Friday, August 30, 2019


for Sharon Thesen

to be seen elsewhere

the trouble with our industry--
they said          as I chop up an onion 

later: I don’t like it, would you?
I consider the question, the language

so formal -- our industry?
nothing on practice, the vagaries of time

we don’t have the luxuries of an Ashbery
they said          adding tomatoes to that onion

those who wrote on the job, dreaming
of Guadalajara 

who is this “they” 
who speaks for a “we”?

or O’Hara, who spent his lunch hours
typing up poems in stationary stores

spending? is that what he was doing?
everything -- all of us -- speaking in market terms!

Ashbery’s debt to that instruction manual
was it paid for its role in the poem?

“so much depends upon” 
“the uses of a new metal”

Williams composing lines
between patient visits

making them wait 
for him to finish          

we are saying no to free labour!
they said          as I stir into the bowl

         cilantro, oil and vinegar

Thursday, August 29, 2019

An Interview with Dodie and Kevin (1999)

On August 25th, friends and lovers of Kevin Killian held (I want to say staged) a memorial for their friend and lover at SFMOMA's Phyllis Wattis Theatre. One of the eulogizers, Scott Watson, said the room was packed and there was an overflow feed. I want to turn to Kevin and say overflow feed but can't because Kevin is in SF, not beside me in Vancouver. (I want to place the previous sentence in parentheses, but Kevin's ghost says No, the New Narrative gods will be angry!) Robert Gluck was the opening eulogizer, Eileen Myles the closer. What remains of Kevin will be placed beside Jack Spicer at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Mateo County.

Scott said there was a film program, and that my short film, An Interview with Dodie & Kevin (1999), was screened (see image above). I was happy to hear that, because it brought to mind details of the visit that brought about the film; a time when I travelled with a super-8 camera, shooting this and that, sometimes developing my film, sometimes not. I gave the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery the reel in the mid-2000s, but unfortunately it got lost. Fortunately I made two VHS copies, one of which I gave to Dodie and Kevin during a 2000 visit, the other I gave to the Belkin shortly after Kevin's death. The Belkin's Jana Tyner had the video transferred and that's the version that was screened.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

B.C. Highway 101

In Lund (Mile 0), looking west.

Tidal Art Centre on Finn Bay Road is a privately-funded studio and exhibition space.

The Wildwood Public House (formerly the site of the Red Lion) features craft beer, pizza and live music.

Powell River artist Ursula Medley's painting of her artist friend Lenora Sattmann.

The house Lenora built.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Director to the Floor

It is almost three months since Kathleen Bartels stepped down as the director of the Vancouver Art Gallery -- and still no word of her replacement. Rumours circulate of a hiring committee made up of board members and externals, but no shortlist as of yet.

Did I also hear that the VAG was to announce its new director in September? I am hoping so, but that doesn't seem likely. Although interim director Daina Auguitis is more than capable of helming the VAG, the greater question concerns the proposed Herzog & de Meuron building at Larwill Park. Will the VAG continue with this site and its expensive design, or will it hire a new firm, with new contractors, and build on its current site (what many believe to be the best address in town)? Either way, this decision cannot be made by an interim director but by a new director, someone willing to commit a minimum of ten years to the establishment of the gallery and its collection as a site where the stories of Canadian west coast art can be seen, heard and argued over.

More than any visiting exhibition, it is the collection that is key to generating interest in a public gallery amongst those who share its city, its province and its country. Indeed, without the support of these publics -- Vancouverites, British Columbians, Canadians and First Nations -- the VAG would lack the public funds required to build what must remain a public gallery, a question that few have raised in light of the Chan family’s donation of 40 million dollars towards the Chan Centre for the Visual Arts -- the mall in which the VAG will be housed. Is the Chan Centre for the Visual Arts the “purpose-built, stand alone, iconic” building Kathleen Bartels pushed for since the VAG announced its move 10+ years ago? No. And if Bartels allegedly stepped down because her board decided that the Chan’s money was more important than the stand alone Vancouver Art Gallery building they had originally agreed upon (note that it was a board member who made the announcement of the Chan donation, not Bartels), then she had no choice but to step down.

Kathleen Bartels accomplished a lot in her 18 years at the VAG, some of which is detailed here. She is also responsible for a number of missteps, many of which relate to a top-down approach to leadership that put her in conflict not only with the gallery’s union membership but with its private donors. This top-down approach was most apparent in her inability to inspire and lead a grassroots campaign that would have local, regional and national publics joining in on the call for a new -- if not revitalized -- public gallery. A hallmark of our relational turn has it that the best way to make something is to allow those you are making it for feel a part of it.

A number of people I have talked to, both inside and outside of the arts, feel Bartels’s inability to connect with the greater public was based on her unwillingness to learn about where she was and who she was working with (and for). For Canadians, this is often the problem of the American director who comes from a funding structure based more on private patronage than on government money. Would a Canadian director behave any differently? Maybe. Would the VAG benefit from a Canadian director? That would depend on who, as there are a number of Canadian directors with varying degrees of experience (in fundraising, collections and gallery building) who are working internationally, either in Canada or abroad.

As a long time VAG member, I feel it is time for a director who has a knowledge and an interest in the city, province and country where the gallery is located. Bartel’s predecessor, Alf Bogusky, is a Canadian who had a feeling for the place and its people, but whose failings appeared to lie at the opposite end of the spectrum: he was weary of wealthy patrons and was uninterested in working internationally. Fortunately, today we have more options. Though he has not worked with a gallery board in over 30 years, the Belkin’s Scott Watson could be considered. Though he has not worked with a collection, the Polygon’s Reid Shier, like Watson, has participated in the building of a new gallery and has a knowledge of historic regional practices. Further afield, Art Gallery of Alberta director Catherine Crowston has worked with a board, a collection, overseen a major renovation and has raised a great deal of money; she too must be considered. As for Canadian directors working abroad, there is Séamus Kealy (Salzburger Kunstverein) and Juan Gaitán (Museo Tamayo). Though she has never directed an institution, Candace Hopkins has a range of transferable skills, in addition to the requisite temperament.

But there are still bigger, more intangible questions to sort out before a new director can be considered. The elephant in the room here is Michael Audain, whose commitment to the province is well-known. If the VAG is to raise the money needed to complete its publicly stated funding goal, then Audain will have a hand in the hire. Yet even if the VAG stays where it is and renovates (saving what some believe to be as much as a 100 million dollars), the matching conditions by which public monies are to be delivered will still require Audain’s donation, particularly since staying at the current site would mean the end of the Chan Centre for the Visual Arts (and maybe its donation?). This, I suspect, is what is holding things up, and why the VAG will not have its director anytime soon.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Ten Years to This Day

"Around 2009 I was giving a guest lecture at a university — something about the rapidly changing art world in the digital age — and during the Q&A an art student asked about whether having an online presence was a risk to the integrity of the artist and the art. I don’t think of myself as particularly prophetic, but I answered that I believed that very soon artists, and all other people, would be considered suspicious or even punished for not having an online presence. Which of course, now, often feels true. If you’re not online, in the eyes of many you don’t exist."

The above is from "Notes on Disappearing", an August 11th Glasstire essay by Christina Rees. I include it because August 2009 was when I started this blog (ten years ago today, to be exact) and I wanted to mark the occasion, as well as acknowledge the prophecy.

I published a book in the fall of 2009. Before it came out my publicist asked me if I was "active on social media." I told her I was not, and she said I should have a social media presence (Facebook, Twitter), as it would help her do her job (which is to promote the book). I said, "Okay, I've always been interested in blogs. I'll start a blog." She looked at me like I'd said I was going to buy a car and returned with a used Ford Escort.

Not sure how much longer I will keep this blog. Fairly certain I won't be posting daily. All of which is to say please expect less of me in the days and weeks to come.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Heavenly Blue

I'm not sure when I planted the "Heavenly Blue" morning glory seeds. Fairly certain it was in May. But after eight feet of vine growth, nothing on the flower end.

I put the question to my neighbour, whose last job before gallery direction was landscaping. "Lots of leaves and no flowers means too much nitrogen."

I thought back to when I prepared its pot. I remember using potting soil, and that the soil was tucked into a shelf next to an old, almost empty bag of mushroom manure.

"That would do it," he said.

Yesterday a flower came out. A hole in the nitrogen firewall!

Sunday, August 11, 2019


Last night I had another of those market society nightmares. This time it was a search engine data collection agency asking those of us who have ever gone online to pay a fee to keep our logs (after our death) from those willing to pay almost as much to license them.

No biggy, right -- our data has already been purchased and put to use by those who stand to gain from it. But the difference here is that those looking to buy our logs (they refer to us through the primary resource extractive term "loggers") intend to make those logs available in the form of programming.

In all my time growing up I never once thought that, after my passing, I would "return" to life in the form of a posthumous (television) channel. And that if I didn't want that to happen, I would have to pay someone to keep it from happening!

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Laughter is the Best Euthanist

There is reason to be hopeful when today's dog owner prefers to rehabilitate a "rescue" dog than raise a just-weaned puppy. Not everyone is capable of raising a puppy. Nor is everyone capable of rehabilitating a rescue dog.

Some of the meanest people I know have raised the nicest dogs. Some of the most well-meaning have made their rescue dogs even meaner.

There is someone in my neighbourhood who, though extremely kind and gentle, insisted on adopting a thrice-rescued rescue dog that was so mean it took one look at my neighbour and laughed so hard it had to be put down.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Ethnographic Record

I found this 1963 New American Library (Mentor) edition of Margaret Mead's 1928 study of adolescence and sex in Samoa at a Kingsway thrift store a couple weeks ago. Not sure what move this nephew and auntie are bustin' on the cover, but I'm pretty sure they're not doing it to the Fireballs' "Sugar Shack".

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Secret Theatre

Last month Secret Beauty Supply (1339 Kingsway) used purple and white paint to bring "new life" to an art deco theatre.

This is what the other side of the street looked like when the theatre was being built:

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Mountain Lore

As a child I knew them as the Lions, two peaks poking up from the North Shore Mountains that (apparently) look like lions in the sunset's orange and yellow glow.

Try as I might, I could never find out who named them. Like a lot of things in the British city of Vancouver, it was just accepted. As in, If you have to ask, you don't deserve to know!

Years later I learned that they are also called the Two Sisters, and that E. Pauline Johnson included their story in her book, Legends of Vancouver (Vancouver: David Spencer, Ltd., 1911).

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Haiku in Recognition of the Marriage of Julian and Tiziana

Late-summer sunrise
A rainbow in each dew drop
Time to change passwords

Monday, August 5, 2019

Projected Verse

Last night People's Co-op Bookstore hosted another in Louis Cabri and Rob Manery's long-running, nation-crossing Projector Verse series.

Matea Kulić projected Aja Moore's “I Want to Text You About Robert Duncan” from Hotwheel (Montreal: Metatron Press, 2018); Jeremy Stewart projected W.G. Sebald's “Like a dog” and “At the edge” (Michael Hamburger, trans.) from Unrecounted (New York: New Directions, 2007); and Peter Quartermain projected Walt Whitman's Poem of the Propositions of Nakedness,” from Leaves of Grass (self-published, 1856 edition).

People give readings, after which the audience is sometimes invited to respond. With Projected Verse, the text is projected by its selector, who reads the piece then afterward leads a discussion. Here, the spoken remains present, not as an echo but as an image (too). Great insights shared on Aja, Sebald and Whitman's poems, with Aja in attendance.

The picture up top is of Peter reading from the paper page. Shining a light onto that page is Louis. The copy that is projected onto the bed sheet is from a piece of acetate. Print, projection, digital lighting, linens -- it's all there. And so were we!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Age and Aging

Some years I ago, while speaking on the topic of age and aging with a friend who had recently retired after a forty-four year school teaching career, I was told, "If you can get through your fifties without any chronic health problems, you're laughing."

I thought a lot about this in the weeks and months that followed, noting those who, in their fifties, suddenly announced that they had to take insulin or statins or any number of drugs pertinent to a chronic condition. I thought also about something I said in advance of what my friend said, where I quoted the shockingly high death rate among school teachers within the first five years of their retirement, wondering if I had brought on his comment -- in the form of a curse!

For me, now in my early-mid-fifties, the condition is hypothyroid, for which I take thyroxine.

At bottom is a passage near the end of the opening section of V.S. Naipaul's The Enigma of Arrival (1987), where the nameless narrator (Naipaul was in his early-fifties when he started the book) falls into a choking fit while reflecting on the life and work of his former neighbour Jack on a walk past Jack's old farm. Eventually the fit subsides, only to return full-force that night, making him "seriously ill."

"This was the illness that did away with whatever remained of youthfulness in me (and much had remained), diminished my energy and pushed me week by week, during my convalescence, month by month, into middle age." (83)

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Public Art

Coming out of my dentist's last week, a smooth crown over the molar that had for too long sat in my mouth like a broken piece of tea cup, I noticed in the raised box by the parking lot a mostly organic figure.

I stepped onto the box to better read its contents: a stump whose roots were bound by a heavy black wrapper, with something green and leafy sprouting at its east end. Beside the stump, and unrelated to its living form, yellow tufts of grass. At one point the surface of the box had been covered in a fine gravel.

Upon closer inspection the leafy matter turned out to be chestnut. A chestnut tree was planted here. (I counted the rings inside the stump; there were close to fifty of them, making it as old as the building.) But then what? It wasn't wanted anymore? It had grown too big? Too big for what -- the box?

Friday, August 2, 2019


Paris is not my favourite city; but like the middle child of three, who is always the third child (not the oldest, nor the youngest, but the middle), it is special. Like Rome is special, or more recently, Rawabi.

Someone dear to me is in Paris for a break (though I know she brought work with her). According to Parisians, who traditionally vacate in August, it is not the best time to be there. But most Parisians I have met -- the "cultured" ones, the ones who say August is a bad time to be in Paris -- make terrible strangers, so maybe it's moot.

My dear loves French things like Paris, the language, its writers, scholars and artists, and I know she will be happy there. So I wish her well, and look forward to what she might bring back with her. Stories, of course, but also those little things that only she can find in that city's many parks and markets.

Free Man in Paris (1973)
(Joni Mitchell)

The way I see it he said 
You just can't win it
Everybody's in it for their own gain 
You can't please 'em all 
There's always somebody calling you down 
I do my best 
And I do good business 
There's a lot of people asking for my time 
They're trying to get ahead 
They're trying to be a good friend of mine

I was a free man in Paris 
I felt unfettered and alive 
There was nobody calling me up for favors 
And no one's future to decide
You know I'd go back there tomorrow 
But for the work I've taken on 
Stoking the star maker machinery 
Behind the popular song

I deal in dreamers 
And telephone screamers 
Lately I wonder what I do it for 
If l had my way 
I'd just walk through those doors
And wander 
Down the Champs Elysées *
Going cafe to cabaret 
Thinking how I'll feel when I find 
That very good friend of mine

I was a free man in Paris 
I felt unfettered and alive 
Nobody was calling me up for favors 
No one's future to decide 
You know I'd go back there tomorrow 
But for the work I've taken on 
Stoking the star maker machinery 
Behind the popular song

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Enigma of Arrival (1987)

V.S. Naipaul's The Enigma of Arrival (1987) takes place in Sussex, not far from Stonehenge, where Hardy's Tess and Angel Clare came to rest -- before her arrest.

I saw him as a remnant. Not far away, among the ancient barrows and tumuli, were the firing ranges and the army training grounds of Salisbury Plain. There was a story that because of the absence of  people in those military areas, because of the purely military uses to which the land had been put to for so long, and contrary to what one might expect after the explosions and mock warfare, there survived on the Plain some kinds of butterfly that had vanished in more populated parts. And I thought that in some such fashion, in the wide droveway at the bottom of the valley, accidentally preserved from people, traffic and the military, Jack like the butterflies had survived.