Saturday, July 09, 2005
Summer cold. Sore throat and slow head, as if someone wrapped my skull in damp flannel.

Off to copy-correct Michelina once again; back Sunday.
Coats 5-11. I tricked up a pretty good easel from the old aluminum stepladder the VAG prep staff gave me when I left to run Anodyne (the self-funded office gallery I operated for a year and a half while psyching myself up to open Pulpfiction v.1), a piece of cardboard, and a surplus Ikea wooden stepstool. A piece of styrofoam salvaged from the box the color printer came in doubles nicely as a "palette."

Marcia Hafif's comments, blogged yesterday, are ultra-pertinent. The "art materials," freely selected, establish basic limiting conditions of their own: the size of the canvas (purchased off-the-shelf from the local art supply store, so as to disguise my ineptitude at stretching and tacking); the size of the brushes (smallish; at first I thought to use a roller, then concluded that that choice was ethically suspect. Why? I didn't know yesterday, but I do today. The work is about submerging or effacing one's personality. A roller provides no challenge -- the paint goes on smooth and even, "as good as it was in the can," to paraphrase Frank Stella. Whereas a brush implies "personal" or "authored" touch, like handwriting. And this project largely consists of extinguishing that touch, of making one's self over, however briefly, into someone else); the number of tubes of paint (as few as possible); the number of coats (enough to eliminate all traces of the canvas' texture, to create a flat seamless plane of color).

So: modernism again, art's materials gently nudging "intention" sideways, like Luna the whale harassing fishing boats in Barkley Sound.
Friday, July 08, 2005
Juan Cole's Informed Comment -- my first stop every every morning, right behind the Times.

Shouldn't detailed critical commentary like this routinely appear in the Vancouver Sun or the Globe & Mail? Oh, wait -- that would mean eliminating the pictures of Hollywood celebrities accompanying "hard news" (a.k.a. verbatim wire copy), or "human interest" items like yesterday's story about the little Protection Island girl whose lemonade stand was shut down by an evil city of Nanaimo bylaw officer.
Coats 1-4 dried overnight. Not quite the "Bergen Blue Medium" I copied off the screen, but close enough, a steely blueish-grey.

The color of the morning's wet sky.
Agrippa: A Book of the Dead

An autobiographical prose-poem by William Gibson, originally published as an outrageously expensive "artist's book" with light-sensitive illustrations by Dennis Ashbaugh. The text was contained on a "computer diskette" -- remember those? -- and destroyed by a built-in "virus" as you read it for the first and only time.

WG read some years back at the Vogue Theatre, as a benefit for a Vancouver dance company. Agrippa was the last piece on the program. It took about twenty minutes to perform, and I don't think I've ever listened to anything more attentively.

The line breaks in the online version seem a little suspect to me. Try to approximate a slow West Virginia drawl and you'll be close enough.
Thursday, July 07, 2005

A late night shout-out to Ann Elizabeth in London, alive and in one piece despite the day's events.

The "Crusader army" pretext is racist bullshit of the highest order. The bombers and their theocratic pals are deathly afraid of cosmopolitan culture. Their targets -- Madrid, London and New York-- represent the best of world culture, places where ideologically disparate individuals meet and mix on common ground. Posted by Picasa

Ron Terada, Untitled (Ad Painting) Posted by Picasa
Marcia Hafif -- excellent artist's site, and an even better essay on the monochrome's relationship to contemporary art practice.

"The work is determined through the observation of the materials and techniques chosen for a given project or body of work. Rather than altering material to fit one's needs, material is left to a large degree integral and the art is drawn from it. The qualities of the materials and tools, and also the nature of the discipline, determine the choices made. Rules emerge derived from the material and methods in question, and results become the desired end product. The image searched for, more than simply what happened. With this integrity even the smallest decisions take on great importance, as an interrelated consistency is produced among all the elements off the work creating a meaning. The artist determines how, where, how much, and so on, while the nature of the materials is respected, playing its part in determining the final result. The artist works within the (chosen) givens of the materials.

Choices in these areas are made without reference to a known esthetic, each decision being weighed on its own, taking into consideration the material and the desired end in a specific process. Often these are traditional time-honed paint procedures being used, the artist restating, investigating, as though for the first time, the use of materials that have been long known to art. The difference is in the kind of consciousness focused on the details of these decisions. This is not necessarily a new focus, but one that had not been used for a while, that of seeing the material and its use more for itself than for what it can do."

The Granville Book Company closed today after a long slow decline. Anyone seeking the cause of the business' failure is directed to T.C. Boyle's terrific novel Drop City, which is far more eloquent on the subject than anything I could say.
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
Why Kids Love Roald Dahl -- thx Pete!

"The essence of Dahl is his willingness to let children triumph over adults. He is a modern writer of fairy tales, who intuitively understands the sort of argument that Bruno Bettelheim made in his 1976 book, The Uses of Enchantment. Children need the dark materials of fairy tales because they need to make sense—in a symbolic, displaced way—of their own feelings of anger, resentment, and powerlessness. Children also benefit from learning about violence and brutishness in fairy tales, Bettelheim writes, for it counters the 'widespread refusal to let children know that the source of much that goes wrong in our life is due to our natures—the propensity of all men for acting aggressively, asocially, selfishly.' Many fairy tales—and most of Dahl’s work—are complex narratives of wish fulfillment. They teach the reader, Bettelheim writes, that 'a struggle against severe difficulties in life is unavoidable, is an intrinsic part of human existence—but if one does not shy away, but steadfastly meets unexpected and often unjust hardships, one masters all obstacles and at the end emerges victorious.' Or, in any case, this is a hopeful fantasy which sustains us all."
Self-Portrait as Michael Snow, as Rodney Graham, as Ron Terada

A 12" x 12" prestretched and primed canvas; several small brushes; painter's tape; three tubes of acrylic paint (Warm White, Prussian Blue Ultramarine, Carbon Black).
God's Little Toys -- new op-ed from fellow Vancouverite William Gibson, whose short fiction and nonfiction writing continues to exert a deep and permanent hold on me.

"In the early '70s in Jamaica, King Tubby and Lee 'Scratch' Perry, great visionaries, were deconstructing recorded music. Using astonishingly primitive predigital hardware, they created what they called versions. The recombinant nature of their means of production quickly spread to DJs in New York and London.

Our culture no longer bothers to use words like appropriation or borrowing to describe those very activities. Today's audience isn't listening at all - it's participating. Indeed, audience is as antique a term as record, the one archaically passive, the other archaically physical. The record, not the remix, is the anomaly today. The remix is the very nature of the digital. Today, an endless, recombinant, and fundamentally social process generates countless hours of creative product (another antique term?). To say that this poses a threat to the record industry is simply comic. The record industry, though it may not know it yet, has gone the way of the record. Instead, the recombinant (the bootleg, the remix, the mash-up) has become the characteristic pivot at the turn of our two centuries.

We live at a peculiar juncture, one in which the record (an object) and the recombinant (a process) still, however briefly, coexist. But there seems little doubt as to the direction things are going. The recombinant is manifest in forms as diverse as Alan Moore's graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, machinima generated with game engines (Quake, Doom, Halo), the whole metastasized library of Dean Scream remixes, genre-warping fan fiction from the universes of Star Trek or Buffy or (more satisfying by far) both at once, the JarJar-less Phantom Edit (sound of an audience voting with its fingers), brand-hybrid athletic shoes, gleefully transgressive logo jumping, and products like Kubrick figures, those Japanese collectibles that slyly masquerade as soulless corporate units yet are rescued from anonymity by the application of a thoughtfully aggressive 'custom' paint job."


Someone writes to ask about all the recent drug references.

1. Like 99% of my generation, I've inhaled, but came to the early conclusion that Mary Jane wasn't someone I wanted to ask out. Let's just say the getting-to-know-you dates were awkward and unrewarding and leave it at that. The plants are gorgeous to look at and smell terrific, like a sidewalk after summer rain, but I have a hard time untangling those things from the goofy economic libertarians masquerading as defenders of individual rights and free choice who come running, at least here in Vansterdam, behind MJ's siren call.

2. Being interested in hiphop and contemporary poetry means that drug references creep in almost by default. Qv. S F-J on Madvillain, blogged on June 28th.

3. That's Mount Shasta in the background. Courtesy the Weed Chamber of Commerce. Posted by Picasa

An Arundel Tomb
Philip Larkin

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd -
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor's sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly, they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

A copy of Larkin's Whitsun Weddings arrived yesterday afternoon in a batch of trade, and I re-read it for the umpteen millionth time in the slow wet dusk. Summer rain hammering on the roofs of all the parked cars, the street lights all on early, and the big silver fan ceaselessly spinning in the front room.

Larkin may be my favorite poet ever, arrived at as usual by unfashionable means: Grant Morrison's pilfering of the line, "A serious house on serious earth it is" as the epigraph for his "artistic" Batman graphic novel, Arkham Asylum.

"You've got to be kidding," said Bernadette when she found out. She sent me to the UBC bookstore to buy a copy of the Faber & Faber Collected Poems. Surprise: I liked almost everything I read, including some uncollected poems she'd clipped from the Independent or the Guardian. Even Andrew Busza's inclusion of Toads and Next, Please on the English 210 final exam didn't dim my enthusiasm.

What I admired then, and still admire now, is Larkin's unbeatable combination of lyrical imagery and emotional reserve, and those short, compressed lines. If there's a better line than

Rigidly, they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time

in modern English poetry, I don't know it. I admire that line for its concision; for the line break between they and persisted; for linked, which brings to mind a chain, and for the notion that time should not only be long, like a chain (and, hence, unmemorable on its own), but broad too. How is time broad? I have pondered that question every time I read this poem, and I am still not quite sure I understand what Larkin intends, unless he is suggesting is that each individual lifetime that goes to make up "time" is unique in its "breadth," in which case time is like a linked set of chains radiating out, interlocking & crisscrossing back and forth through memory.

I like, too, how the lines beginning Rigidly... seem to move the poem abruptly forward in time and sideways in tone. They make the theme of passing time explicit by radically compressing it (just as the tomb sculptor does, or just as Cormac McCarthy does in the last astonishing twenty-five pages of his Border Trilogy). You pay attention to the change but the change is not new information; it merely represents the foregrounding of material that has always been there, cast suddenly in sharp harsh light.Posted by Picasa

Spider-Man Reviews Crayons, submitted by Gwynedd Elaine Pickett as retribution for Canada Day's jet-powered sheep. "Ever seen this?" I can't believe I never have. Thank you, World Wide Web. Posted by Picasa
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
Very Relentless

Another Tennant/Lowe namecheck, based on sitting down in the office this evening with the accounting program and an endless stack of paperwork to enter, organize, and file. This isn't remotely glamourous work -- in actual fact, given my druthers, it's work I'd rather not perform at all -- but it's neccessary. Kind of strange to discover that the least creatively satisfying and, in a sense, mechanical work that the job has to offer is the stuff that keeps the rest of the machine functioning.

Persistence. A funny kind of tool, blunt in the hand like a hammer. I may not be as skilled or genuinely talented or lucky as you are, but I'm sure as hell going to try and outlast you.
Monday, July 04, 2005

Frank King's Gasoline Alley, one of the most sublime comic strips ever published. Lately I've been working my way through Drawn & Quarterly Books' Walt and Skeezix, a collection of GA strips from the late 1930s. A long sequence in the center of the book depicts the Wallet family's summer visit to Yellowstone Park; the park's mountains, rivers and roads are drawn with such fidelity that I, who've only ever been to Yellowstone once, instantly recognized them.Posted by Picasa

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