Monday, October 31, 2005
Someone writes to let me know that Londonbeat is still alive and thriving in Germany, of all places, and encloses a copy of the group's other early 90s Top 100 hit, Come Back. Thanks!

Though I did not remember until I heard its opening bars, this song, on the Air Canada inflight sound system, serenaded me on my return from Scotland to Canada in 1995, as the plane shuddered and bucked its way above Greenland and the Northwest Territories in the worst clear-air turbulence I've ever experienced on a commercial flight. People praying, luggage tumbling from the overhead bins, a stewardess noisily throwing up in the rear.
Jack Chick Comics Come to Life -- thx dru!

"We are plunged into sudden darkness. Out of no-where, actors in devil costumes grab us by the shoulders and throw us into upright coffins. The doors slam shut and won't open. Someone is cowering next to me in my coffin, but it's too dark to see who it is. The heavy-metal soundtrack is cranked up to maximum volume, the devils start beating the coffins with sticks and laugh manically that we are on the way to eternal damnation.

Some of my fellow Hell Housers lose it completely.

'Get me out of here! Get me out of here!' screams a girl a couple of coffins down. 'Don't worry, Sarah,' one of her friends shouts above the din. 'We're Christians, we're going to heaven!'"
Happy Hallowe'en -- fun low-tech timewaster
Sunday, October 30, 2005
A late night gift: Gillian Rose's great final work, Mourning Becomes the Law (Cambridge UP, 1996)

"Previously, modern philosophical irrationalism was seen retrospectively by philosophers and historians as the source of the racist and totalitarian movements of the twentieth century. Now, philosophical reason itself is seen by postmodern philosophers as the general scourge of Western history. To reason's division of the real into the rational and the irrational is attributed the fatal Manichaeism and imperialism of the West.

This decision by the intellectuals that reason itself has mined modern life, and should be dethroned and banned in the name of its silenced others, is comparable to the decision to stop small children, girls and boys, from playing with guns, pugnacious video games, or any violent toys. This brutally sincere, enlightened probity, which thinks it will stop war and aggression, in effect aggravates their propensity. This decision evinces loss of trust in the way that play (fairy stories, terrifying films) teaches the difference between fantasy and actuality. The child who is able to explore that border will feel safe in experiencing violent, inner, emotional conflict, and will acquire compassion for other people. The child who is locked away from aggressive experiment and play will be left terrified and paralyzed by its emotions, unable to release or face them, for they may destroy the world and himself or herself. The censor aggravates the syndrome she seeks to alleviate, she seeks to rub out in others the border which has been effaced inside herself.

Philosophers who blame philosophy for the ills of civilization have themselves lost the ability to perceive the difference between thought and being, thought and action. It is they who expunge the difference between fantasy and actuality, between the megalomania projected on to reason and the irreverent forces which determine the outcome of actual conflicts. They have inflated the power of philosophical reason, conferring on it a supposititious dangerous potency. It is the philosophers, not reason, who thereby degrade the independence of political realities and contingencies. Terrified of their own inner insecurity at the border between rationality and conflict, between the new academic political protestantism and politics as the art of the possible, they proceed as if to terminate philosophy, to abolish or to supersede critical, self-conscious reason, would leave us resourceless to know the difference between fantasy and actuality, to discern the distortion between ideas and their realization. It would prevent the process of learning, the corrigibility of experience. This ill-will towards philosophy misunderstands the authority of reason, which is not the mirror of the dogma of superstition, but risk. Reason, the critical criterion, is for ever without ground."

MacArthur Park, Los Angeles

I will take my life into my hands and I will use it
I will win the worship in their eyes and I will lose it...


Untitled (Black Plastic), 2005
ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing): Rubbery early 90s synth bass (viz. Londonbeat, I've Been Thinking About You)

"As I was driven past the impressive gates and white-brick walls of the university and down to the ground, I was welcomed by some early-'90s pop music blaring out of the speakers. 'Ice Ice Baby,' by Vanilla Ice, was first up, followed by that old classic - and personal favourite - 'I've Been Thinking About You,' by cheesy crooners London Beat. Perhaps they knew I was coming.

If the tunes were a bit behind the times, then so was the ground - but in a refreshing way. My first impression was of a less-loved version of the Getty ground at Wormsley, with its nearby slopes and open spaces. But instead of green fields, here it was football pitches, and a collection of unfeasibly skinny cows and goats."


The Look of Love
Words & music by Burt Bacharach
Performed by Dusty Springfield

The look of love
Is in your eyes
The look your smile can’t disguise
The look of love
Is saying so much more
Than just words could ever say
And what my heart has heard
Well it takes my breath away

I can hardly wait to hold you
Feel my arms around you
How long I have waited
Waited just to love you
Now that I have found you

You’ve got the look of love
It’s on your face
A look that time can’t erase
Be mine tonight
Let this be just the start
Of so many nights like this
Let’s take a lover’s vow
And then seal it with a kiss

I can hardly wait to hold you
Feel my arms around you
How long I have waited
Waited just to love you
Now that I have found you
Don’t ever go

I can hardly wait to hold you
Feel my arms around you
How long I have waited
Waited just to love you
Now that I have found you
Don’t ever go
Don’t ever go
I love you so
Funky NASA

Dru forwards another 73 seconds of Saturn jamming with Sun Ra up in heaven

Untitled (Chainlink), 2005. Public edition: private collection, Victoria, B.C.
Friday, October 28, 2005
Home on the express bus, dark rain pelting the windows. Half the bus in costume: zombies (lots), Saddam (ditto), a guy wearing a silver spray painted cardboard box with the words, "NORTHERN IRELAND," stencilled on it, and peculiar-looking fins.

"Whereya from?"


"You IRA? Gonna blow us all up?"

"Fuck naw. I'm the first Irishman in space."

"Want to sit down?"

"I don't think I can."

Catwoman via Dita von Teese beside me: piled-up yellow hair, leather cat ears, burglar mask, leather bustier with buckles, PVC pants (more buckles), Frankenstein fetish boots (ditto) and six inch rubber soles. And a half-smoked cigarette, actually a fake cigarette, a prop, held between her black-gloved fingers.

The young Middle Eastern guy in the seat ahead of us kept glancing back and gawking. At first I assumed his glances were meant for Catwoman, but upon hopping off downtown it became apparent that the real target of his half pissed-off, half amazed glances was actually the goofball dressed up as the Koran, seated directly behind us.

Curious trees, Island Tip trail
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Jacket #28, featuring a special George Bowering tribute, and three new poems. This summer, George read the second poem, "Q&A," to sixty-odd people in Pulpfiction's front room. There is a great Chris Clarke photograph of George squinting at his typescript permanently installed at the head of the Poetry & Drama section.

From "Q&A":

"What’s the score?

All I can tell you, little fish,
is that you are not winning. Your chance of winning
is zero. Follow your heart if you like­­
it’s not going anywhere. The game, if that’s
what it is, is as good as over. You don’t want
to know the score."
That Little Blue Button at the Bottom of the Page

I recently installed a stats tracker in order to conduct a subjective and thoroughly unscientific survey of the readership. So far the best thing about the program is the list of Google keyword searches that (mis)direct the innocent here, eg.:

• "Price of toothpaste early 1900s"

• "Buffett and Fisher approach to company and industry analysis - oil industry"

• "Short punchy sentences"

• "Failing to levitate in the studio"

• "Ron Terada + birds"

• "How to draw a dragon"

& my personal favorite:

• "Drowning due to hornets"
Back to Delta to see what a non-monochromatic cement factory might look like. Lots of texture in the sky, and heavy traffic on River Road, loaded semis slamming by, blatting their air horns just for fun. Flocks of Canada geese making regular arrivals and departures out on the river. No pictures to speak of, the factory's plume inert at mid-day.

To Deas Island Regional Park. Along the shore-edge, past sunken cables, the rumble of seiners' engines offshore. A thick carpet of alder leaves on the trails, the trees' sharp, sweetish smell heavy in the air. Joggers, dog-walkers, two guys with clipboards discussing a real estate deal.

Inverted yellow leaves on the face of the scummy slough between the dyke and the parking lot.

Pale autumn sunlight coming and going across the playing field. Hurrying shadows.

An abandoned power mower, stalled in the grass.

Kubota Mower, Deas Island Regional Park, Delta, B.C. (Study after Stephen Shore)

Untitled (Encircled Trees), 2005
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Peter Schjeldahl, Life Study No.5:

We turn the pages of the book of poems
But our pleasure is short-lived: the poems
Are by a terrible poet. For this
We have paid two dollars and forty-five cents!

Construction hoarding, Video In Studio, Main Street
Full-on fall, leaves half-gone on the trees outside. Wind out of the east, snapping the British and Canadian flags to attention over Planet Bingo. Overcast. North Shore mountains hidden by low grey cloud. Threatening rain. Yesterday by contrast crystal-clear, distant mountains brought forward by effects of atmosphere. The Skytrain executes its long slow curve above the New West Jewish cemetery, the Fraser delta spread out below, sunlight gleaming on rows of new Toyotas and Nissans ranked along the docks, the Alex Fraser's taut black cables, smoke-smudge at the border. A 747 lumbers west, flaps down, landing gear extended. To Surrey, George R.R. Martin's warring families in tow, with RevCan paperwork. People coming and going through the train car, rustle of coats and packs. Warm sunlight on my face, blinding. The slowly unspooling afternoon.
Monday, October 24, 2005
Paul Strand, courtesy Mr. John Latta:

"The history of photography . . . is almost entirely a record of misconception and misunderstanding, of unconscious groping, and a fight. The record of its use as a medium of expression reveals for the most part an attempt to turn the machine into a brush, pencil, whatnot; anything but what it is, a machine. Men and women, some who were painters, others who were not, were fascinated by a mechanism and material which they unconsciously tried to turn into painting, into a short cut to an accepted medium. They did not realize that a new and unique instrument had been born of science and placed in their hands; an instrument as sensitive and as difficult to master as any plastic material, but requiring a complete perception of its inherent means and of its own unique approach, before any profound registration was possible."
Sunday, October 23, 2005

Camille Pissarro, Factory Near Pontoise, 1873

I think Robert Linsley first mentioned this little painting to me. You can see some Robert, circa 1990, in the grey portions of the clouds, and also in the bank's varied greens and browns, which makes me think that both Pissarro and Robert knew Corot's sketch paintings of the 1820s (for more detailed proof, and visuals, see Peter Galassi's Corot In Italy (Yale UP) now sadly out of print and unavailable unless you, like me, see nothing wrong with spending $150+ on research materials).

According to T.J. Clark, in 1873, the factory was a new presence in the landscape. Pissarro's painting is consequently an exploration of how far the landscape genre will "stretch" -- will or will it not admit this stubby, smoking intruder? It seems to me that the genre admits the factory without difficulty or comment, and that part of this success is the result of Pissarro's withholding how he feels about the little building, in favor of simply depicting it. I like this attitude; I think its opposite, the modern belief that a work of art should clearly and directly communicate how its creator feels about a subject, is both presumptuous and dangerous. Good art deflects intention.

View North from River Road, Delta, B.C. (Study after Camille Pissarro)

ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing): HPL's bookplate

Walk on By
Words and music by Burt Bacharach (though this cool foggy morning it's Isaac Hayes' splendid long electric version on the office deck)

If you see me walking down the street
And I start to cry each time we meet
Walk on by, walk on by

Make believe
that you don't see the tears
Just let me grieve
in private 'cause each time I see you
I break down and cry
And walk on by (don't stop)
And walk on by (don't stop)
And walk on by

I just can't get over losing you
And so if I seem broken and blue
Walk on by, walk on by

Foolish pride
Is all that I have left
So let me hide
The tears and the sadness you gave me
When you said goodbye
Walk on by
and walk on by
and walk by (don't stop)

Walk on by, walk on by
Foolish pride
Is all that I have left
So let me hide
The tears and the sadness you gave me
When you said goodbye
Walk on by (don't stop)
and walk on by (don't stop)
and walk by (don't stop)
Friday, October 21, 2005
Hadley and Maxwell reflect on Derek Brunen's Sold:

"The sign of the red 'sold' dot is a stamp of approval, a trace of a collector’s taste applied alongside an artwork. It is the intermediary mark of the dealer’s hand applying an aesthetic element to the display, marking the event of a legitimation of property authorized by a client. In this sense, the sold dot is a trace left in the passing through of propriety itself – a lacuna of property. The sold dot is a conspicuous display of an anonymous endorsement, which, these days, is a generic and familiar place-holder of relation. The sold dot is a sign of success: something worthy has been exchanged, acquired, understood; someone has been touched, moved, convinced, intrigued, flattered, cajoled, or pressured; someone else has been congratulated, encouraged, complimented, supported, annoyed, insulted. The sold dot marks a series of invisible transactions expressed in a number of languages (monetary, verbal, visual, ideological) set up by an economy of art. Neighbour to the artwork, the sold dot announces a constellation of subjects who are successfully enacting this economy."
Thursday, October 20, 2005

Untitled (Vanilla Latte), 2005 (alteration by SGB). Destroyed.

Philip K. Dick Cover Art Gallery -- thx Pete! Though most Daws are common as dirt, and through Scanner remains my all-time favorite novel, I have never actually seen a copy of this particular edition.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Record scores from Nugget's Used Books, Vedder Road, Chilliwack:

Lester Young, Just You, Just Me (Parker)
Isaac Hayes, Groove-a-Thon (ABC, with fold-out poster)
Isaac Hayes, Live at the Saraha Tahoe (Enterprise, 2LP set)
Stevie Wonder, Music of My Mind (Motown)

Neil Stadt's tiny, perfect shop is -- since Hermit burned down this spring -- my favorite used book and record haunt anywhere in the Lower Mainland. Well worth the drive out from Vancouver, even if you're not going to the Rotary Club book sale at the Cottonwood Mall.

Steven Tong, Derek Brunen & 16 oz. friend

Simon Fraser University in blowing fog and rain. Bill Jefferies tipped me off to the United Way university book sale, and John Preston, the Subaru and I braved nonexistant visibility and the Arthur Erickson-designed warren of concrete hallways that passes for the building's Student Union wing to find it. A kind of spooky feeling crossing the open quadrangle, as if at any moment some huge scaly half-bird, half-lizard might materialize, shrieking, from the sky.

Derek Brunen: Sold
CSA Space
#5 - 2414 Main Street
Opening Friday October 21, 2005 6-9pm sharp
Curated by Steven Tong


Untitled (No), 2005. Destroyed.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
What's up with all the photographs?

I've been trying to make pictures since university, mainly as a way of studying the work of photographers I admire (Stephen Shore; Walker Evans; Jeff Wall; Hill & Adamson). Pre-digital technology and I never got along, owing to the expense involved in shooting and printing 200+ mediocre pictures just to claim one good one. Digital photography has rendered most of these economic issues irrelevent; with the advent of lithium batteries and 1G cards, pictures just became, for all intents and purposes, free.

So are you an "artist" now?

No. I still see myself as a critic and curator who makes pictures as part of that practice, much like Michael Fried or Peter Schjeldahl, who primarily work as critics, but also write and publish poetry from time to time. One thing inflects the other. And I have always admired people like Donald Judd, Dan Graham, Robert Smithson, and Ian Wallace, whose art really can't be seperated from their writing, curating, gallery managing, polemicizing & etc.

What format are these works?

C-type prints from digital files, approx. 11" x 14", editions of 2.

Editions of 2? Isn't that just another name for an unique luxury object?

No, it's a way of short-circuiting the art market all together, of seeing whether or not images proposed as "art objects" can circulate outside of the established "artist-run center" / commerical gallery schism that dominates Canadian art production and dissemination. This way, I retain a copy, and anyone who really wants one gets one, but no easily reproducible "product" exists, complicating the work's entry into your typical market economy.

Any picture on the blog that isn't titled and dated is just a snapshot, sketch, or footnote, and is not neccessarily claimed by me as art.


Amanita muscaria reposing by the river, Sapperton, B.C.

Untitled (Wrinkled Plastic), 2005. Destroyed.

Untitled (Paper Products), 2005. Destroyed.

Rail trestle and Fraser River, Sapperton B.C.

Columbia Street, New Westminster, B.C., 2005. Destroyed.
RSS Site Feed

A few people have asked after one, as the link at the bottom of the page is still apparently hooked up to "PulpBook," my first hesitant step into the blogosphere, and I can't seem to alter it.

Try in the reader of your choice, and let me know of any problems.
Slant fall light, rain diminished overnight and gone, only intermittent damp patches remain now on the pavement, leaves plastered in fast-evaporating puddles like the construction-paper silhouettes in the windows of the Arbutus Street school.
Monday, October 17, 2005

Burning my indie hipster credibility at the speed of light: Barry and Barb's Guilty, pulled out of a stack of tapes dropped off this afternoon and popped on the deck as soon as the last paying customer departed. Buy me drinks and take me out to karaoke and I may surprise you by singing Guilty's dual leads, or What Kind of Fool.
Sunday, October 16, 2005

Summer Wages -- my dad's all-time favorite song
Words by Ian Tyson, music by Ian & Sylvia Tyson

Never hit 17 when you play against the dealer
For you know that the odds won't ride with you
And never leave your woman alone when your friends are out to steal her
Years are gambled and lost like summer wages.

And we'll keep rollin on 'til we get to Vancouver
And the woman that I love who's living there
It's been 6 long months and more since I've seen her
She may be gambled and gone like summer wages.

In all the beer parlors all down along Main Street
The dreams of the seasons are all spilled down on the floor
All the big stands of timber just waiting for falling
And the hustlers sitting watchfully as they wait there by the door.

So I'll work on the towboats in my slippery city shoes
Which I swore I would never do again
Through the worst fogbound straits where the cedars stand watching
I'll be far off and gone like summer wages.

Ah, she's a woman so fine I may never try to find her
For good memories of what we had before
They should never be changed for they're all that I'll take with me
Now I've gambled and lost my summer wages.

Years are gambled and lost like summer wages.

ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing): Wordless 70s Pop

Lai le lai, lai le lai, lai le lai lai lai...

(Andy Gibb's (Love Is) Thicker Than Water, 2:29 - 4:15, fizzing and crackling through the Subaru's ancient speakers. Mist on the windshield north of Mount Vernon, cardboard bins of pocket books creaking comfortably on the back seat, black coffee in the driver's coffeeholder, Rose T. Cat riding alongside)

(Image: Pine Street, Seattle, WA. Repurposed Soviet agitprop; young Columbia MFA striding bravely toward Mary Boone's reception desk)

Saturday, October 15, 2005

"Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we."

"Thomas explained the 1.3-million-member church, if given the opportunity, would warmly receive Barney, Big Bird, Tinky Winky, Clifford the Big Red Dog or, for that matter, any who have experienced the Christian message as a harsh word of judgment rather than Jesus' offering of grace."
ACTs (Aesthetically Claimed Things): The Flaming Lips' videos Psychic Wall and Mr. Ambulance Driver

(choose the "video" tab & pick your preferred speed)
Friday, October 14, 2005

Whatever happened to images, 'cause now they're gone
And wornout phrases just keep a-hangin' on...
"I think all of these things are to do with composing. What you compose with is neither here nor there, you compose with words, or you compose with stone plants and trees, or you compose with events; the Sheriff’s officer, or whatever. It is all a matter of composing and ‘order’."

--Ian Hamilton Finlay, poet, landscape architect, and exemplary artist-in-general, in conversation
Still attempting (viz. Stark) to answer this question, which I put to myself last night:

"How do I know if something [eg., an artwork] I haven't previously seen is good or not?"

I spent an hour and a half and the better part of a third of a bottle of J&B trying to work out a simple, non-PhD. style answer. No solution yet.
Rain threatening all day. Clouds high enough to the east that mountains along the northern edge of the Fraser Valley are visible from the Granville Street bridge, row after snow-capped serrated row under sunlight leaking in through a hole somewhere above Mission.

Leaves knocked down in the gutter like bran flakes left to soak too long in the sink.

A walk down to the Lab.

Frances Stark in my head all day -- brave, fractally complex work made with the scarcest of means: paper, tape, pins, an old purple mimeograph machine.

Reading Agamben's Man Without Content, and a catalog, Mel Bochner: Photographs, inexplicably found on the VAG's 50% off sale rack.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005

View at Bellingham, WA (Study after Stephen Shore)

Run-off, West Champion Street, Bellingham, WA

Whatcom Museum parking lot, Bellingham, WA

The Incredible Talking Cats at home

Untitled (Grid & Mirror), 2005
Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Study for Self-Portrait as Michael Snow, as Rodney Graham, as Ron Terada
Monday, October 10, 2005

To David Cronenberg's A History of Violence.

I had been expecting a fast paced hardboiled crime film, something along the lines of Reservoir Dogs. History actually turned out to be a metaphysical black comedy employing motifs derived from hardboiled film to striking effect. Cronenberg is a much better director than I remembered; many of his shots reminded me of pictures by Philip-Lorca DiCorcia and William Eggleston, and at some point I quit watching the film as a film and started thinking of it more as a succession of moving art photographs. A peculiar way to watch a movie, but one that worked for me. And Viggo Mortensen deserves an Academy award for the way his accent and body language shift almost imperceptibly between family man "Tom" and psychopathic hitman "Joey."
Sunday, October 09, 2005
Washington SR 9
Saturday, October 08, 2005
A pretty spectacular pileup on I-5 made me late for Zadie Smith's reading. I scooted downstairs at Elliott Bay only to find the cafe packed, standing room only. So I squeezed a chair into a corner and hung my head around the door as the alternately droll & articulate Ms. Smith discussed her favorite writers (George Saunders; Hillary Mantel); the nature of literary celebrity in the UK; an uncomfortable stint in Jamaica as a "visiting writer" on the Jamaican government's tab, & etc.

"Please form a line behind me for the signing," said the woman next to me, holding up her hand.

"Haw," I said. "As if."

"Who should I make it out to?", queried Zadie, who'd popped up at the table while I was still trying to get my head around going from being fifteen minutes late to first in line.

"There's a whole room of people waiting," I said, "Plain signatures are fine, thanks very much."

Zadie Smith eyeballed me, pursed her lips, seized On Beauty's Brodart between thumb and forefinger. "Are you collector?"

"I'm a book reader," I said, "and I admire yours a lot. They've kind of restored my faith in realistic fiction. I drove down from Canada just to meet you."

"Thanks," said a smiling Zadie Smith, and signed my copy of On Beauty with a flourish.

Nookachamp Hills Planned Residential Community, SR 9, Big Lake, WA.

Untitled (White Jug), 2005
Friday, October 07, 2005

Smashed Tote, SR 9, Skagit County, WA, 2005

The Whatcom County Museum reposing in the sunshine, downtown Bellingham. Dour Mr. Henderson's amazing bookstore is just out of the picture, half a block up on Grand Avenue. Today's scores: White Teeth, US HC 1st, signed later that afternoon by the laconic Ms. Smith; John McPhee, Basin & Range US HC 1st; Table of Contents US HC 1st. I then sat with the second part of McPhee's recent New Yorker essay on coal trains over blueberry pancakes at the Little Cheerful, the nicest small cafe anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.
Thursday, October 06, 2005
Off to Seattle in the morning for a two-part reading by Zadie Smith, one of the only living novelists under 40 who doesn't seem interested in reproducing the McSweeney's house style. Her latest, On Beauty, has been tagged as Forsterish on the basis of her pilfering its plot from Howard's End, but I think a more accurate comparison is actually George Orwell and his taut unvarnished sentences. At any rate, her work's given me a lot of pleasure, and these dark October days, pleasure is well worth the 3-hour drive down the dripping grey I-5 to Pioneer Square.
Shark vs. Octopus

courtesy Mr. James Nadiger. I won't give away too much, but things don't go well for the man in the grey suit.
I went back to North Burnaby for a second day of shooting. Overcast, a little light rain falling. Someone had turned the suitcase around and added a few extra bags to the top of the bin. The foreground trees have grown up considerably, obscuring most of Burrard Inlet; for greater accuracy you'd either need a view camera or a scissor lift.

Out along the Barnet Highway in the rain, a mostly fruitless search for views dimly remembered from childhood trips in the back seat of my parents' old red and white Volkswagen bus.

Foreground study after Jeff Wall, Coastal Motifs (1989)

Junked suitcase, East Hastings Street, Burnaby, B.C.
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Some Readers Write

Ms. Gwynedd Pickett, London, Ontario:

"I sympathize about the bargain table haggling. I once had a yard sale. Once. Since then, I just take anything vaguely useful down to Goodwill. People attempting to haggle over kitchen items marked 10 cents - I mean, you either need an icecube tray, or you don't. Full stop. (Mind you, I did sell our living room armchair to the guys across the street for $15. Which wasn't bad, considering I'd inherited it from a friend of mine who left it on our porch because she couldn't get Goodwill to come get it, and I think she found it by the side of the road in the first place. It was nice, an old dark hardwood frame, upholstered in faded, squishy orange velvet. Probably dust mite central, but I liked it. But not enough to store it.)"

Mr. Jamie Tolagson, Powell River, B.C.:

"Liked your bit about emulating other artists. It reminds me of something my friend Chris Harris said to me once. I was trying to make electronic music and hitting walls and he suggested that I start by simply picking a few of my favorite tracks and try copying them, exactly. Try to figure out exactly what it is that the people I admired were doing.

I of course recoiled from the idea, and probably spouted the usual odes to originality in blustery response. In hindsight the advice seems invaluable, to any artist.

I stand with you in unwavering solidarity on the 'Burning Emily Carr to the ground and seeding the embers with salt' proposal. Let me know if I can be of any assistance there."

Mr. James Nadiger, Vancouver, B.C.:

"For the record, the Reavers in Serenity weren't zombies. They were cannibals. Mad cannibals in the depths of space."
On Emulation
“There are not 100 first-rate artists and many will not be in this exhibition anyway. Another of [the exhibition’s] stated aims is to 'examine the tensions between the ‘older’ generation and artists of today, especially emphasising contemporary works that can be conceived of as quotations and fragments.' These are virtually slogans, and ‘quotations’ simply appeals to the freedom to be unfree. The secret is that the artists supported are very unimaginative, very dull, very academic and ripe for institutionalization. Their absence of imagination must be justified, hence it is alright to ‘quote’ earlier work, which is merely copying, debasing the work of others.”

-Donald Judd, Bilderstreit (Art & Design v.5 no. 7/8, p.51)

An artist friend and I ate pizza and drank beer on Sunday night and talked about shows we’d seen. I singled out the recent faculty exhibition at Emily Carr for particularly harsh criticism; one or two adequate pieces (Carol Sawyer; Marion Penner Bancroft) scattered among dozens of dull and poorly conceived “art objects.” Soon I was suggesting, only half in jest, that the art college be burnt to the ground and the embers seeded with salt. Okay, said my laconic friend, if you’re a young artist, and your school is just a smoldering memory, how do you learn? By emulating, I said. Pick artists you admire and make works “after” them. If you’re any good, you’ll learn.

That sounds like a recipe for a clone army.

Not really. The work process will naturally expel any overt trace of “influence.”

What do you mean?

You make something “after” a work or artist you admire not to re-create that thing, but to study it on a microscopic level; to experience, first-hand, the decisions that went into making it, most of which won’t be visible in the work’s final form.

Uh-huh, said my anonymous friend, still dubious.

I thought I should test out my rhetoric on a day off. So I took my camera and the Subaru and went looking for Coastal Motifs, a photograph that has a deep and permanent lock on my imagination. I tried to find an image to bring with me in the car as reference, but couldn’t turn one up in the apartment on short notice.

Out to North Burnaby. It took a while to find the right site; I spent half an hour shooting at the far north end of Boundary Road, wondering why everything looked so different in 35mm, then finally realized I was supposed to be two or three blocks further east. A few drivers stopped to ask why I was standing on top of the car (A: to correct the slight curve that the 35mm lens induces in landscape images. Coastal Motifs was shot with a view camera, whose controls eliminate this distortion).

Changing light. Clouds trailing by. I worked from a memory of Coastal Motifs: luminous sky, deep “even” lighting (shot in late spring or early summer, probably at noon – no shadows). A little platform sits just below the road, which appears at the far left hand corner of the picture. I accidentally eliminated this detail, and the pictures felt forced and empty, the bottom third of the image devoid of incident. A second location, further up the road, worked better in 35mm; a sundeck at the far left hand edge stood in nicely for the edge of the platform, and the slight gain in elevation helped eliminate the pronounced curve in the mountains.

I had never really thought about the platform’s presence in the original image, but now I see how it torques the scene, pivoting it slightly off-center. It feels like a straight forward perspective-box composition, but it’s actually canted ever so slightly to the right. The sky is important; the original composition works because the high clouds seem to extend toward the viewer, instead of rolling flatly by from left to right.

I made a picture of the Subaru as the light started to fade. Dimly recalling a interview with Wall in which he describes setting up his view camera on the roof of his car to add a few extra feet of clearance from the trees, I was thinking goofy and conceptually schematic thoughts about “materializing the means of production.” Back home, another, more plausible source emerged: Kevin Schmidt’s station wagon, which I had just spent a week staring at on the Web.

Study after Jeff Wall, Coastal Motifs (1989)

Study after Jeff Wall, Coastal Motifs (1989)

Subaru Legacy at Burnaby, B.C., 2005
Monday, October 03, 2005

Meet Jack Torrence
Research for the Evan Lee catalog essay sent me back to Clement Greenberg's late writings on aesthetics, collected in the posthumous Homemade Esthetics (Oxford UP), which find him grappling with Kant and Croce, trying to tunnel his way into their thinking on the basis of his own firsthand experience of art works. This is remarkably lucid, brave writing; lucid for its avoidance of specialized or technical language, brave because of his frequent admissions of doubt and uncertainty. Received artworld opinion -- cited by Charles Harrison in his sober introduction -- casts Greenberg as an authoritarian monster, a caricature not borne out by the experience of actually reading the essays, which are full of agonizing self-doubt and acknowledgements of previous wrong turns.

Two assertions jump out at me:

1. "If anything and everything can be intuited esthetically, then anything and everything can be intuited and experienced artistically. What we agree to call art cannot be definitively or decisively separated from esthetic experience at large."

2. "If this is so, then there turns out to be such a thing as art at large: art that is, or can be, realized anywhere and at any time and by anybody."

Think about those sentences and their implications for a while. I actually shivered on the bus when I read them this morning; then I read them again to make sure they said what I thought they said. Then checked a third time. Anywhere, at any time, by anybody. The ostensibly arch-conservative "formalist" (I put the word in quotes because I personally don't believe it has any meaning, outside of the clear intent to diss whom or whatever so labelled), the champion of bizarre figures like Jules Olitski and Anthony Caro, coming right out and siding with his arch-foe Duchamp. Anything and everything. A blank canvas, carved wood, solar energy, "red," US Navy SEALs, a shark in a tank, fluorescent tubes from the hardware store, copper plate, bronze sculpture, oil on plywood, language, "oral communication," photographs.

No more craft boundaries. No more guilds of skilled makers circling the wagons.

I thought about these words all day, wandering New Westminster's streets under huge looming skies. Snow on Mount Coquitlam and Cathedral Peak and the Lions, but warm like summer down on 6th Street by the mall.

I never thought that I would derive comfort from a critic's writing, but I took some today from Clement Greenberg. Thanks, CG!
Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Serenity verdict: a great genre product. A made-for-TV movie blown up onto the big screen, but far more entertaining than, say, the new Star Wars movies, or any episode of Next Generation I've seen (which, lacking and not wanting a TV in the apartment, isn't that many, though I do dimly recall Steve Caldow showing me one featuring robotic villains in Carl Andre-style aluminum spaceships back in the early 1990s).

The cargo ship Serenity is messy, "inhabited." Writer/director Joss Whedon obviously looked very closely at the first hour of Ridley Scott's Alien, at the cramped and confining quarters of the space tug Nostromo. Serenity's pilot has a plastic palm tree and little plastic dinosaurs mounted on his flight console. Things break or fall off the ship at regular intervals; it's the science fiction equivalent of my rusty Subaru. The onboard lighting is deep and uneven, evoking Scott McFarland's cabin in the woods, as opposed to George Lucas' flat even Final Fantasy-style tones. The characters all talk in a kind of stylized fragmented prose that emerges in little bursts, as if they have to work very hard to articulate their thoughts and feelings. Their misunderstandings and general air of emotional incoherence are awfully funny; it's like your typical Pulpfiction workday, interspersed with ravenous zombies (yes, spacefaring zombies) and a nefarious assassin villain who apparently just flew in from his Othello stint at the Ashland Shakespeare festival. Other highlights include Autistic Teen Goth Girl, a truly over-the-top CGI space battle, and the film's opening fifteen minutes, which nests three or four temporal jumps one inside another, like a Russian doll. The only thing missing is Ms. Carrie-Ann Moss' delectable nose, cruel shades, and black fetish-night PVC catsuit. Come to think of it, though, none of the Wachowski brothers' characters really fit into Serenity's world. The film is a throwback to an older, slower kind of storytelling that lacks the visual polish and videogame pace of things like the Matrix or Doom. It's not great art, but it's definitely an idiosyncratic product, the work of an individual vision, made with great passion and technical skill. It held my interest and entertained me; in these respects, it's vastly superior to every other big budget movie I've seen this year.
Saturday, October 01, 2005

Off momentarily to "space western" Serenity, which looks like it will make my inner 14 year-old child very happy. The trailer was way better than any of the action-adventure films I saw this summer as part of my annual fireworks avoidance; here's hoping it simply didn't distill the best 120 seconds of the movie.
Doppelganger Magazine -- edited by my friends Aaron Peck and Adam Harrison. Basically a continuation of Terminal City's great arts coverage -- great, that is, up until the point that inept novice publisher John Kay pulled the plug.

I'll be writing weekly reviews for Doppelganger; my first, on Kevin Schmidt's projection Burning Bush, at Artspeak, is up right now, and looking a lot better than it was yesterday.

Powered by Blogger

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