Thursday, November 30, 2017

From Ecology to Infrastructure

I was a young anthropology major in the early 1980s when I first heard the term cultural ecology. Later, as a writer interested in the symbolic production of the city (Vancouver), I noticed the Western Front included "cultural ecology" in its mandate: "To promote and encourage the role of the artist in determining the cultural ecology."

In the early 2000s, people began to speak less of an ecology than of economies.

Today, with the Canadian Federal Government budgeting money for "cultural infrastructure," I worry that artist-run centres will become less interested in "the role of the artist in determining the cultural ecology" and more accepting of the neoliberal state in the determination of the artist-run centre -- an artist-run centre reshaped by that state in its own image, to the point where the erasure of the artist-run centre -- its []termination -- can be justified in that most digestible of bureaucratic terms -- redundancy.

Tomorrow, Artspeak celebrates 30 years as a force in what I still refer to as the cultural ecology. For me, Artspeak and its collaborator the Kootenay School of Writing were important to my development as a thinker and a maker. Serving on Artspeak's board in the late-1990s was one of the highlights of my professional career.

Thankfully, Artspeak has retained its self-reflexive (and strategically ambiguous) sense of humour. In celebration of this, it is offering up an anniversary joke book, which can be had tomorrow (December 1st, 7pm) as part of its 30 Years of Laughs fundraiser at the Russian Hall. A membership will get you in, get you entertained and hopefully get you closer to an eccentric institution that always thought twice about joining a club that would have it as a member.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017


When Tom whispered to me in August that Slow (1985-1987) would be performing at the mid-November opening of the new Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver, my eyes widened -- "Cool!" -- but I assumed it would be a surprise one-off.

Then there I was, at the Vorizo Cafe on Hornby Island in early November, looking for something non-electronic to read with my borscht, when I saw a copy of the Georgia Straight -- with Slow on the cover. And then last week, Taras Grescoe's email on behalf of the Globe and Mail asking what I remember of the band, but also of Vancouver.

As it turns out, this past month has seen a number of articles on Slow, who have officially reunited. Not only is the band writing songs and preparing a tour, its members are speaking clearly and critically about how Vancouver has -- and hasn't -- changed in the intervening years, that what is bearing bad apples today was but a neoliberal seedling in the early-1980s.

Below is a 1990 unplugged performance by the last reunited band to get my attention, the Cowsills (Barry, John, Paul and Susan), with John "Hal" Mackie on drums.

Here is what the Cowsills looked like lip-synching to the same song 21 years earlier (and yes, I am sure that is partly why the late Billy parted ways with the band to do his own beautiful thing):

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Word(s) of the Year has chosen complicit as its word of the year.

I had my money on conflation.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The National Gallery of Canada

Like all e-flux subscribers, I receive the usual three e-flux announcements a day, sometimes with an art-agenda announcement riding shotgun, other times with an e-flux Architecture doing the same. As an aspiring reader I have learned to distinguish between the three, and that those labelled e-flux generally announce an exhibition, not stand on the other side of it going, See! See!

So what to make of yesterday's announcement, whose subject line reads: "Geoffrey Farmer's A way out of the mirror, a success at the Venice Biennale 2017"?

Clicking on the message I see that it was issued by the sponsoring institution -- the National Gallery of Canada -- whose immediate measure of "success" is derived from a "Global Art Market Newswire" article. Are there not more thoughtful sources to cite? Why cite a market publication when you can cite a source that places criticism before publicity? I ask because there are many. Why not shine a light on Momus? Or is it too Canadian?

Following the announcement's opening quote comes a recognition of the artist who, we are told, played a "large part" in making "Canada's participation at the 57th Venice of the most successful since its inaugural exhibition in 1952." This "large part" includes the work itself ("laboriously crafted projects of epic proportions," the NGC tells us in the following paragraph), but also the potential humiliation of the artist who has no choice but to suffer an infamously capricious director and a curator whose inability to shepherd the project can be measured in part by an inability to prevent quotes like the following from being issued:

“In A way out of the mirror, Geoffrey Farmer imagined belonging to the nation-state, in terms at once celebratory and mournful; not as a well-bounded or monolithic identity but as fluidity and loss. Transforming the pavilion into an open-air stage for his fountains, he also opened a space for renewal and reflection that literally exploded the intersections of personal and national histories.”

I mean, forget the grammatical train wrecks here (I am guilty of them too) -- it is this very conflation of "personal and national histories" that had the artist called out by indigenous communities for whom "intergenerational trauma" is non-transferable to those whose privilege both created its conditions and protected those same privileged people from its residential schools. And yes, this too is something the curator should have foreseen and dealt with in consultation with the artist. Is there not a way for the NGC to "choose" the artist and the curator together, as opposed to this more recent habit of having the artist choose the curator? Having the artist and curator on equal footing would allow for a more balanced relationship, no?

The announcement ends with the NGC announcing that Canada's 2019 Venice entry will be announced next month. Which means the NGC and its consultants are currently sitting around the table trying to agree on who this artist and curator might be -- and whether or not they say yes. Let's hope that in choosing the artist and curator the artist and curator can find a way to work together that benefits not just the both of them, but also improves the institution that brought them together to so proudly share with us their work.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Spiralling of Meanings

While scrolling though my phone yesterday I found a picture of the July 2016 issue of the South Asian Post that I took at the Surrey Public Library shortly before the start of my "Poetry of Place" class for the Southbank Writers Program.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

"Ethnologists and other experts"

Boas is known. Better known to those over fifty are his students: Margaret Mead especially, for her landmark book Coming of Age in Samoa (1928), but also Ruth Benedict, whose nicely written Patterns of Culture (1934) features a memorable chapter on the "Dionysian" Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) and the "Apollonian" Zuni.

Another student of Boas was Paul Radin, whose The Trickster (1956) was for the longest time the go-to book on that topic.

Like many scholars with "popular" impulses, Radin wrote a book for a "general" readership. The Story of the American Indian (1927) includes chapters like "The Capitalists of the North" (on the Kwakiutl) and a final chapter entitled "Can There Be an Indian Renaissance?" in which he suggests that if such a renaissance were to occur, it would require "a common homeland," and that homeland, to his mind, would be Mexico.

Friday, November 24, 2017

from "Shades of Opacity: a Role in the Process"

-- picturing the way the looked at goes unseen -- unremembered in its taking -- the phone log consulted -- unsure it was us though -- not that it matters none --


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Robson Square Ice Rink

Upon arriving downtown I set out to take in in what remains of public space. Sometimes on these walks I visit the VAG gift shop, to flip through the magazines, only the VAG carries less and less of them.

The Robson Square Ice Rink is still a public space, with free skating. Although the rink is not yet open (December 1st), I noticed it was lit up, with new lights. So pretty. I have fond memories of my skates there.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


Last Saturday afternoon I walked the six blocks to King Edward Boulevard, took the #25 bus to Cambie Street, then the Canada Line downtown.

At Main Street a young woman boarded the bus with a shrink-wrapped edition of Big Boggle.

I noted the purchase and, eyebrows high, was noticed noticing.

"I know -- Big Boggle!" said the young woman excitedly, giving the box a shake. "I've been looking for this for ages!"

As I listened to ourselves exchange Boggle stories I noticed the man to her right, who had boarded the bus behind me. In the eighteen blocks between Knight and Cambie he had applied and absorbed three huge squirts of hand cream.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Monday, November 20, 2017

Pierrot le fou (1965)

Such rains yesterday! Because there was no chance of getting any yard work done, and because there is only so much reading and writing I can do, I reached into that tub of DVDs and pulled out Godard's Pierrot le Fou (1965).

Here we are early in the film, with Ferdinand/Pierrot driving home the babysitter, Marianne, in his American friend's car. Marianne is introduced to us as F/P's American friend's "niece", but it is in this scene that we learn that F/P and Marianne share a past.

Shortly after that:

Except she never "said" she didn't like talking about herself.

Nor did he, for that matter.

In fact, she never said anything.

Have to check the translation again, whether F/P used a French word meaning "feel" and Marianne used a French word meaning "like". An important distinction.

Much later in the film:

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sign of the Times

This morning I walked past this sign on Glen Drive, just south of Kingsway.

What is it? Well, it's a for sale sign, erected by the realtor, Sutton Westcoast Realty, on behalf of the seller.  But not a single seller -- "land assembly" implies the sale of multiple properties, usually towards their reconfiguration into a larger, multiple dwelling development. Sellers are told they can receive more money if they band together, given that the profits from a subsequent development are greater than those achieved from the re-sale of the individual (adjacent) properties.

Below the words LAND ASSEMBLY is a text in Chinese characters. I am not sure what these characters say, but it could be a combination of "land assembly" and the English text below:

"Call for details and Call for free evaluation."

Spray painted across the Chinese characters are two black lines.

What to make of this defacement?

To me, the lines across these characters read not as a redaction of the content but an attack on what these characters signify -- those who speak and read Chinese, but specifically those of ethnic Chinese descent. Like the assigned realtor, Melissa Wu, who, though her hair is brown, her eyes green and her skin a pinkish white, carries a surname that is, in the Pinyin transliteration of its Chinese character, the tenth most common surname in Mainland China.

Equally disturbing is the line underneath Melissa's eye, which reads to me like a bruise, the result of a punch.

I am upset by this sign. I am upset by this sign because it, too, is a punch, a punch that carries with it the injuries of class, but also violence against woman and racism. Much of what ails me about this city -- and indeed our global culture -- is present in this sign.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Polygon Gallery

Last night's opening of Polygon Gallery's N. Vancouver exhibition was overshadowed only by the opening of the gallery itself. In addition to a display of gallery mandated lens-based media works were some intriguing sculpture and weavings.

The image up top is of a work by Gabrielle L'Hirondelle Hill. Entitled The Highest and Best Use (2017), it is one of four works from her Four Effigies For the End of Property: Pre-empt, Improve, The Highest and Best Use, Be Long (2017) series, all of which are included in the exhibition.

Oh yes, and Slow played -- appropriately enough in a room devoted to a screening of Jeremy Shaw's Best Minds, Part 1 (2007). The band hadn't played together in over 30 years. Amazing.

Here is Slow's gear having a smoke out back during the opening's opening remarks:

Friday, November 17, 2017

Al Neil (1924-2017)

"Right now I'm working with various instruments -- toy instruments and things I've torn out of children's carousels and so on and music boxes and the strings of the piano -- anything that will distort the sound of the tempered scale into something which is possibly unholy and possibly holy because everything gives out a sound, every molecular thing gives out a sound -- a plant cries, a vegetable cries, everything cries -- there's all these sounds -- we've proved that in this age of extended consciousness ... and I'm trying to get into these sounds which we don't hear but we know are there."

Thursday, November 16, 2017

"Some Final Questions" (1965)

Stopped by the People's Co-op Bookstore yesterday to revel in its ever-expanding poetry section. I don't think there is a Vancouver bookstore with a bigger new-and-used poetry section than the one at the PCB.

Years ago I had a copy of Phyllis Webb's Wilson's Bowl (1980) but lost it or gave it away. In looking for it at PCB I noticed a selected that Webb did with Talon in 1982 called The Vision Tree that includes a thoughtful introduction by Sharon Thesen who, with Erin Mouré, are launching books at the store tonight, 7pm.

Webb's Naked Poems (1965) is well-represented in The Vision Tree. Included is her poem "Some Final Questions". In this piece, which moves from questions concerning sadness, melancholy, pain and desire, Webb finally asks (herself?) "But why don't you do something?" To which she replies (after five carriage returns) "I am trying to write a poem". Following that:


Listen. I have known beauty
let's say I came to it

And following that, on the final page:


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

"Epistle to Dippy" (1967)

A strangely beautiful, at-times disturbing lyric. Equal parts Lewis Carroll, Ezra Pound, Diane Wakoski and bill bissett, with some brilliant syllabic footwork (mehhhhhhhhhh-di-tat-ing rho-do-den-dron for-est).


Look on yonder misty mountain
See the young monk meditating rhododendron forest
Over dusty years, I ask you
What's it been like being you?

Through all levels you've been changing
Getting a little bit better, no doubt
The doctor bit was so far out
Looking through crystal spectacles
I can see I had your fun

Doing us paperback reader
Made the teacher suspicious about insanity
Fingers always touching girl

Through all levels you've been changing
Getting a little bit better, no doubt
The doctor bit was so far out
Looking through all kinds of windows
I can see I had your fun
Looking through all kinds of windows
I can see I had your fun

Looking through crystal spectacles
I can see I had your fun
Looking through crystal spectacles
I can see I had your fun

Rebel against society
Such a tiny speculating whether to be a hip or
Skip along quite merrily

Through all levels you've been changing
Elevator in the brain hotel
Broken down but just as well-a
Looking through crystal spectacles, ah
I can see I had your fun

Dum dum dum, dum dum, dum dum dum
Dum dum dum, dum dum, dum dum dum
Dum dum dum, dum dum, dum dum dum
Dum dum dum, dum dum, dum dum dum
Dum dum dum, dum dum, dum dum dum

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

American Foreign Policy

I don't know how many times I have heard the meeting of U.S. American Bob Dylan and Scotland's Donovan Leitch referred to as a "showdown," but a glance online has it in abundance and perpetuated of course by posts like this one.

In Don't Look Back (1967), D.A. Pennebaker's documentary film on Dylan's 1965 tour of England, we see the singer-songwriters sharing songs in a hotel room. Donovan sings "To Sing For You" (1965), while Dylan follows with "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" (1965).

For those watching, the meeting seems friendly enough (Donovan initiated the song sharing to defray tensions over an argument between Dylan and a guest who threw a beer bottle out the window), but many continue to describe the event in adversarial terms, with Donovan challenging Dylan and the latter's song "trumping" the former's.

Sunday, November 12, 2017


Who does not enjoy finding one of these? The excitement and the simultaneous step back, as if to protect.

What I first learned about bird nests I learned in childhood, when I reported to my mother what I saw in a maple tree at 37th and Laburnum on my way to school, and below it a piece of robin's egg, which is the most beautiful blue, particularly in the morning light of April. I told her how I returned the shell to the nest and saw babies in there.

"Did you touch one of them?" my mother asked.

I wanted to prove myself adventurous, so I lied and said I did.

"That's too bad," she said, "because the mother will reject it."

Saturday, November 11, 2017


Years ago, when Mina and I would visit nurseries looking for what's new in plants, she announced one April that this would be the year of the begonia, and purchased a dozen species, one of which she uprooted in September and bagged in the hope of reviving its tubers next spring.

More recently I have heard stories from friends that, with a little care and consideration (keeping the potted begonias dry and close to the house), their plants survived the winter.

This November, while at Hornby, I noticed two potted begonias under the corrugated fibreglass shelter at the south end of the cabin. They looked good huddled with the still flowering geraniums and lobelia, but I knew the following day's snowfall would test them, so I brought one of them inside with me -- to survive.

Friday, November 10, 2017

"Lady Developer"

A block east of the Beedie Group's parking lot is a 17-storey mixed-use commercial and residential tower built by Westbank Projects a couple years ago on the site of the former Mandarin Shopping Centre built in 1972 by developers Dean and Faye Leung.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Beedie's Latest (and Last?) Proposal for 105 Keefer Street

The proposal based on the above model was turned down Wednesday by the City of Vancouver's development permit board. It is the first time since 2006 that the development permit board has turned down a proposal.

In response to complaints by an incredulous development industry, urban planner and director of the City Program at SFU Andy Yan had this to say to the Vancouver Sun:

"Design is no longer the only criteria for the permit board. Now the context must also be included."

Which brings to mind another recent article, this one by Pasha Malla writing in the New Yorker on creative writing programs and the "larger social reality" that impacts the stories that many of these programs were designed to workshop.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

"Towards a New Universalism"

Paragraph 6 from an e-flux Journal #86 text by Global Art Culture's Dr. Familiarlove, Boris Groys: 

Migration is the one truly universal, international phenomenon of our time. And it is also perhaps one of the only phenomena that radically differentiates our era from the nineteenth century. That is why migration has become the main political problem of our time. It is safe to say that it is primarily attitudes towards immigration that structure the contemporary political landscape—at least in Western countries. The anti-immigration politics of contemporary New Right parties is an effect of what can be characterized as the territorialization of identity politics. The main presupposition of the ideology of these parties is this: every cultural identity has to have its own territory on which it can and should flourish—undisturbed by influences from other cultural identities. The world is diverse and should be diverse. But the world’s diversity can be guaranteed only by territorial diversity. The mixture of different cultural identities on the same territory destroys these identities. In other words: today the New Right uses the language of identity politics that was developed by the New Left in the 1960s–80s. At that time, the defense of original cultures was directed against Western imperialism and colonialism, which tried to “civilize” these cultures by imposing on them certain allegedly universal social, economic, and political norms. This critique was understandable and legitimate—even if it was one-sided. But in our time this critique has changed its political direction and its cultural relevance.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A Bad Sign

Next to the Co-op is a private campground. I have always assumed that the road beside this sign is the road that leads to the campground. But with messages like these? "NO PUBLIC ANYTHING!!"? Is there not a better way to convey information, to say "PLEASE"? I would never feel comfortable staying at this campground. So no, it can't be the same road. It's not.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Sand Dollar Beach

Tracks in the shape of the domicile.

Sunday, November 5, 2017


the plant survives its planter
no more a planting
than a maple is its tree

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Central Road

This morning I took a different route to the Co-op. Whereas previous walks had me travelling via Seawright Road, today I took Sandpiper. The time difference is almost negligible, with Sandpiper maybe a minute longer.

While walking along the section of Central Road that precedes the Seawright junction I came upon a cistern. I had never really noticed it before, but now it can't be helped. "Look at me!" it insists, "Not only am I here to do what I was put here to do -- I am also a support for a seascape painted in the happy graphic style!"

Why can't a cistern be a cistern anymore? Same with those beautiful cement silos at Granville Island that Barry Mowatt had painted as part of his open showroom sculpture biennale?

Friday, November 3, 2017

At Tristero's (Two Illustrated Eavesdroppings)

"Make mine a double -- with a giant olive on the side."

"The plunger's next to the toilet paper."

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Man in the High Castle

Last month I found the time to watch the first three episodes of Amazon Studio's adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel The Man in the High Castle (1962) -- an alternate historical fiction that has the United States (and its allies) losing World War Two and the country divided into puppet states: the Greater Nazi Reich on the eastern seaboard and the Japanese Pacific States out west. (There is a middle area known as the Neutral Zone, where much of the drama takes place.) Both the novel and the series are set in 1962.

A couple of days ago, while looking for a book to res(e)t my eyes, I found a copy of Dick's novel at the Hornby Island Free Store. As is often the case when reading Dick, I enjoy the writing more for the quality of its prose than its story, which, though it shares events with the Amazon occupation, has a strikingly different narrative. For example, where the series begins with the double-agent Blake, the novel begins with a more complex (unadaptable?) character -- a curio dealer named Childan, who appears only briefly (and namelessly) in the adaptation.

Here is something that occurs to Childan early in the novel:

Yes, these new young people, of the rising generation, who did not remember the days before the war or even the war itself -- they were the hope of the world. Place difference did not have the significance for them.

It will end, Childan thought. Someday. The very idea of place. Not governed and governing, but people.

Readers of (science) fiction are fond of pointing out the prescience of its authors' texts, as in Thomas Pynchon's prediction of an internet (a dark net?) in The Crying of Lot 49 (1965). However, with Dick it is not the internet that is predicted, but its consequences?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

"Another Record" (1981)

A bike ride from Downes Point to the Co-op is exactly ten minutes. A brisk walk is exactly thirty-three-and-a-third minutes.

Yesterday morning a Jeep Wrangler drove past with the middle of this (the whirling keyboard riff) blaring from its speakers.