Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Civic Palimpsests

Toys "R" Us Canada has filed for bankruptcy protection in an attempt to do what everybody does these days and that's move forward.

Above are two signs. The first is the Toys "R" Us sign at the 1100-block West Broadway; the second is the Bowell-McLean car dealership sign over which the Toys "R" Us name was placed.

How did this happen?

In 1958 Bowell-McLean built what was then the largest free-standing sign in North American, illuminated or otherwise. Some loved it, some didn't, some didn't care either way. Among the "didn't"s was the band Pied Pumkin, who wrote a song about it that I can't find anywhere.

After Toys "R" Us purchased the Bowell-McLean car lot in the mid-1990s, Vancouverites petitioned to save the Bow/Mac sign. In 1997 Vancouver city council declared the Bow/Mac sign a landmark, but that it had to share with Toys "R" Us.

Something similar happened a few years later with the Hotel Niagara at the 900-block West Pender. Eventually the waterfall under which Ramada imposed its name was erased.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The L.A. Flood Control Channel Is the L.A. River

A documentary on the Los Angeles River and the effort to revitalize it.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Art Washing

An L.A. Times article on the closing of a non-profit art space in Boyle Heights that, because of its tone and structure, could never be mistaken for an L.A. Times article on a neighbourhood's response to gentrification.

The quotes up top are those highlighted by L.A. Times editors. Here is the punctum quote as reported from a statement released by the Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement (BHAAAD) and Defend Boyle Heights:

“Civil discourse only functions when it is intersectional: the erasure of a predominantly working-class community of color demanding your removal is nowhere near intersectional, therefore void.”

Now here is a quote from longtime Vancouver activist Jean Swanson who is seeking a by-election seat on Vancouver City Council this October 14:

"Some ideas don't seem possible until you leap and then the idea of what's possible expands."

Now here is the mind-expanding "Star Gate" sequence in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968):

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Janitorial Residency

Next week I begin a residency at Griffin Art Projects. Below is my statement:

“I always say that you cannot tell what a picture really is or what an object really is until you dust it every day...” ― Gertrude SteinThe Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

Two years ago, while in the midst of a Baudelairian crisis that had me looking to get anywhere out of the world, I saw an advertisement for a reasonably priced 1973 Airstream trailer. The owner said the trailer was in good working condition; all it needed was a good clean. Fortunately for me this turned out to be the case.

After moving the trailer to a friend’s ranch, I began to clean it, and in cleaning it I came to appreciate the genius of the Airstream design, a design that owes as much to consultations with homemakers as it does with engineers. But as much as I learned about this trailer from cleaning it, I also learned that I am not a very good cleaner. “You're neat, but not clean,” I was told by a friend who helped out with some renovations. This, too, had a profound effect on me.

When Griffin Art Projects invited me to propose a residency, I asked if I could use the gallery as a training ground and work under a professional cleaner. While I am under no illusions that I will learn more about the gallery by cleaning it, I am hoping to learn what it is to clean a space and clean it well -- beyond what appears before me.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Vancouver's Killing Field

In 1966 British Columbia premier W.A.C. Bennett decided to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the unification of Vancouver Island and the mainland with a commission on the north lawn of the B.C. Provincial Courthouse (now the site of the Vancouver Art Gallery). Bennett wanted the content of the commission (a fountain) to be a secret, so he hired a hoarding company to erect 4'x7' sheets of plywood and paint them green and white -- the provincial Social Credit party colours.

Vancouver Mayor Bill Rathie had another idea. Rather than have Vancouverites endure an alternating green-and-white wall for six months, he invited artists to make paintings on these plywood sheets. Thus the Vancouver "paint-in" was born.

A couple weeks ago the province unveiled its latest plaza commission. Gone is the fountain, while in its place stands a white guillotine platform (on the Howe Street side)

wooden autopsy benches

and a surface whose design features coffins.

Friday, September 15, 2017

L. Ron Burnett University of Art by Design

"Since platforms are grounded on the extraction of data and the generation of network effects, certain tendencies emerge from the competitive dynamics of these large platforms: expansion of extraction, positioning as a gatekeeper, convergence of markets, and enclosure of eco-systems. These tendencies then go on to be installed in our economic systems." -- Nick Srnicek, Platform Capitalism, p. 98

Data used to turn False Creek east of Main Street from wetland to flatland came from rocks dug out of the Grandview Cut (or what came to be known as the Grandview Cut) by the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Thursday, September 14, 2017


When I saw this picture of twins taken in Vancouver's Strathcona neighbourhood in 1930 my first thought was of the twins in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980).

But when I looked at a picture of The Shining's twins today I thought they looked more like the Strathcona twins than the twins in Kubrick's film.