Saturday, March 26, 2005

I Ask You For Culture and All You Give Me is This Brick Snake

This week's review of Kim Kennedy Austin at State Gallery is my last review for the relaunched Terminal City. Several weeks ago, publisher John Kay had the extraordinarily bad judgement to fire Bess Lovejoy, one of the best editors I've ever worked with. According to numerous TC staffers, Kay wants to re-focus the paper on 'fun things': bars and clubs, live theatre, 'lowbrow art,' gallery exhibitions by gig poster designers, skateboard culture, etc., and to deemphasize the paper's coverage of literature and visual art.

On Friday, books editor Aaron Peck and arts editor Adam Harrison were informed by incoming editor Chris Eng via email that their services were no longer required, effective immediately. So long, so sorry, change of focus, thanks very much.

I have no idea what the paper will look like in a few months; needless to say, I no longer have any interest in being affiliated with it, nor in working for John Kay, by all accounts a staggeringly inept novice publisher whose editorial vision apparently consists of trying to tack in whatever direction he thinks ad revenue will most likely materialize from. Nor will Pulpfiction be doing any TC advertising, Kay in a single stroke having killed the two sections where my 'target demographic' might reasonably be said to reside.

About the rest of Vancouver's free media, the less said, the better. When I started at the Straight in the late 1990s, a review was 1000 words. Now it's exactly half that, the Straight's editors having arbitrarily determined that readers won't read anything longer than 500 words. So, in place of detailed exegesis and analysis, factoid blurbs. Names 'n dates! Punchy leads, and short tight sentences.

In my experience, this relentless dumbing-down of media has turned most of my friends off reading local papers all together.

So, what am I personally planning to reverse this sad state of affairs?

Starting in May or early June, I will be writing 52 1000+ word art reviews, once a week for a year, for a new online publication edited by Aaron Peck and Adam Harrison. URL and other details in due course. (The reviews will be cross-posted here within a day or two of publication).

I'm also editing an anthology of critical essays on contemporary Vancouver art, to be published early next year.

Finally, I'm curating a small exhibition of pictures by photographer Mike Grill at Gallery 69 this July. A short publication will accompany the exhibition, and its text will be reprinted here.

(Thx to local comix genius Marc Bell for today's title. His drawing of the same name (ink on Canada Council rejection letter) depicts Ray Johnson's much-beloved brick snake, its flickering forked tongue the Canada Council's old heavily-stylized green tree logo) Posted by Hello
Thursday, March 24, 2005

Someone writes in response to yesterday's Chuck Jones memoir to point out New Yorker staff writer Ian Frazier's excellent Coyote V. Acme. Posted by Hello

"LONDON (Reuters) - Can't get out of bed in the morning?

Scientists at MIT's Media Lab in the United States have invented an alarm clock called Clocky to make even the doziest sleepers, who repeatedly hit the snooze button, leap out of bed. After the snooze button is pressed, the clock, which is equipped with a set of wheels, rolls off the table to another part of the room.

'When the alarm sounds again, simply finding Clocky ought to be strenuous enough to prevent even the doziest owner from going back to sleep,' New Scientist magazine said Tuesday."Posted by Hello

Terminal City art review, printed exactly as I submitted it. Go check this show out if you're in town; the best works in the exhibition are, unfortunately, almost impossible to reproduce in print or on the web, and demand to be seen in person.

Kim Kennedy Austin
K Structure
State Gallery, upper floor, 1564 West 6th Avenue
Through 23 April 2005

Reviewed by Christopher Brayshaw

Kim Kennedy Austin makes elegant ink and watercolor drawings of linguistic and architectural systems. This sounds like a mouthful, evoking the dated specter of "linguistic conceptual art," with its endless boring Xeroxes and photostats of dictionary definitions, institutional grey card files and ring binders full of useless information, but Austin's work impresses with its formal variety and the conceptual rigor she brings to her mappings of social and architectural space.

Austin's first solo exhibition at State, draws upon a historical text documenting the rebuilding of the Quebec Bridge across the St. Lawrence River in 1907, following the collapse of an older structure. Some drawings detail the destruction of the old bridge, some are based upon engineering diagrams and schematics for the replacement span, and some – to my eyes, the best – sketch the social structures that brought both bridges into being.

Austin's most conventional drawings reproduce, with her trademark skinny black ink lines, old architectural renderings or engineering diagrams. These scientific and technical sources are abstractions of real things in the world: rivets; steel girders; sheet metal and decking. They enable anyone skilled enough to read them to conjure up a synthesis of their parts, to spin a bridge or building from a stack of raw materials as easily as spiders spin their webs from thin air.

Austin's drawings call her sources' conceptual transparence into question. Lines tremble or veer off at odd angles, and ostensibly stable structures take on the appearance of a house of cards, ready to shiver to pieces.

In drawings like, "Details of Cassion, Section B-B," and, "Details of Cassion, Section A-A," technical details pile up on top of each other like geological strata. These images resemble road cuts, exhuming layer upon layer of buried meaning from their architectural sources. These pictures are essentially contour drawings that treat their source images as just another kind of information, no different from more traditional pictorial subjects like flowers, fruit, or faces (In this, they share important conceptual parallels with Ben Reeves' contour drawings of paintings, recently exhibited at the Equinox Gallery).

A second, and to my mind much less successful style of drawing depicts the faltering and eventually collapsed structure of the old bridge as white negative space against a brightly colored background of pinkish-red watercolor wash. These images' veer too far toward tastefulness; Austin's choice of color and her application of it seem entirely arbitrary, designed to create aesthetically pleasing compositions and not to articulate some hidden element of a source drawing or photograph. "Photograph Showing the Suspended Span Falling…" is the best of these, with its jumbled heap of girders arranged like Pick-Up sticks, and its watercolor halo plunging toward the river below.

A third kind of drawing eschews representation all together, and simply consists of texts and names. "Transactions of Book Cover" treats Austin's source text as just another object up for depiction, and its witty grace results from Austin's labored, hand-drawn recreation of its source image's mechanically set and printed typefaces.

The two best works in the exhibition, "Organization of St. Lawrence Bridge Co., Ltd.," and, "Bibliography, pp.304-310," map the hierarchical organization of the private company that built the new bridge, and engineering details associated with its construction. By dispersing thousands of words in space like a cloud of soot or snowflakes, Austin's precise hand lettering focuses attention on specific dates, names and organizational systems in ways that a mechanical typeface never could. Her conceptually and formally precise drawings are obviously informed by 60s-era conceptualism, but they do not reprise older strategies of analysis and display so much as they extend them into the present. Austin's images' concision is a source of real conceptual strength, and of a strange quiet beauty, too.
Author's preferred version of a short review from this week's Straight:

Damian Moppett: The Visible Work
At the Contemporary Art Gallery until April 24

Reviewed by Christopher Brayshaw

Damian Moppett’s new exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery consists of graphite drawings, watercolours, a three-screen video installation, clumsily made clay pots and only slightly more accomplished faux-modernist steel sculptures, and (in collaboration with Toronto resident Zin Taylor) promotional buttons, posters, and fliers for a fake band, the Spiders.

Moppett’s purpose in creating this varied and somewhat motley group of objects is to X-ray contemporary visual art, exposing those distinctions—high-/pop-culture, art/craft, modern/postmodern, et cetera—that operate like hooks, enabling critics and historians to attach artists and their works to predefined critical categories.

Moppett declares his impatience with this state of affairs by refusing to declare his allegiance to any particular medium, or to develop a “signature style”. Instead, he presents a whole gallery full of stylistically varied objects, some highly finished and refined, others amateurish in execution. In this way, he deflects attention from the “visible works” in the gallery to the conceptual decision-making that led him to create them in the first place.

Moppett has transformed the CAG’s larger gallery into a museum display. Discreet spotlights in the darkened room illuminate large steel sculptures, perhaps modelled on the work of modernist sculptor Alexander Calder. The sculptures are ragged and roughly formed, and bear fabricators’ measurements in coloured chalk or grease pencil on their sides. Hanging from the sculptures are little trays of clay pots and bowls whose blobby forms and cracked edges signify the work of a beginning potter.

The steel sculptures are like designer pedestals; they demonstrate, in a dryly funny way, how the “look” of modern art has, since the late 1940s, been absorbed into craft and design, and, similarly, how formal qualities like “fidelity to materials” have not received the same level of critical respect or recognition in the craft genres as they have in critical discussions about painting and sculpture.

Writing about these works, Moppett has likened them to a car crash between art and craft, an event rendering one form indistinguishable from the other. As he says in an exhibition catalogue interview with historian John Welchman, he sees “the pairing as humorous, but not disrespectful towards the capacity or history of either form.”

In the CAG’s smaller gallery, Moppett is exhibiting dozens of watercolour and graphite drawings. Some are homages to his favourite artists: filmmaker Hollis Frampton; painters Ed Ruscha and Philip Guston; the cheeky Swiss sculptors Peter Fischli and David Weiss. Others are more idiosyncratic: a flock of Saltspring Island sheep; potters’ kilns and Denman Island houses; a grinning psychedelic nightmare full of huge eyeballs, sharp teeth, and torch flames.

By refusing to differentiate among his images or to organize them into any kind of hierarchy, Moppett compels viewers to consider the cumulative effect that these seemingly incompatible and unlikely sources—Sepultura? H.P. Lovecraft? Fifties sculptural kitschmaster Isamu Noguchi?—have had on his alternately comic and profound art practice.

Stealth excavation, False Creek, Vancouver, B.C. (photo: dru again) Posted by Hello

Alluvial plain, old Vancouver civic works yard (photo credit: dru) Posted by Hello
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Big Celebrity "Pome" Punch-up

Billy Corgan vs. Jewel, by phone between the Main and Kitsilano stores, all day long.

"Long admired for his evocative songwriting, Corgan here embarks on a deeper exploration of literary terrain as a poet."


Radiate disciples
Where we touch is unseen
Violet embrace
All manner of the chrysalis signals
The code of the Christ
It's as if I am inside you
I understand so much of what you need
But so little of what you ask
Allow this moment to pass us by
Stand by my side...

...and that's about as far as Main Street got this afternoon before Kits requested us to "don't ever fucking call back" and hung up.

Game called on account of the Jewel book selling in Kits.
Chuck Jones, reminiscing:

"Long before that, however, the Acme Corporation had become the sole supplier to Wile E. Coyote. Whatever his needs were, the Acme Corporation was there to supply. It was a perfect symbiotic relationship; no money was ever involved. The Acme Corporation supplied the Coyote's requirements: Acme Jet-Propelled Roller Skates, Acme Burmese Tiger Trap, Acme Leg Muscle Vitamins, Acme Female Road Runner Costume, Acme Batman Outfit, etc. All of them almost perfect. But surely the jet-propulsion group should have eschewed the use of the Acme Little Giant Bobrick, even at the bargain rate of 35 cents."

Received in the mail today: a nice letter from Warren Buffett. Pictured above, Berkshire Hathaway World HQ, 1440 Kiewit Plaza, Omaha, Nebraska. A nondescript office building on the crest of a hill just west of downtown. Berkshire Hathaway only occupies a couple suites on the 14th floor. I took a picture from an almost identical vantage point on a quiet June Sunday a few years ago at twilight, only to have a black monochrome return from the London Drugs photo lab. Posted by Hello
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Destroy Your Toyota Corolla's Suspension in 1 Easy Step

Load up approximately 2500 books from a weekend estate auction. Visual arts, graphic design, illustrated kids' books, unusual music & humor titles, porn. Then drive, very carefully, from south Burnaby to Main and Broadway, nodding along as Monk and Charlie Rouse do their thing. Spring sunlight, green halos grown around the bare limbs of the not-quite-winter-any-longer trees.

Bonus: a framed "Subgenius World Revival Crusade 1984 'Night of Slack'" promotional silkscreen, which, at the bargain price of $30CDN, is going up on the wall opposite the till tomorrow morning and never leaving.

Collecting Charles Willeford -- The Burnt Orange Heresy my obvious favorite. I know that guy!
Waste My Time Redux

It's all true, folks!

Thanks to Sylvia, who originally spotted this priceless bit of social anthropology in the Langara College student paper, and to Pete, who found the online version. Permanently installed above the Pulpfiction till.

The cartoonist works (or worked) at the Book Warehouse down the road. I have had every single one of these customers, some repeatedly, sometimes two or three at a time. Reflecting on creative solutions to the problem, an Onion headline springs to mind: Convenience Store Clerk Kills Six in His Imagination...

Vague On Plot & Genre Dude ("It's a famous story...") is the worst offender, with Photocopying Guy jockeying for second place. Not depicted: Antiquarian Book Snob, Aggressive Dutch Architect Glasses-Wearing Housewife, Book Destroyer, New Age Man, Incomprehensible Mumbling Lady, Mr. Daypass, Ms. Remainder Table, Power Couple, Walkman Guy, Fragile Lily, Crackhead #1, Crackhead #2, Sophisticated Book Thief, Quebecois Street Urchin, Mister Aggro, Aggro Jr., actual staff & customers!

Monday, March 21, 2005
Waste My Time, Please

"D'you got any books by Sue Grafton?" (Mediocre and constantly overstocked writer of formulaic paperback mysteries, A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, & etc.)

Yes, millions.

"Where are they?"

Over here.

"D'you got G?"

Yep, right here.

"Man, I couldn't hardly see that!" (shelved between F and H, right where it belongs) "How much is it?"

Price is right there on the front cover...$3.95 and tax.

"I can't afford THAT! How's 25 cents?"

How's not?

"Okay, okay..." (Wanders outside. Digs through the bargain table. Brightens. Drags in a coverless, water-damaged copy of Grafton's G is for Gumshoe). "You were charging 4 bucks for this inside! But this one's two bits! What's up with that? You're a rip-off!"

(Lengthy response viz. condition, availability, etc., concluding with the silk-purse-from-a-sow's-ear line, So, can I ring that up for you?)

"Oh, I can't buy this."

Why's that?

(Beat) "I've already read it."

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Rainy Sunday afternoon ebay win. Figuring out what I'm planning to do with this shouldn't take much imagination; suffice to say there's both an aesthetic and a practical purpose involved. Posted by Hello

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