Monday, February 28, 2005
Ralph Steadman etchings
Sunday, February 27, 2005
Budgie's Burritos

A new takeout joint on the opposite side of the building, the traditionally dead 0 block of Kingsway. Hung with velvet paintings and assorted thrift store scores, D.C. punk blaring on the speakers. Tofuturkey sausage, black beans, guacamole, fresh salsa, rice -- yum!

An early live outing for the second great quartet, with Wayne Shorter's seat occupied by George Coleman. The Plugged Nickel box set's ferocious deconstruction and reworking of the standards provides far more to think about, but this is an album I reach for again and again in the evening, a richness and roundness of sound that has a lot to do with Coleman's presence, and with the little keyboard flurries that Herbie Hancock keeps laying down in the background. Posted by Hello
Cardboard City

An installation in the front window of the skate shop across the street, big cardboard towers, like a midwestern farm cartoonist's take on the Omaha city skyline, circa 1930. All lit up from within, warm yellow windows in the spring night.

The local unmedicated borderline schizophrenic who spends his days in front of the coffee bar sits on the sidewalk facing the Province box on the corner, twiddling its coin return lever and frowning. "It's broken," he says with a shy smile. "Ain't nothin' on."
Shudder to Think's Hot One, Ms. Jacques' Velvet Goldmine soundtrack on the deck:

Well, you're the grand one
Have you noticed?
When you walk in all the fairy boys are very nervous
Well, my starship doesn't want me
And neither does his wife
I'm glad I caught you on my view screen, sailor

You're the grand one
Come and court me
'cause this booing is one of mourning
When my spacesuit comes to warm me
And hold me like a girl
I am the captain of your gravity, Maxwell
Everywhere I see your face

Hot one
From a starship over Venus to the Sun
But it's a crime!
You're mistaken!
Momentary seizure of love - oh love

Well, you're the grand one
But darling, I'm a mess
I've got human minds that we can form
But the boys are not impressed
When my spacesuit comes to warm me
Just hold me like a girl,
I'll be the captain of your gravity, Maxwell
I see your faces in the strangest places

Hot one
From a starship over Venus to the Sun
But it's a crime!
You're mistaken!
Momentary seizure of love - oh love

Hot one
From a starship over Venus to the Sun
But it's a drag!
You're so mean!
Destroying my belief in, in love - oh love

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Night now. Foggy, the fog not quite reaching the second floors of neighbor buildings, so that when I went for coffee a few minutes ago I could look up through the drifting vapours and see the yellow moon. Posted by Hello
Sale of the Week

The Erotic Bondage Handbook and A Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before...
(verbatim from the ABE dealers-only message board):

"Sort of reminds me of the bookseller who won $22 million in the lottery. He said, 'Guess I'll just keep selling books 'till the money runs out.'"
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Someone writes to ask why Hunter Thompson's worth memorializing.

I wouldn't want to preserve much of HST's post-80s work, and admittedly have a hard time untangling HST the writer from HST the Ralph Steadman caricature. HST as drawn by Ralph is one of my favorite cartoon characters ever, all bugged-out eyeballs and little floating clouds of intoxicating bubbles, the cigarette in its holder projecting like a knife from under his lower lip. The Ralph portrait of Dr. Gonz I posted yesterday makes me smile every time I look at its dripping suitcase and stealthy soft-shoe out the door.

I think Hunter's large-living media persona has tended to obscure what a good writer he was as a young man. The letters collected in The Proud Highway repay repeat reading; so too do Hells Angels and The Rum Diary.

The Air Force discharge letter collected in The Proud Highway ("Airman Thompson...") is a fine, fine piece of work; any initial doubts Hunter had about his writing career must have instantly evaporated upon receiving it.
Monday, February 21, 2005

A pristine hardcover copy of W.L. Heath's 1957 noir extravaganza Ill Wind arrived in the mail on Friday, courtesy online dealer Robert Hoban. The book was described as "Very Fine/Very Fine," (unlike the VG-, heavily soiled and edgeworn copy pictured here) and I, somewhat incredulous but still willing to be surprised, mailed a money order off to the States. Surprise indeed: a beautiful cream-white copy, the uncoated dust jacket showing not even a trace of soiling, the book inside flawless. A pleasant reminder that online bookselling theoretically provides just as many good experiences as bad ones.

What's an uncoated dust jacket, and why should I care?

Most modern dust jackets are paper covered in a layer of shiny varnish that provides a measure of protection against coffee, finger oils, pipe smoke, cat vomit, & etc. Uncoated paper -- seen to good effect on Black Sparrow's textured paper wraps -- looks good from an aesthetic and graphic design point of view, but easily retains signs of soiling and handling. A coated jacket will (usually) stand a cleaning with a Windex/water solution or with lighter fluid. Any fluid application to uncoated paper, on the other hand, will leave a distinctive tideline, doing permanent damage to the book. Uncoated jackets are thus fragile, easily soiled and destroyed, even in the course of carefully handling or reading a book, and consequently uncommon in nice condition.

Who's W.L. Heath, and why should I care?

An important noir author reprinted by Black Lizard's classic crime line. In my experience, many collectors simply read the line's highlights -- David Goodis; Jim Thompson; Charles Willeford; maybe Harry Whittington -- and then stall out. Other, more thoughtful readers realize that Black Lizard's editors chose their line-up with great care, and that authors like Heath, Peter Rabe, and Horace McCoy, while lacking the hipster cache of their more famous peers, are equally good, and in some cases stylistically more accomplished writers. It's also demonstrably harder to find books in good condition by writers like Rabe, Heath and McCoy than it is to order a "mint" (read: overpriced and overgraded) Thompson or Willeford PBO from a sharpie online dealer. Posted by Hello
Shotgun Golf

Dr. Thompson and Bill Murray in latenight conversation:

HST: "Are you ready for a powerful idea? I want to ask you about golf in Japan. I understand they're building vertical driving ranges on top of each other."

BILL (sounding strangely alert): "Yes, they have them outdoors, under roofs ..."

HST: "I've seen pictures. I thought they looked like bowling alleys stacked on top of each other."

BILL: (Laughs.)

HST: "I'm working on a profoundly goofy story here. It's wonderful. I've invented a new sport. It's called Shotgun Golf. We will rule the world with this thing."

BILL: "Mmhmm."

HST: "I've called you for some consulting advice on how to launch it. We've actually already launched it. Last spring, the Sheriff and I played a game outside in the yard here. He had my Ping Beryllium 9-iron, and I had his shotgun, and about 100 yards away, we had a linoleum green and a flag set up. He was pitching toward the green. And I was standing about 10 feet away from him, with the alley-sweeper. And my objective was to blow his ball off course, like a clay pigeon."

BILL: (Laughs.)

HST: "It didn't work at first. The birdshot I was using was too small. But double-aught buck finally worked for sure. And it was fun."

Ace climber and SF novelist M. John Harrison waxes characteristically philosophical near the end of a Guardian book review on the "midget climbing plumber":

"Like many a good climbing book, one of the things The Villain does is to underline the sheer ferocity of the sport. It prompts us to ask why anyone would do this to themselves. As Perrin says, in a lyrical final chapter, as mere business, as 'the job,' climbing has a black and pointless air. The places we choose to explore, the style in which we choose to explore them, 'act as an objective correlative to our own states of mind.' What we bring to a climb - and more importantly, to a life - decides to a considerable degree what we are going to take away. One of the strengths of this exhaustively researched and beautifully written biography is that while Perrin makes the point repeatedly, never allowing our attention to drift from it as a structuring principle, he leaves us alone in the end to contemplate it."


"Thompson, whose works included Hell's Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72, which chronicled the race between Richard Nixon and George McGovern, was a well-known firearms aficionado who took frequent target practice in his backyard. In 2000, he slightly wounded an assistant while trying to shoot a bear on his property." Posted by Hello
Sunday, February 20, 2005
Today, for the first time so far this year, the sinking sun cleared the side of the Lee Building and shone in through my windows. 7 minutes of Vitamin D, the windows' big vinyl letters reflected, distorted, against the far wall.

Russell Gunn's astonishing live version of Bill Evans' Blue in Green (Ethnomusicology v. 4) on the deck in counterpoint.
Iain M. Banks -- sprawling, stylish space opera, and, page for page, far superior to any of his last half dozen "mainstream" novels. I'm about a third of the way through The Algebraist, which, despite obviously being science fiction -- a gas giant and its moon on the cover! -- was inexplicably shelved in the trade fiction section at Corporate Bookstore, along with other Nebula-winning luminaries like Maeve Binchy and Sophie Kinsella.
Saturday, February 19, 2005
Dear Thrasher...

"I don't want to ride your asses—you know
you rock my world even with the lame ads.
It's like, I need a lifeline here, you
can't imagine Rankin, Georgia—mullets, no street
courses, one shitty skate park. I skate
with four cool punks, try to steer clear of posers.

We've got a big problem in Rankin with posers.
I'm 12 and not stupid. I know
guys here think us girls can't skate—
That's crap! It's your fault. Running those ads
makes idiots here think it's street
last, clothes and babes first. It's on you."
More books in and out at the moment than is really feasible given a 2400 square foot workspace. Boxes of (uncleaned and unpriced) mysteries up by the desk, cleaned and priced mysteries stacked sky-high on the shelves. New arrivals full again.

Philip K. Dick, Borges, Haruki Murakami, Jack Kerouac et al. walking in the door!
Thursday, February 17, 2005
100K Club -- cjb & Team Cat

Seabus to Skyride, & etc. Balmy, 15 or 17 degrees on the Cut, Tuesday's snowshoe track fading back to rocks and logs, which made for some entertaining hopscotching from snowpatch to snowpatch.

A noticable pickup in workday energy, and an extra notch back in my belt. Cleaned the apartment, transferred 4 huge boxes of art catalogs and manky old trade paperbacks to the shop, and started in on Iain Banks' latest science fiction novel, which at $30CDN for the trade paperback is not exactly cheap, but pretty much required reading.
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
100K Club -- cjb & Team Cat

Seabus to Skyride, & etc. Blue sky, budding branches on bare trees. The new trekking poles made short work of the 20%+ grade at the base of the Cut. First day in my life on snowshoes. I spent the better part of an hour tramping up and down the final half-km stretch of powder below the gondola station, testing and refining my new skills. (Briefly) at peace, a nice change from last night's 3 hours of apartment alarm bell ringing (guy stuck in elevator) and the dream that followed, in which a local indie musician, who's never been anything other than totally pleasant to me in real life, came after me with an axe.

Running across the grass field behind my old West Vancouver elementary school right at twilight. Sunlight's last gleamings on the railway trestle in the trees.

Shouting, "I need some help here!" The startled faces of the yoga class and the after-school activity club, pressed to the glass.

Ducking around the monkey bars and the concrete tunnels. Pulling on a locked side door. A janitor walking away, oblivious, up the hall.

Hoarse harsh breath on my shoulder.

The axe whickering down.
Monday, February 14, 2005
ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing): the Godzilla stand-up in the back of the local budget sushi joint. 6' tall!

"I (heart) Sapporo," says the Lizard King, clutching a building-size can in his scaly paws.
Sunday, February 13, 2005

A James Bama Doc Savage cover. Big stack of these Bantam 70s pulp reprints in over the weekend. The stories aren't that well written, but the plot summaries -- all apocalypse! all plangent! all purple! -- read like distant relatives of Burroughs' Nova Trilogy and Smithson's "Crystal Land."Posted by Hello
Sunday night, Mr. Miles Davis on the deck. Books everywhere. All five "new arrivals" units (10' x 6' = 60 linear feet of books) filled since Saturday morning, and another 2500-odd mystery pocketbooks still in boxes around the desk, waiting to be unpacked, cleaned, priced, and filed away onto the shelves of what is now probably the largest collection of mysteries in Vancouver, if not the Lower Mainland.

Buds on all the trees outside.

Steve, one of the regular scouts, was in late this afternoon, lamenting the decline of his industry. In the old days (eg., 1960s-70s-80s), very few bookstores paid for recent books, preferring to spend their scarce cash flow on antiquarian stock. Hence, shelf stock went to the Salvation Army, or Value Village, or some other thrift store, where it was disinterred by a small army of freelance scouts and carried into dealers, who paid the scouts next to nothing for it.

Nowadays, most reputable stores pay for recent stock, and most thrift stores think they're the Strand Bookstore. So much stock goes directly from consumers to dealers, and the scouts make do with the (inevitably overpriced) dregs that show up at library sales, church sales, & etc. The upside from the scouts' point of view is that, thanks to Alibris, ABE, Biblio, etc., anyone with a computer can now go into business as a "used book dealer."

These changes don't frighten me, but some of them do puzzle me. Case in point: the woman from Langley who drove in today to buy mystery paperbacks, because I have "better selection and prices" [my italics] than her local Value Village. Sure enough, over 40% of my paperbacks are now cheaper than they are at Corporate Thrift Store. Go figure!
Thursday, February 10, 2005
Yet Another Art Review -- from this week's Terminal City

"Little Thoughts Gone Astray"
by Christopher Brayshaw

Rodney Graham: A Little Thought
Vancouver Art Gallery, 750 Hornby
To May 8

Who is there that does not love a tree?
I planted one, I planted three.
Two for you and one for me.

-- Rodney Graham, Theme From the Phonokinetoscope

Rodney Graham's video loop, A Reverie Interrupted by The Police, begins with a convict, played by Graham, being led on stage by a uniformed policeman. Graham's job, at least for the loop's eight minute duration, is to sit at a piano and play, despite his hands being cuffed together. So play he does, sometimes fluidly, other times jaggedly or minimally, and, on occasion, angrily or resignedly, repeatedly opening and slamming the case shut to create some impromptu John Cage-style percussion. All the while, Graham keeps casting hilariously surreptitious looks back over his shoulder at his guard, looks that simultaneously announce, I'm fucked, and, Maybe if I just keep on going….

In actual fact, not much happens. The cop stands stolidly, chewing his moustache, outwardly unmoved by Graham's performance, escorting him off screen at the eight-minute mark, then back on again as the video loops. The piece's lush lighting and expressionistic camera angles invoke the basic conventions of narrative suspense, only to collapse them. Will Graham pull a gun out of the piano case? Will an anvil fall, beaning the cop on the head? After the second or third loop, you realise Graham's musical performance—flawed, halting, repetitive, made under desperately unhappy circumstances by an "artist" whose mind is obviously elsewhere—is the piece's real point, a brief burst of creativity worked out under tense and soul-trying circumstances. The video is alternately unsettling and touching, premised as it is on the notion that circumstances are awful, and unlikely to improve any time soon.

In a funny way, A Reverie lays out as clear a case for Rodney Graham's artistic importance as anything else in his career, which has largely been predicated on doing one thing after another, shifting subjects and media with every new project. Thus the film and video loops, costumes, and altered books, the faked art-historical works, paintings and drawings, the appropriated and rewritten texts, "lighting events," bookmarks and book sculptures, CDs and music videos and performances. Looking back at this variety, it's hard to dismiss the idea that these formal changes are attempts to avoid falling into a fixed way of doing things, or of acquiring a "signature style."

Like A Reverie's musical performance, Graham's career has high points (the book works; the photographs; most of the films and videos) and lows (the paintings and mixed-media drawings; the editioned objects based on the more complex films and videos), but what strikes you most, looking over the assortment of objects collected on the VAG's second and third floors, is the conceptual consistency of Graham's artistic inquiries, and the immediate pleasure his works provide.

Used with regard to contemporary art, pleasure is a funny word. Older art—a Manet bouquet, say, or a 16th century Dutch still life—pleases even as it instructs; the works' conceptual and sensuous qualities form an emulsion that cannot be easily separated into its constituent parts. Much contemporary art, on the other hand, desperately seeks to please its institutional patrons, critics, or potential purchasers. The conceptual and formal austerity of works by socially engaged artists like Michael Asher, Joseph Kosuth, or Art & Language is, in a sense, a reaction against a climate in which contemporary art is wholly integrated with fashion, entertainment, and consumer culture (Witness Takashi Murakami's designs for Louis Vuitton, or the co-option of Gillian Wearing's Signs That Say What You Want Them to Say into countless advertising campaigns).

So when I say that Graham's work pleases me, I mean that its humor, wide-ranging sources, and quirky formal qualities compel me to spend time with it, and that time, in turn, opens up space to reflect on things—my own behavior, say, or my relationship to nature—which the late capitalist culture I live in would prefer me to ignore.

These speculations, in turn, don't easily assimilate to any preexisting ideology; they're speculative, almost free-form, and perhaps this explains why Graham is unique in the long-term hold that his work has exerted over my imagination. There are individual works of art that move me far more than any work of Graham's—Gerhard Richter's Baader-Meinhof paintings, say, or Vija Celmins' night skies, or Jeff Wall's Volunteer—but when pressed by friends or critics to name an exemplary contemporary artist, I almost always name Graham. He has undoubtedly inspired many local artists—Tim Lee comes to mind; so too, in a more sophisticated and tangential way, do Althea Thaugerber and Neil Wedman—but I can't imagine adopting him as a "model of practice," as I could Cindy Sherman, or Andreas Gursky, or the Bechers. There are just too many things going on at once in Graham's work. Imitating him would be like trying to catch a school of bright and skittish fish with a single pole.

Many of Graham's early works are "supplements" to preexisting texts or artworks that undercut their sources' authority, often in a hilariously direct way. In the book sculpture Dr. No, the Ian Fleming novel of the same name is displayed along with an extra, stainless steel page etched with a text by Graham "in the manner of" Fleming, which extends a scene in which James Bond lies in bed with a poisonous centipede into an endless loop wherein the centipede scurries over Bond's body again and again and again. Another book sculpture, Casino Royale, conceals a Fleming first edition within a metal housing that looks remarkably like a Donald Judd sculpture, converting the austere beauty of its Judd source into something altogether more craft-oriented, more furniture than sculpture.

Halcion Sleep, Graham's first performance featuring himself, grew out of a dissatisfaction with his appropriations of preexisting things. "Conceptual art opened up possibilities where I could work, collaborating with other people, having things made, supervising the production rather than making it myself. And for a while it was really liberating to work that way. Now I feel it's the end of a cycle for me," Graham told a Chicago Tribune interviewer in 1995

Halcion Sleep is a video document of a performance in which a drugged Graham, clad in an attractive set of striped pajamas, is driven from a budget suburban motel to his south Granville home. This silent, formally austere 26- minute piece is alternately comforting and deeply sad, evoking the nostalgic feeling of traveling in the back of your parents' car as a child, and, simultaneously, the hard-to-shake sense that the performance actually documents a one-way drive that will conclude in Graham's death.

Other highlights? The acid-drenched pop backing up The Phonokinetoscope's trippy ride through Berlin's Tiergarten. Loudhailer's sly nod at Stan Douglas' split-screen, out-of-synch extravaganzas. Aberdeen, a slide piece whose simplicity of execution is totally out of scale with its visual and musical complexity, proof that Graham's talent does not solely depend on expensive technology. And, finally, the Rodney Graham Band. Graham, Dave Carswell, and John Collins tore the roof off the Cambrian Hall last week, transforming Graham's wistfully orchestrated ‘60s tunes into a raucous, hour and a half set of buzzing power-pop. Graham looked a little startled and surprised by all the applause, but it was simply as sustained and generous as his own work.


Bernd and Hilla Becher, Water Towers (1980) Posted by Hello
Jeanne Siegel and Sherrie Levine in conversation:

"JS: Some of the serial paintings referred to games and gameboards such as checkers and backgammon, where repetition is identified both with optionality and the potentiality of play on the one hand and the impersonality of mass production on the other. You seem to have an ongoing and deeper involvement with games and play.

SL: For me, it's often more useful to think of artmaking as play rather than work. Fantasies of aggression and control have an interesting place there, I think that's one of the reasons that I've been so attracted to games as subject matter. Artists say we are working, because it's more adult and we want to get paid. But I often feel as if I'm playing.

JS: Play is essentially about socialization. It's a means to harness and control the expression of aggression.

SL: I can explore fantasies of control and transgression that I don't live out in my daily life. I'm in total control over my art production in a way that I can't control anything else. That makes the activity very seductive."


Ando Hiroshige's 36 Views of Mount Fuji (1858)

Robert Linsley's 100 Views of Mount Baker (excerpts)

Ando Hiroshige's 36 Views of Mount Fuji (1852)

Hokusai's 36 Views of Mount Fuji (excerpts)
Posted by Hello
Just finished: Stephen Shore, Uncommon Places: The Complete Works (Aperture).

Over a hundred pictures, most dating from 1973-6, taken with a Deardorff 8x10 view camera, on a succession of drives across the U.S. and (occasional) forays into Canada. These photographs have long been among my favorites, and having had a few days now to study them and Shore's own comments on them, I want to try to summarize why they've exerted such a long-term hold on me.

Nostalgia. The pictures accurately depict a landscape I rececognize from my book-buying trips to the western states. Any good used bookstore is inevitably located along a street like Vancouver's Kingsway -- the old highway or "business route" into or out of town, now bypassed by a more direct route. Hence strips like Portland's Barbur Boulevard, Seattle's Aurora Avenue, or Las Vegas' Hawethorne Boulevard. Decrepit motel, chain restaurant, "Oriental health enhancement centre," Goodwill, used car lot, pancake house, paperback exchange, Mexican restaurant, & etc.

The world as text. You apprehend photographs made with a view camera very slowly. It is the camera's nature to render every detail in its field of vision with complete legibility, and the photographs consequently include more information than anyone, including the photographer, can process at once. Commercial signage and graphic design is incorporated into these pictures as a kind of three-dimensional collage (e.g., Shore's "Sunset," or "Sidney Lust's Drive-In Theatre," whose texts appear flush with the picture plane, a la Ed Ruscha's paintings).

Architecture as symbolic form. Best illustrated by the Little Rock pictures, in which buildings of different decades and uses rub shoulders. Shore's photographing them doesn't alter them in any way, but his framing of them compels me to study them more closely, thereby noting their internal differences.

The world's beauty. Clouds reflecting off the hoods in a Sault Ste. Marie parking lot. The swoop of a concrete road divider in Texas, a wedge-shaped chunk of space as effective, in its way, as a Gordon Matta-Clark "slice." Ginger Shore's terrifically alert eyes. Tangles of electrical wires and rooftops, all blue skies and roiling clouds above. "John F. Kennedy said: 'Art is Truth'" (double echoes: Eggleston (framing) and Evans ("Art School")).

Why the 8x10? It makes the photographer step back, and, in doing so, notice more things. The subject of the composition is not singular, but a plethora of objects, some of which, by definition, will escape the photographer's attention. Thus the "aesthetic surplus," or pictorial content that exceeds the photographer's initial intention. 35mm, by contrast, involves the photographer's physical proximity to a subject (Eggleston, again). When I get my point-and-shoot Pentax contact sheets back from London Drugs, I find them full of failed images, whose subjects (mountains; mushrooms; signs) are too small, because I haven't gotten close enough to them. By contrast, the "successful pictures" are uncomfortable to make, because to shy me, they feel as if I've had to thrust the camera, a la Garry Winogrand, in my proverbial subject's face.
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Off to make a landscape photograph.

Lower Mainland Road Atlas, 3 rolls of ASA 100 film, Translink February 2005 bus pass, Pentax point-and-shoot, patience.

(No mention here of that one-line-putdown maestro who, late last week, opined from his ivory tower that the worst thing about asking a critic for an artwork was that you might actually get it. Yes, you might).

Mountain Equipment Co-Op Snowshoes -- coming soon to feet near you.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Ronald Johnson, recommended yesterday by Hotel Point:

"The weather -
the criticism
- and the years.

in flowers.

in snow and ice."

To an estate call on Langley's Zero Avenue. A little wood stove-heated cabin packed with mystery pocket books (5000+).

Back home along Zero Avenue. Up over a hill, sunlit hills, bare trees, frost still on the ground.

Koma Kulshan's high white slopes.

The Nicomekl River valley.

Mount Robie Reid, brought forward in space by the cold.

Monday, February 07, 2005
Yet Another Art Review -- from this week's Terminal City

Weird Science
by Christopher Brayshaw
Aurel Schmidt
Kenny Roux
Antisocial Gallery,
2425 Main St
To February 15

Though Antisocial skate shop is one of my closest neighbours, I hardly ever go in, and when I do it's always surprising to see how large the gallery at the back of the shop really is. Two galleries, actually: one a kind of dimly-lit transitional space behind the offices with a rumbling, ceiling-mounted furnace, scuffed dark walls, and boxes and skateboard decks piled in the corner; the other the "proper" gallery, always chilly, with its bumpy concrete floor, white walls, and small, high windows.

I mention these things only because they are largely invisible or missing at other galleries in town. The CAG, the Or, and the VAG's big highwall galleries are variations on a white cube that cocoons anything exhibited within it in an air of luxurious silence and quasi-religious mystery, an atmosphere purchased from the Canada Council, provincial government, and assorted private donors. Antisocial's gallery, so far as I can tell, is entirely funded by the skateboard business up front, and the sounds of commerce that do leak back into the galleries above the whoosh of the furnace—the music on the sound system; the hum of conversation; the phone; the cash register, the click of skateboard wheels on the floor—underscore how precarious spaces like this really are, run on little or no money and the goodwill of staff, volunteers, and landlords. Some would say this close contact with commerce compromises the works shown there. I disagree. I think that Main Street exhibition spaces like Antisocial, Xeno, and Eugene Choo lay out the economic forces sustaining them far more transparently than your typical commercial or public gallery, and I admire the Antisocial staff both for their quixotic bravery (no business exhibiting contemporary art in Vancouver is getting rich) and ideological transparency.

Antisocial's current show pairs Aurel Schmidt's paintings and drawings with an installation by Kenny Roux. The tone of Schmidt's show is set by an enormous black-on-white picture of an explosion: part black hole, part Big Bang, part star isolated against the white field of a radiotelescope's display screen. This arresting, jagged image, which looks much like Jay DeFeo's Rose redrawn by Raymond Pettibon, is the best work in her exhibition, and none of Schmidt's other pieces come close to matching it in terms of sheer graphic impact. The rest of her contributions consist of a series of biologically-derived gestural motifs: painted "molds"; "spores"; "cells"; protozoa; chemical reactions, subatomic particles busily tunneling away inside space-time. Her drawings and paintings are aggregations of these standard units–blobby molds, big, fat earthworm-shapes built up out of graphite crosshatching–lumped together on top of each other, spilling willy-nilly across the surface of a piece of paper or a wooden panel. There are also a few watercolor drawings of jagged symmetrical forms–crystals? Big Bang residue? –that are noteworthy because of their presencelessness; they are barely there, like whispers punctuating the more cluttered works' brassy exuberance.

I like Schmidt's drawings' largely restrained color, and the quieter, more airy works, in which passages of unpainted paper or flat white acrylic "negative space" define a few well-chosen forms. It's harder to draw distinctions between the more heavily collaged drawings, other than to note that they seem to lose force the more built-up they become. The best consist of just graphite, and maybe one or two other colors—white, plus some green watercolor, the color of swamp murk, of pond scum, or seashore ooze. These drawings feel tenuous, but in exactly the right way—they carry abstraction's long history in every gesture.

In the 1980s DC comic Swamp Thing, written by British wonderkind Alan Moore, a bunch of chemicals and scientist Alec Holland go into a swamp. Out comes the Swamp Thing, a botanical group-mind trying to pretend it's a man. Schmidt's paintings seem to me to aggressively rework the Swamp Thing narrative, with abstract expressionism playing the role of Alec Holland, and postmodernism's "notorious lightning" playing the role of the chemicals liberating Holland's consciousness even as it burns his body away. Or, to put it differently: late Greenbergian criticism's requirement that abstraction purge itself of all connections to the world was not well-received by painters, who, ever since, have been trying to sneak little pieces of the world back inside abstraction, as if folding fillings into handmade ravioli. Schmidt's biomorphic abstraction is another step in this multi-decade attempt to reconcile abstraction with representational painting, and a successful one at that.

Ken Roux's light projection is subtler than Schmidt's paintings and drawings; so subtle, in fact, that I missed it on the way in, despite the fact that it was deliberately pointed out to me. But I took a good look on my way back out, and could hardly leave for looking. A huge bulky black shape hangs from the ceiling of the transitional gallery: an agglomeration of cardboard boxes, painted black and held together with duct tape. Grilles have been cut into the cardboard, allowing light from bulbs concealed inside to leak out and strike the gallery wall, where they form a series of patterns: a curiously doubled comet shape; a crystal spray; a series of short horizontal lines resembling a diagram of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Light, being free, has hardly the same provenance as more traditional art materials like bronze, or oil paint, or rag paper. This makes it easy to miss Roux's work at first, or to mistake his projections for stray drifts of sunlight leaking in through the room's high windows. But once you trace the light back to its source in the huge projecting box overhead, you realize the work’s subtlety and originality. I have never seen anything quite like Roux's installation before, and I admire it both for its serene beauty and severe economy of means.

Sunday, February 06, 2005
XAMPP -- free plug-and-play Windows-compatable development stack comprising Apache Server, PHP, MySQL, and tons of handy utilities. I'm using it to build a simple database of the overstock paperbacks, but it could be easily adapted to other uses. Find the excellent article that originally got me to the download here.

Friday, February 04, 2005
A Memo From Mr. Wilde to His Friends in the Academy

"There are two ways of disliking art, Ernest. One is to dislike it. The other, to like it rationally."
John Latta pauses over Samuel Johnson's ingrained distaste for non-reflexivity:

"Endless admiration for Dr. Johnson’s 'instinctive revolt against the intellectually modish.' What W. Jackson Bates labels as Johnson’s strengths as a critic of literature: “his refusal to be intimidated by the spurious ‘authority’ of fashion; his scorn of the ‘cant’ of those who are conditioned by attitudes simply because they are current; his tendency to walk immediately up to the tyranny of stock response in the prevailing mode of thinking, and to push directly through it in order to see what is on the other side.” (Empty verbiage, 'cultural critique' in the form of old saw-blades whining, earnest old Panama hats, recticulated string bags of airy profundities, the usual pumpernickel and dough.)"
Rodney Graham and Kim Gordon in conversation

Thursday, February 03, 2005
Just back from the Rodney Graham Band rave-up up the road. The Cambrian Hall on East 17th transformed into the high school gym from Back to the Future, VAG techs in tuxedo shirts and spinning silver foil stars dangling from the ceiling. Guest Pete Culley reads his great poem "Paris 1919" to the crowd, then nervously launches into an exegesis of Rodney-as-songwriter via Tim Hardin and Kurt Cobain. Shuffling young hipsters not getting the joke, a few of us actually trying to listen above the clatter from the cash bar. RG & Co. proceed to tear things up, the whole band tighter than I've ever seen them, RG uncomfortable as always, his vocals all Dean Wareham via Tom Verlaine. The songs just containers for great ripping Dave Carswell guitar solos. RG actually smiling by the end of it all, glancing out at the clapping hands beyond the lights as if thinking, you came! You all really came!

"We try to do things right the first time. If not -- well, just forget about it."
penny book king Norm "Froggyman" Billion , over an all-you-can-eat Abbotsford buffet lunch.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005
Received in the mail or purchased:

Stephen Shore, Uncommon Places

Haruki Murakami, A Wild Sheep Chase

Miles Davis, It's About That Time (Live at Fillmore East)

Miles Davis & Gil Evans, Miles Ahead

Greg Egan, Diaspora

Tuesday, February 01, 2005
100K Club -- cjb & Team Cat

Another Tuesday in the mountains. Seabus to the upper Skyride station on Grouse Mountain, the greatest elevation gain to date, a link-up of several previous routes. Up Lonsdale around 1pm, a lazy start in spring sunshine. Violet crocuses like glowing mushrooms in the grass in Victoria Park. Terrific cake doughnut at the little bakery and deli beside the Queen's Cross Pub, no appreciable change from the 1970s recipe I used to occasionally enjoy on the way to or from Poorly Socialized Kids Camp in Lynn Valley. Up to the top of Prospect Road, then down across Mosquito Creek and back up the other side to the top of Skyline Drive. Then straight up the Cut, 1800-odd feet of 18%+ grade, spitting me out, puffing and sweaty, beside the lower chairlift. Into the woods on Simic's Trail, a newish (2003) trail that switchbacks up to the lodge, just far enough to the west of the ski run to obscure the lift's visibility. Lots of neat little bridges and ladders here and there, a mountain bike trail built for hikers!

Snow sifting unexpectedly down at twilight. From the Skyride, a clear view of a wall of white, slowly making its way down over the Lions and across Capilano Lake. Total elevation gain, 1111m.

(Thinking back, it occurs to me that the first time I ever climbed the Cut was with a group from Poorly Socialized Kids Camp in 1977 or thereabouts. Located in a Lynn Valley church basement, the camp was, I think, a recommendation of Dr. Lum, the child psychologist I was seeing at the time. I didn't make any permanent friends, and was expelled once or twice for impatience with the team-based road racing game and the obligatory Friday night floor hockey scrimmage in the elementary school gym across the street, but, all things considered, camp definitely had its moments, including the hiking trips up Grouse and (more frequently) to Lynn Canyon Park, and the slowly-dawning realization that, poorly socialized and eccentric as I was, I was still light years ahead of many other participants. And, having climbed Grouse once, and having been in front all the way, I could hardly wait to do it -- or something like it -- again).

Parrish in Paris -- 2 hour free mix set from prolific DJ Theo.

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