Saturday, May 28, 2005
"The author's fading fast," said Michelina.

"It's 25 degrees Celcius on the street at 11:30pm and 35 degrees Celcius in his cramped office," said Monkey. "No wonder he's falling asleep."

"He's not going to be very comfortable sleeping on the keyboard," said the stuffed tiger, rat, shark and assorted cat substitutes perched on top of the monitor. "Why doesn't he just go home?"

"He won't sleep," chimed in the Incredible Talking Cats all the way from downtown. "He'll just toss, turn, get up at 2am to eat raw broccoli out of the fridge, and end up copy-correcting your adventures."

"All 125 pages of them!" cried the knights.

"How did that happen?" inquired Lady Genevra. "Weren't we originally supposed to be a picture book for children? With only minimal text?"

All the friends scratched their heads.
Friday, May 27, 2005
Someone writes to alert me to a handy piece of shareware called Audiograbber.
This Just In:

"'The people who do this suspend the normal rules of society,' says Dr. Jerry M. Lewis, a sociology professor at Kent State University who has studied fan behavior. 'Normally, you don't walk around dressed as Chewbacca or Darth Vader.'"

(thx Yahoo News)
ART (Aesthetically Rejected Thing): EMI Canada Copy Controlled "CDs"

My brand new legally purchased Pet Shop Boys "Pop Art" 2CD-set won't play on my office computer's music player of choice, only on EMI's proprietory, bug-ridden automatically installing "copyright control" software, which won't let me adjust the levels or any other setting to my liking. A glorified version of the Fisher-Price "record player" I once had as a kid.

"Please remember that this recording and artwork are protected by copyright law. Since you don't own the copyright, it's not yours to distribute." This despite the Canadian government's collecting a tax on MP3 players, CD-R blanks, etc. to compensate artists for any sales lost as a result of digital distribution. To say nothing of my not wanting to distribute the copyrighted material in the first place, but merely to enjoy it, as was promised by EMI's deceptive packaging.

To my mind, this is a little like me refusing to sell someone a new book, on the grounds that it's possible for them to photocopy the text after leaving the premises.

I look forward in my lifetime to buying a CD direct from Chris and Neil, artists I admire and support, without the dubious "help" of the useless folks at EMI.

Fortunately, BitTorrent and Limewire have helped me re-acquire that which I have already paid for.
Q: What's with all the pseudonyms?

A: Private relationships aren't public property. Current ones can be negotiated (thus SGB, sending thumbnails of East Kilbride, prefaces the pictures with a note saying, these don't constitute an "official release," please don't post them...). But other folks are owed a measure of privacy.
ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing): Vladimir Cosma's Sentimental Walk, from Diva

I saw Diva years ago in high school, at the Ridge, with Ms. G., as one half of a double bill.

I don't remember much of the film now, with the exception of a very slow sequence set in Paris in the early morning, the streets wet from the night before and unattended fountains spouting off into space.

Solo piano in behind, the notes spaced very carefully. I think of my mom taking glasses from the dish washer, drying each one, and then placing them gently back in the cupboard.

To Seattle and Cle Elum on Wednesday, for a long think and a cup of coffee, the Pet Shop Boys' new 2CD mix set Back to Mine accompanying me in the car.

Up Snoqualime Pass in the late afternoon, sun slantwise on the cedars at the side of the road.

I pulled out to pass a loaded semi laboring up the hill, and Cosma's piece began. Music I had not heard for almost fifteen years, but which I'd apparently remembered all this time, note for note.

A brief moment of absolute temporal suspension.

The way certain scents and colors call us back.
Here's a short review from this week's Straight, one I'm not embarrassed to have written, of an exhibition curated by former Canadian Alpine Journal editor and contemporary photography collector Andrew Gruft. I would like to have as much energy as Gruft and his partner, photohistorian/photo collector Claudia Beck, apparently do, when I'm their age.

This is an excellent show, one I probably wouldn't have seen if I hadn't been asked to review it. There's lots of dull pretentious architecture-speak in the catalog, which makes most contemporary art writing look like Ernest Hemingway by comparison. Fortunately, though, you don't have to read the catalog as I had to; you can just drop into the Belkin and spend as long as you want with the innovative maquettes and proposals on display.

Patkau Architects' Strawberry Vale Elementary School really is an amazing building, one that I, a non-architect, respond to on a totally intuitive level. Something to do with material collage and those big undressed timber beams, which remind me of the late-50s West Coast BC-via-early 50s Los Angeles Case Study Homes aesthetic that I saw so much of in the 1970s, growing up in West Vancouver.

Substance Over Spectacle: Contemporary Canadian Architecture
Curated by Andrew Gruft. At the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery until June 5

Curated by retired UBC architecture professor Andrew Gruft, Substance Over Spectacle is a complex survey of the recent work of 27 critically acclaimed Canadian architectural firms. Projects range from major West Coast public buildings (Hotson Bakker/KPMB’s Richmond City Hall; Patkau Architects’ Strawberry Vale elementary school near Victoria) to private Atlantic Canadian homes (MacKay-Lyons’s Nova Scotia coast houses), as well as more speculative projects that flirt with aspects of landscape architecture and civic planning (Pierre Thibault’s lyrical Winter Gardens, which recall the work of Scottish artist Andy Goldsworthy, or George Yu’s multilevel alteration of Richmond’s orderly grid of suburban streets).

Each architectural firm is represented at the Belkin gallery through a written project description and an architectural maquette or other documentation. Patkau Architects’ Strawberry Vale school is depicted by several sculptural maquettes—one detailing the innovative, light-drenched building’s massing on the site, the other providing a more comprehensive view of the interlocking planes and wooden “fins” that make the school so distinctive from afar—as well as a series of well-composed photographs of its interior halls. Similarly, an intricately detailed model of Henriquez Partners’ BC Cancer Research Centre is lit from within, and its petri dish–shaped windows glow like stained-glass tondos.

Hotson Bakker’s award-winning Richmond City Hall is also a standout. Its long terraces are adorned with running water and native plantings that refer to the dikes that lift Richmond out of the sea, and to the agricultural lands disappearing under waves of new condos and single-family homes.

Other firms document their projects in more experimental ways. Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg’s Janus-faced Le Quartier Concordia appears in a video portrait that presents quick glimpses of the building’s façade, juxtaposed with street-level, time-lapse portraits of Montreal pedestrians and vehicles passing by the construction site.

This simple project paradoxically provides a multilayered analysis of the social space the building inhabits. The video is also immediately accessible and compulsively watchable, a nice change of pace from the dense and unengaging work of more theoretically inclined architects like Calgary’s Marc Boutin, the creator of a loud, obnoxious, and socially estranging “multimedia portrait” of an Edmonton theatre renovation. On the day I visited, the Boutin project’s bright lights and annoying soundtrack of white noise made it almost impossible to focus on other works nearby. My instinctive dislike of Boutin’s work only mounted after studying his dull, jargon-laden writing in the exhibition catalogue (“anticipatory infrastructure”, “open-ended, non-prescriptive spatial matrix”, etc.).

Fortunately, as projects like Hotson Bakker’s Richmond City Hall and Patkau Architects’ Strawberry Vale school elegantly prove, theoretical complexity and functionality are not mutually exclusive. As Gruft’s exhibition makes clear, most ambitious Canadian architects maintain a strong interest in site and context, one that only deepens their intellectual engagement with critical or theoretical issues.
Monday, May 23, 2005
Caption installed by Pulpfiction manager Chris Clarke on the door to the (overflowing) storeroom for my car-camping gear, surplus shirts, climbing equipment, & etc.:

"Part Time Traveller
by Christopher Brayshaw
Mixed-media sculpture and found object art
2002-present, ongoing

Editing 120-odd typed pages far away from books, phones and aesthetic images. Back Thursday. (Fake palm tree photo credit: Ron Terada, from his new show at Catriona Jeffries Gallery. Short review written, edited, and forthcoming in the Globe and Mail on Friday). Posted by Hello

Joel Meyerowitz, NYC, West 46th Street, 1976. Meyerowitz has made some terrible coffee table book pictures in his lifetime, but his complex New York City street scenes aren't among them. This is my favorite of his street photographs, both for the gestures animating it, and its dispersal of written language through space. Walker Evans' spirit hovers restlessly over this image in the best possible way. Posted by Hello
Sunday, May 22, 2005
Special Guest Columnist Jamie Tolagson traces an all-too-familiar "aesthetic progression":

"Star Wars to X-Men, X-Men to Watchmen, Watchmen to 'painted comics,' painted comics to Klimt, Klimt to Schiele, Schiele to Shahn, Shahn to Basquiat, Basquiat to Twombly, Twombly to HEY. Wait a minute. Where the hell am I? There aren't any X-Men around here."

All The Little Live Things' Jamie Tolagson confirms my belief that Revenge of The Sith is best described as, "Two and a half hours of my life that I'll never have back":

"I've struggled for years to articulate a few of the ideas you've thrown out so casually in your post. Especially the last bit about these sorts of entertainments being the first step for many kids in becoming interested in the structure of things like art, storytelling, music, whatever.

Unfortunately, I can't think of a worse place for kids to start their education in these things then the new Star Wars films.

My main problem with the new films is not their almost impossibly awful writing, acting and effects (baffling given the scale of the moviemaking machine Lucas has at his disposal). What bothers me is their almost complete lack of atmosphere, something I rarely hear critics commenting on. The films seem to take place in a virtual world devoid of natural light sources. The light source for most scenes seems to be, well, nothing. Everything seems modelled in 3 evenly lit dimensions, even the actors. Nothing is half seen, no background is (perish the thought!) out of focus. Nothing is alluded to. Everything is perfectly present, perfectly lighted. Everything is there, nothing left out, and therefore there is nothing left for the audience to do. Lucas has said that the making of the original films was a frustrating experience for him, because he couldn't make things look exactly how he wanted them to look. I guess it's never occured to him that letting the audience fill in some of his blanks was part of the power of those films.

I like the fact that artists can never quite make things look exactly how they want. I don't think perfection is a very stimulating state, for artist or viewer. The new films seem to prove this.

There are some wonderfully naturalistic, moody moments in the original films. Luke staring yearningly at the twin suns of his home planet, the lens of the camera zoomed in to the point of distortion on the suns, atmospheric haze distorting them as they drop below the horizon. John Williams' score is particularly beautiful here, and the imagery feels more like 'Lawrence of Arabia' then 'Buck Rogers.'

Luke, Ben and the droids cruising Mos Eisley in the landspeeder, everything covered in an authentic (because real) coating of dust and wear. A strong sense of a not too friendly place that has existed for a very long time (Ruined, incidentally, in the re-release, by the inclusion of several newish looking droids that look as out of place as a couple of G5 computers sitting in a thrift shop).

Yoda lifting Luke's fighter from the swamp, then expressing his doubt over Luke's faith in the force. A great scene, drenched in atmosphere and feeling. Yoda's facial expressions utterly convincing, even though he is only (gasp) a lowly puppet. Lucas seems especially proud of the fact that Yoda is now a computer character, not a puppet, but I would challenge anyone to find a scene with Yoda in the new films where he seems as real and believable as in this scene.

Luke fighting his way through the snow drifts of Hoth, half-hallucinating a vision of Ben that transforms into Han astride a snow beast. A scene so minimal and moody that the new Lucas would shriek in horror.

There is no silence in the new films. No moments of rest. No time to contemplate anything that is happening. You were right when you said the films are cultural phenomenons and therefore somewhat beyond criticism. The difference is, the original series was also a series of films. Good or bad films is up for debate, but they were films and could be discussed as such.

I believe people want to see things that were filmed. I don't care that Yoda is a muppet in the original films, because I know that a muppet exists, and that at one point in time a camera was aimed at that muppet and human beings worked that muppet and made some sort of magic happen with it.

Perhaps that is part of what we marvelled at in the original films, the fact that human beings were making something magical happen with puppets, props and toy models. Those tools are gone now, made passe by the advent of CGI, which, to my eyes looks like what it is: a graphic simulation of something that never happened. One could say that the original films effects never happened either, but that's not true. They did happen. Almost every effect that you see in those films happened at one time in real space, in the world we live in. The X-wings were filmed flying through that trench, and that trench existed. The ships were models, and the trench was only about twenty feet long, but that's not the point. I believe that human beings sense the difference between things that happened and things that did not. So when I say the new films lack atmosphere, I mean it in both senses of the word."

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