects for that market. Their structure that was on show at this year’s Turner exhibition must be seen not as a work, but as a model of work that takes place elsewhere; not in the art world, but the world itself.
For the exhibition, Assemble recreated a full-size, wooden mockup of one of the houses in Granby in south Liverpool they have been refurbishing with locals. They filled it with the ceramics, fireplace surrounds, stools, doorhandles and furnishings they and the residents have been making both to use in the houses and to sell in order to generate income. The overall aesthetic was stripped-down and clean, without being conspicuously forced or arty.
When this year’s shortlist was announced, I wrote that Assemble raised questions about whether their work is in fact art, or instead a kind of socially-engaged design practice. In some ways, their activities mirror Theaster Gates’s efforts to regenerate a corner of South Chicago, just as his recent project in Bristol was a joyous social intervention. Unlike Gates, Assemble do not make artworks to supplement their larger projects – though the fireplaces, benches and ceramics do make some money for Granby. Assemble are also indebted to the utopian 19th-century projects of William Morris; they extend their artfulness into everyday life.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Room of One's Own (1929)

"A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction," writes Virginia Woolf.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

"In My Room" (1963)

It took four people to write this simple, yet affecting, Beach Boys song.

Monday, December 7, 2015

"Wayward, natural and unnatural silences"

 A fragment of Phyllis Webb's "Foreword" to Wilson's Bowl (1980):

My poems are born out of great struggles of silence. This book has been long in coming. Wayward, natural and unnatural silences, my desire for privacy, my critical hesitations, my critical wounds, my dissatisfaction with myself and the work have all contributed to a strange gestation. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

On Silence

"… and the silence, almost everywhere in the world now, is traffic."

"If you listen to Beethoven or to Mozart, you'll see that they are always the same, but if you listen to traffic, you see it's always different."

Saturday, December 5, 2015

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.

Sitting at my table, staring at this framed plastic light, I think of the rains, their music. Not just the notes that dot my asphalt roof, but the sharp splashes that begin with leaf-clogged eaves, and the longer, higher frequency swish from the tires of a passing car.

There are musicians who have left their designation and the instruments that carried them into music school for the larger palette that is Sound. Nothing new here, just another way to play it.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Pulp Fiction Books

John Denniston describes himself as "a retired newspaper photographer who still has a compelling desire to take interesting photographs." The picture above was taken May 17, 2013.

Tonight, between the hours of 7-9pm, Pulp Fiction Books is hosting the re-launch of Kingsway. It will be wet and windy, but come in anyway.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Day of Not Writing

On Monday I finished a 2,000 word feature for Canadian Art. It was a hard piece to write, for different reasons.

Tired of sitting, I decide to go downtown and see what's new in art and architecture. I walk past an entrance beside the Broadway and Commerical Drive Skytrain Station.

From the Stadium Station I walk to the Or Gallery to see Myfanwy MacLeod's exhibition, The Private Life of the Rabbit. The Or Gallery is an artist-run centre and its Director/Curator is at the New Art Dealers Alliance trade show in Miami trying to sell art objects to pay for his trip. But Jonah and Kate are there.

Myfanwy's father built a rabbit hutch once, so that gives her the right.

I am more comfortable at the back end of Myfanwy's show.

From the Or I walk to Richards Street, en route to Republic for Holly Ward's awkwardly-titled show. Holly is part of my Canadian Art feature, and if I didn't have to write about her, I would have attended her opening last Thursday.

Most of the work in Holly's The House of Light and Entropy was made at Heffley Creek, just north of Kamloops, where she and Kevin Schmidt are building a home/studio based on the geodesic dome she built for her 2011 Langara College residency.

I have yet to visit the VAG's Second Floor shows, so that's where I head next.

Curious to see the new Nordstrom's, I stop in and walk its floors. Like Berlin's KaDeWe, it serves alcohol.

Here is a bar I will never have a drink at.

The VAG has two shows on its Second Floor. To the right as you come up the stairs is a collection show entitled Between Object and Action: Transforming Media and the 1960s and 70s. Featured in this show are Kate Craig, Gathie Falk, Carole Itter, Gary Lee-Nova, Eric Metcalfe and Evelyn Roth.

Pictured below is the world's largest divorce suite.

Here I am at the Lee Bul show at the other end of the VAG's Second Floor.

Once outside I see that Heather Reisman has finally closed the book on Indigo/Chapter's Robson Street location. Back to the dollar stores for candles and picture-frames.

Walking home through Chinatown I stop outside the site of my previous Canadian Art feature, what was once the Apartment Gallery.

(Among 2015's most significant discoveries: incontrovertible evidence that art was invented by the rich to convince the poor that the former and the latter have something in common, and that the rich are interested.)

Another shop on its way out of business is the Multi Store at 1009 Kingsway, just a couple of blocks from my home. Everything -- including "smokeless camphor" -- is 30% off.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

20th Anniversary Edition of Kingsway

This Thursday December 3 between 7-9pm Pulp Fiction Books at 2422 Main Street will host the launch of a "20th anniversary edition" of a book of poems I wrote called Kingsway. The book includes a new cover, new photos (the old ones were lost to shifting technologies and poor archiving), and an afterword that speaks of how I came to write the book and what has changed since it was first published.

There will be a short reading, followed by a conversation. Bookstore proprietor Christopher Brayshaw said he will participate in this conversation, and this pleases me because his review of Kingsway for the now-defunct Vancouver Review is one of the finer pieces written on what I thought I was writing.

All are welcome. Books will be available for sale, and for signing.