Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A small room inside a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

At a garage sale yesterday I found a full-length mirror. A couple blocks away at a Home Hardware I found the right kind of clips to attach it. I thought the mirror would look good on the back of my door.

Turns out the mirror looks excellent on the back of my door, but only when viewed from the side.

Monday, July 24, 2017

"Digital Realism"

The opening paragraphs from today's e-flux architecture editorial:

"The later work of Walter Benjamin was largely dedicated to understanding the constitutive elements of nineteenth century Paris; not a physical city, but as the phantasmagoric construct that gave it the right to be called "Capital.” Phantasmagoria is, in short, the idea that the image projected onto the back of our retina is that of the world itself; that the allegory of the cave is not an allegory; that the shadows on the wall are more real than the objects casting them and their source of light. The internet today is, if nothing else, the phantasmagoric apparatus of the twenty-first century. Today we do not just identify with, but as our social media profiles; mistaking the it for the I and losing ourselves everywhere in between.
The internet has, since its cultural inception, been conceived of as an emancipatory technology. If, according to Benjamin, the invention of iron and glass predicated the nineteenth century paradigm of phantasmagoria through the “emancipation" of forms of construction from art—a historical trajectory that progressed onwards with the intervention of photography, montage, and the like—what, then, has the internet has emancipated from what? Conversely, the "accidents” of the internet—surveillance, fake news, the propagation of ideological evil, doxing, etc.—forces us to critically call into question the value of this emancipation; for who, and at what cost? 
The first decades of the twenty-first century has been marked by both a proliferation of psychopathological diagnosis and the financial instrumentation of the city. While both of these contemporary phenomena can be traced back to the infrastructural affordances and sociological transformations wrought by the internet with relative ease, they are nothing particularly new as categories of historical transformation. Parallel to the overrun of Haussmann’s Paris by fraudulent real estate speculation was a medical discourse acutely aware and sensitive to the perceived impacts of the metropolis on its population’s nervous systems, from anxiety to depression, fatigue, headache, heart palpitations, high blood pressure and the like."

Sunday, July 23, 2017

On Turtle Island

Friday's post includes a picture I took of Mariel Belanger's Thursday performance at the UBCO Commons. After posting the picture it occurred to me that something was wrong with the camera portion of my phone, as the image looked fuzzy. Sure enough, some of my e-juice found its way onto the phone's lens, giving the image that soft focus quality used by certain "girlie" magazine photographers in the 1970s who would apply Vaseline to their lenses to achieve the desired effect. Although tempted to delete the picture I decided to keep it because the scopic treatment was aligned with what I thought Mariel was getting at with the colonial princess-ification of indigenous women.

This June Canadian Art magazine released an indigenous "Kinship" issue guest edited by Nehiyaw-Saulteaux-Métis curator, writer, community organizer, Concordia Art History MA candidate and Canadian Art Indigenous Editor-at-Large Lindsay Nixon. On the cover is a photo-based artwork by Dayna Danger entitled Adrienne (2017). Dayna is an artist who, like Mariel, is concerned about the representation, colonization and commodification of the indigenous female body. Here is Dayna quoted in Canadian Art online:

“Space is really important to Indigenous people. If we’re literally waiting to get our land back, maybe I can at least try to claim space in other ways,” says Métis-Saulteaux-Polish artist Dayna Danger. “I really want to challenge the ways in which our bodies have been consumed in a way that doesn’t feel consensual and that doesn’t feel like it’s authentic or that it’s our own.”

Dayna's front cover artwork (shared with a Cree text that translates as "On Turtle Island," as well as a barcode) begins with the photograph of a young woman standing before/within a tan-coloured field, a slight shadow cast inward from her left leg. The woman is naked, her body adorned with tattoos of images and texts. Around her neck is what is commonly called a choker. Her black hair falls over most of her breasts and she is holding the cranial portion of antlers over her groin. Her fingernails are painted, but her toenails are not.

It is an arresting image, made more so by the glossy sheen emanating from the subject's body, an effect perhaps intended to counter the soft focus, low-light treatment given to the bodies of those in period girlie magazines, but one that, at least for this viewer, confuses the intention behind such a (counter-)treatment.

When I first saw Dayna's piece my immediate thought was that the subject's body had been smeared with animal fat (perhaps fat from the animal whose antlers we see?), but for others who have seen the piece some have said that the sheen gives the impression that the subject's body is made of plastic, and if that is the intention, how is that reconciled with what appears to be as a positive, unmediated, decolonized image of an indigenous woman?

Back in 2002 Rebecca Belmore turned the documentation of her Vigil (2002) performance (videotaped by Paul Wong) into an installation entitled The Named and the Unnamed (2002). What made The Named and the Unnamed less a projection was the surface onto which the projected image was held. That surface was not of a (neutral) white screen but a white screen gridded with incandescent light bulbs. Something I would like to see (or if not see, then know something more about) is the lighting regime Dayna used to illuminate the subject of her artwork -- and why she chose to keep the subject's shadow in the picture.

Saturday, July 22, 2017


Drove north from UBCO yesterday to see Scott August's completed exhibition at the Lake Country Art Gallery (the now demolished bandshell shown in an earlier post was located on the West Kelowna bluffs and was known to host concerts by bands like Trooper and Cheap Trick).

After that, a haircut in Vernon, and then to the ranch, where preparations are underway to bring the Airstream down from the hay barn.

In the meantime, dull stuff like laundry: turning fitted sheets into jelly fish.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Undoing the I Do

Yesterday at 4:30 p.m. Syilx artist and FCCS MFA classmate Mariel Belanger gave a performance at the UBCO Commons. Entitled Undoing the I Do, Mariel arrived at the foot of the Commons pond dressed in her wedding gown and carrying with her a woven bowl that contained a tin pot full of soil and/or ashes and a small box of soap, as well as a bouquet. To the tune of Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me" Mariel "washed" herself, the bouquet and the dress of that colonial fantasy known as "Indian Princess".

Thursday, July 20, 2017

CRWR 520 (5)

Although originally billed as keynote presentations by Jeannette Armstrong and Shawn Wilson, we were told by the afternoon’s emcee Stephen Foster that Richard Armstrong would be opening for Jeanette, followed by Shawn, and that pleased me some because Richard’s July 14, 2016 introduction to Syilx cosmology, preceded by Carmen Papalia’s Blind Field Shuttle (July 12, 2016) and followed by Fahreen HaQ’s Being Home performance at the Alternator Gallery (July 15, 2016), had a profound effect on how I have come to understand everything from indigenous land pedagogy to relationality to collaboration.

One of the more remarkable things that happens when listening to Richard, something that is rarely experienced these days when in the company of even the most experienced public speakers, is the complete lack of “ums” and “uhs” in his presentations. Could it be that Richard, who reminded us more than once that the knowledge he carries is not generally found in books, has rehearsed his words to the point where they flow in and out of him as naturally as bats from a cave? As someone who is always considering the presence of form as content in writing a work of art, in writing on a work of art or, increasing, in writing with a work of art, I have come to experience what Richard says of the land’s participation in our growth as human beings an instance of Richard performing that land. Or if not the performance of that land, then perhaps more humbly its embodiment.

It is my understanding that Richard gave a more recent introduction to Syilx cosmology last week, as well as took part in what emcee Foster described as an “inspiring” conversation with visiting artist Alex Janvier at the FINA Gallery. But as there likely were details about art and artists that occurred to Richard after his conversation with Alex, details particular to the Syilx people, Richard no doubt saw the need to address these things to an Intensive comprised as much of artists as scholars. And so it was for this reason that, after a few words about who he is (a Syilx knowledge-keeper) and where he comes from (an Okanagan Valley divided into two colonial spheres by a politicized 49th Parallel), he announced that he would speak to art and artists.

“Are there things an artist should not be doing?” Richard asked rhetorically. And then of course the answers.

The first answer began with some context concerning that reductive popular cultural mediator known as Hollywood. Richard told us of Hollywood’s persistent use of red ochre face paint when depicting indigenous people in its films. “Red ochre is sacred,” Richard began, and from there he told us how it has particular uses, like the marks found on petroglyphs. Artists can mix red ochre to make paint for use in paintings, he added, but red ochre should never be applied to one’s face. The second verboten concerns the use of a deer’s dew claws in the making of an artwork, for these, too, are sacred. “These are used to make rattles for the Winter Dance,” Richard told us, before moving on to what at first sounded like the unrelated topic of “land law,” but was, as we have come to know (also) through the writings of Oglala Lakota theologian Vine Deloria, Jr and more recently through those of Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, writer and artist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, another contextual introduction to how stories are told both of and from the land, and if “[a]rtists can use stories to make art,” as Richard encouraged us to do so, then the laws of the land that provides us with such stories must be observed.