Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Poem by Lorine Niedecker (1903-1970)


Tell em to take my bare walls down
my cement abutments
their parties thereof
and clause of claws

Leave me the land
Scratch out: the land

May prose and property both die out
and leave me peace

Friday, December 30, 2016

Models, Figures

Those timeless days between Christmas and New Year's, when the parents, if not hosting an open house, were getting drunk at one; when I could sit at my desk undisturbed, making models, painting figures, absorbing what would one day come undone.

Feeling nostalgic, I googled these figures.

Here is the back of an earlier version of the Airfix "Indians" box:

Here are those same "Indians" paired with "American Civil War Artillery":

And here are some of these figures painted:

Love the dry-brush work on the "U.S. Calvary" figure, far-right.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ravens and Prophets (1952)

Among the gifts I received this Christmas was George Woodcock's travelogue Ravens and Prophets (1952). I suspect this book was given to me based on my recent travels through British Columbia, a trip that Woodcock, his wife Ingeborg and their New York friends David and Audrey undertook in the late-1940s.

Books like Woodcock's are invaluable when it comes to details of places we think we are familiar with, but also the time it once took to travel between these places -- cars, roads, boats and waterways being slower then than they are today.

Although I am only twenty-five pages into Ravens and Prophets, I am more than a little uncomfortable with Woodcock's snotty Britishness, an attitude that was common to the 1960s and 70s Vancouver I grew up in, where culture, it was believed, was not so much made but received (from Britain).

Worse is Woodcock's descriptions of the people he encounters, from the couple that he and his undescribed wife are travelling with ("David is a tall, dark, crinkly-haired Jew"; "Audrey, a dumpy girl with finely cut features, the daughter of an old Polish Jewish anarchist family") to a "fat Cowichan squaw" and "slow [Chinese] men with their gaunt brown faces over which the skin stretches tightly to give an almost mask-like quality to their patience, and the bustling, round-faced Chinese of the younger generation." This from a man described on the BC Bookworld website (in an unattributed quote) as "quite possibly the most civilized man in Canada."

One paragraph that carries more than the usual reductions comes at the end of the second section in "Part One", as the Woodcocks, David and Audrey visit the "lower part of East Hastings Street," "one of the seedier ends of Vancouver":

The threadbare, bottle-nosed men who stood in doorways and clustered at the street corners -- each a solitary and misanthropic individual, no matter how he might try in the forced joviality of his kind to dissimulate his essential lack of interest in the world outside -- seemed to belong to the same dying age of the Wobbly papers. They were the last representatives of the Great American Bum, the obstinate decaying lingerers from an age when the migratory workers of the west aroused their rebellion against the materialistic and nationalistic standards of the young North American civilization. Today the majority of these workers have surrendered to the allure of enlightened capitalism, with its high wages and high standard of living. Even the struggles of the 'thirties are forgotten -- youths of twenty do not know of such events as the occupation of the Federal Building in Vancouver by the unemployed during they own childhood -- and it is now only among a few intellectual rebels and these remaining derelicts who support the skidrow walls from East Hastings Street, Vancouver, down to Mission Street, San Francisco, that you will find some memory of the old days and some lingering loyalty to their more honest and idealistic values. (p. 20)

A musical take on the Great Historical Bum can be found in Odessa's recording of Woody Guthrie's "The Biggest Thing That Man Has Ever Done" on Vanguard Record's excellent tribute album The Greatest Songs of Woody Guthrie (1972).

Wednesday, December 28, 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 weather outside, though not quite frightful, is cold and wet, and I am too tired to close the window, too worn out by complaints made by friends who are on Facebook, many of whom despair a culture that has forsaken contemplation and the sharing of information for quick fix attacks and told-you-sos.

A recent example of our Facebook attack culture involves the writer Joseph Boyden who, after quickly penning what amounts to an exclusionary letter in support of disgraced writer and educator Steven Galloway, is now having to answer to those unable to find evidence of what Boyden has led us to believe is his indigenous ancestry.

But the hysteria is not limited to Facebook. In today's Globe and Mail, Carleton's Hayden King begins his presentation on "ethnic fraud" by introducing himself as the son of Hayden (Sr.) and Carol.  What follows in his introduction is information concerning his father's ancestry -- but nothing of his mother's.

Does ethnic authenticity (for want of a better term) preclude a recognition of bilineal descent? Most indigenous people that I know give equal weight to both parents when introducing themselves. That Hayden King has chosen not to is revealing of an equally ongoing problem in our culture, and that is patriarchy.

Saturday, December 24, 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.

This morning's sunrise cast a startling shadow: a mantis tearing the wings off a fly. On my windowsill between the sun and the wall: a fallen god's eye caught in the arms of a plastic candelabra.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Did Everybody Pay Their Dues?

In an illuminating 2013 article by the Wall Street Journal's Marc Mayers, Rolling Stones rhythm guitarist and co-writer Keith Richards tells the story of "Street Fighting Man" -- how it began in 1966 as a melody based on the French police siren, but stalled because he could not find the right "texture." By the time the Stones recorded "Street Fighting Man" in March, April and May of 1968 (it was released in August of that year), the song had undergone a complete lyric re-write. Read the WSJ interview here. Original Mick Jagger lyrics below:

Did Everybody Pay Their Dues?

Chief to scorn his friends
Make love to his relations
He beats his wife
And makes her life
A total wet vacation

Now did everybody pay their dues?
Now did end up with tribal blues?
All the braves and the squaws
And the maids and the whores
Did everybody pay their dues?

He is the tribal chief
His name is called Disorder
His flesh and blood he tears it up
And actually fries his mama

Now did everybody pay their dues?
Now did any of them try to refuse?
All the braves and the squaws
And the maids and the whores
Did everybody pay their dues?

See all the children know he’s lying
What’s all the fuss?
To be grown up
Is to be good at dying

Now did everybody pay their dues?
Now did any of them try to refuse?
All the braves and the squaws
And the maids and the whores
Did everybody pay their dues?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Does a coke-snorting Kitsilano realtor have to overdose in an Arbutus Club washroom before Vancouver's mayor recognizes fentanyl as an "urgent or critical situation" and calls upon the province to declare a state of emergency? And if that state of emergency is declared, will it result in quarantines and suspensions of individual rights that further imperil residents of Vancouver's downtown eastside, accelerating that neighbourhood's conversion to market housing, tony bistros and tote schick boutiques?

Monday, December 19, 2016

Kelowna Manger

Three blocks west of Kelowna's Towne Centre Mall is the lakeside, with its City Park and two public artworks: Peter Soelin's Ogopogo (1960) and Robert Dow Reid's Spirit of Sail (1978). A seasonal work is a nativity scene whose picture I took during the Jesusless portion of its installation earlier this month.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Two Kelowna Malls

At Orchard Park Mall, Mrs Claus and her husband, Santa, share a smile between photo sessions.

At the Towne Centre Mall downtown, Mr and Mrs Snowman perform their heterosexuality before a monument to salvage anthropology. Are the Snowmans responsible for depicting Bear, Eagle, Kokanee and the Syilx people as isolated figures on a small ball of water? No, but their placement makes them complicit.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Fogo Island Monologues

Last week UBC's Liu Institute for Global Issues hosted Fogo Island Dialogues: Islands, Sovereignty and Decolonial Futures, a weird event that had Fogo Island's Strategic Director Nicolaus Schafhausen lap-topping a list of disconnected questions at Documenta 14 curatorial advisor Candice Hopkins and curator Monika Szweczyk, bookended by a presentation by Linnea Dick and another by her father, Chief Beau Dick, who, with the encouragement of Candice, will travel with his entourage to Documenta 14's Athens platform this spring to perform his brand of social sculpture at the Acropolis.

Although we in the audience were told by Nicolaus and the Documenta-rians that they were here to engage in some "deep listening" and "learn from the west coast," it was the audience who listened (without an invitation to ask questions) to Linnea's good-natured testimonial on the importance of Beau in her life ("He is my father, but he is also my chief"), Candice's direct informational responses, Monika's lyrical musings, and an amazing story by Beau that, in a perfectly roundabout way, told us how Linnea's Kwakwaka'wakw name, Malidi ("to always find a purpose and a path in life"), was chosen.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Selfishness of Others

I am listening to a friend relate an incident involving someone in our community. When she is finished she smiles, tilts her head slightly and awaits my response.

"What a narcissist," I say.

"You think everyone's a narcissist!" says my friend -- and not for the first time.

It's true. Or rather, it is increasingly the case that my community experiences are dominated by individuals whose inflated sense of self is equal to their inability to relate to a life ("feel other people's feelings") outside their own.

How do I know I am not a narcissist? I know because the problem is my problem. And when faced with a problem, I try my best to do something about it.

My problem with narcissists, then, is not the narcissistic personality disorder, per se (I refuse to blame the victim, nor could I check-off anything on Dombeck's narciphobia checklist), but the despair I feel in their company. Taken to the extreme (because these are extreme times) this despair is related to a fear, and yes, I fear the narcissistic experience as I fear global warming, polluted waters, the accumulation and concentration of capital, romantic socialists, modernist positivists, post-Soviet sociopathy... Are narcissists responsible for these conditions? Not necessarily. But they are not helping much, either.

So what to do?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

À rebours (Chapter 4)

The afternoon was drawing to its close when a carriage halted in front of the Fontenay house. Since Des Esseintes received no visitors, and since the postman never even ventured into these uninhabited parts, having no occasion to deliver any papers, magazines or letters, the servants hesitated before opening the door. Then, as the bell was rung furiously again, they peered through the peep-hole cut into the wall, and perceived a man, concealed, from neck to waist, behind an immense gold buckler.
They informed their master, who was breakfasting.
"Ask him in," he said, for he recalled having given his address to a lapidary for the delivery of a purchase.
The man bowed and deposited the buckler on the pinewood floor of the dining room. It oscillated and wavered, revealing the serpentine head of a tortoise which, suddenly terrified, retreated into its shell.
This tortoise was a fancy which had seized Des Esseintes some time before his departure from Paris. Examining an Oriental rug, one day, in reflected light, and following the silver gleams which fell on its web of plum violet and alladin yellow, it suddenly occurred to him how much it would be improved if he could place on it some object whose deep color might enhance the vividness of its tints.
Possessed by this idea, he had been strolling aimlessly along the streets, when suddenly he found himself gazing at the very object of his wishes. There, in a shop window on the Palais Royal, lay a huge tortoise in a large basin. He had purchased it. Then he had sat a long time, with eyes half-shut, studying the effect.
Decidedly, the Ethiopic black, the harsh Sienna tone of this shell dulled the rug's reflections without adding to it. The dominant silver gleams in it barely sparkled, crawling with lack-lustre tones of dead zinc against the edges of the hard, tarnished shell.
He bit his nails while he studied a method of removing these discords and reconciling the determined opposition of the tones. He finally discovered that his first inspiration, which was to animate the fire of the weave by setting it off against some dark object, was erroneous. In fact, this rug was too new, too petulant and gaudy. The colors were not sufficiently subdued. He must reverse the process, dull the tones, and extinguish them by the contrast of a striking object, which would eclipse all else and cast a golden light on the pale silver. Thus stated, the problem was easier to solve. He therefore decided to glaze the shell of the tortoise with gold.
The tortoise, just returned by the lapidary, shone brilliantly, softening the tones of the rug and casting on it a gorgeous reflection which resembled the irradiations from the scales of a barbaric Visigoth shield.
At first Des Esseintes was enchanted with this effect. Then he reflected that this gigantic jewel was only in outline, that it would not really be complete until it had been incrusted with rare stones.
From a Japanese collection he chose a design representing a cluster of flowers emanating spindle-like, from a slender stalk. Taking it to a jeweler, he sketched a border to enclose this bouquet in an oval frame, and informed the amazed lapidary that every petal and every leaf was to be designed with jewels and mounted on the scales of the tortoise.
The choice of stones made him pause. The diamond has become notoriously common since every tradesman has taken to wearing it on his little finger. The oriental emeralds and rubies are less vulgarized and cast brilliant, rutilant flames, but they remind one of the green and red antennae of certain omnibuses which carry signal lights of these colors. As for topazes, whether sparkling or dim, they are cheap stones, precious only to women of the middle class who like to have jewel cases on their dressing-tables. And then, although the Church has preserved for the amethyst a sacerdotal character which is at once unctuous and solemn, this stone, too, is abused on the blood-red ears and veined hands of butchers' wives who love to adorn themselves inexpensively with real and heavy jewels. Only the sapphire, among all these stones, has kept its fires undefiled by any taint of commercialism. Its sparks, crackling in its limpid, cold depths have in some way protected its shy and proud nobility from pollution. Unfortunately, its fresh fire does not sparkle in artificial light: the blue retreats and seems to fall asleep, only awakening to shine at daybreak.
None of these satisfied Des Esseintes at all. They were too civilized and familiar. He let trickle through his fingers still more astonishing and bizarre stones, and finally selected a number of real and artificial ones which, used together, should produce a fascinating and disconcerting harmony.
This is how he composed his bouquet of flowers: the leaves were set with jewels of a pronounced, distinct green; the chrysoberyls of asparagus green; the chrysolites of leek green; the olivines of olive green. They hung from branches of almandine and ouwarovite of a violet red, darting spangles of a hard brilliance like tartar micas gleaming through forest depths.
For the flowers, separated from the stalk and removed from the bottom of the sheaf, he used blue cinder. But he formally waived that oriental turquoise used for brooches and rings which, like the banal pearl and the odious coral, serves to delight people of no importance. He chose occidental turquoises exclusively, stones which, properly speaking, are only a fossil ivory impregnated with coppery substances whose sea blue is choked, opaque, sulphurous, as though yellowed by bile.
This done, he could now set the petals of his flowers with transparent stones which had morbid and vitreous sparks, feverish and sharp lights.
He composed them entirely with Ceylon snap-dragons, cymophanes and blue chalcedony.
These three stones darted mysterious and perverse scintillations, painfully torn from the frozen depths of their troubled waters.
The snap-dragon of a greenish grey, streaked with concentric veins which seem to stir and change constantly, according to the dispositions of light.
The cymophane, whose azure waves float over the milky tint swimming in its depths.
The blue chalcedony which kindles with bluish phosphorescent fires against a dead brown, chocolate background.
The lapidary made a note of the places where the stones were to be inlaid. "And the border of the shell?" he asked Des Esseintes.
At first he had thought of some opals and hydrophanes; but these stones, interesting for their hesitating colors, for the evasions of their flames, are too refractory and faithless; the opal has a quite rheumatic sensitiveness; the play of its rays alters according to the humidity, the warmth or cold; as for the hydrophane, it only burns in water and only consents to kindle its embers when moistened.
He finally decided on minerals whose reflections vary; for the Compostelle hyacinth, mahogany red; the beryl, glaucous green; the balas ruby, vinegar rose; the Sudermanian ruby, pale slate. Their feeble sparklings sufficed to light the darkness of the shell and preserved the values of the flowering stones which they encircled with a slender garland of vague fires.
Des Esseintes now watched the tortoise squatting in a corner of the dining room, shining in the shadow.
He was perfectly happy. His eyes gleamed with pleasure at the resplendencies of the flaming corrollae against the gold background. Then, he grew hungry — a thing that rarely if ever happened to him — and dipped his toast, spread with a special butter, in a cup of tea, a flawless blend of Siafayoune, Moyoutann and Khansky — yellow teas which had come from China to Russia by special caravans.
This liquid perfume he drank in those Chinese porcelains called egg-shell, so light and diaphanous they are. And, as an accompaniment to these adorable cups, he used a service of solid silver, slightly gilded; the silver showed faintly under the fatigued layer of gold, which gave it an aged, quite exhausted and moribund tint.
After he had finished his tea, he returned to his study and had the servant carry in the tortoise which stubbornly refused to budge.
The snow was falling. By the lamp light, he saw the icy patterns on the bluish windows, and the hoar-frost, like melted sugar, scintillating in the stumps of bottles spotted with gold.
A deep silence enveloped the cottage drooping in shadow.
Des Esseintes fell into revery. The fireplace piled with logs gave forth a smell of burning wood. He opened the window slightly.
Like a high tapestry of black ermine, the sky rose before him, black flecked with white.
An icy wind swept past, accelerated the crazy flight of the snow, and reversed the color order.
The heraldic tapestry of heaven returned, became a true ermine, a white flecked with black, in its turn, by the specks of darkness dispersed among the flakes.
He closed the window. This abrupt transition from torrid warmth to cold winter affected him. He crouched near the fire and it occurred to him that he needed a cordial to revive his flagging spirits.
He went to the dining room where, built in one of the panels, was a closet containing a number of tiny casks, ranged side by side, and resting on small stands of sandal wood.
This collection of barrels he called his mouth organ.
A stem could connect all the spigots and control them by a single movement, so that once attached, he had only to press a button concealed in the woodwork to turn on all the taps at the same time and fill the mugs placed underneath.
The organ was now open. The stops labelled flute, horn, celestial voice, were pulled out, ready to be placed. Des Esseintes sipped here and there, enjoying the inner symphonies, succeeded in procuring sensations in his throat analogous to those which music gives to the ear.
Moreover, each liquor corresponded, according to his thinking, to the sound of some instrument. Dry curacoa, for example, to the clarinet whose tone is sourish and velvety; kummel to the oboe whose sonorous notes snuffle; mint and anisette to the flute, at once sugary and peppery, puling and sweet; while, to complete the orchestra, kirschwasser has the furious ring of the trumpet; gin and whiskey burn the palate with their strident crashings of trombones and cornets; brandy storms with the deafening hubbub of tubas; while the thunder-claps of the cymbals and the furiously beaten drum roll in the mouth by means of the rakis de Chio.
He also thought that the comparison could be continued, that quartets of string instruments could play under the palate, with the violin simulated by old brandy, fumous and fine, piercing and frail; the tenor violin by rum, louder and more sonorous; the cello by the lacerating and lingering ratafia, melancholy and caressing; with the double-bass, full-bodied, solid and dark as the old bitters. If one wished to form a quintet, one could even add a fifth instrument with the vibrant taste, the silvery detached and shrill note of dry cumin imitating the harp.
The comparison was further prolonged. Tone relationships existed in the music of liquors; to cite but one note, benedictine represents, so to speak, the minor key of that major key of alcohols which are designated in commercial scores, under the name of green Chartreuse.
These principles once admitted, he succeeded, after numerous experiments, in enjoying silent melodies on his tongue, mute funeral marches, in hearing, in his mouth, solos of mint, duos of ratafia and rum.
He was even able to transfer to his palate real pieces of music, following the composer step by step, rendering his thought, his effects, his nuances, by combinations or contrasts of liquors, by approximative and skilled mixtures.
At other times, he himself composed melodies, executed pastorals with mild black-currant which evoked, in his throat, the trillings of nightingales; with the tender chouva cocoa which sang saccharine songs like "The romance of Estelle" and the "Ah! Shall I tell you, mama," of past days.
But on this evening Des Esseintes was not inclined to listen to this music. He confined himself to sounding one note on the keyboard of his organ, by swallowing a little glass of genuine Irish whiskey.
He sank into his easy chair and slowly inhaled this fermented juice of oats and barley: a pronounced taste of creosote was in his mouth.
Gradually, as he drank, his thought followed the now revived sensitiveness of his palate, fitted its progress to the flavor of the whiskey, re-awakened, by a fatal exactitude of odors, memories effaced for years.
This carbolic tartness forcibly recalled to him the same taste he had had on his tongue in the days when dentists worked on his gums.
Once abandoned on this track, his revery, at first dispersed among all the dentists he had known, concentrated and converged on one of them who was more firmly engraved in his memory.
It had happened three years ago. Seized, in the middle of the night, with an abominable toothache, he put his hand to his cheek, stumbled against the furniture, pacing up and down the room like a demented person.
It was a molar which had already been filled; no remedy was possible. Only a dentist could alleviate the pain. He feverishly waited for the day, resolved to bear the most atrocious operation provided it would only ease his sufferings.
Holding a hand to his jaw, he asked himself what should be done. The dentists who treated him were rich merchants whom one could not see at any time; one had to make an appointment. He told himself that this would never do, that he could not endure it. He decided to patronize the first one he could find, to hasten to a popular tooth-extractor, one of those iron-fisted men who, if they are ignorant of the useless art of dressing decaying teeth and of filling holes, know how to pull the stubbornest stump with an unequalled rapidity. There, the office is opened early in the morning and one is not required to wait. Seven o'clock struck at last. He hurried out, and recollecting the name of a mechanic who called himself a dentist and dwelt in the corner of a quay, he rushed through the streets, holding his cheek with his hands repressing the tears.
Arrived in front of the house, recognizable by an immense wooden signboard where the name of "Gatonax" sprawled in enormous pumpkin-colored letters, and by two little glass cases where false teeth were carefully set in rose-colored wax, he gasped for breath. He perspired profusely. A horrible fear shook him, a trembling crept under his skin; suddenly a calm ensued, the suffering ceased, the tooth stopped paining.
He remained, stupefied, on the sidewalk; finally, he stiffened against the anguish, mounted the dim stairway, running up four steps at a time to the fourth story. He found himself in front of a door where an enamel plate repeated, inscribed in sky-blue lettering, the name on the signboard. He rang the bell and then, terrified by the great red spittles which he noticed on the steps, he faced about, resolved to endure his toothache all his life. At that moment an excruciating cry pierced the partitions, filled the cage of the doorway and glued him to the spot with horror, at the same time that a door was opened and an old woman invited him to enter.
His feeling of shame quickly changed to fear. He was ushered into a dining room. Another door creaked and in entered a terrible grenadier dressed in a frock-coat and black trousers. Des Esseintes followed him to another room.
From this instant, his sensations were confused. He vaguely remembered having sunk into a chair opposite a window, having murmured, as he put a finger to his tooth: "It has already been filled and I am afraid nothing more can be done with it."
The man immediately suppressed these explanations by introducing an enormous index finger into his mouth. Muttering beneath his waxed fang-like moustaches, he took an instrument from the table.
Then the play began. Clinging to the arms of his seat, Des Esseintes felt a cold sensation in his cheek, and began to suffer unheard agonies. Then he beheld stars. He stamped his feet frantically and bleated like a sheep about to be slaughtered.
A snapping sound was heard, the molar had broken while being extracted. It seemed that his head was being shattered, that his skull was being smashed; he lost his senses, howled as loudly as he could, furiously defending himself from the man who rushed at him anew as if he wished to implant his whole arm in the depths of his bowels, brusquely recoiled a step and, lifting the tooth attached to the jaw, brutally let him fall back into the chair. Breathing heavily, his form filling the window, he brandished at one end of his forceps, a blue tooth with blood at one end.
Faint and prostrate, Des Esseintes spat blood into a basin, refused with a gesture, the tooth which the old woman was about to wrap in a piece of paper and fled, after paying two francs. Expectorating blood, in his turn, down the steps, he at length found himself in the street, joyous, feeling ten years younger, interested in every little occurrence.
"Phew!" he exclaimed, saddened by the assault of these memories. He rose to dissipate the horrible spell of this vision and, returning to reality, began to be concerned with the tortoise.
It did not budge at all and he tapped it. The animal was dead. Doubtless accustomed to a sedentary existence, to a humble life spent underneath its poor shell, it had been unable to support the dazzling luxury imposed on it, the rutilant cope with which it had been covered, the jewels with which its back had been paved, like a pyx.

(translation by John Howard)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Vancouver Special: Ambivalent Pleasures

For years I knew of Alison Yip as a gallery artist who drew and painted scenes that appeared less like they were entered through her own experiences than received at a distance through her or someone else's camera. Then recently I found myself on the ground floor of the Vancouver Art Gallery where, through the application of lattice wallpaper, Yip has transformed an interior architectural space (the rotunda) into a pre-fab exterior one (a gazebo). In the framed alcoves protected from this at-times broken motif, a series of painting experiments that look like they were conducted by À rebours (1884) anti-hero Jean Des Esseintes, après Bouvard et Pécuchet.

A Symbolist intro if ever there was one. Not that any of the younger artists in Vancouver Special: Ambivalent Pleasures have the means to finance a Des Esseintian retreat towards refinement and, ultimately, spiritual transcendence. To think as much would be dreaming.

I don't have too much to say about Vancouver Special: Ambivalent Pleasures, apart from its unfortunate collapse as I turned the corner into the first big room (I travelled the exhibition clock-wise). All that dreamy interior stuff (Tamara Henderson, Maya Beaudry, Derya Akay) -- only to be met by the work of four artists whose objects were not so much arranged to any generative effect by the curators but left to approximate the discomfort of a high school detention, where the detainees did nothing other than submit to an uninspired -- or indeed ambivalent -- presentation of their work.

Seems the smaller the exhibition space, the more Vancouver Special: Ambivalent Pleasures resonates as something from or of here. A material-experiential room that includes the work of Anne Low and Michael Drebert. Garry Neill Kennedy's re-mount of a mid-1980s Or exhibition. And my favourite, Julian Hou's old man SRO EDM crib, with the north wall removed to reveal a construction site on grounds that belong to a province whose current government, under the influence of its biggest fundraiser, is doing what it can to un-support the VAG's attempt to finance a new building. Like the broken holes in Yip's lattice pattern, Hou's room (and its view) is a window to a city as it always has been and, if things continue, always will be.

Tuesday, December 13, 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.

A thud.

On the floor beside me is the book I fell asleep reading. I pick it up and look for where I left off so I can mark its page and put it to bed too.

Elizabeth Rottenberg's translation of Maurice Blanchot's Friendship (1997).

In "The Birth of Art", Blanchot writes:

" does not become a man through all that is human in him, strictly speaking, and through what distinguishes him from other living beings; but only when he feels confident enough in his differences to grant himself the ambiguous power of seeming to break away from them and of glorifying himself, not in his prodigious acquisitions but rather by relinquishing these acquisitions, by abolishing them, and, alas, by expiating them -- it is true, also by overcoming them."

I am reminded here of Irigaray's "self-limitation," adrift as I am on what it means to be "ambiguous," which is among our finest art supplies -- ambiguity -- that which certain venture collectors secretly hope to crush in the artists they collect, aware that the artist draws his or her power from that which threatens those who seek certainty and, of those seekers, who deploy ambiguity to increase certainty's yield. This is the point of Adam Curtis's lyric documentary HyperNormalisation (2016), from Kissinger's "constructive ambiguity" to thugs like Putin and Trump.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Assu on Carr, Kennedy as Peck

At the Vancouver Art Gallery last week I came upon a group of elementary school students whose assignment it was to draw Sonny Assu's interventions into the (reproduced) paintings of Emily Carr. Meanwhile, on the floor below, Garry Neill Kennedy writing as Robin Peck via Jeff Wall on Dan Graham.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Lumbermen's Arch

Lumbermen's Arch is located at the north end of Stanley Park, on a midden "built" by Coast Salish residents of the former Xway Xway village.

In the 1920s, the Arch took a classical form:

Before that, in 1912, the Arch was located at Hamilton and West Pender Streets, a block south of where Canadian Pacific Railway employee Hamilton charted what became known as Vancouver after what became known as Vancouver was given -- given! -- by local "officials" to the C.P. Railway for locating its terminus not at Port Moody, as was intended, but a few miles west of it in what is now Coal Harbour.

Lumbermen's Arch was built by British Columbia's lumber barons. That it sits on a shell midden believed to contain over 500 years of continuous Coast Salish occupation (most of it prior to European contact) is symbolic of settler-indigenous relations in this province.

What histories would this midden reveal? At the very least we would know more about the effects of that devastating earthquake of 1700.

With the permissions of local First Nations, I would like to see this midden explored, made into a living museum, if not returned to those who had never given it up in the first place.

For more on the histories of this Arch, see Miss 604's August 29, 2011 post.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Ghost in the Machine

It is unlikely that the Los Angeles Kings hockey club modelled its monument after Géricault's raft, though both works speak to the persistence of endurance as a global cultural trait (the Kings had more than a few losing seasons in the 1970s).

A more recent example of modelling might be found in the makers of the Dosseh-Putain video that has its cast dressed in outfits reminiscent of those found in Nadir Attia's Ghost (2007).

It is a shame that Attia has taken action against the maker of this video and the French rappers who commissioned it, as I doubt the video is going to change anyone's mind about the power -- and indeed the ambiguity -- of Attia's work.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Reply from Tim Lee

A couple of weeks ago the Los Angeles Kings hockey club unveiled a monument to itself outside its home rink, the Staples Centre, in downtown L.A. Entitled 50th Anniversary Monument, the work is comprised of glass, granite and bronze and is authored by Itamar Amrany, Julie Amrany and Omri Amrany.

When I first saw the Monument I was reminded of Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa (1818-1819). I mentioned this in an email to artist Tim Lee and he responded below:

The Raft of the Medusa, of course, is based on a disaster.

There are several confusions in this sculpture – and they are simultaneously formal, conceptual, and ahistorical – but the first, immediate uncertainty is how a public monument to glory, and the totality of effort that underwrites it, could be rendered with such disastrous results. Given the hagiographic context, corporate setting, and seemingly design-by-committee/team-sport ethos in realizing it, this should not be a surprise. Nonetheless, if there is a broken line between simple intention and baroque mystification the set of askance responses that the work yields is somehow appropriate.

A lane-change in perspective then, from Théodore Géricault to Charles Ray, a Los Angeles artist who has a neurotic obsession with the psychology of space. Like Light From The Left (2007) and Oh Charley Charley Charley (1992), more than a few of his sculptural concerns are illustrated here. Among them, an Anthony Caro/Rubenesque relationship among parts. A shallow depth that strobes between competing forms of representation on a single plane: between the granite and glass of its base and armature; the bronze cast figures of the foreground (Dionne, Taylor, Kopitar, et al) set against the flat, two-dimensional rendering of Drew Doughty - the ne plus ultra prototype of a two-way player. Also, an explicit neuroticism - or rather, a series of sudden recognitions of a familiar object that were previously unavailable.

All the bizarre design elements combine in forcing us to “read” the work - an illustrative process of rendering what is already obvious even more literal: it’s the cursive Nike-like swoosh; the comic book flourish of frozen motion lines; the field of blue interlaced with an allover skate line pattern - like Pollock, the floor perpendicularly becomes a wall. History progresses linearly and sequentially from left to right – from Rogie Vachon in 1971 to Dustin Brown in 2014 – with an exclamation point. It is impossible to read it backwards. The Stanley Cup punctuates the work, and after your eye scans to it, you effectively finish an experience of the sculpture - and this is where an oblique understanding of the monument lasts. 

First, the Cup is at its most triumphal when held horizontally. I never realized it until now, but the act of claiming the trophy requires an upending of its inert, vertical standing. Second, the Cup, composed of silver, is recast here in bronze - a more economical and industrial material that is less precious yet characteristic of a lasting and necessary permanence - no good monument is ephemeral. Finally, Lord Stanley of Preston’s Cup, and its history as an emblem of British colonialism, is recast a century later in the conceptual centre of Staples Center - a gaudy, corporate entertainment district held aloft by an American player who captained a championship team named after the symbolic rule of British royalty. A hundred years later, empire remeets empire, this time in hysterical form. Therein lies the expansion and closing of a strange loop, and a diagonal reading of a neurotic sculpture.