Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Ignis fatuus, foolish fire. Posted by Hello
Monday, November 29, 2004

Through the year's first snowstorm, Miles and Cannonball following along, to Seattle, to secure tickets for Gary Snyder's Copper Canyon Press benefit reading this Thursday, December 2nd. Tickets $20/pair from the Elliott Bay Book Company; a signing follows the reading. Doors 6pm, reading 7:30. Posted by Hello

Sunday, November 28, 2004
Hot Books?

I don't buy them, but lots of other self-styled "antiquarian book dealers" seem to have no problem with the concept.

"'There was a rhetoric they shared,' this ex-employee continues. '[The thieves] would make inside jokes: "We're going to go shopping. What do you need?" And he'd say, "Can you get me 10 of those nursing books?" They'd say no, and he would say that they're very popular and he needs them. Sometimes, this source reports, Elder would say, 'Don't get caught.'"
Saturday, November 27, 2004
Open Letter to Devil Dogs of the 3.1

"I see an old man in a red kaffiyeh lying against the back wall. Another is face down next to him, his hand on the old man's lap -- as if he were trying to take cover. I squat beside them, inches away and begin to videotape them. Then I notice that the blood coming from the old man's nose is bubbling. A sign he is still breathing. So is the man next to him.

While I continue to tape, a Marine walks up to the other two bodies about fifteen feet away, but also lying against the same back wall.

Then I hear him say this about one of the men:

'He's fucking faking he's dead -- he's faking he's fucking dead.'

Through my viewfinder I can see him raise the muzzle of his rifle in the direction of the wounded Iraqi. There are no sudden movements, no reaching or lunging.

However, the Marine could legitimately believe the man poses some kind of danger. Maybe he's going to cover him while another Marine searches for weapons.

Instead, he pulls the trigger. There is a small splatter against the back wall and the man's leg slumps down.

'Well he's dead now,' says another Marine in the background. "

Fog all around the West End this morning, a giant grey horseshoe or bowl muffling the twang of the trolley wires and the trucks gearing up at the lights on Burrard.

The cherry tree on my morning walk that blooms twice yearly in early winter and late spring. Its tiny pink petals.

The cherry trees we made in grade school. A puddle of black ink on white paper. You breathe out through a straw, driving the ink up and out in rivulets to make the trunks and wet, smeared limbs. Dry the paper over the radiator. Tear pink tissue paper into tiny squares. Fold the edges up around an HB pencil's eraser to make "blossoms." A dab of Elmer's Glue. Attach and repeat.

Rain raking the gravel playing field outside.

The alders' dark trunks in the early dusk.

The musky smell of wet coats and boots in the cloakroom.

Friday, November 26, 2004

The Jack T. Chick Museum of Fine Art

A box of 50-odd Chick tracts, purchased from a Christian bookstore in Indio, California in 1993 or 1994 is still up on an apartment shelf somewhere. Felt vaguely guilty about the purchase at the time; I had gone in hunting HPL and PKD, not JTC, but the collection included many banned in Canada and was just too good a deal to pass up. The shopkeeper naturally assumed she was speaking to a kindred Christian soul and made appropriately pious conversation while I tiptoed toward the door with the booty under my arm.

This morning's soundtrack: DJ Nu-Mark, Hands On.
Thursday, November 25, 2004

MF Doom, aka Victor Vaughn. Madlib and Doom's Madvillainy on high repeat in the shop right now, smoky 70s soulful samples underneath MFD's slurry mumbly delivery. "Listening to music while stoned is a whole new experience. Grass will change your musical habits...for the better." An MC with a mouth full of marbles!Posted by Hello
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
Not much in evidence the last few days -- 2 new art reviews on deck, one lengthy, plus that Vija Celmins skyscape of a few days ago, still knocking around in my head.

Off on Skytrain with today's second cup of decaf and Gene Wolfe's The Knight. Approaching hard work by avoiding it, pretty much as usual.

Friday, November 19, 2004
Mike Figgis and Jeff Wall in conversation

"People now tend to think their experience of art is based in understanding the art, whereas in the past people in general understood the art and were maybe more freely able to absorb it intuitively. They understood it because it hadn’t yet separated itself off from the mainstream of culture the way modern art had to do. So I guess it is not surprising that, since that separation has occurred, people try to bridge it through understanding the oddness of the various new art forms. Cinema seems more or less still in the mainstream, as if it never had a ‘secession’ of modern or modernist artists against that mainstream. So people don’t tend to be so emphatic about understanding films, they tend to enjoy them and evaluate them: great, good, not so good, two thumbs up, etc. Although that can be perfunctory and dull, it may be a better form of response. Experience and evaluation – judgment – are richer responses than gestures of understanding or interpretation."
The Baldwin/Cooper line on the Chief's Grand Wall, and a few pictures from the route (click on the "Images" link at the top of the page), for those who asked.


The Sadies -- greatest Canadian faux-psychedelic country-and-western-cum-spaghetti-western-soundtrack ever. Tonight, @ the Brickyard!

(Update: actually the 26th of November, not tonight)Posted by Hello

To the Ridge with SGB last night, to catch the winners of the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, and, in particular, Ivan Heck's and Angela Hughes' In The Shadow of the Chief, a documentary about Jim Baldwin's and Ed Cooper's 1961 seige of the Grand Wall. Lots of black and white CBC footage of the intrepid pair, clearly out of their social depth with cars piling up below them on the highway and the whole town of Squamish keeping tabs via telescopes and long-distance lenses. Some astonishing present-day footage, too; Hamish Fraser free-soloing the Split Pillar (a thousand feet of air below, the tops of the alders above the highest boulder field swaying in the wind, like warm green waves), or two climbers, youngish guides whose names I didn't catch, making a modern ascent of the present-day route. Video lets you get very close to your subject, in a way that film's bulky apparatus seldom seems to, with the surprising result that things that I remember from my own time climbing -- on admittedly much easier routes -- suddenly reappear blown up and magnified, on screen. The blood from the cuts on your hands which chalk helps staunch but never stops entirely. The sewing machine leg that starts trembling uncontrollably and won't quit. The hand that comes loose, and the dizzying sensation of starting to peel from the face, just in time to holler, "Falling..." Posted by Hello

Thursday, November 18, 2004

A few mental health days off.

Yesterday, a 13km hike from Deep Cove to the Lynn Canyon suspension bridge and the bus back to Lonsdale Quay. Sunshine for the first hour, relentlessly switchbacking up to a granite bluff above Deep Cove and Indian River Drive, growing steadily more overcast as the day went on. Clabbered sky. Rosy russula emeticas in the duff on the forest floor, and orangey-yellow woolly pine spikes, which I mistook at first for winter chanterelles. Steep descent down the western slopes of Mount Seymour, then across the little-known Seymour River canyon on the pipeline bridge, churning green-white water below, spray lifting up the sides of the cliffs. Precarious ferns! Up the world's steepest set of stairs to the Demonstration Forest access road, then down again to Lynn Creek. A fogbank drifting right above the canyon, which I sank down through approaching creek level, feet first, sweaty torso next, and finally bald and sweaty head.

Sunday, November 14, 2004
ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing): Near-Brush with Celebrity

On Granville Mall this morning en route to the bus stop, trying to simultaneously read Barron's magazine and drink my decaf. Walked right into a young blonde fellow exiting his hotel with all his luggage, in search of the airport bus. Seen-you-somewhere-before glances exchanged all around.

Penny drops halfway over the Granville Street bridge.

Young guy: Stars vocalist Torquil Campbell.

Me: not so many rows back from the front of the stage, and much taller than the surrounding crowd.

ART (Aesthetically Rejected Thing): Granville Mall Busker

One-song repertoire, the theme from the animated Spider-Man series, which wouldn't be so bad, except for the vocals, which lovingly reproduce every tic in Kurt Cobain's live delivery of "All Apologies." Thus:

SPI-der MANN, SPI-der MANNNNNN, & etc.

No thanks!

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Free tix from one of our regulars to last night's Death Cab for Cutie show at the Commodore. So I was a little surprised to arrive around 930 or so, only to hear the surge of applause for "Montreal's...Stars!" Could those be the same Stars whose debut disc I played to death in the shop last year, after hearing a track kindly supplied by Ron Terada? Yep! Great warm keyboard washes, tons of vocal interplay, little snippets of Brit electropop and 80s choruses in there, too, Johnny Marr smiling down from the wet November sky. Long generous set from Cutie, too, but the Stars were the night's highlight for me -- out into Granville Mall's neon and falling rain at 12:30, feeling much younger than I really am, now.

(And if you don't believe me, just Google "Elevator Love Letter"):

My office glows all night long.
It's a nuclear show and the stars are gone.
Elevator, elevator, take me home.Posted by Hello
Thursday, November 11, 2004
Remembrance Day

Cold, cold blue sky. Light white dusting of along the North Shore peaks, and deeper snowdrifts in the basin below the Lions.

Wheeling the garbage around to the big blue metal bin on Kingsway. Coffee cups, old New York Times sections, pizza boxes, plastic bags, scraps of paper off my desk.

Chilly in the shade. Then back around the corner onto Main. Brilliant warm sunlight.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Yet another Japanese mushrooming site. Really, really good color photographs, and an exhaustive Latin key. Just spent an productive half hour matching my reference photographs to theirs. Posted by Hello
Sunday, November 07, 2004
Another Art Review (for those who asked. No copies of the G&M to be found anywhere in the vicinity of Mount Pleasant, so, after midnight, off to the 24 hour 7-11 store downtown, where I was able to buy the sports section, the business section, and the visual art section -- but nothing else -- for 75 cents, as they had been discarded in the rack by a previous purchaser)

On Kevin Schmidt & Tim Lee
(slightly expanded "author's preferred version" of an article first published in the Globe and Mail national edition, 6 Nov 04)

By Christopher Brayshaw

Two photo-based exhibitions by Vancouver artists Kevin Schmidt and Tim Lee, one at Tracey Lawrence Gallery, and the other at North Vancouver’s Presentation House Gallery, offer dramatic insight into art photography’s continuing evolution on the West Coast.

Though Lee and Schmidt at first appear to have nothing more in common than their shared medium, careful thinking reveals correspondences between them. Such comparisons, in turn, demonstrate how the cosmopolitanism of much recent Vancouver photography (in dialogue with ideas arriving from Los Angeles, London, and Düsseldorf), has been clarified by local politics and history, like water passed through a sieve.

Call that water post-conceptualism, but a very specific strain of it, one that, while acknowledging Marcel Duchamp’s insight that anything can now -- at least in theory -- be plausibly considered art (that is to say, you can no longer convincingly object to art on morphological grounds alone; an oil painting and Damien Hirst’s sculpture of a chopped up shark preserved in a tank of formaldehyde are equally plausible, though not necessarily successful, art works) still prefers image-making to other art practices.

Working with established forms (as opposed to creating new materials and new forms with each new piece, a la sculptors like Thomas Hirschhorn and Jessica Stockholder) means working with art history. Schmidt and Lee both ask what it means to create images, and how they might complicate viewers’ responses to them, playing with the ways in which thought and vision enable us to perceive images as whole even if they actually fragmentary, or assembled over time.

Lee’s and Schmidt’s thinking draws upon a certain strain of late 1960s photo-conceptual art -- the early photographs of figures like Bruce Nauman, Ed Ruscha, Robert Smithson, and Douglas Huebler – and the recent work of artists like Erwin Wurm and Vancouver’s Rodney Graham, whose lush production values, zigzagging leaps from medium to medium, and constant undermining of the mechanics by which illusions of “reality” are created are a touchstone for Schmidt and Lee. Their work, like Wurm’s and Graham’s, is also really funny, and any description that doesn’t account for the frequent grins, guffaws and groans it provokes misses some essential part of it.

Schmidt’s Fog, at Presentation House Gallery, is a two-piece installation. Facing you in the darkened gallery is an eight foot by eight foot slide projection of a West Coast forest interior at night. Huge gnarled trees are covered by beards of pale green moss and lichen. Evergreen boughs crisscross the image plane. Sword ferns’ sharp points protrude from an opaque white mist that swirls across the foreground. The projected image’s enormous size and crystalline clarity makes it seem like a doorway to the distant river valley where the photograph was taken. You feel that if you stepped forward, you would find your feet scuffling through the ferns, and kicking up clouds of mist.

Fast on this sensation’s heels comes the recognition that things are not quite as they seem. Your shadow covers the image as you approach. The light on the trees’ trunks is too harsh for sunlight (It’s actually strobe lighting, created by a bulky kit packed by Schmidt and an assistant into the woods). The unnatural fog is dry ice. A second projection of an almost identical scene is stationed nearby in the exhibition space, as if to push the scene’s impossibility right over into the absurd.

Fog packs a whole train of art-historical associations. First, the tangled forest interiors of orthodox regional modernists like Emily Carr, Jack Shadbolt, and Gordon Smith. Second, and more importantly, works like Rodney Graham’s 75 Polaroids (a photo-sequence detailing a nighttime stumble through a West Coast forest, lit only by Graham’s camera’s flash attachment), and Illuminated Ravine (an urban forest lit by portable high-intensity floodlights, and meant to be walked through). These artworks’ level of detail, like Fog’s is almost hallucinatory, or psychotic, in its intensity, detailing the edges of every leaf, and the unnaturally sharp-edged shadows that stand out on the tree trunks.

Many artists assume that photographic clarity equals conceptual clarity. Schmidt, like Graham, clarifies only to confuse; his pictures aren’t “reports on knowledge,” but something more sly and provisional.

Landscape is a genre that has largely been ignored by younger Vancouver artists, perhaps out of the mistaken belief that it is solely the province of conservative artists like the late Toni Onley. Schmidt refuses to be confined by regional interpretations of landscape. Fog, like his previous, widely-exhibited video, Long Beach Led Zep, uses regional landscape motifs only to open up landscape art to the world outside the region.

While Schmidt’s work ranges all over the West Coast, Tim Lee’s images are made inside the white walls of his studio. Lee’s photographs and performances are derived from, or are re-enactments of, seminal art-historical and pop-cultural moments. Lee hybridizes art history and popular culture so willfully that his images’ titles, far from clarifying things, only add further layers of complication to the process.

Take a picture like Untitled (James Osterberg), 1970, in which a life-size Lee stretches and bends over backward, defying gravity and biology, a la comic books’ Plastic Man, or Mr. Fantastic.

The photograph is based, at least in part, on Mick Rock’s seminal picture of a bare-chested Iggy Pop in concert, bent backwards on the stage and howling into a microphone, his chest muscles clenched and tight, as if ready to burst. But the picture is also a gloss on Lee’s previous photo diptych, Untitled (No. 4, 1970), in which the artist seems to float, as if suspended by magic or sheer force of will, inches above the studio floor.

And of course both pictures are studies – sequels, if you like – to one of Lee’s favorite works of conceptual art, Bruce Nauman’s double-exposed 1966 self portrait, Failing to Levitate in the Studio.

You can think of the bent figure in the picture as Tim Lee, or Tim Lee pretending to be James Osterberg, who in turn is pretending to be his punk-rock persona, Iggy Pop, or, alternatively, Tim Lee pretending to be Iggy Pop in order to more accurately imitate the real object of his homage, Bruce Nauman. . . .

Needless to say, this associative chain isn’t clarified by exposure to further Lee productions, but hopelessly, and quite deliberately, obscured, so that you reel from picture to picture, never quite sure if Lee’s pop cultural allusions (to Harry Houdini, to Ted Williams, to Steve Martin, to Bobby Orr’s 1970 levitating, game-winning goal at Boston Garden) are as straight forward as they first appear, or if their obvious sources are actually stand-ins for the artworld figures Lee most admires.

The level of cynicism you assign to this strategy depends on how calculating you think Lee is. I think his frantic, and often very funny impersonations and name-checks, are symptoms of a fan’s honest anxiety that his own work may not measure up to that of the artists he most admires, Bruce Nauman and Rodney Graham among them.

Anxiety and crafty emulation are good materials for art – think of Manet’s emulations of Velasquez, or Jeff Wall’s Picture for Women, itself a restaging of Manet’s painting, A Bar at the Folie Bargére.

By playing with and around the conventions of conceptual and post-conceptual photography, Schmidt and Lee create their accessible, satisfying, and highly accomplished art.

(Kevin Schmidt’s Fog is on display at North Vancouver’s Presentation House Gallery from 6 November through 19 December 2004. Tim Lee’s exhibition, The Askance View, is on display at Vancouver’s Tracey Lawrence Gallery from 28 October to 27 November 2004).

Saturday, November 06, 2004
Japanese mushrooming diary -- a year spent hunting wild edibles on the lower slopes of Mount Fuji. I like this site a lot, as much for its literary and scientific asides as for its detailed descriptions of fungi.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Guy Fawkes Day on the west coast, the western sky solid grey like the side of a piece of Richard Serra plate steel. Charles Manson lookalike grifting on the corner, "Hey, help out the homeless, got a bus ticket, got a smoke, spare change?" This charming six footer's panhandling methodology typically involves shambling up to someone smaller than him -- which in this neighborhood usually means a Vietnamese or Chinese grandmother -- and then standing right on top of them, flapping his arms up and down and blocking their path till they cough up enough to secure their release. "Fuckin' chink," I once heard him say to one grandma who wasn't emptying her purse quickly enough to suit him. That day I had the presence of mind to lay my umbrella right across his ass with all the swing as I could muster. A nice satisfying crack. Posted by Hello
Thursday, November 04, 2004

These days...

I've stopped my dreaming,
I won't do too much scheming
These days, these days.
These days I sit on corner stones
And count the time in quarter tones to ten.
Please don't confront me with my failures,
I had not forgotten them. Posted by Hello
nst '99 -- first story I ever read by Kevin H., and still a favorite. Formatted kind of strangely for the web, but worth perservering.

Winter's here! Sun gone by 430, chilly wind on my bald head, bare trees, spectacular sunsets, the western sky orange-red above Architectural Antiques and the Lee Building's big nonconforming sign.

Too tired to contribute much else today (day 1 of 30 with no coffee intake, thanks to yesterday's visit to the urologist), so here's an interview with Kevin Huizenga, my current favorite young cartoonist, interviewed by Tom Spurgeon, my long-suffering ex-editor at the Comics Journal.

Read some of Kevin's comics online. Tell me what you think!

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Vija Celmins, Night Sky #2, 1991, oil on canvas mounted on aluminum.

Well Harpo, Harpo, we're in the galaxies and where did you get that sound so fine?
Harpo, Harpo, we gotta hear it one more time.

Jonathan Richman -- "When Harpo Played His Harp" in my head all day, knocking off Celmins' sky pictures and the Japanese maple leaves on Hornby Street.Posted by Hello

Talk about the life in Massachusetts
Speak about the people I have seen
And the lights all went down in Massachusetts
And Massachusetts is one place I have seen

I will remember Massachusetts
I will remember Massachusetts
I will remember Massachusetts Posted by Hello
Monday, November 01, 2004

At Larrabee Park

The winding southern road. Fern forests, thick in scribbled
damp ravines. The cliffside homes pinch out at last, replaced
by giant trees. Hard right hand turn in past the shuttered gatehouse, its
backlit Coke machine presiding over parking lot and bandshell like Kubrick’s
monolith. Across the lawn, disturbing ghosts of picnickers the rangers’ spycam
only grasps as watercolor, run smears of motion, rain against the glass. Rail
tunnel’s concrete floor and low-hung dripping ceiling evokes Guinness’
pale scheming Smiley. Bellingham or East Berlin?

Along the cliff edge, views are numbered, tour stops tied to the brochure
rack by the pay phone. The shoreline’s scattered logs and cobble
heaps. Sandstone cliff detailing everyone who ever waded through the thorns
along its base to chisel out their name. Tide high and ebbing, licking at the line
of wrack thrown up by larger waves. The tidepools Drew described all drowned.
Visible: just one brick-red star. The current stirs the glassy sea
like the air above a fire.

Fat ghosts stalk the gloomy forest trails armed with megapixel
cameras. Isn't the sea always this blue in memory, the San Juans green
like glass? Website thumbnails: cupped in sandstone hollows,
sculpins stars anemonies, little portholes to be peered through, the eyes
devouring whatever the lenses' optics seize.

Cats’ paws today on steel grey sea. Rain clouds across the sound,
slow blimps of drifting grey, the darker squall lines tangled like the offshore
chop. The root that tripped the climber on the trail. The static on her friend’s
head phones. The flints that nicked my hands. The understory’s
devouring microscopic roots. A landscape by Seurat, all pricks and dabs of color.
Less resemblance each year to pictures. Less resemblance, less and less.

Juan Cole analyzes the consequences of tomorrow's election:

"The Bush administration is full of revolutionaries. They are shaking up the world by military force. They are playing a role familiar in modern history, pioneered by Napoleon Bonaparte, of using overwhelming military superiority to establish new forms of hegemony by appealing to desires for change among neighboring publics. Bonaparte promised the Italians liberty on the French model, but in fact reduced the Italians to a series of French puppet regimes and then he looted the country. So far Bush's Iraq looks increasingly like Bonaparte's Italy in these regards.

At a time of increased radicalization in the global South, at a time when mass terrorism has been made possible by new technologies, the last thing the US should be risking is destabilizing Asia by provoking a series of revolutions.

Kerry is not a revolutionary, unlike Bush. He recognizes that al-Qaeda is a real threat and needs to be the main focus of US security thinking. Kerry will capture or kill Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri because he will put the resources into that endeavor that Bush instead wasted in Iraq.

Kerry is worried about Iran's nuclear ambitions, but is highly unlikely to resort to military force or connive at a coup in Tehran. He will use diplomatic methods and more subtle military pressure.

Kerry will rebuild the alliance with Europe, which is crucial for fighting al-Qaeda. He will attempt to improve the US image in the Muslim world, which Bush has completely shattered. His approach to China will be measured.

So the choices are clear. Those who want a revolutionary who will risk further wars and instability, should vote for Bush. Those who want someone who will use diplomacy to manage the status quo and roll back asymmetrical threats should vote for Kerry."


Republicans at Hallowe'en

"As distasteful as it was, the stunt had the smell of desperation. ('Where evil meets stupid,' Stephen Elliott called it.) If Republicans are spending Sunday afternoon trying to fool voters with the some Gay Adoption signs then they must be in trouble. And the people in line weren’t buying. 'Nobody in this line is going to listen to them,' one woman said. A chorus of voters on either side chimed in: 'That’s right”; “We’re know what we’re doing'; 'We’re voting for Kerry no matter what that guy in the sign thinks he’s saying.'

Among the few people who didn’t realize what was happening at first, they were extremely annoyed when they figured it out. 'Is that Republicans over there? Yeah, it is!' said a man toward the back of the line. 'They’re gonna come down here and, try to try to fool us? That’s not happening.' Behind him, a woman added: 'Un-huh, that’s not right.'"


Better put the mask back on, George. Need a hand? Posted by Hello

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