Monday, March 30, 2020

"Murder Most Foul" (2020)

A new Bob Dylan song. And a long one, too. Couldn't get very far into it without googling the lyrics, which, after reading them, reminded me more of a Robert Service or Robert Frost poem than one by Walt Whitman or Allen Ginsberg (recall that it was the then-86-year-old Frost who read, or tried to read, an ode at JFK's 1961 inauguration).

But even more than Frost, I was reminded of a more recent collagist film by Jean-Luc Godard, Film Socialisme (2010), which is as unwatchable as Dylan's song is unlistenable. Which is not to say these works are unnecessary. If we appreciate the contributions elder artists have made to the culture, it is important to consider what they make of the culture today, in their later years, even if we don't like how their latest looks and sounds.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Crimson Kimono (1959)

Two Los Angeles artists talking about dating.


CHRIS: Were you ever in love with a man from a different world?

MAC: Ah, many, many times.

CHRIS: Well, was he ... someone of a different race?

MAC: There was a Hindu in Bombay.

CHRIS: Was he sensitive about the difference between you?

MAC: He wasn't, but his father looked down his imperious nose at me.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Underworld U.S.A. (1961)

Getting near the bottom of the unwatched portion of my DVD collection. What's left are bootlegs of films recommended to me  -- given to me -- that I never got around to. A few days ago it was Sergio Leone's visually (and sonically) arresting Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), which I had only seen in bits; last night it was Sam Fuller's Underworld U.S.A. (1961).

Above is the scene where Tolly Devlin (Cliff Robertson) is invited into the inner circle of the local crime boss, whose lieutenants Devlin has vowed to destroy for murdering his father when Devlin was a teen.

The crime boss has a legitimate business/foundation to cover for his illegal dealings. I had to laugh when I saw the name -- National Projects. Sounds like something out of FDR's "New Deal". Or what the next U.S. administration might come up with once this virus passes through us?

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976)

Here it is, for those old enough to remember, and for as long at it lasts:

"Little Todd Lubitch, the child who has never felt his parents' touch except for the walls of his plastic bubble, and who may not for years to come, is finally coming home for the first time today."

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

"My mother used to make coffee this way. Hot, strong and good."

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

"All work and no play ..."

The scene in Stanley Kurick's The Shining (1980), where Jack Nicholson's character (in the grips of cabin fever? delusion? possession?), is throwing a tennis ball against the lobby wall. I returned to this scene yesterday and noticed that "the wall" is actually a mural, and that it looks to be of indigenous North American origin. Sure enough, it is. But not of anyone associated with the area where the film is set (the Colorado Rockies), but the Navajo. A Navajo sand painting, in fact.

A detailed discussion of The Shining and its relationship to indigenous North American culture can be found at Rob Ager's Collative Learning site.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

On Kingsway

Did a double-take when I saw this. Gotham charges $82.50 for its version of surf and turf (steak and lobster).

Friday, March 20, 2020

"Writing About Indigenous Art with Critical Care" by David Garneau

With arms crossed, a Métis curator contemplates Kent Monkman’s The Scream (2017) at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The history painting dramatizes Canada’s seizure of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children for incarceration and assimilation in church-run Indian Residential Schools. The tragedy roils in a sunlit yard between a modest rural house and the viewer. Two black-cassocked priests, a pair of wimpled nuns and seven men in scarlet tunics swarm a reserve to separate 10 children from their families, homes, language, spirituality, culture and dignity. One of the Mounties is armed with a rifle. Another, supervising from the porch, gestures to a trio of fleeing teens, but his comrades are preoccupied with easier game, smaller kids who variously run, buck or are paralyzed by terror. A bride of Christ takes possession of a toddler who reaches for a sibling clutched by a cop. An anguished mother, restrained from behind by a Red Coat, clings to her nearly naked offspring whose hand is grabbed by a “sister.” A second mother tries to wrest her child from a “father” who has latched onto the child’s wrist and ankle. Two Mounties yank a third woman back by her dress and long hair as she reaches out in frantic desperation to rescue her young kin from a Black Robe. The reverend has seized the dissociating child around its chest in an awkward grip that reveals underwear and flesh and foreshadows sinister intent. Two men in moccasins lie unconscious in the lush lawn and August heat. An unleashed police dog menaces the scene—or is it a rez dog barking impotent objection? Sympathetic Nature, represented by a crow and two kestrels, witnesses the apprehensions. A second crow intervenes, attacking an officer. Dark clouds roll in.

Above is the opening paragraph of David Garneau's "Writing About Indigenous Art with Critical Care" in C Magazine's current "Criticism, Again" issue, guest edited by Merray Gerges. Some of what Garneau says in this important essay was shared with me during past summers while as room mates we attended UBC Okanagan's Summer Indigenous Art Intensive, a remarkable gathering of BIPOC artists, curators, historians and critics.

Apart from establishing the painting in relation to a described viewer (a Métis curator) and, in the following paragraph, a Cree artist who sidles up to the curator for a brief exchange, the opening is noteworthy for its use of language, the range of nomenclature Garneau employs in his identification of Canada's para-military police force and Christian clergy. No synonym goes unturned; all are players in a federal policy that used assimilation to cover for more sinister intentions: genocide.

Nice to see highlight this essay in its "weekly digest of what's interesting in art media."

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Blow-Up (1966)

The photographer visits the painter at his studio, and the painter, standing before his painting, foreshadows what's to come. Pointing to his (Cubist) painting, he explains:

"They don't mean anything when I do them. Just a mess. Afterwards I find something to hang onto. Like that leg. Then it sorts itself out. Adds up. It's like finding a clue in a detective story."

Antonioni's Blow-Up is adapted from a story by Julio Cortázar (1914-1984). Cortázar's "Blow-Up" first appeared in End of the Game and Other Stories, later re-issued as Blow-Up and Other Stories, with a blown-up picture of its author on the cover.

Here is the scene where the photographer re-photographs a picture he took in a park. Not of a couple frolicking, but a later photo, taken while the woman is running away.

After determining that the blown-up (re-photographed) picture is that of a dead man, he returns to the park and finds the body of the man in the same place it was in the picture. From there he races back to his studio, only to "find" his negatives missing, and only one of his printed pictures: the blown-up body of the dead man. Later, the painter's girlfriend stops by, looks at the picture and says it looks like one of her boyfriend's paintings.

Did the woman in the park exist? (It was eerily windy that day.) The photographer goes looking for the woman and sees her on the other side of the street, standing with a small crowd. The crowd shifts and the woman disappears, as if into thin air.

The transition from painting to photography. A century that began with Cézanne -- and ended with Richard Prince.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A Poem by Sappho (630BC - 570BC)

Like a sweet-apple
turning red
on the tip
of the topmost branch.
Forgotten by pickers.

Not forgotten—
they couldn’t reach it.

translation by Julia Dubnoff

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)

A mysterious 1969 film (surveillance?) of Samuel Beckett walking through West Berlin, stopping at a cafe, reading every word of the newspaper, walking back, repeated.

What was on his mind during those walks? His latest edit of The Lost Ones?

"Inside a flattened cylinder fifty metres round and sixteen feet high for the sake of harmony"

Monday, March 16, 2020

Rosmarie Waldrop

The Round World
nature’s inside, says Cézanne and
I do not like the fleshy
even so, it is
after this close proof
vision is made
of matter
another mirror
it’s possible
the eye knows
even where there should have been a lake
this optic an illusion
at the cat, his changing
a habit
the subject more than meets the
situation, always
at our own eye

Rosmarie Waldrop, "The Round World" from Another Language: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1997 by Rosmarie Waldrop.  Reprinted by permission of Rosmarie Waldrop.
Source: Another Language: Selected Poems (Talisman House Publishers, 1997)

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Western Front

A couple weeks ago a letter was emailed to a number of people who have been involved with Vancouver's Western Front over its 47 years as an artist-run centre. The content of the letter concerned "sudden actions following a change in the organization's leadership." The email concluded with the words: "If the concerns of this letter resonant with you, please consider signing it before it is sent ... to the board."

Having already heard that the WF had dissolved its Media Arts program and summarily dismissed its curator, a move justified by budgetary concerns (I'd heard), I read the letter hoping for further details (I'd also heard that the WF was in sound financial shape prior to the leadership change), but received only an interpretation of the WF's actions. Yesterday I re-opened the email that linked to the letter, hoping to re-read it, but the letter had been taken down. All that remained was the petition, which I had signed. I scrolled down the petition again.

There were some new names added, as well as an absence of names I thought would be there. Most disturbing were a couple of comments where, instead of "first last [names], affiliation, title," as requested, someone supplied a character assessment, presumably directed at the dismissed curator, while another provided a legal line about the curator having signed an employment contract where the terms of her dismal had been laid out.

Because I am human, it pained me that someone would use a space reserved for names and relations to issue a character assessment of someone hurt by the WF's actions. As for the second comment, if ever there was a justification for the letter I signed my name to -- a letter that points not to the open and improvisatory centre many of us have come to know and love, but a closed and "contract"-ing one -- this comment was it.

As it stands, I hope the WF leadership does the right thing and responds to this letter and its petitioners in a public fashion. Doing so would contribute further to the "cultural ecology" the centre once heralded in a mandate it no longer carries on its website, as if that world were a dream it woke up from and shook off in favour of a hyper-normal, property-driven world where finance trumps discourse.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Ken Lum

Nice to hear artist and former Vancouver resident Ken Lum's voice on the radio the other day. Ken, who lives in Philadelphia, where he is Chair of the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania, was in town with his family recently for the launch of a new public art work in Burnaby -- The Retired Draft Horse and the Last Pulled Log    -- and a collection of his writings -- Everything is Relevant: Writings on Art and Life, 1991-2018 (Concordia University Press: AGO, 2020). Last month the often art-suspicious Tyee ran a profile on him.

As with certain local artists whose work, whether intended or not, is ever present in our day to day lives (bus shelter ad boxes that bring to mind Jeff Wall, Value Village assemblages that do the same for Liz Magor), Ken's most enduring contribution to (evocation of) the Vancouver landscape might derive from his "Shopkeeper's Series", a group of works the artist began in the early 2000s that juxtapose small business signage with attached variable space. Often these spaces carry non-commercial, if not ostensibly contradictory, sentiments.

A couple weeks ago, while walking southeast on automotive Kingsway (a street Ken spent part of his childhood on), I noticed the sign at what was once home to Kingsway's first settler-built business (in the 1860s), the Gladstone Inn. Today it is Kingsway Brake & Muffler, where two of its employees (friends?), Om & Tho, have just returned from where we can only infer, or imagine. Yet regardless of where, I am sure Ken would agree that these two are appreciated -- and indeed missed! -- by those who have business there.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Alphaville (1965)

Some notes from Michelson's "Film and the Radical Aspiration"(1966):

- "This film, shot entirely on location, is the film of Dis-location."

-"... a continual play with language transforms things known and seen."

-"... low-income housing developments of post-1945 Paris ... are the clinics and insane asylums of the future ..."

-"The city's peripheral avenues ... shift and expand into an irrevocably disquieting suggestion of the routes of interplanetary space."

-"Function and scale of object and place are continuously altered, as image and sound converge upon site ..."

Thursday, March 12, 2020

"Top"-Down View

Is the Coronavirus Trump's wall? Is its "origin" in two of Trump's least favourite countries -- China, then Iran -- coincidental? Will the pandemic serve America's "strongman" president in his quest for a second term? Will the social and economic patterns established during the pandemic remain in place after the virus is eradicated? Will the virus be eradicated, or will it seek a seat on the United Nations Security Council?

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Annette Michelson (1922-2018)

Annette Michelson, as she might have appeared in one of those films she wrote so much about. A lost Eisenstein. Not the whole film, but a reel.

Went to bed last night with Michelson's essay "Film and the Radical Aspiration" (1966), which she read at the Special Events program of the Fourth New York Film Festival at Lincoln Centre, September, 1966.

What Michelson wrote on the early days of film reminded me of the early days of the internet. But it's what she wrote about wax museums as "proto-cinema" (where the audience moved, not its actors) that made this essay bedtime reading.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020


Shuvinai Ashoona's Greenlandic Man (2016) (above) appears next to her Untitled (Birthing Scene) (2013) at the VAG's Shuvinai Ashoona: Mapping Worlds exhibition. I asked the artist why the two works were placed next to each other, and she told me. (Her response will appear in the April/May, 2020 issue of Preview.)

Another question I asked Shuvinai concerned the recurrence of kelp in her pictures, not only in the landscape, but in portraits like Greenlandic Man.

"I draw the kelp because they keep coming back," she said.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Street Photography

Enroute to Marion Scott Gallery for yesterday's telephone interview with Shuvnai, I saw a pair of legs. Because I was early and looking to slow myself down, and because I know a "Fred Herzog" when I see one, I took their picture. Happy with it, I stopped to show the person whose legs they were.

"Ah," she said to the picture, "I would have take a picture too." She looked up at me, the sun in her face, her eyes brighter than any colour could make them. "Good of you to stop. Nice of you to show me."

She told me her name, and with pride, her age -- 69. "Are you an artist?" she asked, and I told her no, but I write on art. "I am an artist," she said, then added that she was trained in the social sciences.

By then I recognized her accent. "You're from South Africa?"

"Yis," she said, and she told me how she and her family came to Canada 35 years ago.

"I have always wanted to go to South Africa," I said.

"It is a mean place," she said somewhat meanly. "There is a tension between those who left and those who stayed. It is always there, this tinsion. And the men, they are childish, stunted."

"It is the light I am most interested in."

"Ah yes, the light," and she brightened. "The only other place I have seen light like that is Hawaii. The light in the Southern Hemisphere always reminds me of home."

Friday, March 6, 2020

Shuvinai Ashoona

The Vancouver Art Gallery bistro re-opened a couple months ago. Sort of. To enter you have to go into the VAG lobby and up two flights of stairs.

Prior to closing, access to and from the bistro was fluid. Not anymore. The VAG, who have taken on the running of the bistro (it had been out-sourced), have installed a spiked gate at what was once the patio entrance/exit.

I visited the gallery last week to see the Shuvnai Ashoona exhibition, in advance of today's telephone interview with the Inuk artist at the Kinngait Studios. I enjoyed the Nancy Campbell-curated exhibition; it expanded what I knew of the artist and her work, generating more questions.

Below is a drawing from the exhibition, entitled To the Print Shop (2013).

Thursday, March 5, 2020


The fish on the right is a Flowerhorn cichlid. Invented in 1993 by Malaysian, Thai and Taiwanese hobbyists, they have been released in the wild, where they are known as pests. Australia has banned them.

The picture above was taken yesterday at a Kingsway fish supply store. I wandered in to see what was new in tanks, pumps, fish and filters, only to freak when I saw one of these strange brain-forward creatures. But a kiss is a kiss, and who among consenting fish can resist?

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

alumni UBC

Like most everyone who attended the University of British Columbia, I receive the alumni UBC newsletter. Everything about the above offer feels -- I don't know -- wrong?

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha


The image above is from Hak Kyung's Permutations (1976) (10 minutes, 16mm film transfer to digital video) a structuralist film that features over a hundred images of the artist's sister, and one (above) of its author.

Monday, March 2, 2020


 Welcome to London's rental market, where $2,000 a month gets you a bed beside the toilet 

The older I get, the more this makes sense. And I'm not just talking about what the body wants -- I'm talking about the market as architect.

But this is just the headline, not the whole article. Nor is it the whole 291 sq. ft. apartment.

Better to put the bed in the reception room than the reception room in the bathroom.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Lines Composed After Reading Byung-Chul Han

should gave way to can

now everything is many things

poetry's a playdate