Saturday, February 29, 2020

Vivian Liberto Distin (1934-2005)

Vivian Liberto and her first husband, Johnny Cash.

Liberto was born in San Antonio, Texas, on April 23, 1934. She met Cash at a roller rink in 1951. After three weeks of dating, Cash proposed. They were married in 1954.

Twelve years and four children later, Liberto filed for divorce, citing Cash's drug and alcohol abuse, his constant touring and extra-marital affairs.

Liberto is of Italian-American heritage, but because some thought she looked Black, the Cashes were persecuted, both personally (death treats) and professionally (cancelled shows).

Here is Vivian Liberto, as played by Ginnifer Goodwin, in the Cash biopic Walk the Line (2005):

Here is what Liberto and Cash's daughter Kathy had to say about how her mom was depicted in that film.

Mistaking someone of one racialized identity for another is nothing new. I know of two instances. The first was told to me by a childhood friend, the son of a Canadian-born Italian (Calabrian) father and a Canadian-born mother of Scottish descent. The two were travelling in the American South in the mid-1960s. They boarded a city bus, and my friend's father was told to move to the back of it.

Another story was told to me by a Calgary writer of Italian (Sicilian) descent who was dating a woman whose parents came from Northern Italy (Milan). After a couple months, his then-girlfriend invited him to meet her parents at her family home in Calgary's Mayfair neighbourhood. When they arrived at the house, the girl's mother opened the door, took one look at the writer and said to her daughter, "Get that n*gger off my steps," before slamming the door in their faces.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Pedagogical Experiment

"I'd sometimes come to prefer reading about the lives of certain writers to reading their works; for example, I'm more familiar with Kafka's Diaries than with his oeuvre, with Tolstoy's Notebooks than with the rest of Tolstoy (apparently this is a very 'camp' attitude)."*

The Preparation of the Novel includes Barthes's last writings before his death in 1980. Below is a description of the book from its publisher (of particular interest to me is Barthes's "pedagogical experiment"):

Completed just weeks before his death, the lectures in this volume mark a critical juncture in the career of Roland Barthes, in which he declared the intention, deeply felt, to write a novel. Unfolding over the course of two years, Barthes engaged in a unique pedagogical experiment: he combined teaching and writing to "simulate" the trial of novel-writing, exploring every step of the creative process along the way.

Barthes's lectures move from the desire to write to the actual decision making, planning, and material act of producing a novel. He meets the difficulty of transitioning from short, concise notations (exemplified by his favorite literary form, haiku) to longer, uninterrupted flows of narrative, and he encounters a number of setbacks. Barthes takes solace in a diverse group of writers, including Dante, whose La Vita Nuova was similarly inspired by the death of a loved one, and he turns to classical philosophy, Taoism, and the works of François-René Chateaubriand, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Kafka, and Marcel Proust. 

This book uniquely includes eight elliptical plans for Barthes's unwritten novel, which he titled Vita Nova, and lecture notes that sketch the critic's views on photography. Following on The Neutral: Lecture Course at the Collège de France (1977-1978) and a third forthcoming collection of Barthes lectures, this volume provides an intensely personal account of the labor and love of writing.

*Barthes, Roland. “The Work as Will: Notes for a Lecture Course at the Collège de France.” The Preparation of the Novel: Lecture Course and Seminars at the Collège de France (1978-1979 and 1979-1980). New York: Columbia U Press, 2010. P. 208 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

"born of dormant corners"

Gone by Then

Gone then risen
Milk dawn gone then risen
Our ephemeral fawning done
Gone sanguine then risen in spell
High with your wrist while nihil busy
Unburrowing dice teams from sand figurines
Risen to swirl steam scooping passing seemingly
A kindred-ided up and up, born of dormant corners
Forms filial then filled          Goes mourn and swoon
Love have and love loom                    Union and risen

Tuesday, February 25, 2020


mon amour pour toi une grande grotte
fait écho en votre absence
ses tons portés comme les prothèses auditives
le monde trop fort sans toi

Monday, February 24, 2020

Extra! Extra!

Teck pulls out of tar sands; Green to Oilers

Oh how I would love to be a front page headline writer in Edmonton today. This news/sports combo is irresistible.

Sunday, February 23, 2020


The world speeds up, compresses. Yesterday's tendrils are today's hard edges. Now it's all tube. The film Brazil.

Literature's shifted too. Poetry in particular. Lists and litanies. All for a line that sticks -- a tweet in search of its meme.

Danielle LaFrance is facilitating a workshop at SFU Audain Gallery on March 4th. Not sure if there are spaces left.

Here's a great line from the notes section ("NOTESKNOTSNOTSNAUGHTS") of LaFrance's Just Like I Like It:

"Depression is just anger without enthusiasm." (123)

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Roll Play

Yesterday I travelled to the VAG to see the Shuvinai Ashoona exhibition, but the stanchions were still up and Tarah encouraged me to come back later for the opening. After a slow walk through the CAG I hopped on a #20 bus for the Marion Scott Gallery, where Ashoona was also showing.

The image up top is a graphite, coloured pencil and ink drawing (25.5 x 50.25") called Land of Toilet Paper (2007/8), and I love it. Loved it even more walking home on 16th, where I saw another roll of toilet paper, this time taped to the handle bars of an abandoned bicycle.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Sourcing the Metaphor

No paywall blocking this article. As for its opening sentence, feels weird to see the word "seminal" used when giving voice to Wet'suwet'en matriarchs. Unless of course the Supreme Court is "biologically" masculine (55.555556% of it is). Either way, maybe it's time to return the word to the fertility clinic, where it belongs?

Thursday, February 20, 2020

"The world is where young people live"

Like Nell Zink's The Wallcreeper (2014), Joanne Ruocco's Dan (2014) is also published by Dorothy of St. Louis. It too is a romp, a thoroughly U.S. American literary sub-genre that owes more to 21st century anxiety than its home-bound cousin, depression.

Another book in our reading list is the story collection Your Duck Is My Duck (2018) by Deborah Eisenberg. The eponymous first story is recognizable to any artist taken up by wealthy patrons; the second, "Taj Mahal", concerns Emma, the daughter of a famous ingenue-y movie star (Zoe) who lunches with her late mother's actor friends, who have gathered to discuss a memoir by the dis-remembered grandson of the group's paterfamilias, Anton.

Here is Zoe telling Emma how it is when you're an older woman actor (42, but pretending to be 36) in Hollywood (circa 1985):

"But the worst thing is you're not exactly part of the world any longer. When you're young, everyone is holding hands, all your friends, even the people you don't like, everyone in the world, but at a certain point, when you get older, you float a little off the surface of the earth. Everyone is rising up off the surface of the earth, everyone is farther from one another -- you can't hold hands any longer, you stretch out your hand, but you can't reach anyone else's, and when you look down, you see that what you thought was the world is just wrapping around the world, a loose, disintegrating wrapper, with a faded picture of the world on it. The world is where young people live." (59)

Wednesday, February 19, 2020


Justin Trudeau had a two-term plan when he became Prime Minister in 2015. For his first term, he would rebuild the country's infrastructure, and run a deficit doing so.  For his second term, he would do what his father Pierre did and establish himself as a statesman. Justin's best bet at statesmanship was to get Canada a seat on the UN Security Council. He was in the middle of that when the blockades started.

Pierre's greatest political blemish was to invoke the War Measures Act in October 1970 (see video). Justin knows this and will not go there. Invoking the War Measures Act would have Justin in defiance of UNDRIP and ruin Canada's chance at a seat on the Council. What Justin needs to do is get the RCMP out of Wet'suwet'en territory, travel to that territory, and listen. If he is lucky he will leave with the hereditary and elected chiefs standing together, and a new route for the pipeline. Not the route the pipeliners want, but the one the hereditary chiefs suggested to the profit-addicted pipeliners when nobody was paying attention.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020


Wanda Lock is a North Okanagan-based artist and curator. Curious about her current exhibition, The Year We Disappeared, I went to the Vernon Public Art Gallery website to see what I could see of it. Nice.

Not so nice was what I saw scrolling down the Home page, under "Events at the VPAG":

How did an image/message like this pass institutional scrutiny? How was it defended? I thought images like these (and their "After Dark" contexts) were disappearing.

Monday, February 17, 2020


Jack's. A possessive, belonging to (Jack)? Or Jack's the contraction: Jack is (Moving)? We know it's the former, but we also know what it is to savour what it could be, pretend it's our reality. Even better if we don't like Jack. Jack is moving! Great! We never cared much for Jack; best he move on, get out of our sight. And the space Jack leaves behind? More room for the rest of us! Someone takes Jack's job, another his parking spot. Next summer someone asks where it was that Jack caught all that fish, and someone who doesn't get out much says, Ask Jack. No one says anything, not even a thank you, and that someone moves on, too.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Tracks, Traces, Tracings

It took me a while to grow into the paintings of Dene Suline and Saulteaux artist Alex Javier (see his Networking Curator, 1988, above). Only after meeting Alex during his 2017 UBC Okanagan residency was I able to follow his colours, lines and forms. Landscapes, yes, and the great bird ("pterodactyl") who knows through its own form the shapes its rivers take -- all of it suggested by an even greater force, the Creator.

Alex did a series of gouache drawings for his residency, which he hung on the wall like pages from a book. If you visited him at the FCCS FINA Gallery, he would walk you through these pages, tracing his finger over their thin and thinning lines -- as he did with me, on one occasion stopping to trace back his finger and tap on a spot that I hadn't noticed (he knew me well enough by then to know I would have said something if I had). "Here," he said. "Here is the railway. Often along rivers. That's where most indigenous people lived. Along rivers." Alex looked at me. "You can understand why." Yes, I told him, I think I can.

The "official" national narrative has it that the completion of the railway ("across empty country") was the making of and the taking of what is known today as Canada. Evidence of this taking can be found in the country's legal history, where railway execs and indigenous people have been warring over unceded and treaty territory long before those first western tracks were laid. This war has intergenerational implications, not only for indigenous people but for those in the legal profession. A notable local case is the Macaulay family.

James Macaulay is a partner in Macaulay McColl, a firm that, in 1987, "billed nearly $738, 365 acting for the Justice Department in three native land claims, including the Gitskan Wet'suwet'en trial. In the previous year the firm had billed about $339, 000 for those cases." James Macaulay's daughter Mary is a partner in Mandell Pinder. Here is Mary's professional summary:

For more than 20 years Mary has acted as counsel for First Nations in Aboriginal litigation, as well as in commercial and personal injury cases.  She has appeared in B.C. and Ontario Supreme Courts, Federal Court and before the Courts of Appeal. Mary is the author of the litigation handbook Aboriginal & Treaty Rights Practice (Carswell, textbook and bi-annual subscription service, originally published in 2000), and co-author of Snow Houses Leave no Ruins”: Unique Evidence Issues in Aboriginal and Treaty Rights Cases (The Saskatchewan Law Review, 1996, vol. 60). 

Throughout her career Mary has taken part in the practical and academic development of the law on aboriginal litigation issues, both as chair and presenter at legal conferences, as well as serving as a member of the executive and as co-chair of the Canadian Bar Association- Ontario, Aboriginal Law Section (1995-1998). For several years she was an instructor for the Continuing Legal Education’s Annual Advocacy Skills Workshop. In addition to arts and law degrees, she holds a Master of Laws focusing in Alternative Dispute Resolution from Osgoode Hall Law School (1997). 

Mary has a strong interest in the visual arts. She has served as a board member of the Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver’s only public art gallery dedicated to the exhibition of and education about contemporary art (2000-2006), and is currently an honourary council member of the Canadian Society for the Decorative Arts and a [board] director of the Western Front, an artist run center for contemporary art and new music located in Vancouver.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Fighting with Property

For years Helen Codere (1917-2009) was a leading scholar on the potlatch. She still might be. Her Fighting with Property: a Study of Kwakiutl Potlatching and Warfare, 1792-1930. Monographs of the American Ethnological Society, vol. XVIII (New York: J.J. Augustin, 1950) remains a widely-cited text.

Here is a paragraph from page 118:

""Fighting with property' instead of 'with weapons,' 'wars of property' instead of 'wars with blood,' are Kwakiutl phrases expressing what has proved to be a fundamental historical change in Kwakiutl life occurring within the period known as history. It has been the purpose of this investigation to trace the various tendencies in Kwakiutl life as they were furthered or inhabited by the pressures of the contact culture and to determine both the binding force and the dynamics of the historical process. The general conclusion is that the binding force in Kwakiutl history was their limitless pursuit of a kind of social prestige which required continual proving to be established or maintained against rivals, and that the main shift in Kwakiutl history was from a time when success in warfare and head hunting was significant to the time when nothing counted but successful potlatching."

Friday, February 14, 2020

Patterns of Culture

A highlight of my university undergraduate career (I majored in anthropology) was reading Ruth Benedict. Like Margaret Mead (Coming of Age in Samoa, 1928) and the recently rediscovered Paul Radin (The Trickster, 1956), Benedict was a student of Franz Boas (I was a student of Bruce MacLean, who was a student of Stanley Diamond, who was mentored by Radin). Benedict's great book is Patterns of Culture (1934).

Writing in its 1958 "Preface", Margaret Mead had this to say of Patterns of Culture:

"... it is the best introduction we have to the widening of horizons by a comparative study of different cultures, through which we can see our own socially transmitted customary behaviour set beside that of other and strangely different people."

The "other and strangely different people" Benedict drew on in her study of cultures as "personality writ large" (Benedict) are the Kwakiutl Kwakwaka'wakw, the Pueblo (with whom she did fieldwork) and the Dobu.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction to Benedict's "Northwest Coast" section:

"Like most of the American Indians, except those of the southwest pueblos, the tribes of the northwest coast were Dionysian [Benedict characterized the Zuni as Apollonian]. In their religious ceremonies the final thing they strove for was ecstasy. The chief dancer, at least at the high point of his performance, should lose normal control of himself and be rapt into another state of existence. He should froth at the mouth, tremble violently and abnormally, do deeds which would be terrible in a normal state. Some dancers were tethered by four ropes held by attendants, so that they might not do irreparable damage in their frenzy. The dance songs celebrated this madness as a supernatural portent:

The gift of the spirit that destroys man's reason,
O real supernatural friend,[1] is making people afraid.
The gift of the spirit that destroys man's reason ,
O supernatural friend, scatters the people
who are in the house.[2]

[1] That is, Cannibal at the North End of the World, the supernatural patron of the dancer [Hamatsa?], in whose power he dances.

[2] That is, they flee in fear."

Thursday, February 13, 2020

"They had only the habit of authority ..."

V.S. Naipaul (1923-2018) was born in Trinidad to Indian parents. In 1950 he moved to London, England. A complicated figure, he is among the best known writers of the 20th century.

Below is a passage that comes early in one of his better known books, A Bend in the River (1979), where the author attempts yet another reading of the trampled "new world" landscapes in search of what scholar John Cooke calls a "native historical tradition."

"Once, great explorers and warriors, the Arabs had ruled. They had pushed far into the interior [of Africa, from the east coast] and had built towns and planted orchards in the forest. Then their power had been broken by Europe. Their towns and orchards disappeared, swallowed up in bush. They ceased to be driven on by their position in the world, and their energy was lost; they forgot who they were and where they had come from. They knew only that they were Muslims; and in the Muslim way they needed wives and more wives. But they were cut off from their roots in Arabia and could only find their wives among the African women who had once been their slaves. Soon, therefore, the Arabs, or the people who called themselves Arabs, had become indistinguishable from Africans. They barely had an idea of their original civilization. They had the Koran and its laws; they stuck to certain fashions in dress, wore a certain kind of cap, had a special cut of beard; and that was all. They had little idea of what their ancestors had done in Africa. They had only the habit of authority, without the energy or the education to back up that authority. The authority of the Arabs -- which was real enough when I was a boy -- was only a matter of custom. It could be blown away at any time. The world is what it is." (pp. 20-21)

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

War Pipe Void Space

That everything we need to know about anything is the land.

That there are those among us -- whether rooted in this land, with fins, wings or legs -- who have insights into this knowledge and the paradise it is capable of.

That there are those who, willingly or unwillingly, manipulate this knowledge -- the land, its language, its relations -- out of individual self-interest.

That these manipulations are spawned and nurtured by social organizations that extend beyond what we know of as the human world.

That these social organizations are hierarchal.

That there are forces at work to remind human beings of these hierarchies.

That an awareness of the tension between those who benefit from hierarchies and those sickened by them is humanity's greatest achievement.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Shapes Taken (Walking)

Yesterday the sun came out and I followed it like a zealot. East on Kingsway, south on Victoria, west at 39th, north at Knight. Glad to know my legs can still stand to lift me, that my ass doesn't get jealous. Walking feels miles better than sitting around writing about it.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Everything Must Go

En route to the Sun Wah Centre I noticed Tosi Italian Food Importers had some items for clearance in its window. A nice display, though Fred Herzog (Salvage Ass'n, 1958, below) might have done a better job of framing it.

Friday, February 7, 2020

en février

One of those days where everything can't happen fast enough. I set out early for my meeting with Caitlin, thinking I would wander around the Sun Wah Centre where her office is and get a sense of the building in all its improvisational, post-it note glory. Leaving even earlier than I had intended to, I got off the bus at Main and Terminal thinking the walk and the fresh air would do me good. A sudden cloud burst and I retreated to the bus shelter, where a thirtysomething man in baggy sweats and police-issue boots opened his dental plan mouth and asked if I knew where he could get some skag.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

From Six American Families

In American Film Now (1979), author James Monaco predicts the documentarian "filmed essay of ideas" will "likely ... become one of the more cinematic approaches of the 1980s." Numerous prototypes are cited, including PBS's An American Family (1973), but more potently, Westinghouse's Six American Families (1976).

The video above focuses on one of those six families -- the Georges of Queens, New York. What is unique to the Georges episode is the inclusion of the Georges in a feedback/elaboration session aired amidst the broadcast of their episode. Where the other episodes are a half-hour long, the Georges meta episode is closer to an hour.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

A Painting

We all have our talents, our special gifts. In my neighbourhood, some of us are skilled in carpentry, plumbing or electronics, and are often called on to assess or assist in a situation. My skills have been requested on occasion, from proofing a letter to helping to interpret one. More recently I was asked to provide a professional opinion on a work of art purchased in Vancouver's downtown eastside. I was told it was an emergency.

The work is a 3'x4' mixed-media-on-paper painting mounted on board. Stylistically it pairs figurative illustration and symbolist expression. The colours are varied and vibrant. There is space between things; there is excitement and despair; there is treachery.

There are three distinct figures in this work (four or five if you consider that one of them is a shifter). The first is dressed in brown and is running. Not from something, but as a demonstration of its fitness, which it is working to enhance. The stylistic reference is Matisse. Its destination? Italian Futurism, which emphasized speed and violence.

The second figure is dressed in green and is on its knees. Words that emerge here include grief, loss and sadness. The stylistic reference is closer to home; namely, the 1980s mural work of Richard Tetrault.

The third figure is the most complicated, for it is many things, all of them caught in a split-second transition. On a cartoon dog's legs, a horned beast faces one way, a surf-busting shark faces the other -- in this case, the back of the green figure. Stylistically, this transitional figure is a meeting of Hanna-BarberaFrancis Bacon and David Hockney.

"What do you think it means?" asks its owner, emphasizing the you.

"Any number of things," I tell him. "But whatever it is, it is as we say an emergency."

Monday, February 3, 2020


When asked for a word that defines what I think of when I think of "your neighbour to the south."


1. a black or dark viscous substance obtained as a residue in the distillation of organic materials and especially tars

4. any of various artificial mixtures resembling resinous or bituminous pitches  

verb 1

to cover, smear, or treat with or as if with pitch

verb 2

1. to erect and fix firmly in place 
2. to throw usually with a particular objective or toward a particular point
c. to put aside or discard by or as if by throwing 
3. to present or advertise especially in a high-pressure way 
b. to attempt to persuade especially with a sales pitch
c. to present (a movie or program idea) for consideration (as by a TV producer)
4. to cause to be at a particular level 
5. to utter glibly and insincerely
7. to hit (a golf ball) in a high arc with backspin so that it rolls very little after striking the green
8. to fall precipitately or headlong

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Making Ruins

Yesterday I attended an artist talk at Republic Gallery -- Sabine Bitter & Helmut Weber's Making Ruins exhibition.

The work is an installation that includes a large b&w photo-print affixed to a wall; a series of smaller b&w photo-prints mounted on supports (foamcore?) that lean against this wall (some over the affixed print); and four even smaller framed works, three of which are hung over the affixed print, the fourth on a bare section of wall to their right.

The first two framed works contain devices on which pictures can be made. Both display pictures from the site of the affixed picture. The third frame carries an image of a crumpled piece of paper. The fourth frame contains another recording device, this one displaying a colour picture from said setting. All four of the framed works -- the three recording devices and the crumpled piece of paper -- are "backed" by hand-drawn grids.

"What is your intention with these photos?" someone asked Bitter at the end of her introduction (Weber was absent from the talk). In response, Bitter spoke of her interest in architecture and how built environments uphold power, shape local and national narratives and, by extension, the lives of those who negotiate these spaces/narratives.

Someone else mentioned Louise Lawler, and he might have mentioned John McCracken, too, and anyone else who had ever leaned an object against a wall.

The subject of the work is the Macedonian capital of Skopje, which Bitter and Weber visited last year. Bitter told us, among other things, how aspects of this former Yugoslavian city had been rebuilt after one of its many earthquakes, how the central building (a civic building, I believe) had neo-classical columns added to its Brutalist Cold War-era design, and that these (earthquake proof?) columns are made of styrofoam (a similar material as that used to support the artists' pictures? And if so, does that implicate these pictures in the same system favoured by those in support of styrofoam columns?). Certain Skopjeans were irritated by these columns and responded to them and other sites with paint balls. Hence the colour -- and the Colour Revolution, as it is known.

Making Ruins is intended to look like a ruin. Leaning as opposed to simply hanging its pictures gives the work a third dimension, except the viewer cannot move around it or through it. As a ruin and as a sculpture it is physically impenetrable, and as such the viewer cannot experience the kinds of sensations sculpture allows; only through information conveyed through a didactic or a docent can the viewer "appreciate the situation," as the British Colonial Office (1854-1966) used to say when directing its operatives to investigate that which ailed it.

So: if the wall is the ultimate support in this installation, how is it symbolically implicated? Is it a signifier of that former Second World work of architecture, the Berlin Wall? Here's another stretch: Making Ruins is a cine-sculpture whose doors are closed to those who want to experience more than what is between the wall picture (master shot) and those leaning pictures (close-ups), or what is obscured by its hanging frames. In that respect, Making Ruins provides not an embodied experience, as cinema is said to be, but its program -- in this instance, a poster curling off its exterior wall.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Ganja & Hess (1973)

Today is Day One of Black History month. To mark the occasion, a free-while-it-lasts ticket to a Cinema YouTube screening of Bill Gunn's lyric horror film Ganja & Hess (1973).