Saturday, April 30, 2005

ACTs (Aesthetically Claimed Things): Mr. Neil Tennant and Mr. Chris Lowe, a.k.a. the Pet Shop Boys, whose laconic symphonic pop has powered countless exhibition reviews, catalogs, and poems. New double album out now! Posted by Hello
Friday, April 29, 2005
I just googled the eBay address listed below, in order to better assess the suspect's feedback. Lots of glowing feedback from buyers, but just one recent feedback rating from a seller. What, I wondered, could a person with 19,347 hot books in their basement find on eBay that they didn't already own?

Kay Hooper's fine paperback original Lady Thief, for a start.

I don't make the news, I just report it, & etc.
Make Money Fast: Sell "New" Books on eBay!

"GLOUCESTER -- Gloucester County sheriff's investigators suspect they have a lot of hot reading on their hands.

They're trying to find out if any of the 19,347 books they seized from a Gloucester home April 10 are stolen. The day before, they charged Mary Ann Drake with shoplifting more than 120 books from the Super Wal-Mart in Gloucester, said Chief Deputy Mike Nicely.

An employee reported seeing her fill several plastic grocery bags with books and leave the store without paying on April 9. Drake also is awaiting trial on a charge of grand larceny in Newport News. Nicely said the charge involves the theft of books from a merchant.

After the raid at Drake's house, investigators learned that she had been dealing in books on the Internet market eBay since 1999, Nicely said. The name "nightgo" is registered to Drake by eBay, he said.

Deputies seized more than books from her home on Wakehurst Circle in the Gloucester Courthouse area. They removed four computers, 20 rolls of packing paper, rolls of clear packing tape, bubble wrap, financial records, 60 pairs of new socks and six collector-grade Barbie dolls."

Flouting regulations on the Stanley Park seawall. Photo credit:'s nomad. Posted by Hello
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Answers to your most pressing questions:

1. The bissett/Bowering/Reid reading went off without a hitch; full house of 60-odd people, and many books signed & sold. Details forthcoming.

2. The Wednesday walk around the Stanley Park seawall was unexpectedly pleasant; details in due course, and maybe a photo or two as well.

3. Yes, that really is my letter in Nationally Syndicated Sex Advice Column this week, signed just as these posts are.
Monday, April 25, 2005
Off for two days in the unseasonably warm and pleasant Vancouver spring. Manuscript, yellow lined legal pads, stuffed cats, hiking boots & etc.

Back Thursday.

(George Bowering, bill bissett, and Jamie Reid will be reading in Pulpfiction's tiny front room at 6pm sharp on Thursday evening; y'all come if you're in the neighborhood)
Here's a problem: what do you do when you're lyrically minded, write (primarily) in English prose, and don't swing? By which I mean, I've been spending day after day with this manuscript, looking back over things I once perceived as finished, thinking, Jesus, maybe it isn't too late to eradicate every copy in existence...

Two problems, actually:

1. That clause up above, "things I once perceived as finished," as plain a piece of lumber as you could want, flat pine board or off-the-shelf 2x4, read, in the first draft, "things I perceived as finished three or four months ago." Which is OK as far as conveying information goes, but then adopts this quacking tone that I detect in every first draft, and in much published work, too. Same thing with "every copy," which read, six or seven minutes back, "every copy of this." This st- st- st- stuttering tone, stating and re-stating and re-stating, just in case anyone missed the idea on the first go-round.

2. Building's an OK metaphor, so's bricklaying. Trades that consist of doing one thing properly, then the next, then the next, and suddenly there's a structure that won't fall down when you put your shoulder against it. A prose paragraph. I keep looking for admirable models of lyrical realism and coming up sadly short. Henry Green, George Orwell, the Updike who wrote the Rabbit books, Dubliners' Joyce, Zukofsky and Wallace Stevens. There are run-on sentences in Saul Bellow's Adventures of Augie March that make me shake my head in amazement every time I read them, but I don't have the showboating lyrical chops that Martin Amis repeatedly quotes in his great Atlantic essay on Augie. What's left? Compression, I guess, trying to pack each sentence dense with information, like the freeze-dried meals they sell down at Mountain Equipment Co-Op. Late 50s Miles, the way the trumpet illuminates the all the empty space around it. Or Carl Andre and Donald Judd, who wring astonishing changes out of 'minimal' materials through contextual placement, or variations of rhythm and scale. As opposed to, say, Ms. Stein and her disciple Mr. Hemingway, or their legions of sadly inbred kids' endless catalogs of "linguistic statements" which, taken together, supposedly constitute "meaning."

(One last model: Roald Dahl's short story collection The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, which, along with Danny, The Champion of the World are two books I remember very clearly from childhood, especially for Dahl's long, proto-Sebaldish illustrated essay, "How I Became a Writer", which I recall reading aged seven or eight or thereabouts, trying to figure out how its only apparent stylistic simplicity had been constructed. I've been reading a lot of Dahl lately, trying to pare Michelina's prose back into something approaching legibility, and his seamless construction of certain scenes -- Danny driving the Baby Austin to rescue his poacher father in the middle of the night; the little boy in "The Swan," tied on the rail tracks, waiting for the vibration of the oncoming train -- leaves me wide-mouthed, smitten all over again).
Sunday, April 24, 2005
Lost in the Woods? Coke Can + Bar of Chocolate = Fire

AGGRO RASCIST CRACKHEAD: Go back to your own fuckin' neighborhood!

IRATE BOOKSTORE CUSTOMER: My family lived in the east end for 100 years while your mother was turning tricks in Toronto!
Saturday, April 23, 2005
Aerial Photographs of Mount Slesse under winter conditions, by Washington state photographer/pilot John Scurlock. These terrific images impress both the mountaineer and the photo critic in me. Check out that Upper NE Buttress!

"Weather seemed perfect the morning of the 19th, so I left a detailed flight plan with Karen and departed. Once aloft it was evident that strong wind out of the NE would be a factor.

I flew to Mt Larrabee and circled just south of the border at 8500'. I then contacted Vancouver Center (air traffic control), requested and got a clearance into Canadian airspace, to remain in contact with them for about 15 min., then proceeded NE while descending, crossing the SE ridge to begin circling N/NE of Slesse at about 7500', clockwise. (I would normally circle CCW but decided to go CW to stay to Slesse's N, out of turbulence downwind of the pk).

Once in position, I verified that I was at an altitude that would provide safe clearance over the N ridge, since I would cross it each time I circled. I set power to provide an airspeed of 100 to 110 MPH, since the route is in the shade and I knew the shutter speed might be a little slow. Faster speed can mean blurry shots in these situations.

With everything set up and stabilized, I began photographic passes. The camera was set in 'burst' mode, shooting off ten or so images in about five or six seconds. I was also using telephoto mode to provide some distance away from the N/NE face. A left bank is required to get the wing out of the picture. This results in a turn towards the mountain, another reason to stand away at a safe distance. Using this technique I made about eight or nine circuits. This is the same method I have used many times in the past to get shots of certain geological features or other climbing routes."

You're Cleared For Takeoff

"'FLY!', cried Michelina.

The dragon unfurled its wings. Huge, flickering, impossible to look at.

The whistle of an incoming cannon ball.

The dragon's wings accelerated, blurring out of focus, shrieking like an airliner ready for take-off.

Rope paying out over the side.

Michelina was abruptly jerked off her feet and out of the boat. A brief freezing shock. Salt water filled her nose and mouth. A huge explosion nearby made her whole body shake, and then she surfaced again, dragged along the surface of the sea like a waterskiier behind the still accelerating dragon, and then abruptly into the air, the ocean below her now, the shattered remains of the boat scattered across the waves.

Ten feet up, then twenty, thirty, forty! She caught a brief glimpse of Lady Genevra, the knights, and their horses dangling from ropes of their own. Another cannonball whistled by. Sixty feet now. Panicked birds erupted from the cliffs in squawking black clouds.

She grabbed the rope and began to squirm up it, keeping the slack tight between her thighs, as if climbing in gym class. A hundred feet now, the island's black sea-cliffs still rising beside them, the sharp angle showing no sign of relenting. The sea and the Duke's fleet spread out far below, like tabletop models.

One of the dragon's huge scaly feet loomed above her. She grabbed for it and scrambled up behind the furiously beating wings, holding onto the rope and the cracks in its scales until she reached its relatively level back. The noise from the wings was almost unbearable, like the amplified whine of a jet engine, but it diminished as she made her way forward, trying not to look down, until she was finally level with one of its ears."
Friday, April 22, 2005

My brother, Drew Brayshaw (a.k.a. dru), on location somewhere east of the Coast Range. Dru sent me a JPEG of a dead, partially rotted-out cow this evening, likely taken not so far from here, with a request to post it. Thanks anyway. But I am more than pleased to post this image, which looks more like its subject than just about any other likeness I've ever seen.Posted by Hello
Ed Dorn:

"There is a certain critical attention mountain dwellers must pay to the phenomena of their location. . . ."

(shamelessly pilfered from Stan Brakhage's Film Biographies (Turtle Island, Berkeley, 1977), notable for its Creeley, Dorn, and Guy Davenport introductions)
Thursday, April 21, 2005
Local coffee bar, 9:45pm:

CB: ...and a large americano to go. I'm working late tonight.

COFFEE GAL: Oh? Whatcha doing?

CB: Working on my kids' book.

CG: Really! What's it about?

CB: (gives plot synopsis)

CG: That's a great idea! It's not like Madonna's book at all.
Dear Oprah Winfrey...
Apollinaire's Bookshoppe -- "selling the books that no one wants to buy"
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Fractal Dragon

"Looking at the dragon was like staring at the sun. Gaze into its eyes, or at its face, or any part of it, and you saw that it was composed of smaller pieces, and those of smaller pieces, too, the whole thing sizzling with movement, like TV snow, so you had to glance away or close your eyes, perhaps fearing that if you did not, the sight would permanently stamp itself on the back of your skull."

A little taste of things to come from Michelina. The dragon's friendly, and, though I didn't know it until this morning, when it first gazed down at the friends in their boat and addressed them, sounds like Bleak House's Mr. Tangle.
Not Noam Chomsky

Hipster in the coffee line-up, verbatim: "I have taken to writing on walls, windows and advertisements themselves, because communication has been monopolized."
Though I typically don't enjoy either appearing or speaking in public, you can find me at two different events this week. I'll be giving a brief introduction to Steven Shearer's work tonight at the Vancouver Art Gallery as part of the annual VIVA awards hooplah, and, on Saturday afternoon, I'll be having a "public conversation" with Kim Kennedy Austin at the State Gallery stop on Canadian Art's Vancouver gallery hop.

Moominland Midwinter and Comet in Moominland home with me this evening. Working on Michelina again, trying hard for that truly Janssonesque blend of comedy and menace. Posted by Hello
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
British Sea Power's Blackout, I-5 north, Everett --> Vancouver:

Welcoming the cool rain in of the astounding dawn
Watch the birds hovering over Narrow Moor
In deeper lines of deeper sleep, into the tumuli
All the pretty machinery under the sky
For you have drunk all your beer go drown your empty selves
For then you will have lost it all the last of this island

As you blackout
Blackout again
My love. . .

So bring it down, let it fall, into a drizzling bliss
Then we'll hyperventilate in the old forest
Then I will see all those things, things that can not be seen
For you have drunk all your beer, go drown your empty selves
For then you will have lost it all, the last of this island

As you blackout
Blackout again
My love
Blackout again
My love. . . .
ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing): Wessel and Lieberman, Booksellers

The beach at Fort Casey State Park, Whidbey Island, WA.

David Burns, popularizer of the "cognitive mood therapy" program for persistant depression that my doctor enrolled me in last month suggests writing potential activities, and the pleasure you think you'll derive from them, down in advance, then checking your projected percentages against how you actually feel about the activity, post-completion.

Eg., missing Port Townsend ferry, walking park beach with Gavin for an hour and a half: 18% projected versus 93% actual. Posted by Hello
Rising Up And Rising Down

William Vollmann shuffled into the dimly-lit reading room off the basement coffee bar at Elliott Bay Books around quarter after seven. A small, soft man, with strange, roughly chopped hair and eyes that point in slightly different directions. He read two chapters from his new novel, Europe Central, then took questions.

Hearing him describe An Afghanistan Picture Show as his most memorable failure did not exactly fill me, who had only brought that title, long a favorite, to the signing, with anything resembling confidence, but I wandered up afterward anyway, for a signature, drawing, and conversation.

I don't think Vollmann is a particularly great fiction writer, but I have read almost all of his nonfiction, some pieces repeatedly -- the Survival Research Labs chapter of the Rainbow Stories; much of The Atlas -- and having had a chance to talk to him I think I now understand why that writing means so much to me. Whereas the fiction is baroque and expressionistic, the nonfiction is, comparatively speaking, very plain, with Vollmann's subjects doing most of the talking, and his authorial interjections focusing on, in turn, the speaking subject, or things in the subject's immediate environment that support or reinforce what the subject is saying.

In other words, a reportorial technique that amounts to the minimization of self, and the integrity, when self does appear, to subject it to the same relentless scrutiny that he, in turn, subjects others to.

Vollmann asked me, and every other person in the signing line-up, detailed, probing questions about our signing choices. His uneven eyes watching carefully as I (& others) spoke. I have no doubt that if he were to recall, days or weeks after the fact, the signing, he would remember not only whole chunks of dialogue, but other, more telling details, too.
Sunday, April 17, 2005
Busiest day since the week before Christmas. 15 people still browsing at 7:30pm!

Packing Internet orders now, Mr. Miles Davis' Seven Steps to Heaven on the deck.

1200 pocketbooks through the door at 11:15am sharp. Plus Japanese anime porn, a big stack of Black Sparrow Bukowskis, Lemony Snicket first editions ($125 to the startled woman and her kids who brought them in, fully expecting, in their words, "ten or fifteen bucks"), Bruce Chatwin hardcovers, Kerouac x many, hardcover Ginsberg firsts (sold instantly), Zizek trade paperbacks (ditto).

I took five minutes to browse while sweeping pink confetti-petals from the blooming trees outside back out the door. And felt, for once, briefly proud. Better stock on the shelves right now than ever before.

Out the door momentarily into the warm spring night for a movie date with SGB and her all-too-briefly-in-town sister, Vollmann's Afghanistan Picture Show and the Buffett Partnership letters in my bag.

See you all on Tuesday.
Off tomorrow to hear William Vollmann read at the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle. Back late. Instant replay on Tuesday.
Overheard at the till:

CUSTOMER WITH SHINY ASTRONAUT-STYLE JACKET: Yes, it's true, it's the closest I'll ever get to outer space.


MR. JOHN TWEED (thoughtfully): I should invite you inside my brain for a few minutes.
Friday, April 15, 2005
Are You Experienced?

Evidence of "retail experience" provided in a resume submitted across the counter:

"The Columbia Renaissance Festival, Columbia, MD
Counter Help / Peasant
Cooked and sold 'Knave Sandwiches,' turkey drumsticks, and frozen treats at an annual renaissance festival -- whilst speaking with an old-English accent."
Thursday, April 14, 2005
Day off yesterday. Express bus to Richmond, several hours spent wandering round empty Steveston Village, then a stroll past the decommissioned cannery to Garry Point Park, a long spit of land arrowing out into the Fraser River and Sturgeon Bank. Snow-squalls over Georgia Straight, the North Shore mountains dark behind steely clouds, sunlight coming and going over the artificially landscaped rolling dunes and the manufactured bird habitat ("marsh") in between the perimeter trails. A tiny, very nicely landscaped Japanese garden tucked away in one corner of the park, too, screened by shrubs and almost possible to miss if you didn't look closely enough while passing by. Some guy flying a kite, or, I should say, attempting to fly a kite, Charlie Brown-style, by running with the wind, dragging his rainbow-colored payload behind him like an unhappy dog on a short leash. Tonk, tonk, crunch.

A pleasant day in a landscape made for people and animals by people who knew what they were doing. (Richmond is full of little environmental flourishes like this -- even the city's award-winning civic hall (Hotson Bakker, Architects) is adorned with waterfalls, stepped terraces, and native plantings).

Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Fake vs. True Art -- got 30 seconds for this helpful ambush-interview of a quiz? Of course you do.
Thanks, Brad Feld!

Since 2000, I've been looking for the Buffett Partnership letters: the semiannual reports Warren Buffett wrote, circa 1957-69, to his earliest investors. Roger Lowenstein's excellent biography occasionally quotes from them, speaking highly of their "pimply honesty" and a "self-searching quality" that Lowenstein likens to their being written late at night, after everyone else in the house was asleep.

Several photocopies have shown up on ebay since 2000: all expensive, all obviously hawked by sharks, and all incomplete, with one or more years' worth of correspondence missing. I kept my wallet zipped.

Last night, running the same Google search I've been running ever since installing ADSL in the office in 2002, I ran across this post on Brad Feld's blog. My pulse jumped accordingly as I composed and emailed a polite request regarding the letters' availability as a MS Word file or as a PDF.

Less than 6 hours later, friendly return email from Mr. Feld and 140 pages of text, which I'm just about to dig into.

One proviso: I will not be posting material from the letters to Anodyne, as Warren Buffett has indicated that while samizdat-style trading is perfectly OK with him, republication or resale is not. (Another strike against those ebay sharks!)

Anyone who would like a copy of their own is welcome to email me, subject to the restrictions outlined above.

Thanks, Brad Feld! Thank you very much.
Happy Birthday to Mosses From An Old Manse

Cudos to South Wellington's Peter Culley, whose 2-year-old blog is never less than interesting (film 'n music notes) and often superb (art-crit, new poems, miscellaneous "landscape notes"). One of the few essential daily reads here at Main & Broadway.

From Pete's "Book of Hugh," a few lightly-reformatted-by-Blogger's-terrible-WYSWYG-interface lines compacting all the above together:

an unseasonal squall, a 'gesture'
(as in painting ca. 198-)--
a runny mustard splat, a pig's
black tail, a little silver
hurricane, an omni-browed
Kali-- though
sleeve notes tell
a different story: puppyish
prospects considered
beneath sugary eastern elms,
exalted sleep, smeared mountains beyond
the desk, foreground's
heap of sulphur bestrides
the bridge's sexy parabola,
grainy against an edge
that is no edge
at all. Would seek therefore
a motive for its use, would
attempt unbidden
a tunnel
through the thick mantle
between us, the branch's
shadow on the shade moves
and is a bird
or isn't--too big
for a leaf certainly, though
similarly launched; inattention
fluid also, subject to
accumulation, massed
hesitations, blanks
aphasic interludes."
Cranky Proprietor

Day off. In a used bookstore somewhere in the Pacific Northwest (geography deliberately obscured so as not to identify or offend CP, who I know as an otherwise bright and knowledgeable guy).

CB + CP: Gossip, gossip, gossip. Shoptalk, shoptalk. Gossip gossip gossip.

PHONE: Ring, ring.

CP: (apropos of nothing, grabbing phone and hurling it against the wall hard enough to crack the receiver, as casually as you or I might pick up a coffee cup) I'm...not...answering...that fucking thing!
Monday, April 11, 2005
The Oracle of Omaha's Latest Riddle -- NYT writer Timothy O'Brien checks in from Omaha, with some thoughtful analysis of the ongoing AIG scandal, and some local color.

"The offices of America's second-richest man are at the corner of 36th and Farnam Streets, overlooking this city where he was born and educated and where he married, raised his children, mourned his wife's recent death and still resides.

Upstairs, on the 14th floor, a hallway in Berkshire's modest headquarters is adorned with wildlife photographs taken by Mr. Buffett's son Howard. Trinkets from Berkshire companies and investments fill a glass case in a small, quiet waiting room: a toy dog with a copy of The Buffalo News in its jaws; two dolls dressed in Victorian clothing and holding See's candies; toy race cars stamped with the logos of Geico Insurance and Fruit-of-the-Loom; a small bottle of Coca-Cola; a Wells Fargo stagecoach. One shelf displays a red and white University of Nebraska football helmet, signed by the players. A little plaque on another shelf advises that, 'A fool and his money are soon invited everywhere.'"

Sunday, April 10, 2005
Astronomy Picture of the Day
Exchange at the counter:

STAFF: Okay, that book's on its way up from Kits for you. What's your name?

CUSTOMER #1: Sunshine.

CUSTOMER #2: Is your name really Sunshine?

CUSTOMER #1: Uh...yep.

CUSTOMER #2: I'm Rain, like the weather. Pleased to meet you, Sunshine.
Stephen Shore at Houk Gallery, NYC -- 4 pages of thumbnail images from Uncommon Places, not the world's best reproductions, but a representative sample of this terrific extended series.
Friday, April 08, 2005
Not Christopher Williams

Brochure text for my friend Chris Williams' exhibition at Xeno Gallery across the street. Not the LA-based conceptual artist of the same name, though frequently mistaken for him.

Chris Williams In & Outside The Studio
by Christopher Brayshaw
(AM radio edit)

I first met Chris Williams when I moved into Mount Pleasant in June 2000. A year or two later I saw an exhibition of his paintings at Cuppa Joe's 4th Avenue store, deep in Kitsilano's dark heart. I recall their striking figurative content (guns, fetish & goth culture) and their flat "graphic" look; though painted, their designs would have worked just as well as silkscreens or lithographs. Last year for the East Side Culture Crawl there were some more paintings (guns; a naked man's prostrate silhouette; collaged newspaper headlines concerning the US-lead invasion of Iraq) and an accomplished pencil drawing of the historic Lee Building, home of the artist's apartment.

The drawing was more detailed and more thoughtfully developed than the paintings; Chris' personality shone through what basically amounted to a tongue-in-cheek self-portrait. I remember telling him at the time how much I liked it, and that I hoped he would continue to develop his work in this straight forward autobiographical way, a hope definitely fulfilled by his new exhibition at Xeno.

Williams found Xeno Gallery's tiny hallway divided in half by the gallery's previous occupant, the artist Lisa Prentice. In one room he has recreated his home office with its desk, task chair, computer keyboard and monitor, whose screensaver presents an informal snapshot slideshow of Williams, his partner, and their extended community of friends. Scattered around the desk and computer are bills (student loan collection documents; a cable bill), dental x-rays promising painful and expensive surgery to come, a pinboard covered in notes and exhibition announcements. a skateboard, and, on the afternoon I visited, Williams' jacket, slung casually over the chair.

A door divides the 'office' from an improvised 'studio' space in the rear, where, on opening night, Williams will be painting, and where, for the rest of the exhibition, some of his finished pictures will be placed in storage, while more recent works, including some still in progress, will be hung or propped against the wall.

The Xeno installation elegantly and humorously defines the quandary of any young artist who was not able to develop a commercially viable practice during their time at school. It's easy to find the time for art while still a student, and less so after graduation, when adult life's demands relentlessly bear down, focusing your attention not on aesthetics, but on economic survival. The insultingly neutral language of the student loan collection notice or the service fee on the cable bill are tools designed to redirect your attention from economically unproductive pursuits – skateboarding, playing music, socializing with friends or painting – to a sustained (and, needless to say, subservient) engagement with capitalism's machinery.

Williams' installation acknowledges that one's identity as an artist is often subsumed to the more immediate demands of other roles: friend, lover, professional coffee roaster. Often, the identity of artist is reserved for nights and weekends, or relegated to the solitude of the messy studio, where the door is always closed, blocking out bosses' demands and creditors' calls and enabling you to focus, however briefly, on "aesthetic issues." Some artists come to treasure the quiet space of the studio so much that they permanently retreat into "art for art's sake" and excursions into fantasy realms that serve as a thin veneer of solace over the frequently difficult and painful world outside.

Williams does not choose this route. His studio door is always open. The paintings and the student loan documents are separated by a hair's breath, just far enough apart for each to accentuate the other. The office/gallery dichotomy proposes a life that is not always easy – no shortage of problems in art or in the world outside! – but one that is ultimately navigatable with the care and humor that Chris Williams brings to both sides of his art practice.
Thursday, April 07, 2005
Rockin' out with Mr. Jonathan Richman and seasonal affective disorder in the rain:

Love Me Like I Love

la la dum da da da lum
la la la da dum dum da dum ah oh ah oh
I want people to love me like I can love
want people to love me like I love

I want to open up my lunch box
and find a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in there
just like when I was 6 years old and someone loved me
oh loved me oh loved me like I love

bum bum bum
da da dum dum da da dum dum
la la la, la da da da , da da, da dum

all right
love me like I love
love me like I love
well now when I was 6 years old I never dreamed
I would grow up to feel lonely, to feel lonely
oh love me like I love

bum bum bum
da da dum dum da da dum dum
la la la, dun da dun da da da, da da da da he
da da dum dum da da dum dum
la la la, dun da dun yeah oh yeah

love me like I love
i said love me like I love
well now when I was 6 years old I never dreamed
I would grow up to feel isolated, isolated no
love me like I love

da da dum dum da da dum dum
la la la, dun da dun da dum da da dum
dum da da da
da da dum dum la la dum dum
la da dadun, dun da da dun la da

all right
I said love me like I love
love me like I love
yeah love me like the way I can love
when I was 6 years old I didn't dream
that I'd grow up to feel all isolated, no
Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Thirteen Paragraphs and A Footnote On Adam Harrison's 365 Sketches
(extended remix version)
by Christopher Brayshaw

1. "In the presence of extraordinary reality, consciousness takes the place of imagination." (Wallace Stevens, Opus Posthumous)

2. In January 2005 Adam Harrison was still my editor at Terminal City, and we were in touch by phone or email several times a week. An artist embarking an ambitious, year-long project could reasonably be expected to tip a sympathetic friend off, but I had to find out about the 365 Sketches on the web, of all places, and from a fellow critic. Peter Culley spilled the beans in his blog mid-month, and I, along with many other curious readers, patiently waited for to load up. Then what? On the day I arrived, an image of a young man in navy blue swim trunks perched on the edge of a hot tub, water boiling around his knees. Puzzled by the picture's informality and intimate air – who did Adam think he was, Wolfgang Tillmans? -- I clicked back and forth, bringing up (in no particular order): a faucet leaking into a heavily rimed sink, a broken light bulb, an electrical cord tangled across a terracotta patio, a heaped-up pile of dirty snow, and a few others. Forward and back again. Foam patterns in the still water along a fountain's edge. Dead, drooping flowers, their orange petals almost indistinguishable on my poorly color-calibrated browser from the cardboard box containing them. Forward and back a third time. The snow again. The light bulb with its fine patina of grey dust and its snapped black wire, encased in a clear glass bubble. The faucet, a drop suspended from its tip like the tear on a seagull's nose, ready to fall.

3. The word "sketch" implies that any artwork so designated comes before, and is thus less fully finished than, the work it serves as a plan or model for. "Sketch" applies equally well to drawn or painted works, although, with regard to Harrison's project, the historical precedent that seems most relevant is the painted oil sketches of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century artists working out of doors. Quickly painted in order to represent atmospheric effects or the complex play of quickly changing light, these plein-air sketches were not treated by their creators as independent works of art, but were considered technical exercises meant to test and sharpen their skills, and often preserved for later consultation and analysis in the studio.

4. In his groundbreaking study, Before Photography, Peter Galassi argues that the plein-air sketch formed "a loophole in the traditional artistic practice, which allowed a generally unacknowledged but formidable shift in artistic values to develop. Thus, although lacking the status of high art and rarely receiving full artistic attention, the landscape sketch - particularly the landscape sketch in oil - became around 1800 the primary vehicle of a tentative but profoundly original sense of pictorial order, based on a heretical concern for the visual aspect of the most humble things." According to Galassi, such sketches present "a new and fundamentally modern pictorial syntax of immediate, synoptic perceptions and discontinuous, unexpected forms. It is the syntax of an art devoted to the singular and contingent rather than the universal and stable. It is also the syntax of photography." In other words, a new way of seeing and depicting nature, already present in the plein-air sketch, made photography thinkable.

5. Photography's inherent technical inability to deploy what Galassi calls the synthetic option of perspective (seen, for example, in the work of painters like Uccello or Piero, in whose images the "visual pyramid" – comprising the point of view and a delimiting frame – is first established, creating a "static neutral container" in which to organize the remaining elements of a picture) led photography inexorably toward the "analytical option" of perspective, in which "the world is accepted first as an uninterrupted field of potential pictures. From his chosen point of view, the artist scans this field with the pyramid of vision, framing his picture by choosing where and when to stop." The important difference between the synthetic option's deployment in photography and painting is, of course, that the sketch paintings of artists like Manet, Corot, or Degas were conceived of, quoting Galassi, "through long experiment and only gradually acquired a dominant role. In photography, the camera's inability to compose rendered the old standards nearly obsolete from the outset." Galassi does not investigate the kinds of depiction that are photography's proper business, perhaps believing that this task is better left to photographers. Harrison's sketch photographs take up this project, systematically using photography to interrogate the medium's own representational legitimacy, a task I conceive of, based on my reading of writers like Clement Greenberg, Thierry de Duve, and Jeff Wall, as fundamental to artistic modernism.

6. By making and displaying photographs at the rate of one per day, every day, for a year, Harrison seeks answers to questions almost Zen-like in their simplicity. What kind of depiction is a photograph? What are its representational limitations, if any? And to what extent can these limiting conditions be pushed back, altered, or disposed of? Each new photograph is a partial answer to these questions, partial by necessity of being a sketch and therefore, by definition, "giving the essential features without the details" (Random House Unabridged Dictionary). Harrison's project is a matrix of possible answers, with each daily image representing one or more data points. Do three months' worth of data points cluster, providing anything more substantial than provisional conclusions? For me, they provide three kinds of answers, structural ones, thematic ones, and ethical ones, which I will now discuss in turn.

7. By structural I mean basic questions of form. To date, all of Harrison's sketch photographs are "straight" pictures, made with available light and a lens. This seems self-evident, but isn't necessarily so. This is one way to make photographs, but it is by no means the only way; it excludes, for example, lensless photography (Moholy-Nagy's photograms, or Corot's cliché-verres), photomontage (John Heartfield; Hannah Hoch), or appropriation and rephotography (Sherrie Levine or Richard Prince). Harrison's methodology even excludes, for the time being, images which are not in color. Even though some of Harrison's images appear to be borderline cases (I am thinking of Grey Picture (Cloud Study) and Hole From a Camera Obscura), they still obey the rules of the representation-of-things game. Grey Picture really depicts mist, and Hole From a Camera Obscura depicts the tiny hole Harrison presumably used to make the following day's Image From a Camera Obscura. In this way, Harrison challenges the way in which we approach objects, showing us that, sometimes, a faithful visual representation of a thing will not at first appear to be that thing (So, looking back at Boy in Hot Tub, which initially puzzled me, I now see how the slats of sunlight falling across the boy's shoulder are made visible by the hot tub's otherwise invisible steam).

8. The rules that appear to govern Harrison's sketch photographs to date in no way preclude lensless photography, photomontage, appropriative or rephotography, or black and white photography from appearing in his project in the future. It is, after all, photography's nature to depict things. A Moholy-Nagy photogram is a depiction of gears and cogs; a Corot cliché-verre is a depiction of a network of lines drawn with a sharp instrument on an emulsion-coated plate; and a Richard Prince cowboy is a depiction of a magazine ad detail. All three of these examples partially conceal the representations that comprise them; though they pretend to dispense with representation all together, that dispensation actually signifies representation's complex reinscription. Harrison has so far eschewed such conceptual slights-of-hand, perhaps because for him it is simpler to believe that depiction is so intrinsic to photography that it is not necessary to move beyond it, just as the flatness of a support was, for Greenberg, a basic limiting condition of easel painting.

9. Certain sketch photographs are related to each other – Fountain and Drained Fountain, for example, or Man Stirring Latte and Printing 'Man Stirring Latte,' January 13. These pictures play off of each other; they indicate that no image is ever meant to be seen in isolation. Things change over time, and photography is capable of capturing physical changes (a full fountain; the same fountain, drained) as well as ontological ones (a representation of an event; a representation of that representation). Photography is a neutral container, a Dairyland crate of a medium that can hold 2 percent milk, or buttermilk, or records, or used paperback books. For Harrison, this is not a "problem," just information.

10. Each sketch photograph represents of a thing or a situation. Some images refer to specific photographic genres, or to artists informing Harrison's choice of subjects and compositional decisions (late Manet, for example, in Flowers on Coffee Table or Tulip Stems' deliberate, knowing quotation of the Bunch of Asparagus, even down to the tie binding the stems; or Stephen Waddell's studies of urban strangers (Man Sketching On The Sidewalk; On A Sidewalk; In An Alley)). Finally, some sketches depict photographers taking pictures (Self Portrait in a Booth Designed by Matthius Bouw; A Photographer on the Ground) or people sketching by hand (Man Sketching again!), a process which, following Galassi, laid the conceptual groundwork for the medium Harrison employs to reflect upon that process from outside.

10a. Harrison's reflections on the historical roots of the sketch form enable us to see that previous theorists of the sketch, unable to conceive of its incorporation into and transformation as photography, were wrong to conceive of it as singular. A pencil or oil sketch is a unique work, but a cliché-verre sketch or a sketch photograph is not, particularly in the case of photographs like Harrison's, which first exist as digital files, simultaneously accessible to anyone with a browser and an Internet connection, and only then as editioned prints, objects which, though presented in a gallery and destined for private display, are still subordinate to the larger project and point back at it like extended fingers.

12. The medium of photography is a gift handed down to Harrison by history the first time he ever picked up a camera. So I come to my final point, ethics. There are no preconditions on Harrison's use of photography other than those his project will turn up or uncover, and no judgments harsher than the ones Harrison will make privately, in the company of what critic Robert Hughes calls the "unwearying tribunal of the dead": those artists whose works shape and guide Harrison's production even as his works, in turn, re-read and re-interpret theirs. So: modernism again, a historical condition I do not believe it is always necessary or worthwhile to transcend.

13. Under these circumstances, the Wallace Stevens injunction I began with acquires a special meaning. If the basic conventions of Western art production and receivership are, in a sense, fixed in place, then the only thing that can save a project like Harrison's from falling into conceptual repetition and, eventually, into mannerism, is the consciousness of the individual photographer, his perception of and uninflected presentation of the "extraordinary reality" of the everyday, a reality that Adam Harrison's extraordinary sketch photographs limn and make visible. Posted by Hello

For a while, I was trying to list and comment on every book I finished, which quickly proved overwhelming and futile. So here's a short list of every monograph-size book I've actually finished since mid-January, with particularly remarkable titles indicated in red.

Buffett, by Roger Lowenstein

Origins of the Crash, by Roger Lowenstein

Collected Essays, Letters & Journalism, v.1, by George Orwell

The Algebraist, by Iain Banks

Uncommon Places, by Stephen Shore

Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami

Oracle Night, by Paul Auster

The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron, by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind

Conceptual Art and the Politics of Publicity, by Alexander Alberro

Light, by M. John Harrison

Red Mars and Green Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson

In Nevada, by David Thomson

The Weather, by Lisa Robertson

October magazine, issue 110, all 150 pages of it, especially Claire Bishop's terrific "Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics."

The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson

But Beautiful, by Geoff Dyer

The Fabulous Clipjoint, by Fredric Brown

Books that defeated me between January and March include How to Write by Gertrude Stein, LA MOCA's Sam Durant catalog, and Adorno's Aesthetic Theory.

Currently reading (on alternating days): Chris Bonington's Annapurna South Face, Aime Tschiffely's Southern Cross to Pole Star (Century Travellers, now lamely retitled Tschiffely's Ride), and Benjamin Buchloh's Neo-Avantgarde and Culture Industry.
Grey Wednesday off.

Large americano and the New York Times.

2000 words of art criticism (Adam Harrison's 365 Sketches), in longhand, blue Bic stickpen on lined yellow newsprint pad, with brief excursions into Walter Benjamin ("A Little History of Photography"), Peter Galassi (Before Photography), Fred Orton (Figuring Jasper Johns, for a Johns sketchbook quote that turned out not to be there, but I didn't realize that until I'd skimmed the whole book), Paul Auster (Collected Prose, for a Wallace Stevens quote, which actually was there) and the Random House Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (limn, sketch).


False Creek ferry to Granville Island.

Americano, and a maple iced ring from Lee's Donuts in the market, home of the best doughnuts in North America.

Retrieved an Ian Wallace photograph (limited edition: 11/25) from the Charles Scott Gallery at the art school. Lugged it home on the ferry.


Walked to Book & Comic Emporium in search of the Century Travellers Series (Arrow Books, London, zillions of titles and terrific editorial taste. The Black Lizard Books of the travel world).

Bus to work.

2000 words of art criticism revision + typing it all into the frequently crashing office computer + computer rebooting + helping John run the till.

(I realize how much this sounds like a Doug Coupland-esque caricature of a hard day's work on the West Coast, but that's actually how this warm grey Wednesday went down. Just the facts, ma'am).
Mitch Hedberg, in memoriam:

"I was in downtown Boise, Idaho, and I saw a duck, and I knew the duck was lost, 'cause ducks ain't s'posed to be downtown. There's nothin' for 'em there. So I went to a Subway sandwich shop, I said, "Let me have a bun." But she wouldn't sell me just the bun, she said that I had to have something on it. She told me it's against regulations for Subway to sell just the bun. I guess the two halves ain't supposed to touch. So I said, "Alright, well, put some lettuce on it," which she did. She said, "That'll be $1.75." I said, "It's for a duck." And they said, "All right, well, that is free." See, I did not know that. Ducks eat for free at Subway! Had I known that, I would have ordered a much larger sandwich. "Let me have the Steak Fajita Sub - but don't bother ringing it up, it's for a duck! There are six ducks out there, and they all want Sun Chips!"
Tuesday, April 05, 2005

That little yellow guy gets around! Untitled (Balloon), cheerfully pilfered from my friend Evan Lee's excellent website. UBC art historian William Wood, Mosses From An Old Manse's Pete Culley and I are all busy writing essays on Evan's photographs for his upcoming "career retrospective" at North Vancouver's Presentation House Gallery this fall. (Yet another excuse for all the cut-'n-paste that repeatedly passes for "fresh content" here at Anodyne). Posted by Hello

Nice to know I'm not the only one to take stuffed friends mountaineering (photo credit: regular jimbo) Posted by Hello
Monday, April 04, 2005 message board regular Robert Cook waxes unexpectedly lyrical:

"Where's your punk ethic, brah?! Get a lettering stencil and a fabric marker and make your own t-shirt, speak truth to power, baby!!" -- inflict damage on your least-favorite websites, with or without sound effects. Just launched "Mars Attacks" on

Tintin's shark submarine comes to life, courtesy a Cousteau grandchild (thx dru). Posted by Hello
Saturday, April 02, 2005
An exhausting but ultimately worthwhile day. 40 liquor store boxes of B-grade stock cleaned and sorted, a full set of Terry Pratchett pocket books in through the door, and reasonably good sales. Plus a walk to the credit union in the middle of the day. Cold, more like mid-January than early April. Light rain falling, and a chilly wind snapping at the street banners.

Writing a short essay on Adam Harrison's 365 Sketches, so don't expect to see me here for a day or two. I'll post the essay once it's finished.

ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing): Mr. Neil Young, musician and role model. Jimmy McDonough's Shakey the best introduction I know to Young's unrivalled independence and freedom of mind. Heal up, Neil! Posted by Hello

Powered by Blogger

.post-title { display: none!important; }