"The understanding between Arkady and myself owed nothing to any codebook and everything to the concept that every premise contains its opposite. Thus I was not inviting him, but seeking an invitation from him. The dates on which the notional club was prepared to welcome its guests were the dates on which I hoped to be received by Arkady. My offers of hospitality were a deferential enquiry about whether he would receive me, and where we might meet. The times of play indicated that any time was fine by me." -- John le Carré (116-117)
Sunday, January 31, 2021
Saturday, January 30, 2021
Yesterday Dan Pon from the Grunt Gallery sent out a link to the just launched LIVE Biennial of Performance Art: the Early Years archive. Included is Night of Shooting Stars: a Country & Western Jamboree, a November 9, 2001 ANZA Club event devised and hosted by New York-based artist Larry Krone. On the bill with Larry were Rodney Graham, the late Peter Culley, Judy Radul and myself. Chili was cooked and served by Myfanwy Macleod.
The photo up top was taken by long time Grunt Gallery documentarian Merle Addison during Judy and my performance of a song we wrote for the occasion, called "You Don't Know the Things You Make Me Do". I had just returned from a trip to NYC that afternoon, and by the time we took the stage it was well past midnight Eastern Standard Time. The photo below is of the finale, with Larry (far-left), Peter, Judy, Rodney (behind her), me, and just off-stage, curator Reid Shier, whose Contemporary Art Gallery was a co-producer of this event.
Friday, January 29, 2021
Jacques Cossart was a French Huguenot who came to New Amsterdam (now New York City) in 1662. His descendants eventually changed their surname to Cassat, then Cassatt, after Robert, a stock broker/land speculator, decided he needed the extra "t".
Name changes were popular in North America during the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly among those wanting to "fit in" with the Anglo hegemony. Another reason concerned those looking to distance themselves from liability -- a local 20th century example being Ace Gallery's Douglas Chrismas, who dropped the "t" (in Christmas) after the practice of selling the same Rauschenberg three times (at once) became problematic.
Robert and his wife Katherine Kelso Johnston had seven children, two of them well-known. One was Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), a respected painter in the Impressionist tradition; the other was A. J. Cassatt (1839-1906), the seventh president of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the visionary behind Penn Station (1910-1963), what he imagined would be a "pathway into New York City" and a "depot of the Gods."
I am not sure why Penn Station was torn down after only 53 years of service. Surely money had something to do with it, the land being worth more than what it was being used for (the current site includes that cash mill known as Madison Square Gardens). The wider availability of air travel (over rail travel) supplied further justification, as did the symbolic "need" to update a city that, after World War II, emerged as the seat of Modernism and made this Neo-Classical Gothic structure more a view to the past than a "pathway" to the future.
The last and best known pictures of Penn Station were taken by Walker Evans and stand as an example of "salvage anthropology" (documenting that which is about to be destroyed). A more recent example does not yet have a name but comes to us as contemporary (modern) art: Stan Douglas's Penn Station's Half Century (2020).
Thursday, January 28, 2021
"In any free moment I rushed to the Art School, beyond the sound of the bells. Bells masked the disorderly conduct of the day's affairs, the fatuous rules and dead principles which yet demanded the blind obedience characteristic of a totalitarian regime. "At the art school I established my own totalitarian state -- art was frankly admitted to being incomprehensible, or risible, a thin-air fantasy of mad adventurers who'd sooner cut off an ear or sail for the South Seas than enter society, score goals or box their mates into bloody submission."
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
On December 8, 1990 the Witte de With opened Ken Lum. This retrospective exhibition (co-produced with the Winnipeg Art Gallery) included an outdoor photo-mural of Lum's Melly Shum Hates Her Job (1990), which I first saw ten years later, with all the urban grit the city of Rotterdam could muster.
A couple weeks ago this came:
The circular centre of the invite detaches (I am already using it as a coaster) to suggest institutional transparency, a portal through which to look anew at a museum that has dropped its colonial name (Witte de With was a 17th century Dutch admiral and plunderer) for one derived from Lum's mural. Hence the Kunstinstituut Melly.
In this spirit of openness, reproductions of Lum's photo-text have opened up as well, removing Melly's face for a view towards the institute's future. An interesting decision (Melly's face is erased for a view to that which she is attached), one I assume the artist (and his subject?) endorsed.
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
Ongoing protests in the Netherlands over the 9pm curfew. On the 7am CBC radio news this morning we heard from a Dutch teen who said, in a very angry voice, "We're bored!" Last night a Covid testing centre was burned to the ground.
In my inbox yesterday was a 2011 picture by Dutch artist Joop van Haudt of the Beeldbank Rijkswaterstaat. I was reminded of what Alex Javier once told me about his paintings: how they can mark the river banks where indigenous people lived, until the railway bossed them off it, and the giant bird in the sky.
Below is Join Up (n.d.), 14" x 14", acrylic on canvas:
Monday, January 25, 2021
Sunday, January 24, 2021
FRANK ZAPPA: That song was pretty white. DAVY JOES: Well, so am I. What can I tell ya? FZ: You've been working on your dancing though. DJ: Oh, yeah, yeah. Well, I've been rehearsing it. Glad you noticed that. FZ: Yeah, it doesn't leave much time for your music. You should spend more time on it because the youth of America depends on you to show the way. DJ: Yeah?
FZ: Yeah. COW: Monkees is the craziest people...................MoooOOOOO.....!!
Frank Zappa and the Monkees' Davy Jones on the studio lot in a scene from the movie Head (1968). Not sure what Zappa thought about dance, being all about music, or the music, as martinet musicians are prone to say, but he seems to think musicians should be musicians and not musician-dancers (or god forbid -- entertainers!).
Jones had a pleasingly soft singing voice for someone who came from the theatre, where he sang and danced and acted his way into the role of the "Artful Dodger" in the long-running West End production of Oliver! (1960). He was already seasoned by the time he blew up as a Monkee.
Saturday, January 23, 2021
My habit of arriving late to things. Latest example: The Wire, whose first season I found at the Lonsdale Sally Anne and, despite it missing its final disc (left in the player after its owner never came back from the hospital?), I purchased gleefully and am now watching.
What I had heard of The Wire was evident after its first three episodes. Great writing, great casting (acting) and a great choice of setting -- the terminal weirdness that is Baltimore. Why is Baltimore weird? Well, it was weird (to me) when I passed through it twenty years ago, and it appears weird to Baltimore resident Kirsten Jeffers, a "Black queer feminist urbanist" who posted this on her blog in 2017:
"So here we are, the first true Baltimore-centric post. It took me two months because as I said in in my 2017 birthday post, I was scared. This is a city where people get hurt and get hurt often. Especially by people who claim they are doing the right thing. The last thing I needed was for my post to come along and stir up a hornet's nest. I'm trying as much as possible to fly under the radar."
The Wire has a great soundtrack, though not all its songs are by those who brought them to our attention (Can anybody "Tell Me Something Good"  as good as Rufus & Chaka Khan?) As for Gram Parson and Emmylou Harris singing "The Streets of Baltimore" (1966) -- yes, they played that, too.
Friday, January 22, 2021
"Slave, I before reasoned with you, but you have proved yourself unworthy of my condescension. Remember that I have power; you believe yourself miserable, but I can make you so wretched that the light of day will be hateful to you. You are my creator, but I am your master; obey!" (157)
Thursday, January 21, 2021
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
Something goes terribly wrong at a government research facility in East Texas and a security guard and his family escape, driving east, where eventually their car is seen swerving towards a gas station and crashing. Stu Redman (Gary Sinise, above) races out to comfort the driver, who shows no sign of injury, apart from his infection. Soon enough, the infection spreads, and Stu finds himself among the few who are immune.
I remember reading Stephen King's 800-page The Stand (1978) and finding those first 200 pages intoxicating, focused less on plot than on episodic character introductions. Only when the book went biblical did I lose interest. Judging from the 1994 TV adaptation, on which King served as an Executive Producer, I didn't miss much. The same can't be said of Kubrick's 1980 film adaptation of King's The Shining (1977), which King loathed (to the point of remaking it for TV) and I loved.
Is there such a thing as a "faithful adaptation"? In mood and tone, yes, in plot and story, why bother.
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
"For this exhibition he started a series of drawings with more hopeful themes, more serene. 'Because the Trump years were so traumatizing.' says Marcel Dzama. 'Also I usually either do political drawing or I go for this kind of vacation feeling. Almost idyllic. A lot of them are based on photographs taken of my son and wife on vacation. I am still playing with this.'" -- art-agenda, January 18, 2020
Hmmm, where to begin? With honesty? The artist has always been honest about why he and fellow Royal Art Lodgers were drawn together -- largely in reaction to an art scene as violent and pretentious as the worst the world (and their city, Winnipeg) had to offer. In the culture of Confession, honesty is an admission, and if the admission indicates an adequate level of vulnerability and doesn't kill anyone or take anything away from them, it converts to truth and its cloth is worn as a protective apron.
A love and desire just like the fire (2020) is a 56.2 x 76 cm ink, watercolour, gouache and graphite on paper work that has forsaken the illustrative nursery rhyme figuration and unmarked snow white non-scapes of earlier Dzama drawings for a floating dreamworld of over-lapping signifiers, a dreamworld that has more in common with the savagery of Paul Gaugin than the amputated naughtiness of Beatrice Potter. Narratively, the title and its drawing suggest a tale of life-long friendship and survival, while any remaining ambiguity is reserved for that which most of us would never admit to. A point worth making? I'm just being honest.
Monday, January 18, 2021
"I could not compose a female without again devoting several months to profound study and laborious disquisition." (139)
Film critic Roger Ebert called The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) "the best of the Frankenstein movies," and then in the same sentence, as if to equate "best" with deception, provides this qualification: "a sly, subversive work that smuggled shocking material past the censors by disguising it in the trappings of horror."
Indeed, much of what comes to us in the popular culture comes to us through something else. The availability of explicit sexual imagery first arrived under the guise of documentarian social science (films like Censorship in Denmark, 1970, or books like The Cult of Analism), 1971), while anti-war satires like Starship Troopers (1997) were taken literally by American audiences who continue their passive, if not escapist, love affair with heroic Buck Rogers-style science-fiction.
The U.S. Army's preparation for this Wednesday's inauguration of its country's 46th president is the latest project to convey -- intended or otherwise -- its opposite effect. Instead of a production designed to protect the next president to utter the words "liberty" and "freedom" a couple thousand times over the next four years, his party's detractors will point instead to the prison-like environment his administration has designed to restrict those who feel it is their right to overrun anyone in government who dares to impinge on their liberties and freedoms.
Sunday, January 17, 2021
“You are in the wrong,” replied the fiend; “and instead of threatening, I am content to reason with you. I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? You, my creator, would tear me to pieces and triumph; remember that, and tell me why I should pity man more than he pities me? You would not call it murder if you could precipitate me into one of those ice-rifts and destroy my frame, the work of your own hands. Shall I respect man when he condemns me? Let him live with me in the interchange of kindness, and instead of injury I would bestow every benefit upon him with tears of gratitude at his acceptance. But that cannot be; the human senses are insurmountable barriers to our union. Yet mine shall not be the submission of abject slavery. I will revenge my injuries; if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear, and chiefly towards you my arch-enemy, because my creator, do I swear inextinguishable hatred. Have a care; I will work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heart, so that you shall curse the hour of your birth.” (134)
Saturday, January 16, 2021
In advance of performing an essential service in North Vancouver last Thursday I stopped at the Lonsdale Sally Anne and picked up a new bundle of DVDs and CDs. Among them, a Hitchcock trilogy that includes the first of his two The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) films.
The screen shot up top is a dissolve that begins with the broach given to the kidnapped girl by her mother at 4:53 of the link in the preceding paragraph and ends with the child in the hands of her kidnapper.
Hitchcock had a name for objects like these that are common to his films. He called them MacGuffins. As for the origin of the term, that came from Scotland's Angus MacPhail, who worked as an uncredited screenwriter on the second The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956).
Friday, January 15, 2021
Of the more recent non-drinking dreams: standing still yet somehow moving amongst those gathered, catching snippets of conversation. One says to another, "Reification -- it's a thing, you know," and the other nods, "Yes, it keeps popping up on Twitter."
I have my thoughts. These include speculations: not on what will happen, but what didn't. As in, What if those freedom-seeking American colonists who formed the United States did not mount a tax revolt against the British and instead worked through an evolving parliamentary system that, for example, banned the Atlantic slave trade in 1807 -- 58 years before those former American colonists amended it to their Constitution?
Reification, according to vocabulary.com, is "a complex idea for when you treat something immaterial -- like happiness, fear or evil -- as a material thing." This in relation to metaphor: "a figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity."
Thursday, January 14, 2021
When Dr. Frankenstein's "creature" finally meets up with his "creator", he invites Dr. Frankenstein to hear his tale, and Dr. Frankenstein ponders this:
"... I felt what the duties of a creator towards his creature were, and that I ought to render him happy before I complained of his wickedness." (88-89)
The current POTUS is not the creator of those who stormed the U.S. capitol; they are who they were before Trump took office. That we think the current POTUS created them speaks to powers the POTUS does not possess. All the current POTUS did was give this mob permission to perform their rage and hatreds, like Dr. Frankenstein gave himself permission to accept his creature's invitation.
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
Monday, January 11, 2021
"Alas! Why does man boast of sensibilities superior to those apparent in the brute; it only renders them more necessary beings. If our impulses were confined to hunger, thirst, and desire, we might be nearly free; but now we are moved by every wind that blows and a chance word or scene that that word may convey to us." (84-85)
Sunday, January 10, 2021
After the Frankensteins' maid Justine is tried and convicted of the murder of young William, a murder his eldest brother Victor Frankenstein quietly believes was at the hands of his monster, his "cousin" Elizabeth attempts to console him:
"Alas! Victor, when falsehood can so look like the truth, who can assure themselves of certain happiness? I feel as if I were walking on the edge of a precipice, towards which thousands are crowding and endeavouring to plunge me into the abyss. William and Justine were assassinated, and the murderer escapes; he walks about the world free, and perhaps respected. But even if I were condemned to suffer on the scaffold for the same crimes, I would not change places with such a wretch." (80)
Saturday, January 9, 2021
On November 2, 1972 members of the Trail of Broken Treaties occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs at 1951 Constitution Avenue, Washington, D.C. At left is non-indigenous BIA employee John Crow, who took questions from ToBT members and, with the help of the Bureau's loud hailer, provided "answers".
Below is another D.C. loud hailer:
Friday, January 8, 2021
The pics keep coming, like spores from a dandelion, like the combatants they depict. I am saving the pics that most affect me, which is so far multiple versions of the same incident. One or two will emerge and I will delete the rest, eventually all of them.
Right now, the pic that has my attention is not of the spectacular, beige-trousered "Qnon Shaman", but the one up top: "law enforcement officers" protecting the House Chamber. I have saved a dozen pics of this incident, but so far this is the pic-as-history-painting that speaks to me.
Most jarring is what it looks like, and what it is not: a priest in his confessional, at whom guns are pointed; an inversion that has solved the riddle of how my nightmares work, turning the meditative into the malevolent, and vice versa -- all at once!
Thursday, January 7, 2021
We never see Statuary Hall on television. Took an insurrection to make that happen.
Up top is a screen grab from CNN's broadcast of Trump's largely white mob moving freely between the Hall's stanchions. While watching I noticed the word "ARIZONA" carved into a plinth, so I googled "Arizona statue Capitol Hill" and Architect to the Capitol came up. Here, I learned that the statue is of former five-term Arizona senator Barry Goldwater (1953-1965, 1969-1987), a Republican "hawk's hawk" who banned racial discrimination from his family's department stores, yet voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because he felt it was unconstitutional.
Trump, too, has constitutional issues, particularly when they don't go his way. Speaking of "his way," I read his Art of the Deal (1987) recently (important to read those who ail us, if only to better understand ourselves) and if there is a phrase he keeps repeating, it is this: "Never give up, never quit." No kidding!
Wednesday, January 6, 2021
Tuesday, January 5, 2021
"It was a long procession I saw from a distance. Black and mournful it came. There were men laden and bent under their loads -- coffins -- one after another. The coachman slowed his horse to a walk, and bent and crossed himself. I looked on in the indistinct dawn, filled with horror. I asked him what that was. Although I knew no Russian, he managed to convey to me that these were the workmen shot down before the Winter Palace the day before -- January 5th, 1905 -- because, unarmed, they had come to ask the Tsar for help in their distress -- for bread for their wives and children." (118)
So writes Isadora Duncan of her first visit to Russia (St Petersburg), after conquering hearts in England, France, Austria, Hungary and Germany. Like these countries, Russia had its own particular response to Duncan and her attempts to revive non-balletic classical dance at the onset of European modernism. Bravos, of course, but also observations which Duncan shares in My Life (1928). Here is Konstantin Stanislavski:
"Duncan does not know how to speak of her art logically and systematically. Her ideas come to her by accident, as the result of the most unexpected everyday facts. For instance, when she was asked who taught her to dance, she answered:
'Terpsichore. I danced from the moment I learned to stand on my feet. I have danced all my life. Man, all humanity, the whole world, must dance. This was, and always will be. It is in vain that people interfere with this and do not want to understand a natural need given us by nature.'" (123)
Monday, January 4, 2021
A shower curtain design by Chris Thaxter featuring a picture of Derek Jarman's Prospect Cottage. I thought this would be a fitting image to accompany an excerpt from Jarman's diary, dated "Wednesday April 5th 1990":
"The rain fell through the small hours. Dreamt of soldiers: I was reluctant to wear the uniform. The handsomest I glimpsed high above me on the scaffolding around some marble ruin. Stopped, held my breath for his beauty. He slipped out of his uniform and, carefully folding it, placed it at the foot of my bed. A rush of cool air as he slid beneath the sheets. He dared not wake me as he knew I would disappear -- I was his dream." (50)
Sunday, January 3, 2021
Voilà Babette! Standing at the water's edge in Jutland like Jarman did at Dungeness. The night before, Babette honoured the two sisters who took her in 14 years earlier by preparing a feast for twelve of their deceased father's brethren.
An unusual film, Babette's Feast forsakes English-language tension for mood modulation, something Scandinavians know well. I can see why this film was so talked about back in the late-1980s, a time when people were only just getting into what in the 1990s and 2000s was an almost pornographic addiction to fine dining.
Saturday, January 2, 2021
A Polaroid of a Balzackian Peter Culley taken sometime in the mid-to-late 1990s when the dining room was painted Bryce Canyon and the lamp that came with my father ("all the way from China") stood in its northeast corner. The lamp is in my study now, and it is my study I am cleaning after 25 years of continuous occupation. Amazing what one can find after 25 years of squishing stuff between books, placing one stuffed box atop another, though I remember taking Pete's picture.
The Godfather (1972) had just been re-released in theatres and Pete, who stayed with Deanna when he was visiting from South Wellington, was curious about the new print. All sorts of talk about Walter Murch's sound design (he is listed as the film's "sound effects supervisor"), parallels with the Nixon Administration and just what tuxedoes in low-lighting can do for mood. Had the internet been more active I am sure Pete's curiosity level would have been even higher.
"Yeah, it holds up," said Pete as we left the Vogue's Saturday matinee screening. I'm not sure what I thought, but I remember the sound of those trains when Michael shoots Sollozzo and McCluskey in the restaurant. "That was all Murch," Pete would have said if he were with us today.
Friday, January 1, 2021
One day COVID-19 will inspire an opera. Corporate copyright holders will align their robots to produce a nineteen song score drawn from their catalogues. "Rid of Me" will be the song Covidia's aunt teaches Covidia before returning to the wet market.
No one else, no
You're not rid of me
You're not rid of me
Hah hah ay hey
Yeah you're not rid of me
Yeah you're not rid of me
Yeah you're not rid of me
Don't leave me
Lick my legs I'm on fire
Lick my legs of desire
Keep you against my chest
Oh you're not rid of me
Yeah you're not rid of me
I'll make you lick my injuries
I'm gonna twist your head off, see
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her
Don't you don't you wish you never never met her
Don't leave me
I've been lonely
Above every day