Monday, July 31, 2017

CRWR 520 (10)

What was supposed to be a quick drink and a picture of the pyramid turned into three drinks and another tour -- this time led by the woman from the bar. She said she knew of more sandbags, and maybe after we could have dinner at her place, watch her laserdisc of Chinatown.

The most impressive stop on the tour was off Benvoulin Road near Mission Creek. There, on the other side of a decorative cattle fence, stood a cairn of 24 sandbags (six layers of four). Most of the field was a burned-out yellow, except for a square area surrounding the cairn, which was emerald.

“Hard to imagine this grass as anything but healthy,” I said.

“Would you eat it?” the woman asked.

“If I was a cow, probably.”

I reached for my phone, to take its picture, but it was dead.

Like Heaven’s Gate (1980) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974) is a great film that, like certain wines, only gets better with age. For me it is not just the film’s layers and how its composition reorients them as such (allows them to operate diagonally, for example), but the force of one layer in particular -- water politics -- and how these politics are lost on the film’s protagonist, who is in love with someone whose life is complicated beyond his comprehension.

“Is that what you think Chinatown’s about?” the woman asked after I went on a jag about how the subtext of the film is more interesting than its love story.

“No,” I said, "it’s about a lot of things.”

“Well, if it’s about its relationship with itself, like you said, then that’s what it's about, right?”

Her pad thai was sitting poorly in my stomach. I told her she was right -- that I was right, too -- before driving back to Benvoulin to take a picture of those sandbags.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

CRWR 520 (9)

The first sandbags I saw upon my return to Kelowna this June were in the Mission: a pyramid of a hundred or so piled high in the parking lot of my winter time watering hole, the Eldorado Hotel. With the threat of flood abated, and the parking lot a madhouse of minute-by-minute boat launches and landings, I asked the bartender why the hotel had not disposed of its sandbags.

“Infection,” he said scooting past. “They’re infected.”

“With what?” I asked.

“Poorly-built septic fields,” said the woman sitting next me.

The woman has a friend who works for the City. It was her friend who said that the initial notification sent out by staffers was a ruse, that those with sandbags on their property were told not to take them to the beach and empty them because the sand was not beach sand, when the real reason was that many of these bags were now “equal parts sand and fecal matter.”

“It’s God’s will!” I thought, in honour of an earlier declaration.

“There’s a lot of crap this City passes off as truth,” said the woman.

“It’s a conspiracy!” declared the bartender scooting back.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

CRWR 520 (8)

Last summer, while residing at the UBCO campus, I accepted an invitation from a reader I sometimes correspond with to join her and her girlfriend on a driving tour. As with most Okanagan driving tours, wine is involved. But because this was billed as a “tour of my youth” -- “in honour,” she added, of a book I once wrote that functioned as a tour of Vancouver in the 1970s -- we visited spaces only teenagers know about.

One such space was atop the bluffs of the Upper Mission, where between stops at Summerhill Pyramid Winery and St. Hubertus I was shown a Quilchena Park quite different from the Quilchena Park of my youth, as well as a stretch of road affected by the Kelowna fire of 2003. Most curious about this stretch was a situation that featured two alternating phases of mansion housing, with many of these houses appearing in an “order” out-of-phase with the usual pattern of property development -- an order so random as to suggest an otherworldliness that some might associate with Surrealism.

“The most unsettling part of this fire,” the Reader began, “was not the incineration of my aunt’s house, but that the houses on either side of it were untouched.”

 It was then explained to me by the Reader’s girlfriend (a volunteer at a West Kootenay fire station) that the presence of wind and fire together allows for a condition where within seconds a canvas patio umbrella can be lifted from the ground, set ablaze and propelled through a dormer up to two miles away. (Another explanation might have it that these houses are spaced so far apart from each other -- on lots upwards of three times the size of those found in the city -- that the likelihood of one house setting fire to the one beside is almost nil.)

“It’s God’s will!” proclaimed the Reader as we pulled into St. Hubertus.

“Only if you believe in Her,” said her friend.

Friday, July 28, 2017

CRWR 520 (7)

During my twelve months living in and out of Kelowna I learned that the city has two exclusive residences: along the lake and in the hills overlooking it. As I began to explore my Mission district neighbourhood last September I found myself gravitating towards the lake. My first lakeside visit was to Boyce-Gyro Beach Park, a 100 metre stretch of sod and sand named after a man named Boyce and a service group founded in 1912 who chose the name Gyro International based on the gyroscope, which is said to “maintain a desired course and attitude regardless of outside influences.”

As an “outside influence” I found it difficult to “maintain a desired course” beyond the northern and southern edges of the park, given that those who owned lakefront properties did everything they could to complicate public access. Although I have experienced similar measures taken by property owners along Malibu Beach in Southern California, nothing compares to the prohibitive sculpture and text works installed by some of Kelowna’s lakefront owners, some of whom have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep the public at bay.

Because lakefront property owners are permitted to moor their boats outside their homes, the public is often confronted with boardwalks whose design is closer to the anti-tank devices of Normandy Beach than a path from sundeck to pier. As for signage, every third house has some variant of Please respect the privacy of those living along the lake hammered into its lawn. One sign read: PLEASE DON’T LOOK AT OUR PICTURE WINDOW (of course I did). Another sign was even more invasive: DON’T EVEN THINK OF LOOKING AT OUR HOUSE!!! At which point I turned back in disgust.

With such attitudes in place, it is no wonder that the lake responded. Last April saw an unprecedented rise in water levels, erasing that thin ribbon of public beach separating the lake from its catastrophe of private homes. Suddenly those boardwalk and signpost barricades were no match for a lake that was, quite literally, rising above the public/private binary. In an effort to protect themselves, many of these homeowners constructed sandbanks.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

CRWR 520 (6)

My project for CRWR 520 focuses on collaboration both in form and in content. Originally my intention was to write on that necessarily collaborative form of sculpture known as sandbagging or, as Austen chimed-in during class, “sandbanks.” However, with the recent wildfires I am tempted to extend my project to include another collaborative action -- that social sculptural form known as the water brigade -- where people form a line and pass from one person to the next a bucket of water.

A version of the water brigade can be found in Robert Altman’s film McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971), the story of a self-centred entrepreneur who comes to a small mining town in search of opportunity only to find himself caring less about profits than protecting the town (known as Presbyterian Church) from corporate interests. This conversion, as it were, is played out at the conclusion of the film, when the entrepreneur’s confrontation of the corporation’s hired guns is juxtaposed with an attempt by townsfolk to extinguish a church fire.

Although the church fire was caused by human action (the hired guns), the rising water levels that flooded parts of the Okanagan Valley this spring were the result of natural causes (heavy snowfalls coupled with a sudden jump in temperature), events that drew attention to sandbaggers and sandbanks, but also to property relations.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

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 a garage sale yesterday I found a full-length mirror. A couple blocks away at a Home Hardware I found the right kind of clips to attach it. I thought the mirror would look good on the back of my door.

Turns out the mirror looks excellent on the back of my door, but only when viewed from the side.

Monday, July 24, 2017

"Digital Realism"

The opening paragraphs from today's e-flux architecture editorial:

"The later work of Walter Benjamin was largely dedicated to understanding the constitutive elements of nineteenth century Paris; not a physical city, but as the phantasmagoric construct that gave it the right to be called "Capital.” Phantasmagoria is, in short, the idea that the image projected onto the back of our retina is that of the world itself; that the allegory of the cave is not an allegory; that the shadows on the wall are more real than the objects casting them and their source of light. The internet today is, if nothing else, the phantasmagoric apparatus of the twenty-first century. Today we do not just identify with, but as our social media profiles; mistaking the it for the I and losing ourselves everywhere in between.
The internet has, since its cultural inception, been conceived of as an emancipatory technology. If, according to Benjamin, the invention of iron and glass predicated the nineteenth century paradigm of phantasmagoria through the “emancipation" of forms of construction from art—a historical trajectory that progressed onwards with the intervention of photography, montage, and the like—what, then, has the internet has emancipated from what? Conversely, the "accidents” of the internet—surveillance, fake news, the propagation of ideological evil, doxing, etc.—forces us to critically call into question the value of this emancipation; for who, and at what cost? 
The first decades of the twenty-first century has been marked by both a proliferation of psychopathological diagnosis and the financial instrumentation of the city. While both of these contemporary phenomena can be traced back to the infrastructural affordances and sociological transformations wrought by the internet with relative ease, they are nothing particularly new as categories of historical transformation. Parallel to the overrun of Haussmann’s Paris by fraudulent real estate speculation was a medical discourse acutely aware and sensitive to the perceived impacts of the metropolis on its population’s nervous systems, from anxiety to depression, fatigue, headache, heart palpitations, high blood pressure and the like."

Sunday, July 23, 2017

On Turtle Island

Friday's post includes a picture I took of Mariel Belanger's Thursday performance at the UBCO Commons. After posting the picture it occurred to me that something was wrong with the camera portion of my phone, as the image looked fuzzy. Sure enough, some of my e-juice found its way onto the phone's lens, giving the image that soft focus quality used by certain "girlie" magazine photographers in the 1970s who would apply Vaseline to their lenses to achieve the desired effect. Although tempted to delete the picture I decided to keep it because the scopic treatment was aligned with what I thought Mariel was getting at with the colonial princess-ification of indigenous women.

This June Canadian Art magazine released an indigenous "Kinship" issue guest edited by Nehiyaw-Saulteaux-Métis curator, writer, community organizer, Concordia Art History MA candidate and Canadian Art Indigenous Editor-at-Large Lindsay Nixon. On the cover is a photo-based artwork by Dayna Danger entitled Adrienne (2017). Dayna is an artist who, like Mariel, is concerned about the representation, colonization and commodification of the indigenous female body. Here is Dayna quoted in Canadian Art online:

“Space is really important to Indigenous people. If we’re literally waiting to get our land back, maybe I can at least try to claim space in other ways,” says Métis-Saulteaux-Polish artist Dayna Danger. “I really want to challenge the ways in which our bodies have been consumed in a way that doesn’t feel consensual and that doesn’t feel like it’s authentic or that it’s our own.”

Dayna's front cover artwork (shared with a Cree text that translates as "On Turtle Island," as well as a barcode) begins with the photograph of a young woman standing before/within a tan-coloured field, a slight shadow cast inward from her left leg. The woman is naked, her body adorned with tattoos of images and texts. Around her neck is what is commonly called a choker. Her black hair falls over most of her breasts and she is holding the cranial portion of antlers over her groin. Her fingernails are painted, but her toenails are not.

It is an arresting image, made more so by the glossy sheen emanating from the subject's body, an effect perhaps intended to counter the soft focus, low-light treatment given to the bodies of those in period girlie magazines, but one that, at least for this viewer, confuses the intention behind such a (counter-)treatment.

When I first saw Dayna's piece my immediate thought was that the subject's body had been smeared with animal fat (perhaps fat from the animal whose antlers we see?), but for others who have seen the piece some have said that the sheen gives the impression that the subject's body is made of plastic, and if that is the intention, how is that reconciled with what appears to be as a positive, unmediated, decolonized image of an indigenous woman?

Back in 2002 Rebecca Belmore turned the documentation of her Vigil (2002) performance (videotaped by Paul Wong) into an installation entitled The Named and the Unnamed (2002). What made The Named and the Unnamed less a projection was the surface onto which the projected image was held. That surface was not of a (neutral) white screen but a white screen gridded with incandescent light bulbs. Something I would like to see (or if not see, then know something more about) is the lighting regime Dayna used to illuminate the subject of her artwork -- and why she chose to keep the subject's shadow in the picture.

Saturday, July 22, 2017


Drove north from UBCO yesterday to see Scott August's completed exhibition at the Lake Country Art Gallery (the now demolished bandshell shown in an earlier post was located on the West Kelowna bluffs and was known to host concerts by bands like Trooper and Cheap Trick).

After that, a haircut in Vernon, and then to the ranch, where preparations are underway to bring the Airstream down from the hay barn.

In the meantime, dull stuff like laundry: turning fitted sheets into jelly fish.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Undoing the I Do

Yesterday at 4:30 p.m. Syilx artist and FCCS MFA classmate Mariel Belanger gave a performance at the UBCO Commons. Entitled Undoing the I Do, Mariel arrived at the foot of the Commons pond dressed in her wedding gown and carrying with her a woven bowl that contained a tin pot full of soil and/or ashes and a small box of soap, as well as a bouquet. To the tune of Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me" Mariel "washed" herself, the bouquet and the dress of that colonial fantasy known as "Indian Princess".

Thursday, July 20, 2017

CRWR 520 (5)

Although originally billed as keynote presentations by Jeannette Armstrong and Shawn Wilson, we were told by the afternoon’s emcee Stephen Foster that Richard Armstrong would be opening for Jeanette, followed by Shawn, and that pleased me some because Richard’s July 14, 2016 introduction to Syilx cosmology, preceded by Carmen Papalia’s Blind Field Shuttle (July 12, 2016) and followed by Fahreen HaQ’s Being Home performance at the Alternator Gallery (July 15, 2016), had a profound effect on how I have come to understand everything from indigenous land pedagogy to relationality to collaboration.

One of the more remarkable things that happens when listening to Richard, something that is rarely experienced these days when in the company of even the most experienced public speakers, is the complete lack of “ums” and “uhs” in his presentations. Could it be that Richard, who reminded us more than once that the knowledge he carries is not generally found in books, has rehearsed his words to the point where they flow in and out of him as naturally as bats from a cave? As someone who is always considering the presence of form as content in writing a work of art, in writing on a work of art or, increasing, in writing with a work of art, I have come to experience what Richard says of the land’s participation in our growth as human beings an instance of Richard performing that land. Or if not the performance of that land, then perhaps more humbly its embodiment.

It is my understanding that Richard gave a more recent introduction to Syilx cosmology last week, as well as took part in what emcee Foster described as an “inspiring” conversation with visiting artist Alex Janvier at the FINA Gallery. But as there likely were details about art and artists that occurred to Richard after his conversation with Alex, details particular to the Syilx people, Richard no doubt saw the need to address these things to an Intensive comprised as much of artists as scholars. And so it was for this reason that, after a few words about who he is (a Syilx knowledge-keeper) and where he comes from (an Okanagan Valley divided into two colonial spheres by a politicized 49th Parallel), he announced that he would speak to art and artists.

“Are there things an artist should not be doing?” Richard asked rhetorically. And then of course the answers.

The first answer began with some context concerning that reductive popular cultural mediator known as Hollywood. Richard told us of Hollywood’s persistent use of red ochre face paint when depicting indigenous people in its films. “Red ochre is sacred,” Richard began, and from there he told us how it has particular uses, like the marks found on petroglyphs. Artists can mix red ochre to make paint for use in paintings, he added, but red ochre should never be applied to one’s face. The second verboten concerns the use of a deer’s dew claws in the making of an artwork, for these, too, are sacred. “These are used to make rattles for the Winter Dance,” Richard told us, before moving on to what at first sounded like the unrelated topic of “land law,” but was, as we have come to know (also) through the writings of Oglala Lakota theologian Vine Deloria, Jr and more recently through those of Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, writer and artist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, another contextual introduction to how stories are told both of and from the land, and if “[a]rtists can use stories to make art,” as Richard encouraged us to do so, then the laws of the land that provides us with such stories must be observed.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Alex Janvier

As part of UBCO's Summer Indigenous Intensive, Dene Suline and Saulteaux artist Alex Janvier was invited to use the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies' FINA Gallery as a studio. In recognition, Alex invited interested participants to visit him.

When I stepped into the gallery yesterday Alex was just pushing off from his work table after cleaning his brushes. Before him hung twelve recently completed paintings tacked side-by-side to the wall. "Sit down," he said pointing to a chair. I introduced myself and from there, as the song says, "I fell into a dream."

Forty-five minutes passed, and when I left, I knew something. I knew I knew less, not more, than I knew before, and that I needed to let go of more, and how difficult it is to go about it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

CRWR 520 (4)

A collaboration that begins with entering the word (collaboration) into a computer search engine so ubiquitous (Google) as to transcend its function (search engine) and provide that which is shown below (though reformatted):


the action of working with someone to produce or create something.
"he wrote on art and architecture in collaboration with John Betjeman"

traitorous cooperation with an enemy.
"he faces charges of collaboration"

I am familiar with the first example -- working with someone to make a book -- but the second example feels pejorative. Could not “the action of working with someone” in a “traitorous" capacity be better expressed in a word like conspiracy? Bad enough that the world has for so long looked down on literary collaboration as a transgression of the romantic notion of singular genius than to find it maligned through its “cooperation with an enemy.” Is this the market talking, where the preferred form of literary authorship -- or indeed of authority in general -- privileges the one above the many?

But returning to the first definition: Is it necessary that “the action of working with someone” has that "someone" limited to another human being?

Scholars from Oglala Sioux theologian Vine Deloria, Jr. to Secwepemc artist Tania Willard have written and spoken of the land as a sentient being -- a parent, a teacher, a collaborative agent able to “produce or create something.” I suppose the same could be applied to that artificially intelligent landscape known as the internet, which in the early 21st century gave us poems "mined" from unusual word pairings entered into search engines. The name given to this style of poetry is flarf. The  name given to stories born from the land varies from community to community, but among the Syilx-speaking people of the Okanagan they are known as captikwl.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Forest Fire As Sunset Enhancer

First it was a cold and snowy winter, then it was spring floods, now it is summer fires. What will the fall bring?

If we are to believe that the land is a living being, like a teacher or a parent, what lessons remain of a land that is pushing itself to extremes in order to help us understand?

"To every season, turn, turn, turn..."

And with fall around the corner -- does anything ever happen in the fall? Could it be rains this year?

Sunday, July 16, 2017


While at Lake Country (Winfield) last Friday I visited the Lake Country Art Gallery to speak with curator Wanda Lock and artist Scott August, who were installing.

Scott's exhibition, entitled Furbish: Remnant Themes of Post-Amusement, is a re-imaginging of the work of Okanagan-based Peter Soehn, who for many years animated the region, as well as parts of the Lower Mainland and Alberta, with eye-catching billboards and moulded sculptures, like those commissioned by the former Kelowna Zoo and Old Macdonald's Farm.

The picture atop this post is an inset from a larger montage Scott created for Furbish. In addition to the concrete concert stage that once stood at the centre of this whispering field are billboards, not just those managed by media giants like the Pattison Group, but by local companies as well.

I had hoped to have more to say about this former concert stage (information I thought I might gather from my visit to the gallery this afternoon), but when I arrived the door was locked, and it was only then that it occurred to me that the person in charge of sitting the gallery was likely delayed due to the wildfire that broke out last night at the other side of Lake Country (Okanagan Centre) -- which sadly turned out to be the case.

In a couple of weeks I should have a more comprehensive piece written on Scott's exhibition. In the meantime, thank you to Scott and Wanda for allowing me to photograph the exhibition in the midst of its installation.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Bottom Wood Lake Road

Just as the Lower Mainland absorbed the towns of Haney and Hammond into Maple Ridge, so too has the Okanagan absorbed the towns of Oyama, Winfield, Carr's Landing and Okanagan Centre into Lake Country.

The picture up top (taken yesterday) is of a "hand launch" site at the foot of Bottom Wood Lake Road. As you can see, water levels remain high. As you can't see, the sandbags that once stood there...

Also unavailable to pedestrian view are the "sandbanks" (Austin's word) that remain in front of houses that cannot be accessed due to high water levels, but also trespassing laws that protect private property from those curious enough to find themselves transgressing them.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Under the Mango Tree

Above is the second paragraph of 221A's announcement of its participation in documenta 14's Under the Mango Tree -- Sites of Learning. (If Documenta has learned anything from Athens, maybe it's time to learn something with Documenta?) Of note is the assertion that "the structures of formal education systems are increasingly reaching their productive and epistemological limits." But if this is the case, what about the possessive apostrophe (or is it a contraction?) in the first sentence ("221A's shifts its...")? How productive are gaffes like that? As for the title ("Under the Mango Tree"), Freire's critical pedagogy is to graduate colloquia what Berger's Ways of Seeing (1972) remains to first-year art school courses -- a staple.

I am all for artist-run centres providing educational opportunities. Years ago Vancouver's Kootenay School of Writing promoted itself as such, offering courses and workshops led by visiting writers and artists like Charles Bernstein and Abigail Child. More recently, the 2012 Institutions by Artists conference exemplified the ever-blossoming relationship between artist-run centres and the academy. If these "limits" are to be addressed, perhaps we might find them in relational expressions, not those limited to disingenuous generalizations and unchecked typographical errors*.

* now corrected

Thursday, July 13, 2017

CRWR 520 (3)

On Wednesday July 12 the Summer Indigenous Intensive featured keynote presentations by cultural studies scholar Monika Kin Gagnon followed by artists Chris Creighton-Kelly & France Trépanier. Although indigeneity was at the forefront of both presentations, each took a different form, with Monika adapting an illustrated three-part expository essay (introduction, body, conclusion) and Chris & France enacting a polemical, if somewhat overlapping, “grand narrative” point-counterpoint dialogue that included “live” camera, projected intertitles and ceremonial regalia. While tempted to discuss the relational subject position achieved in Chris & France’s work, it is Monika’s presentation that I will respond to.

In this year of anniversaries (150 in Canada, 375 in Quebec), Monika chose the 50th anniversary of Expo ’67 to dedicate herself to both a book on this Montreal-based world’s fair (of which she is a co-editor) and a visual art exhibition (of which she is a co-curator). Her aim here is not to celebrate the fair, but to “rethink” it in relation to current events, with a particular focus on the fair’s inclusion and representation of indigenous peoples as manifest in the Indians of Canada Pavilion.

In her presentation Monika provides a cursory introduction to Canada’s colonial history and how world’s fairs have been used to entwine technological innovation and commerce (she misidentifies Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism, 1993, as Culture and Empire), before turning to a brief history of the Indians of Canada Pavilion, her “culture jamming” exhibition at the Musée d’Art Contemporain, then, finally, a hurried conclusion that emphasizes the collaborative potential of research-creation between artists and scholars (she appreciated Ashok’s mention of “creative archiving” in his introduction). Only later, during the Q&A, did Monika remind the audience that “in my field of Cultural Studies we’re interested in conjunctions,” a methodological detail that could have appeared at the beginning of her presentation, to orient the listener, not at the end, as if to justify what was left unsaid.

My critical response to Monika’s presentation is based largely on what I have come to see as a general failing in a lot of modern art discourse, where art is seen as autonomous, unbeholden to contexts such as siting, which, like the museumological white cube, is considered a neutral space. What I wanted to hear more of concerned the siting of Expo ’67, the contested land on which it was mounted. I suppose this is why my Q&A question focused on the affect Vancouver’s Expo ’86 had on Monika’s “rethink” of Montreal’s Expo. Those present will recall Monika’s response: “I wasn’t living in Vancouver then -- I didn’t move there until 1990.” But as many Vancouver culture workers know, the negative consequences of Expo ’86 remained present long after the fair closed its doors -- just as the negative consequences of Expo ’67 remain present in Montreal today.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

CRWR 520 Proposal (2)

From Brian's down to Westside Road, north to Hwy 97, then south down Old Kamloops Road to 30th Avenue, east to 30th Street, south to Commonage, Carr's Landing, and then Okanagan Centre, where I stopped to take pictures of sandbags.

The picture below features a range of structures put in place to retain the road (concrete blocks), but also to protect it from rising waters (burlap and polyurethane sandbags, as well as rocks and pre-fab road curbs!).

I like these old bags!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Brian returned from New Mexico yesterday with some Navaho weavings. One had a stain on it the same colour as the red in my pen.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Bush Gallery

A rock I watched from my haunches while playing with the dogs at Bush Gallery.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Dog Beach at Fintry

There's so little beach left.

"You should've seen it last week," said the woman three trees over, pointing to the tree behind her -- "the water was up to here!"

Heavy winter snowfalls coupled with a sudden rise in temperatures equals higher than usual water levels, compromised septic fields and, as you can imagine, closed beaches.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Sunset in July

As we stepped from the Rotary Centre last night I remarked on the intensity of the sun. Tania said it looks that way because of the forest fires.

I had heard about forest fires near Ashcroft and Princeton earlier that day, but Tania had more recent news: the province had issued an evacuation order for Cache Creek.

When I turned on the radio this morning the province had taken things even further, declaring a state of emergency for all of B.C.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

CRWR 520 Proposal

I have always admired the work of stonemasons, particularly those who practice uncoursed rubble masonry[1], where intact stones of various sizes are used to create a range of structures, from those that go unseen (foundations), to those that protect those who don’t want to be seen (compound walls), to those that denote the lodgings of those whose labour is devalued when discussing economies where the capitalist mode of production is operative (worker housing).

As a teenager I was told that if I insisted on writing unspectacularly I would do well to learn a trade -- so I read everything I could on masonry. When reflecting on a life in writing, I sometimes wonder if I, like Hesse’s Goldmund, might have been happier had I chosen to make my poems with, say, river rock, sand and earth, and not ink, paper and letters (and now plastic and electricity).

This April the Okanagan Valley experienced a confluence of conditions that resulted in rising water levels and flooding. Because I sometimes live here, and because I believe in the power of the occasional poem, I thought I would propose a collaborative project that linked my work as a (local) writer with those whose work is, if not masonry in the way we have come to know it, based on similar principles -- but with softer, homogenous and more expedient results: sandbagging.

What would such a collaboration look like? What are its terms? How and where would it begin? These are difficult questions to answer. Difficult because if I had answers, I would be on my own with them -- a failed collaborator.

A place to begin my inquiry could be with those who manufacture sandbags. Another place could be with those who have assembled sandbags and placed them in areas susceptible to flooding. A third place could be with those who distribute sandbags at times of emergency -- namely, government (a branch of which is the military).

As far as production methods go, that too is to be determined, based in part on terms offered up by my collaborators. With that said, in whatever discussions I enter into I will introduce the relationship between the written poem and that which is made with river rock, sand and earth, a form that has more in common with something we walk on -- a pathway -- than a poem or a prose paragraph.

At present, my proposal is a fantasy. Or if not a fantasy, it begins as such, perhaps similarly to the way Roland Barthes began his 1977-78 Collège de France lectures. In an essay prior to the posthumous publication of his lecture notes (The Neutral), Barthes writes of his interest in a “phantasmic teaching” concerned with the “comings and goings of desire,” and “that at the origins of teaching such as this we must always locate a fantasy, which can vary from year to year.”[2]

This year’s fantasy is a trauma fantasy -- brought on by flooding.

2. Roland Barthes, “Lecture,” trans. Richard Howard, October, no. 8 (spring 1979): 5