Monday, October 31, 2016

"Girl From the North Country" (1963)

Keith Richards performing Bob Dylan's "Girl From the North Country". Not sure who did the driving, the filming or the town planning.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Home Alliteration

A window where once there was a wall.

Saturday, October 29, 2016


I can't say I am feeling very well after reading this story this afternoon. Not that the protagonist's situation was a surprise to me -- I was aware of it from the time he was suspended to his dismissal some months later.

I had heard some of the accusations, as well as some of the defences. I know what transgressions are, and what it is to be injured.

But to see it all branch out like that, with new faces, sad faces, and the fallout from what sounds like a ragged process, where voices that spoke with the understanding that they would be protected, and then were exposed, challenged even...

No one came out of this unscathed. No one.

I just had to go for walk, get some air. I really did not feel well after reading this story this afternoon.

Friday, October 28, 2016


This Cambridge bedsit looks like an artwork by Thomas Demand.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Robson Public Market

The Kingsgate Mall at Kingsway and West Broadway is known by many names and is the butt of many jokes. I first knew it as place where a friend of my parents opened a card shop. This was in the 1970s, when the mall itself opened. And I was there! A bright shiny mall where the Vancouver School Board offices once stood. Now when I think of the Kingsgate Mall I think of a touch of Northern B.C. in the gentrified heart of Vancouver.

The West End has its own version of the Kingsgate Mall: the Robson Public Market (pictured above and below). Opened in the early 1980s, the RPM was where my father had his Saturday coffee after he moved from the westernmost end of Nelson Street to the corner of Haro and Nicola.

Last Saturday I walked through the Robson Public Mall and was shocked to see how quiet it was. Many of the businesses were not open, and many more looked like they had not been opened in months. This was most apparent upstairs.

A couple years ago the Western Front commissioned artist Casey Wei to program a month of activities at the Kingsgate Mall. I have heard that Casey would like to do something similar at the Robson Public Market. I can hardly wait!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Business Run Centre

For years the building at the southwest corner of West Hastings and Hamilton was a branch of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. Outside the building hung a plaque (below) in honour of a CPR employee who "in the silent solitude of the primeval forest...drove a wooden stake in the earth and commenced to measure an empty land into the streets of Vancouver."

In the early 2000s developer Michael Audain purchased the building and there was talk that the Belkin Gallery would renovate it and use it as an annex. After sitting empty for a number of years, it was leased to the Vancouver Film School.

Recently the newly re-designed building re-opened as the Charles Chang Innovation Centre. Now located at 308 West Hastings (formerly 300 West Hastings), this six-storey building will feature "four floors (52 rooms) of graduate student rental housing [SFU Beedie School of Business is a partner], a second floor innovation and technology space for teaching and learning, and a ground floor cafe for informal networking among budding entrepreneurs," according to the Globe and Mail.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


The picture above is from Feyrer and Henderson's The Last Waves exhibition at the Belkin. The glass was blown by Brian Ditchburn, under the supervision of the artists.

Below is a picture of Neil Wedman's oil-on-linen painting Organon (1996).

Monday, October 24, 2016

Amanita Muscaria

Finally made it to the Belkin for Julia Feyrer and Tamara Henderson's The Last Waves exhibition. This is the third iteration of an installation that was first mounted at the Walter Philips Gallery in 2013. On my way to the gallery I pass a cluster of amanita muscaria mushrooms.

Two hours later, while touring through Anne Low and Gareth Moore's Kitchen Midden curatorial project at North Vancouver's Griffin Art Projects, I notice an amanita muscaria switch plate -- the same one I gave to Geoffrey Farmer ten Christmases ago and, according to the exhibition legend, he (re-)gifted to Anne and Gareth!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Proposition 11/8

We have heard how it takes a village to raise a child. But will we hear in the wake of 11/8 how it took a humiliation to raise a fascist?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

"On Inventing Women Artists in a Post-Truth Era"

On the flight back to Kelowna from St Catherines I thought a lot about what Lisa Robertson said to me after I delivered my paper on post-war through-lines in Vancouver art, the birth and death of a city built on real estate (speculation), the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the "conceptual poetry" of Kenneth Goldsmith and U.S. police shooting victim Michael Brown.

Lisa said I did not say enough about women artists, and though I will agree with her every time on this topic (one can never say enough about women artists), I myself could not call her on fictions that, for instance, had her declaring Jane Ellison to be a founder of the Western Front when, though Jane has been continuously active at this artist-run centre since the late-1970s, she is not considered to be amongst the group that acquired the building in 1973 (once again we have real estate determining the narrative of our cultural ecology).

Does someone have to be there at the beginning of something to qualify as a founder? What is it, then, to found something? I am grateful to Lisa (whose own paper was entitled "The Collective: a Truly False History of the Kootenay School of Writing") for inspiring me to ask these kinds of questions.

This morning I awoke to a nice article by Caoimhe Morgan-Feir on the Canadian Art website, where, in this age of operative portraiture, the Canadian Art editor gives a recent history of invented artists, not "real" ones. Among those mentioned (I was waiting to see her name when I started the article) is Carol Sawyer, who for years has shaped, modelled and performed the mysterious -- and under-recognized -- pre-war European artist Natalie Brettschnieder.

Carol is the third presenter in UBC Okanagan's Visiting Artists Series and will be reading at Room UNC 106 at noon on November 14.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Polaroid Song (2011)

Like Letraset, Polaroid is another obsolete medium known by its brand name.

I like the description of this film, regardless of the gender: " be taken seriously, she must experiment and evolve."

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Indians Play at Progressive Field

While waiting for my flight at Pearson International Airport yesterday I overheard a conversation between two women, one of whom was telling the other how Doug was seeking an injunction against the use of the Cleveland Indians name and logo in the progressive city of Toronto.

(And yes, I have chosen my words carefully here, because the stadium where the Cleveland Indians play is called Progressive Field.)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Festival of Readers

Yesterday's Festival of Readers offered space and materials for an afternoon of bookmaking at the St Catherine's Public Library. At the other end of the room a community group performed its play.

Among those at the bookmaking table was Beth Bromberg (far right), who made this inch high figure using rub-on decals, what we once referred to by its brand name, Letraset:

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Conference Pics

George Bowering delivered the Thursday night keynote address for the Concept of Vancouver conference at St Catherines's FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre:

The following morning, at the Niagara Artists CentreSteve McCaffery was supposed to present a monitor piece he made in the 1980s of Jeff Derksen begging ("the first video panhandler'), but the technology wasn't working. Technology failed McCaffery moments later when, after deciding to "read instead," he found the letters of his latest book too small, the lights above him too dim. (To the right of McCaffery is conference co-organizer Gregory Betts. To McCaffery's left is Karen Mac Cormack.)

Elizabeth Chitty showed some of the work she made and contributed to in Vancouver in the 1970s and 80s, and the context in which that work was made.

Dana Claxton Skyped in an introduction to her video The Patient Storm (2006).

Irene Laughlin performed to a Bud Osborne poem.

Lisa Robertson read a "truly unofficial" history of the Kootenay School of Writing -- a poem called "The Collective".

Kimberly Philips opened an Access Gallery touring exhibition in the NAC's rear space.

bill bissett delivered a short set of works that included a poem he wrote over fifty years ago, called "Strange Grey Day This" (1964).

The day ended at Greg and Lisa's spacious house, where Derek Beaulieu, Liz Howard, bill and I are staying.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


i miss your texting
everything around me
echoes without it

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


A couple of week's ago rob mclennan asked me if I had any unpublished work I might like to submit to above/ground press towards a chapbook series he is doing on the occasion of Brock University's The Concept of Vancouver conference. Turns out I did have some unpublished work, a sequence of short pieces called "Fugue" that I sent to him and he accepted.

The pieces in "Fugue" are named and, apart from the shorter piece in the middle, are 88 words long, sans title. (The middle piece is 44 words long.)

There is more to this work -- some instances of expression, even -- but I will leave it to you to pursue this work through above/ground, if you are interested.

I should add that above/ground is also producing chapbooks by conference participants George Bowering, Dana Claxton, Andrew McEwan and Julia Polyck-O'Neill.

To order above/ground publications from any of the above, rob asks that you "send cheques (add $1 for postage; outside Canada, add $2) to: rob mclennan, 2424 Alta Vita Drive, Ottawa ON K1H 7M9 or paypal at "

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Every two months I receive in my inbox a list of ten to twelve upcoming exhibitions in BC and Alberta and a question, Which of these eight would you like to write on?

When I first started writing these two-hundred-words-apiece previews, I chose exhibitions by artists I was familiar with. Now I lean towards those I am unfamiliar with, which is another way of learning.

Sometimes the previews go slowly. Other times, like the recent batch I received last Saturday afternoon, they go quickly. I started yesterday afternoon and finished last night at 10pm, sending all eight to my editor, Janice Whitehead, who publishes Preview: the Gallery Guide.

I had just finished my seventh preview at 3pm when I decided to get out of my pyjamas and get a walk in before the sun went down. By 4pm I had departed Woodhaven's winding forest road for Boyce-Gyro, which I walked successfully, swinging my arms back and forth, taking deep breaths, then driving five blocks south on Lakeshore to the Eldorado Hotel for happy hour and what turned out to be the last three innings of the Cleveland-Boston MLB playoff series.

Two pints and a burger for $25. Not bad. As for the service -- even better (though I was sitting at the bar). And the music? This was most soothing. Not sure what stream the bartender had tapped into, but to hear Sibylle BaierJudy Henske and a First Songs era Laura Nyro has me going back there next week, after I return from that conference at Brock.

Here is the last paragraph from yesterday's last preview:

A particularly compelling series is Benesiinaabandan’s little resistances (2015). Here, the Anishinabe artist gathered personal photos, arranged them in pairs, scanned them, crumpled up the print, scanned it, printed it onto vinyl and attached it to a 59”x59” box form for wall display. The transformation of the work is carried in its description as it moves from the plural “them” (original photos) to the singular “it” (scanned versions). Most resonant is that which is present in the work’s title: an anthology of resistances authored by each of its transformations.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Concept of Vancouver

This week Brock University is hosting the 30th Annual Two Days in Canada Conference. This year's conference is entitled The Concept of Vancouver, and I am one of five plenary presenters.

Although I am still at work on my presentation I am fairly certain it will begin with what I thought I would present when asked to participate last spring, and will finish first with a reconsideration of something that once bothered me about George Bowering's meta-novel Burning Water (1980), but now seems relevant given the ascendence of fancy over imagination (as defined by Coleridge and deployed by Bowering) in the market city of Vancouver, and second, how the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has changed the way I look at and participate in the cultural production of the city.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

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 room next door, which was vacant for so long, is now occupied, and I wake to its music: soft giggles, intonations, the shapes made when reading from a book. Her to him, him to her. The sound of it falling to the floor...

It is their silence I am dragged into. Not passing cars, I realize, but their breathing. Slow and steady, then erratic.  Creaks, springs, the headboard keeping time.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Sutherland Street

When you "rediscover" your old creations, isn't it funny that you find them so satisfying? You're as engrossed as a baby is with his or her own poop. And, to top it off, it seems as if a hiatus from old ways sharpens your skills at those abandoned practices. Then you ask yourself: "Why did I ever stop doing this? How is it that I forgot myself? Why do I have to rediscover what I already know?" And then you cry out: "I want to go home again!" Well, come on back. Your room's just like it was when you left. We've kept it exactly the same, untouched, in anticipation of your return. You're home.
-- Mike Kelley, from "Goin' Home, Goin' Home," The Thirteen Seasons (Heavy on the Winter), (Cologne: Jablonka Galerie, 1993).

Friday, October 7, 2016

Oedipal and Edible

Two stories from Greek mythology.

Oedipus (unwittingly) kills his father and marries his mother. Years earlier, Cronus eats his children to prevent them from killing him (as prophecized).

Freud gave us the Oedipal Complex, but he rarely mentions Cronus, who is the more outrageous of the two.

Rachel Bowlby ponders this, and more, in her Freudian Mythologies: Greek Tragedy and Modern Identities (2009).

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Anarchy and Libertarianism

The first person to describe himself as a libertarian was a French "anarchist communist" named Joseph Déjacque. Over 150 years later, most consider the terms libertarianism and anarchism to be mutually exclusive.

An anarchist believes in self-governed, voluntary institutions driven by creativity, co-operation and mutual respect. A libertarian believes in freedom of choice, with an emphasis on individual judgement, laissez-faire capitalism and private property. Both have no time for the state.

Vancouver's current crop of anarchists favour the international style

while its libertarians have nothing to hide and move "freely" among us, like these guys:

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Autism and Sociopathy

Apropos of yesterday's post on empathy and narcissism, I thought I would water the latter before turning in last night and see what was there in the morning. Turns out narcissism is a symptom of that which is rooted deeper.

Sociopathy is clinically defined as a personality disorder, while autism is a spectrum disorder comprised of disorders once organized under separate categories, such as Asperger's syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder. Sociopathy is often criminalized, while autism gets a pass.

How can you tell if you are autistic or sociopathic? Given what I have seen of Vancouver and of the art world these past few years, I would turn the question around and ask, How can you tell if you are not?

Which leads us back to empathy, a complex and not entirely innocent trait that allows us to understand and share the feelings of those not ourselves -- without remuneration. To that I would add tolerance, consideration, discretion, even caution, particularly in social situations. Antonyms can be drawn from Christopher J. Patrick triarchic model, which is comprised of boldness, disinhibition and meanness.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Empathy and Narcissism

Glad to know it's not just me.

The opening paragraph of Laura McLean-Ferris's essay in Mousse #55:

Two terms glint out at me over an endless horizon of essays, art exhibitions, political think pieces, cultural reviews, and books. The words are empathy (more prevalent) and narcissism. They are locked into an intermittent flashing spin, as that of a lighthouse lamp, because they are two words that function as a kind of alarm signal, manifestations of confusion in the current climate. From Pokémon Go to Trumpian speech, from filter bubbles to safe spaces, there is a sense that the shared public space of politics is more and more evacuated each day, and so we are left with an endless succession of overlapping realities that do not always care to meet each other, or do not even notice that they don’t. My reality! No, my reality! Strange new weather (but isn’t it always?). In a hospital waiting room recently, I saw a weather report on a hurricane, repeated on a loop. The weather reporter kept repeating that the hurricane was going to “sit and spin” for days, gathering energy. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Sampled Beckett Medley Remix

Do you think they'll come back for us?

All life long, the same questions, the same answers.

Is that a yes then?

Next day. Same time.

Same place.

I'm afraid to get up.

I tried -- I can't. My pants are too tight.

Why didn't we call the album White Jeans & Creosote?

All life long, the same questions, the same answers.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Ranch Plants

On Wednesday afternoon I drove north from UBCO to the ranch, where Brian had a load of plants on the bed of the Sterling.

After making a compost from some antique steer manure and sweepings from the forest floor, we spent Thursday and Friday planting pine, juniper, grasses and wintergreen, mostly on the ledge overlooking the garden. Thankfully the ranch rented an excavator. Much of the ledge is composed of rock and gravel.

A little sore from our work -- mostly in my hands, as a number of these plants were root-bound and required tearing. Yes, it's great to get discounted plants at the end of summer, but when you do, it doesn't hurt to check the bottoms first -- that way you'll know what you're getting into.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Liz Magor

Like Christos Dikeakos's talk twelve days ago, this Monday's UBCO talk by Liz Magor will have me listening as a writer who writes on visual art, but also as a teaching assistant. Did my assistantship change the way I listened to Chris's talk? It did. Like the students in CCS-250, I also took notes. Which turned out to be a good thing, because later that day I was asked if I would re-capitulate Chris's talk at the start of next week's class.

Listening to Liz will differ from listening to Chris in that Liz will be visiting our CCS-506 class after her talk. In thinking about what I might ask her, and in light of what I think is the artist's interest in memory, I found myself revisiting her Field Work (1989) series.

Here is what Jessica Bradley (2008) and later Mira Berlin (2015) have to say about the work in Canadian Encyclopedia:

Magor's 1989 photographic series, Field Work -- a collection of reprinted images she had captured in the 1960s depicting longhaired hippies in the back-to-the-land movement in moccasins and feathered headdress, cooking over campfires -- came under sharp criticism for what was taken as a mocking display of Aboriginal culture. Put-off by such superficial critique, Magor left Toronto in 1993 and returned to the West Coast.

Here is what Magor had to say of this work in a 2016 interview with Lesley Johnstone:

In 1989 I found some black and white photographs that I had taken twenty years earlier, in the late 1960s. These were simple pictures of my friends as we explored life on the land: camping, fishing, canoeing, cooking in the open, etc. I was surprised at the naivety and romantic drive that were invisible to us in our youth but so obvious twenty years after the fact. So I printed them with some of the titles from Edward Curtis’s photogravures from earlier in the century. He too was a romantic and used images of indigenous people to entertain his ahistorical notions. Anyhow, what I had intended as an exposure of a recurring and enduring folly, others saw as a case of cultural appropriation, and I was pulled up on the carpet and treated to a big correction. Which I took seriously, by the way. I was very chastened by the experience and I spent a good part of the 1990s reviewing the situation and considering my options. I tried contextualizing the Field Work portfolio by making a number of photographic works based on historical re-enactors.

Here is what the National Gallery of Canada has to say on its "Collections" page:

Field Work, 1989
Liz Magor
Canadian, 1948
gelatin silver prints on paper
matted print: 55.9 x 71.1 cm each (some vertical, some horizontal)
Purchased 1993
National Gallery of Canada (no. 37174.1-10)

Liz Magor plays on the element of fiction or dramatization that often colours museum displays. In "Field Work" she presents photographs of her friends taken in the British Columbia wilderness in the early 1970s. The photos are framed with museum-style mats bearing captions borrowed from Edward Curtis's documentations of the disappearing way of life of Aboriginal Peoples. Curtis is known to have asked his subjects to pose rather elaborately, and his captions seem more like fiction than fact. Magor draws parallels between Curtis's efforts and her own youthful role-playing search for alternative values in the same landscape that Curtis worked in. In this work, Magor questions the subtexts of museum display, its claims to authenticity and its implicit theatricality, asking us to re-consider where the meanings of such displays might lie.

*image atop this post is Magor's Fieldwork (Waihusiwa, a Zuni Kyaqimassi) 1988, Courtesy of Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery / photo Michael Barrick