Saturday, November 11, 2006

Recent reading:

Diana Wynne Jones, Witch Week
Randall B. Woods, LBJ: Architect of American Ambition

The best children's book I've read since Gaiman and McKean's Coraline, and an 1100 page political biography. More to say about both shortly. And for those who still go to multiplex movies, Christopher Nolan's The Prestige is a lovely stew of Dickensian atmosphere (as in Charles, not Philip K.), gothic intrigue, cascading plot reversals, and Tesla technology. Ryan Aronofsky was in tonight's audience at the Paramount on Burrard, and apparently enjoyed himself as much as I.
Friday, November 10, 2006
In Moonsoonland

Raining hard enough this morning to drive the drops back up off the pavement, like water skittering in the bottom of a hot pan. My day off, natch. Impossible to make pictures in almost zero light and 100% humidity; just taking the Nikon out of my pocket filmed the viewscreen with condensation. Mountaineering, photography, road trip to Bellingham or Seattle? Not today. Laundry, apartment rearranging, Arthur Ransome, E. Nesbit, The Little Book of Value Investing? Check, check, check.

Gore Vidal on Nesbit, from his NYRB essay:

"I do not think it is putting the case too strongly to say that much of the poverty of our society's intellectual life is directly due to the sort of books children are encouraged to read. Practical books with facts in them may be necessary, but they are not everything. They do not serve the imagination in the same way that high invention does when it allows the mind to investigate every possibility, to free itself from the ordinary, to enter a world where paradox reigns and nothing is what it seems to be; properly engaged, the intelligent child begins to question all presuppositions, and thinks on his [sic] own. In fact, the moment he says, wouldn't it be interesting if…? he is on his way and his own imagination has begun to work at a level considerably more interesting than the usual speculation on what it will be like to own a car and make money."

(Not that speculating about making one's fortune doesn't have a creative and/or an imaginative component, adds this early admirer of Uncle Scrooge and his Duckburg money bin, now departing into the storm with a cup of coffee and Clarke, Inc.'s annual report).

Untitled (Stelco), 2006. Anthropomorphism; allegory; coded art-historical references.
Thursday, November 09, 2006

Untitled (Repent), 2006. For John Latta, the Ann Arbor-based poet and critic recently turned digital photographer.

Some years ago, I attended a Don DeLillo reading in Seattle, then waited patiently in line with a well-loved hardcover copy of Mao II for a signature and some simulacrum of "conversation." Conscious of the massive crowd queued behind me (sharpie book dealers bearing mint stacks of Underworld; grad students; Kennedy assassination theorists; the insane) I struggled to reduce what I wanted to convey to DDL to telegram syntax. What finally emerged was, "Thanks for your book. It made me look really closely at Warhol's work, and see it in a new way." And it had; it had made me look past Warhol the showman and media star to the laconic and intensely thoughtful artist who made the Tunafish Disasters, and the Race Riots, and Mao II, too.

DeLillo scrutinized me; he looked suspicious. Had I just fucked up? Apparently not; he just wanted me to know that, in his experience, gratitude and original thinking didn't often go together. "But I'm glad," he said, signing my book on the title page, "that my novel had that effect on you. Warhol certainly did on me."

So: a chain of deferred associations, each thing creating a thing not quite like itself, but something like it. Vancouver lacks Ann Arbor's strong even light and richly decorated walls, but I hope the juxtaposition of words and colors is enough to suggest some correspondences between the two.
Charging up the camera battery for a ghost-hunting expedition in the suburbs. The last vestiges of the weekend's storm trailing off to the east, patchwork of cold blue sky and dappled sunlight. A strange sense of internal calm after the circus routinely accompanying the first of the month: rent cheques, paycheques, staff deductions all due simultaneously, coinciding with everyone in the neighborhood deciding that they need money more than books. Thus days like yesterday, with the paid-out tally well into four figures by noon, contrasted with a whopping $121.75 of sales. These stats even out over time -- even over the course of an average business day! -- but are certainly responsible for more than a bit of the encroaching grey in my remaining hair.

What did I do yesterday? Appraised six bankers' boxes of modern firsts: Jim Harrison, Richard Russo, Richard Ford & etc. Wrote a cheque. Bought twenty different collections from twenty different walk-in vendors. Politely turned vendors #21 through #37 down at the door. Cleaned, priced and shelved all the new arrivals. Paid the gas bill, the new book distributor, and the phone company. Ejected the door-to-door sales guy peddling "the world's smallest digital camera." Ejected the babbling crackhead. Ejected the guy with the fake $5 (not bad color; toilet-paper consistency). Politely tolerated the incomprehensible old French Canadian guy who looked more like a Seth drawing than anyone I have ever met (hunting cap with earflaps; plaid hunting jacket stretched tight over barrel-shaped chest; thick black rubber gumboots). Checked people in and out of the gallery. Discussed gallery business over Thai food with Adam Harrison. Discussed gallery business with Steven Tong out in the street, while making anecdotal snapshot photographs of Gene and his blower. Shelved science books, history books, erotica and self-help. Blogged. Locked up, drank Cannery Brewing Blackberry Porter. Swept the store. Washed the floor. Dry-mopped the floor. Sang along to Cat Power, to Stephen Morrissey, to good old androgynous Davey Jones. Caught the last bus home. Read 30 pages further into LBJ's unsuccessful adventures in southeast Asia. Rearranged the cats. Slept briefly, with a short excursion to the bathroom to cough my lungs out at 3:27 a.m.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Close Your Eyes, and Think of Someone You Physically Admire

Latenight karaoke, 2422 Main Street, only skeptical stuffed animals looking on.

The Greatest -- Ms. Chan Marshall keeping me company tonight, sweeping up, washing the floor....

Once I wanted to be the greatest
No wind or waterfall could stop me
And then came the rush of the flood
The stars at night turned you to dust....

Gene wields the Blower of Doom out on the sidewalk, while Steven Tong (rear right, the "S" in CSA Space) looks on.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Untitled, 2006
I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass

Still a few leaves clinging to the little tree outside the front door, and lots more out on the sidewalk, despite Gene's frequent visits with a gas-powered blower.

Chris C. vaccuums the carpet every morning, but as soon as he finishes, a few leaves come sneaky-peteing in. Hard to vaccuum in a store full of customers, so out comes the old, decrepit broom. Energetic elbow-moving ejects the worst offenders, but when one's attention is diverted the sons, brothers, sisters-in-law and illegitimate offspring of the ejected bowl right back in. Grab the broom, repeat...
Randall B. Woods, LBJ: Architect of American Ambition:

"LBJ did not want to give conservatives an excuse to block passage of the remaining components of the Great Society. He knew what happened to a democratic society fully mobilized for war. Patriotism and xenophobia would run rampant, respect for civil liberties would decline, the war machine would consume every available resource, and any chance of domestic reform would disappear."
Monday, November 06, 2006

"Hi, I'm looking for Of Mice and Men, by Jerry Seinfeld."

Today's soundtrack: early Bowie (Cygnet Committee; Starman; Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud); T. Rex, Zep & etc. Four thumbs up from the Nascanti for Radio One!
...and this too:

Fairway Four (Arc, 1991; "chanson pour Bernadette")

"The mayor dreams of a wilderness far more vast than any seen before, all green grass and terraced hillsides, with trails and strings of electric lanterns to light each walker's way. Then a vision of rainsoaked trees intrudes and he shudders. Something didn't work out, he got lost in the woods as a boy, was stung by wasps and devil's club, floundered on through wet bushes, soaking himself to the skin. Sighing, he turns over, going back to his restless dreams. Outside his window drops of water hang from the telephone wires."
An old flame arrives bearing several boxes of general stock and this rarity, which I fortunately had the good sense not to sign or inscribe. "J.G. Ballard meets On The Beach," but not nearly as terrible as many others of that decade.

Climbers (Horizons SF, Spring 1991)

"He found an apartment block just north of the highway that overlooked a tidal slough and the abandoned lumber yards. Because the building was concrete he could get out of the car, have a look around. The electricity still worked: it was running off a portable generator. He broke into one of the apartments, drew the curtains to stop the sun from glaring into the living room. Searching the place, he found a faded photograph of the apartment's former owner, a stout, motherly woman with grey hair and a little dog. How would its mistress have reacted when they told her she couldn't take it along? That night he dreamed of both of them, walking together along a long grey beach in the contaminated rain."

ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing): Russian techno-goth vampires! (Nochnoy dozor, a.k.a. Night Watch, 2004)

"When a renegade warlock battles a vampire on his own, he breaks the truce between the rival orders, the first step on the road to total war. Drenched in Gothic atmosphere and techno sleekness, replete with pulse-pounding action. . . .[an] innovative fusion of science-fiction horror and noirish urban realism."

The season's first Pacific storm. Sunday afternoon: curdled grey sky, light wind, curtains of rain drawn one after the other across the North Shore mountains. Light rain at six, dampening the awning and the bargain table. Down to Chinatown for a studio visit after dark, rain picking up now, sluicing off the aging red and green awnings. Faded backlit color transparencies of dim sum c. 1975, white steamed buns in bamboo baskets. The street-litter found nowhere else on the West Coast: leaves, needles, old Kleenex, gravel deltas banked along the curbs. A stooped wet figure repetitively knocking an empty pint bottle against the green brick side of "the world's narrowest building."

Walking on into downtown, rain harder now, the oncoming headlights on Georgia Street illuminating a wall of water. The numerous buckets full of copper-colored leakage in the men's room at the Lennox Pub. Granville Street deserted at 11pm. Shoes soaked, canvas coat soaked, indestructable orange rain hat soaked. Rain battering the apartment windows all night long. On the slow bus this morning, shifting Bay of Fundy tides in the aisles. Wet wadded Kleenex underfoot, a chorus of hacks and coughs. Rain rattling off the roof. Condensation filmed on every window. My pale face reflected, distorted, in the dripping glass.
Sunday, November 05, 2006

ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing): Granville Island Brewing's Lions Winter Ale. "A approved product." If vanilla low-fat yogurt was a beer, this is the beer it would be. Seasonal availability only, notes of almond, vanilla, and chocolate.

Did I mention it's raining again?
Sixteen Minutes Silence (2007)

"During this period, Toth bought his first digital video recorder – tiny, handheld – and made what are clearly studies for the later self-portraits.

Recently I went to see one of these studies at NY MOMA’s video-art archive, located on the eighteenth floor of the huge midtown complex. A wide window in the archive’s reception room opens onto a view of the monorail guideways far below; the long, low silver trapezoids of new residential construction dropping away toward the East River; and, beyond them, on the river’s far bank, one of the Nascanti towers, black, featureless, smooth as glass. The usual swarm of helicopters and light aircraft surrounded it, their running lights winking like fireflies in the early dusk. It was hard to tear myself from the view, yet what I saw inside, in a video-screening room, was no less remarkable.

Sixteen Minutes Silence was made in a Colorado Springs motel room in spring 2007. A fixed shot depicts Toth’s face in a bathroom mirror. The video’s ambient soundtrack records the gentle buzz of an electric razor; a truck gearing down out in the street; melt water running in the building’s drains. Toth methodically shaves his long brown beard, scalp, and eyebrows, until his head is entirely bare. His unsettled blue eyes cautiously examine himself in the mirror.

I asked Toth about this piece. He did not seem particularly pleased that I had seen it. 'That’s – it’s personal work,' he said. 'It wasn’t meant to survive.'

This was disingenuous. Toth exhibited the work twice, once at a commercial Los Angeles gallery, and once in a UK video-art biennale. The work sold to a private Italian collector, who sold it to NY MOMA for an undisclosed sum, six months after Toth’s return from space."

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