Saturday, September 30, 2017

Footsteps at an Exhibition

Upon entering the Kelowna Art Gallery's A Legacy of Canadian Art from Kelowna Collections exhibition: in the foreground, two Lower Mainland (Salish) mortars dated 2000 BCE; in the background, the Red Ensign (Canadian) flag; in between them, landscape paintings.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Autumn Morning

A stump amongst firs.

A bush explodes from the hillside.

A twenty pound bough.

A fifteen pound basket. One of twenty-five filled that afternoon.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

No Ifs, Ands or Buts!

If I think I can, and if in thinking I can, I try; and if trying goes poorly, but I am happy with the results, I have all but ignored your warning.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Mount Hood Hops

The strangest thing last Saturday. I was gardening out front when I heard the jingle of what turned out to be a Morris Man.

A Morris Man! I said, and he said, Yes, I am a Morris Man, and we are dancing at the WISE Hall this afternoon -- to ring in the equinox!


More banter, then he reached into his pocket and gave me some hops.

These are Mount Hood hops, he said. All the hops in the Pacific Northwest are mothered from these hops. Drop two of them in your beer, like you would a tea bag into water, and whoosh -- you'll get a boost!

Of hops!

Mount Hood hops!

I'm not big on hops -- I don't like IPAs -- but I don't tell the Morris Man that. Nor do I tell him that if I like hops, it is Saaz hops, because when I am not drinking lager, it is pilsner.

But really, I know very little about beer, and in saying what little I know, I only take us further from his friendliness, his giving.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Sunday Walk

Duplex is an independent project space and studio collective accessible through the alley behind 4257 Fraser Street. I walked there yesterday for the last hour of Emily Hill's excellent It is Hard to Tape a Fish exhibition of "rug paintings." Of course the work is more than that -- more than rugs and more than painting -- and more than paint, too, for that matter.

Here is a picture of one of the four works on display:

For more on Emily's project, visit her website (proper documentation and illustrative text forthcoming).

When I arrived at Duplex, Emily and Steffanie were sitting outside in the sun. While chatting we noticed some graffiti on the fence across from us: two figures, one of which looked like it had had its boards rearranged by the person who owns the fence. Or is this what the artist intended?

"It looks wilful," said Steffanie, and indeed it did. A well-placed work of art for artists and audiences coming and going from Duplex.

At 724 East 24th I noticed another instance of public mark-making -- this one by City of Vancouver Engineering.

I guess the logic here is, Since we're gonna tear up your garden, we might as well spray paint over your plants. Yet another tale from the emergent mercenary city.

After that, a sculpture in the alley behind the 900-block of East 22nd.

Sunday, September 24, 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.

The first days of fall, its hot afternoons, its heavy dews. The last of the grapes scattered on the ground amidst the crunch of leaves, the buzz of wasps. I have to watch my step.

Another winter coming, and with it memories of recent winters, where I am numb to its elements, imagining sun-dried sheets and yellow lawns, awaking to the light, sometimes reading by it well into the night.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Friday, September 22, 2017


My mother continues to downsize. The boxes she passes on to me are getting smaller and smaller. The latest is a shoebox with my earliest writings.

Here is something I wrote in 1975, when I was thirteen:

i f e e l m y s e l f d i s i n t e g r a t i n g

b r e a k i n g u p l i k e p o l a r i c e

y e t i r e m a i n o u t s i d e m y s e l f

w o n d e r i n g w h i c h f l o e

t o j u m p t o

( i f a t a l l )

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Calle del Calle

In December 2016, only 5% of Spain's streets were named after women. Of that percentage, most were saints or religious figures.

The earliest post-Franco governments had moved to change that, but Spanish bureaucracy is glacial, and it has taken almost 40 years for municipal governments to begin the rededication of public spaces.

Spanish cities such as Bilbao, Oviedo and Càdiz have embarked on a project to rename 80% of their streets equally after men and women involved in civil rights activism, science and art.

Women of international distinction include Rosa Parks, Frida Kahlo and Jane Austen. Perhaps one day Sophie Calle's name will be called upon.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Civic Palimpsests

Toys "R" Us Canada has filed for bankruptcy protection in an attempt to do what everybody does these days and that's move forward.

Above are two signs. The first is the Toys "R" Us sign at the 1100-block West Broadway; the second is the Bowell-McLean car dealership sign over which the Toys "R" Us name was placed.

How did this happen?

In 1958 Bowell-McLean built what was then the largest free-standing sign in North American, illuminated or otherwise. Some loved it, some didn't, some didn't care either way. Among the "didn't"s was the band Pied Pumkin, who wrote a song about it that I can't find anywhere.

After Toys "R" Us purchased the Bowell-McLean car lot in the mid-1990s, Vancouverites petitioned to save the Bow/Mac sign. In 1997 Vancouver city council declared the Bow/Mac sign a landmark, but that it had to share with Toys "R" Us.

Something similar happened a few years later with the Hotel Niagara at the 900-block West Pender. Eventually the waterfall under which Ramada imposed its name was erased.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The L.A. Flood Control Channel Is the L.A. River

A documentary on the Los Angeles River and the effort to revitalize it.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Art Washing

An L.A. Times article on the closing of a non-profit art space in Boyle Heights that, because of its tone and structure, could never be mistaken for an L.A. Times article on a neighbourhood's response to gentrification.

The quotes up top are those highlighted by L.A. Times editors. Here is the punctum quote as reported from a statement released by the Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement (BHAAAD) and Defend Boyle Heights:

“Civil discourse only functions when it is intersectional: the erasure of a predominantly working-class community of color demanding your removal is nowhere near intersectional, therefore void.”

Now here is a quote from longtime Vancouver activist Jean Swanson who is seeking a by-election seat on Vancouver City Council this October 14:

"Some ideas don't seem possible until you leap and then the idea of what's possible expands."

Now here is the mind-expanding "Star Gate" sequence in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968):

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Janitorial Residency

Next week I begin a residency at Griffin Art Projects. Below is my statement:

“I always say that you cannot tell what a picture really is or what an object really is until you dust it every day...” ― Gertrude SteinThe Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

Two years ago, while in the midst of a Baudelairian crisis that had me looking to get anywhere out of the world, I saw an advertisement for a reasonably priced 1973 Airstream trailer. The owner said the trailer was in good working condition; all it needed was a good clean. Fortunately for me this turned out to be the case.

After moving the trailer to a friend’s ranch, I began to clean it, and in cleaning it I came to appreciate the genius of the Airstream design, a design that owes as much to consultations with homemakers as it does with engineers. But as much as I learned about this trailer from cleaning it, I also learned that I am not a very good cleaner. “You're neat, but not clean,” I was told by a friend who helped out with some renovations. This, too, had a profound effect on me.

When Griffin Art Projects invited me to propose a residency, I asked if I could use the gallery as a training ground and work under a professional cleaner. While I am under no illusions that I will learn more about the gallery by cleaning it, I am hoping to learn what it is to clean a space and clean it well -- beyond what appears before me.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Vancouver's Killing Field

In 1966 British Columbia premier W.A.C. Bennett decided to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the unification of Vancouver Island and the mainland with a commission on the north lawn of the B.C. Provincial Courthouse (now the site of the Vancouver Art Gallery). Bennett wanted the content of the commission (a fountain) to be a secret, so he hired a hoarding company to erect 4'x7' sheets of plywood and paint them green and white -- the provincial Social Credit party colours.

Vancouver Mayor Bill Rathie had another idea. Rather than have Vancouverites endure an alternating green-and-white wall for six months, he invited artists to make paintings on these plywood sheets. Thus the Vancouver "paint-in" was born.

A couple weeks ago the province unveiled its latest plaza commission. Gone is the fountain, while in its place stands a white guillotine platform (on the Howe Street side)

wooden autopsy benches

and a surface whose design features coffins.

Friday, September 15, 2017

L. Ron Burnett University of Art by Design

"Since platforms are grounded on the extraction of data and the generation of network effects, certain tendencies emerge from the competitive dynamics of these large platforms: expansion of extraction, positioning as a gatekeeper, convergence of markets, and enclosure of eco-systems. These tendencies then go on to be installed in our economic systems." -- Nick Srnicek, Platform Capitalism, p. 98

Data used to turn False Creek east of Main Street from wetland to flatland came from rocks dug out of the Grandview Cut (or what came to be known as the Grandview Cut) by the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Thursday, September 14, 2017


When I saw this picture of twins taken in Vancouver's Strathcona neighbourhood in 1930 my first thought was of the twins in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980).

But when I looked at a picture of The Shining's twins today I thought they looked more like the Strathcona twins than the twins in Kubrick's film.

Wednesday, September 13, 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.

Atop the books beside my bed is Benjamin Moser's Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector (2009), the story of a writer born in post-World War I Ukraine of Jewish parents who, as a child, left with her family for northeastern Brazil.

I wonder if Lispector would be happy with that narrative. Of course there is more -- and less. More because Lispector's life was only just beginning; more because there is more to Lispector's "inflexible individuality," as Moser describes it, than what those two words connote.

I am interested in "inflexible individuality," as I see a lot of it these days, from those in the business of ambiguity (artists) to those whose stock and trade is market certainty (Donald Trump). Conversely, I am equally aware of an emergent subject position based on the relational, the intersectional, or indeed the positional, particularly in the writings of indigenous artists and scholars.

Elizabeth Bishop befriended Lispector in Brazil in the early 1960s. This friendship is recorded in Bishop's correspondence with Robert Lowell, where she tells Lowell of her translations of Lispector's stories, how Lispector is "the most non-literary writer I've ever known, and never cracks a book as we used to say. She's never read anything that I can discover -- I think she's a self-taught writer, like a primitive painter."

This too is a common contemporary condition, and in reading it I am reminded of what Boris Groys often says about a world -- and a time -- when everyone is a writer, but nobody reads. Below is paragraph from his 2012 e-flux essay:

"This is where theory demonstrates its solidarity with the general mood of our times. In earlier times, recreation meant passive contemplation. In their free time, people went to theatres, cinemas, museums, or stayed home to read books or watch TV. Guy Debord described this as the society of spectacle—a society in which freedom took the form of free time associated with passivity and escape. But today’s society is unlike that spectacular society. In their free time, people work—they travel, play sports, and exercise. They don’t read books, but write for Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. They do not look at art but take photos, make videos, and send them to their relatives and friends. People have become very active indeed. They design their free time by doing many kinds of work. And while this activation of humans correlates with the major forms of media of the era dominated by moving images (whether film or video), one cannot represent the movement of thought or the state of contemplation through these media. One cannot represent this movement even through the traditional arts; Rodin’s famous statue of the Thinker actually presents a guy resting after working out at a gym. The movement of thought is invisible. Thus, it cannot be represented by a contemporary culture oriented to visually transmittable information. So one can say that theory’s unknowable call to action fits very well within the contemporary media environment."

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Subcultural Heritage

This Thursday I will be participating on a panel entitled Subcultural Heritage: Emergence of Social Diversity and the Creation of Heritage. This is "Conversation #3" in a series of Shaping Vancouver panels hosted by Heritage Vancouver in partnership with SFU's Vancity Office of Community Engagement.

The photo above is of the SBC Restaurant, an indoor skateboarding park/restaurant and the former site of the Smilin' Buddha Cabaret. (Source: Vancouver As It Was.) The photo below was taken in the 1960s by a Province newspaper photographer.

Below is 575 Beatty Street as it was in the late-1960s, when it was home to Intermedia:

There is no 575 Beatty Street today, only attempts at reminding us what stood there:

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Swarm 18, Part 2

The flow at VIVO Thursday night was steady but gentle. Soft conversations with Jordan Strom, Jamie Hilder and Steven Tong, who invited me to his wedding in October. Last night's openings at the Or and Artspeak were a little busier, a little louder.

Behind the bar at the Or were Steffanie Ling and Kate Noble. Both Steffanie and Kate were in a special topics course I initiated at ECUAD a few years back. Steffanie's recent book of fiction, Nascar (2016), feels like equal parts Charles Baudelaire (Paris Spleen, 1855), Nathalie Sarraute (Tropisms, 1939) and Roland Barthes (Mythologies, 1957). I recommend it. You can find copies at Pulp Fiction. Kate is the Acting Associate Director of the Or.

The Or's new Director/Curator Denise Ryner was there, so I introduced myself and congratulated her on her appointment. Guest curator Kathleen Ritter was there, too. I had not seen Kathleen in ages, so we had a quick catch up. Kathleen is teaching at Parsons Paris. Click here and you will see a picture of Kathleen and her colleagues. Everyone looks so striking! Maybe it's the black-and-white photography. Ghosts from Bande à part (1964). That scene, or this one.

Sky Goodden was visiting from Toronto, and we spoke. I congratulated her on three years of Momus, and she appreciated that. I will throw a party for Sky when she returns in April.

"Barb," I called out to a woman passing by. She turned around. "I'm not Barb." But like Barb would say, "Who's Barb?" and I told her.

This went on for some time, with lots of laughter, before "Barb" reached for her notebook to write down "Barb Choit". "My name's Michelle -- Michelle Weinstein," she said, and we talked about her Old Powerhouse project in Portland, Oregon, and I said I would look it up tomorrow.

Tiziana La Melia was there. So was Julian Hou. Lauren Marsden and her partner arrived with their pram and their tiny two month old daughter inside.

I returned my glass to Kate and headed down Hamilton to Artspeak.

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Shapes of Things

With Irma fast approaching, Astronomy's "path of totality" is about to be eclipsed by Meteorology's "cone of uncertainly."

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Swarm 18

Tonight is the first night of Swarm 18, a two-night opening of Vancouver artist-run centres' 2017-2018 seasons. In past years I might have written "a two-night opening of Vancouver artist-run centres' 2017-2018 exhibition seasons," but exhibitions are only an aspect of artist-run culture these days, so it is not so much exhibitions that are opening but the doors behind which they are mounted.

There are three Swarm events tonight (in addition to an opening at the Belkin). The one I will visit  is LOVE AND ROCKETS at VIVO Media Arts.

Here is the press release:

Join us for the opening of Curator-in-Residence Derrick Chang’s Love and Rockets in conjunction with SWARM 2017.
Elizabeth Milton (Vancouver), Jennifer Remenchik (Los Angeles) and Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay (Edinburgh)
With recordings of music and spoken word by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg). Music videos by Cara Mumford (Métis / Chippewa Cree) and Amos Scott (Tlicho/ Dene)
Love and Rockets* is an exploration of longing and everyday feelings that provide an outlet for tensions and power dynamics that exist within interpersonal relationships. As a trope, the overwrought emotion of love is normally associated with cinematic melodrama that often results in an excessive display of feelings from both the actors and the viewers. Within the dynamics of music, film and video, an intimate relationship emerges that crosses between the individual and the screen. L&R represents a crucial understanding of how these ideals are transmitted from the screen to reality and back again and conversely reified through slippages in fiction and autobiographical narrative. The artists in the L&R screening series confront the way in which we control the inner monologue that tells us, “Don’t get so emotional,” and minimizes what are important issues such as respect, freedom, dignity and power that accompany tensions within relationships, broken affairs and emotional recovery. As some of the artists in the screening state, their work often reflects on states of tragi-comic emergence, emotional growth and medicines for acceptance, connection, intimacy and love.
Elizabeth Milton is a performance and media artist based in Vancouver. She holds an MFA in Studio Art from the University of British Columbia and a BFA in Visual Art from Simon Fraser University. Her work has been exhibited throughout Canada and Europe and developed through residencies at Skaftfell Centre for Visual Art, Iceland, Access Gallery and the Banff Centre. Her recent performances, exhibitions and screenings have taken place at the Vancouver Art Gallery, the grunt gallery (Vancouver) and Altes Finanzamt (Berlin, Germany). She instructs courses in Studio Art at the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University and Langara College in Vancouver, BC.
Jennifer Remenchik received her MFA from California Institute of the Arts in 2015 and her BFA from the University of Texas at Austin in 2009. Her works have been exhibited in a number of institutions and galleries including Industry Lab, Boston, MA; HILDE, Los Angeles, CA; BEEFHAUS, Dallas, TX; and the Contemporary Austin, Austin, TX, among others. Recently, she completed residencies at the Performing Arts Forum in St. Erme, France, Toni Areal in Zurich, Switzerland, the Banff Centre in Alberta, CA, and the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT. Remenchik lives and works in Los Angeles.
Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay is an artist and diarist. His artistic gestures in sound, video and text contemplate the history of song and the gender of voices, the rendering of love and emotion into language, and the resurrection and manipulation of voices – sung, spoken or screamed. In his work you will find bells, bouquets, enchanted forests, folding screens, gay elders, glitter, gold leaf, love letters, imaginary paintings, madrigals, megaphones, mirrors, naked men, sign language, subtitles, and the voices of birds, boy sopranos, contraltos, countertenors and sirens.
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a renowned Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg artist, musician, poet and writer, who has been widely recognized as one of the most compelling Indigenous voices of her generation. Her work breaks open the boundaries between story and song—bringing audiences into a rich and layered world of sound, light, and sovereign creativity. She has published extensive fiction and poetry in both book and magazine form, in the Walrus, Arc Poetry Magazine, Geist, and C Magazine. Her second book of short stories and poetry, This Accident of Being Lost will be published by House of Anansi Press in Spring 2017.
DERRICK CHANG is a curator and writer, whose research critically examines the nature of ethics and politics in artistic practice. His current research and writing extends this examination to consider the personal and its formal associations in the context of diverse archeologies of love as mixed subcultures of feeling and emotion.

*Love and Rockets is a homage to the 80s alternative comic, of the same name, by the Hernandez brothers. L&R is an ongoing series chronicling the lives of a diverse cast of Latinx characters whose identity and community exist as part of mainstream conversations, not as an aside. Through the visual language of sci-fi, magic realist and punk rock influences, their storyboards give us insight into narratives that illustrate dynamic scenes of relationships that both flourish and spiral out of control.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

"The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" (1964)

"I changed the reporter's view into -- I used it -- I used it for something that I wanted to say. And I used his view -- the many reporters' views -- to get at what I wanted to say and turn it that way. And I used a true story, that's all."

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

I Just Gotta Have More Horn!

Christopher Walken is excellent as the angel Gabriel in Prophecy (1995) and its sequels.

Monday, September 4, 2017

"Finest Worksong" (1987)

The Work Tour was the name R.E.M. gave to its 1987 tour in support of its Document album -- the last album the band made for I.R.S. Records. The first track on that album, "Finest Worksong", is a favourite of mine. Here is its lyric:

The time to rise has been engaged
You're better best to rearrange
I'm talking here to me alone
I listen to the finest work song
Your finest hour, your finest hour

Another chance has been engaged
To throw Thoreau and rearrange
You are following this time
I beg you not, beg to rhyme (blow your horn)
Your finest hour (blow your horn), your finest hour

Take your instinct by the reins
Your better best to rearrange
What we want and what we need
Has been confused been confused (blow your horn)
Your finest hour (blow your horn), your finest hour

Take your instinct by the reins
Better best to rearrange
What we want and what we need
Has been confused been confused (blow your horn)
Your finest hour (blow your song)
Your finest hour (blow your horn)
Your finest hour (blow your song)
Your finest hour

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Dave Biddle

On the evening of August 30th, in an effort to cool down after one too many hot August nights, I set out on a walk that led to the Lido, where I was introduced to Dave Biddle, a tall muscular presence in his late 20s dressed in white shorts and a white t-shirt, and whose dyed blonde hair is cut in a page boy. Attached to Dave's chest was a saxophone harness, but because it could be a fashion accessory, I didn't ask.

Half a cold beer later Dave and his percussionist bandmate Justin Williams, who perform under the name Linda Fox, took the stage. What followed were four long and atmospheric songs that featured Dave on saxophone and keyboards, but most prominently on vocals, which had him singing into either a pitch shifter or an octave divider -- with the octave set above Middle-C.

The effect was jarring, at first, but soon enough Dave's vocals passed from spectacle into sincerity and tenderness.

At various points during the show I Googled Dave and found that he once played international rugby. He also plays in Dada Plan with his brother Malcolm. At present Dave is a student at SFU's School for the Contemporary Arts. Prior to that he attended Concordia.

I expect to be hearing more from this motivational artist in the future.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Recent Painting

Top: Kim Dorland, Nemophile, 2017

Bottom: Dana Schutz, Open Casket, 2016

Friday, September 1, 2017

Powers of Association

Top: Jock MacDonald, Black Tusk (1932)

Middle: Robert Smithson, Asphalt Rundown (1969)

Bottom: Michael Snow, Still from New York Eye and Ear Control (1964)