Tuesday, October 17, 2017

What's the Biggest Question Facing Artists Today?

In its quest to be all things to sane people, the Guardian continues to be everywhere. More recently here, asking artists, curators, directors (but not critics?), What's the biggest question facing artists today?

Responses vary. Jeremy Deller offers up incredulity's acronym ("WTF?"), while Marina Abramović reminds us that we are "human beings." Most see the present as a dilemma. Tacita Dean OBE RA believes in "balancing a need for the market with a detachment from it," while ICA director Stefan Kalmár is concerned less with functionalism's "balancing" act than in identifying what is, in effect, a Marxist "contradiction."

I appreciate what Stefan has to say about education in the third paragraph below:

The big question for us all – but particularly for artists because it’s more pressing – is, essentially, can we bite the hand that feeds us? The economic make-up of the 21st century has forced us to shy away from more fundamental questions. An artist is now someone who sells work through a commercial system, to people they might not know, whose political and social affiliations they might not know. As a director, you wonder how long those contradictions are sustainable. Your exhibition might be sponsored by people who you oppose.
How many galleries in the US have Trump supporters as their major donors? How does that sit with the more progressive curatorial decisions? Equally, how does the ICA behave with those contradictions? I mean, at least we can talk about them, rather than pretending they’re not there.
Then there is the question of education in general, and art education in particular. Why is it that a society that largely communicates through visual media then deprives generations of young people of an arts education? To do so essentially produces a visual illiteracy, so people can’t understand or read the world. They cannot understand that the world projected at them has social, economic preconditions and interests behind them. In a world that is saturated by image, where ideologies talk to each other through imagery, it is a basic human right to understand how images are produced, circulated and distributed. It’s like learning a language or learning the alphabet. Isn’t looking after the people the basic foundation of any politics? Why would it ever be interesting to introduce tuition fees and reduce people’s access to education? The same for healthcare. Why should it be difficult? Shouldn’t it always be government’s prime mandate to produce a well-educated and healthy society? We could get more political and say, “Why is it always conservative governments that do this?” There isn’t a liberal or social democratic element that would do that. You very, very rarely get well-educated fascists or racists.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Together Again!

A highlight of the VAG's Entangled: Two Views on Contemporary Canadian Painting exhibition: a make-out corner featuring Joyce Weiland's The Kiss (1960) and Michael Snow's Between (1960).

Sunday, October 15, 2017


How in reading one thing, then another, a word, a particular word that speaks to a "momentary or partial view" -- a glimpse.

A kitchen table busy with books and papers. I sit down, make room for my coffee, then pull towards me something to read. At one point Anne Low's text from her Artspeak exhibition, Witch With Comb, which riffs on Muriel Spark's 1960 short story "The Ormolu Clock":

At one point in the story the narrator catches a momentary glimpse into a room through a door, that up until that moment, had remained locked.

I twig on the word. Where have I just seen it?

I read further:

The narrator’s description of the magnificence of the room revealed a canopied bed, stacked with plush pillows, highly adorned quilts and Turkish carpets all in hues of deep crimson, dark wood and flashes of gilded gold, a glistening tiled stove and an elaborately decorated clock.

A passage from Huysman's À rebours? (The copy in the bathroom?) Roussel's Locus Solus? (The copy in the glove compartment?)


The narrator is struck by the opulence of the bedroom, seemingly the antithesis to the rest of the establishment with its humble scrubbed and polished wooden interior. 

Of course! Right there in front of me! The opening of Mark Fisher's 2009 Capitalist Realism:

In one of the key scenes in Alfonso Cuarón's 2006 film Children of Men, Clive Owen's character, Theo, visits a friend at Battersea Power Station, which is now some combination of government building and private collection. Cultural treasures -- Michelangelo's David, Picasso's Guernica, Pink Floyd's inflatable pig -- are preserved in a building that is itself a refurbished cultural artifact. This is our only glimpse into the lives of the elite, holed up against the effects of a catastrophe which has caused mass sterility: no children have been born for a generation. 

The sterility of human beings (the film refers only to women's sterility) implies a shift in utility. While human beings can continue to produce things, they can no longer reproduce their species. This, too, is operative in Anne's exhibition, and is expressed not through a literal recreation of a functioning bed or stove (as glimpsed through a door or, in this case, through shutters or drapery) but through an aestheticization of these furnishings as forms crafted from -- memory?

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Screen Shot

Found the above while cleaning up my desktop. It was taken from the front page of the November 1, 1966 edition of the Vancouver Sun newspaper.

Found the below while doing the same.

I wonder if Thomas d'Aquino's "family of Named Gallery Spaces" is related to Dr. Ron Burnett's family of Named ECUAD Spaces?

The world is so small these days.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Blue Cabin

A few years ago, when Al Neil and Carole Itter's Blue Cabin showed no signs of going anywhere other than where it was, I spent an afternoon scraping its soffits, in advance of another volunteer's paint job.

Most of these scrapings remained on the deck, but some I pocketed. Or rather, some fell into my pockets and, in preparing my clothes for the wash, I put them in a bowl.

Over the years I have come to see these scrapings less as remnants of the Blue Cabin than as emblems of labour, and it is for this reason that I keep them on my desk next to some seeds I collected from a tomato I picked that same year, in Noto.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Flight from Beauty

I first saw Jeff Wall's Overpass (2001) in the days following 9/11 and thought I would forever associate it with that event. But now, in light of Westbank's recent campaign, it has taken on a new meaning.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Barnacle Bill the Sailor (1930)

Amazing animation and sound. Cartoons were the first talkies, no?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

C.P. Lyons

C.P. "Chess" Lyons (1915-1998) was a Regina-born, Okanagan-raised naturalist famous for his botanical field guides. Given his eye for detail and subtle wit, it is not surprising that artists are drawn to his work. Brian has a number of Lyon's books at his ranch; and of those who came to visit this past weekend, more than a couple arrived with copies of their own.

Here is Lyon's description of Blue Sailors (Cichorium intybus), also known as Chicory or Batchelor's Buttons:

Blue Sailors is included as a wildflower although it could be more properly classed as an escape from cultivation. The bright blue flowers have taken their name from an old legend concerning a sailor's sweetheart who was deserted but nevertheless kept a faithful watch for him. The gods took pity on her and turned her into this plant which still haunts the roadsides from July to September.

The deep taproot has been used considerably in the past as a coffee substitute. The occurrence of the blue sailors near the sites of early-day construction camps may be due to this use when coffee was extremely scarce. The tissuey blue flowers, from 1"-1.5" across, usually open in the morning but close in the afternoon.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Sunday Hike

On Sunday a group of us hiked into the hills above Six Mile Creek Road.

On our return Gareth stopped to make a field recording.

Sunday, October 8, 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.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Vegetarian Borscht

pound beets, grated 
1 large onions
2 large carrots
3/4 pound white cabbage
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 cups vegetable stock
Apple cider vinegar
Fresh dill
Sour Cream

Thursday, October 5, 2017

La Casa Resort

La Casa is a lakeside strata village that straddles Westside Road just south of an older, more feudal village known as Fintry.

Established in 2006, La Casa is now up to 250 cottages, with an amenity-filled hotel and a large grocery store.

If you stand at the roadside and stare at these cottages long enough, you begin to notice how the fascia boards -- all of which are painted regulation white -- join together.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Westside Road

Travelling north on Westside Road. Lots of deer on the shoulders. Then out of nowhere -- a For Sale sign!

Tuesday, October 3, 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.

A bump in the night. A boxspring meets the corners of the now-occupied apartment to my east. I glance at my clock. Who moves in at 3:41 a.m.?

I drift for an hour before I am awakened again. A ringtone derived from the opening bars of Jethro Tull's "Jeffrey Goes to Leicester Square" (1969).

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Apple Juice

A custom juicer set up in the parking lot of Askew's Foods in Armstrong this morning. Our 500 lbs. haul of apples amounted to 80 litres of flash pasteurized juice.

(photo: Lindsay Lorraine)

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Footsteps at an Exhibition

Upon entering the Kelowna Art Gallery's A Legacy of Canadian Art from Kelowna Collections exhibition: in the foreground, two Lower Mainland (Salish) mortars dated 2000 BCE; in the background, the Red Ensign (Canadian) flag; in between them, landscape paintings.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Autumn Morning

A stump amongst firs.

A bush explodes from the hillside.

A twenty pound bough.

A fifteen pound basket. One of twenty-five filled that afternoon.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

No Ifs, Ands or Buts!

If I think I can, and if in thinking I can, I try; and if trying goes poorly, but I am happy with the results, I have all but ignored your warning.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Mount Hood Hops

The strangest thing last Saturday. I was gardening out front when I heard the jingle of what turned out to be a Morris Man.

A Morris Man! I said, and he said, Yes, I am a Morris Man, and we are dancing at the WISE Hall this afternoon -- to ring in the equinox!


More banter, then he reached into his pocket and gave me some hops.

These are Mount Hood hops, he said. All the hops in the Pacific Northwest are mothered from these hops. Drop two of them in your beer, like you would a tea bag into water, and whoosh -- you'll get a boost!

Of hops!

Mount Hood hops!

I'm not big on hops -- I don't like IPAs -- but I don't tell the Morris Man that. Nor do I tell him that if I like hops, it is Saaz hops, because when I am not drinking lager, it is pilsner.

But really, I know very little about beer, and in saying what little I know, I only take us further from his friendliness, his giving.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Sunday Walk

Duplex is an independent project space and studio collective accessible through the alley behind 4257 Fraser Street. I walked there yesterday for the last hour of Emily Hill's excellent It is Hard to Tape a Fish exhibition of "rug paintings." Of course the work is more than that -- more than rugs and more than painting -- and more than paint, too, for that matter.

Here is a picture of one of the four works on display:

For more on Emily's project, visit her website (proper documentation and illustrative text forthcoming).

When I arrived at Duplex, Emily and Steffanie were sitting outside in the sun. While chatting we noticed some graffiti on the fence across from us: two figures, one of which looked like it had had its boards rearranged by the person who owns the fence. Or is this what the artist intended?

"It looks wilful," said Steffanie, and indeed it did. A well-placed work of art for artists and audiences coming and going from Duplex.

At 724 East 24th I noticed another instance of public mark-making -- this one by City of Vancouver Engineering.

I guess the logic here is, Since we're gonna tear up your garden, we might as well spray paint over your plants. Yet another tale from the emergent mercenary city.

After that, a sculpture in the alley behind the 900-block of East 22nd.

Sunday, September 24, 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.

The first days of fall, its hot afternoons, its heavy dews. The last of the grapes scattered on the ground amidst the crunch of leaves, the buzz of wasps. I have to watch my step.

Another winter coming, and with it memories of recent winters, where I am numb to its elements, imagining sun-dried sheets and yellow lawns, awaking to the light, sometimes reading by it well into the night.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Friday, September 22, 2017


My mother continues to downsize. The boxes she passes on to me are getting smaller and smaller. The latest is a shoebox with my earliest writings.

Here is something I wrote in 1975, when I was thirteen:

i f e e l m y s e l f d i s i n t e g r a t i n g

b r e a k i n g u p l i k e p o l a r i c e

y e t i r e m a i n o u t s i d e m y s e l f

w o n d e r i n g w h i c h f l o e

t o j u m p t o

( i f a t a l l )

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Calle del Calle

In December 2016, only 5% of Spain's streets were named after women. Of that percentage, most were saints or religious figures.

The earliest post-Franco governments had moved to change that, but Spanish bureaucracy is glacial, and it has taken almost 40 years for municipal governments to begin the rededication of public spaces.

Spanish cities such as Bilbao, Oviedo and Càdiz have embarked on a project to rename 80% of their streets equally after men and women involved in civil rights activism, science and art.

Women of international distinction include Rosa Parks, Frida Kahlo and Jane Austen. Perhaps one day Sophie Calle's name will be called upon.

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.