Friday, March 31, 2006

Another View of the Still Creek Drain, 2006

RIP: Ian Hamilton Finlay, artist and poet

"The famously contentious Mr. Finlay began calling his home Little Sparta in 1980, partly to symbolize his refusal to compromise with the local authorities over whether a building dedicated to Apollo should be taxed as a religious or a commercial structure."

Magnolia on Renfrew, 2006
Thursday, March 30, 2006

Jeff Wall, Still Creek, Vancouver, Winter 2003, 2003

Back from Vancouver Island, I put a borrowed pair of black hipwaders in my backpack and my hiking boots on my feet and went exploring in East Vancouver. A new plan for 2006: every time I'm depressed, I'm going to go and do something I haven't done before.

Up Renfrew Street, where the season's last magnolia announced itself.

Green leaves on all the salmonberries in the Renfrew Ravine, and the season's first skunk cabbages in the marshy ground along the creek.

The smell of alder bark, a thin mulch of ragged leaves covering the wet clay bank like the cheap blanket I drew up around my shoulders in the Terminal Avenue motel.

English ivy, deep green, on the stones.

Untitled (Stain), 2006. Public edition: private collection, London, UK.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006

On the road to visit Pete in Nanaimo and Tolagson in Victoria, and to locate some Vancouver Island magnolias. Back Friday!

Two Magnolias, Main Street, Vancouver, B.C., 2006
Monday, March 27, 2006

Star Magnolia on the Corner, 2006

Up at 6am to clean the balcony, before the power washers and the painters arrived at 7am to rappel down the side of the building, rattle the (drafty and not terribly well secured) windows, and spook the stuffed cats.

A week or two ago, magnolias were the only flowering trees around. Glance down any street, and if one was present, it was as if it was hollering full-blast through a megaphone, a la Rodney Graham's marooned Mountie: "Here I am! Here I am!" Now every tree in the world is churning out blossoms and split-second identification is comparatively harder.

I'm trying hard not to make a conventional "series," ie., pictures whose only point is the identification of a shared subject. Art photography isn't Where's Waldo. Each picture has to be autonomous; if not, a lot of second-rate images will wander in over the transom under the guise of being part of the group, like those so-called friends of friends who show up unsolicited to your house party and drink all the beer.

Scott McFarland's photographs of desert plants at the Huntington Gardens, exhibited under the umbrella title, Empire, are a good example of self-sufficient pictures that also comprise (hesitantly, uneasily, like herded cats) a series.
Saturday, March 25, 2006

Sangre de Cristo Mountains, New Mexico

One and one-half wandering jews

Returned to their natural coasts
To resume old acquaintances, and
Step out occasionally, and
Speculate who has been damaged the most.

Easy time will determine if these consolations

Will be their reward:
The arc of a love affair
Waiting to be restored.

(Latenight soundtrack: Paul Simon's Shining Like a National Guitar)

When Harpo Played His Harp
Words and music by Mr. Jonathan Richman

When Harpo played his harp, it was a mystery
And all the laughter stopped back to the balcony
Chico, Chico sure to please
Now let’s watch him shoot the keys
But when Harpo played his harp all was still, still.

Well when Harpo played his harp it was a dream, it was
Well if someone else can do it, how come nobody does?
Oh Groucho, Groucho, fast as light, some talk like him, but not quite
When Harpo played his harp all was still, still.

Harpo, Harpo, this is the angels
And where did you get that sound so fine?
Harpo, Harpo, we got to hear it, ooh, one more time.
Oh Harpo, Harpo, we’re in the galaxies, and where did you get that sound so fine?
Harpo, Harpo, we got to hear it, ooh, one more time.

Do you remember what he would do sometimes
Before he played?
Well, he’d look up to the sky
And he’d look the angels’ way
Oh Harpo, Harpo, when you start, tears of joy inside my heart
When Harpo played his harp all was still, still.
Friday, March 24, 2006

Baz Lurhmann -- his rambling sentimental symphonic 1999 hit Everyone's Free (To Wear Sunscreen) on the radio today as the Legacy and I headed east on Marine Way en route to an estate call, sun coming and going through rain showers.

Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't, maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't...

Slow dub-inflected drums, chorus of voices, rambling bassline.

Advice is a form of nostalgia...

Sun leaking under the edge of a cloud. The sense of the Legacy speaking directly to me:

Your choices are half chance...

Thursday, March 23, 2006
Mr. William Gibson on Mr. Steely Dan

" Artistic collaboration is a profoundly strange business. Do it right up to the hilt, as it were, and you and your partner will generate a third party, some thoroughly Other, and often one capable of things neither you nor the very reasonable gentleman seated opposite would even begin to consider. 'Who,' asks one of those disembodied voices in Mr. Burroughs' multi-level scrapbooks, 'is the Third who walks beside us?' My theory, such as it is, about Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, is that their Third, their Other, Mistah Steely Dan hisself, proved so problematic an entity for the both of them, so seductive and determined a swirl of extoplasm, that they opted to stay the hell away from him for twenty years.

He continues on, of course, in the atemporal reaches of electronic popular culture, and I have often raised an eyebrow at hearing him sing, as I push a cart down some Safeway aisle, of the spiritual complexities induced by the admixture of Cuervo Gold, cocaine, and nineteen-year-old girls (in the hands of a man of shall we say a certain age). At which point I look around Frozen Foods and wonder: 'Is anyone else hearing this?' Do the people who program these supermarket background tapes have any idea what this song is actually about? On this basis alone I have always maintained that Steely Dan's music was, has been and remains among the most genuinely subversive ouevres in late 20th-century pop."

[For "Safeway," read Corporate Thrift Store, on whose in-house sound system, today, in three different locations, I heard (in order) What A Shame About Me, Babylon Sisters, and, finally, IGY]


Insightful Praise for Walter & Don

"Steely Dan's songs are mostly about addictive behavior - drinking, drugging, gambling, prostitution, and jazz. As a rule, I don't enjoy depressing music, but I'll take ironic realism over unfounded optimism any day. And when it comes to irony, Steely Dan delivers. These lyrics should be circulating in political pamphlets, or at least set to some sort of angst-ridden noise. Instead, they are couched in infective jazz pop tunes, many of which evince such a sparkling transcendent lightness as to be almost unbearable. These tunes are themselves a drug. Such musical eloquence coupled with such scalding cultural criticism and unapologetic narrative obscurity makes for one danged subversive listening experience."

USA loot:

Abercrombie & Fitch Big Shirts x 5
Cobra II (Gordon & Trainor)
• Robert Charles Wilson, Bios & Memory Wire
• Remembrance of Things Past
, Moncrieff translation, vs. 3, 4, 5, 6
• Benjamin Graham, Security Analysis (2nd edition, reprint) & The Intelligent Investor (Zweig annotations)
• Daumier Drawings (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
• Magnolia photographs (Sedro Woolley; Douglas Border Crossing)
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
In Chilliwack at dru's, poaching wireless internet access from the downstairs condo neighbor and preparing to depart for two days of paperback buying in the USA at the crack of dawn. Back Friday!
Monday, March 20, 2006
This guy runs a two shop used bookstore "chain" in bustling downtown Memphis, and seems like a kindred spirit. Nb. shelf-building pictures and books stacked everywhere!
Issue #5 of Doppelganger magazine, including a lengthy interview with photographer Stephen Shore conducted by yours truly, and a Shore portfolio.

Robert Charles Wilson's A Bridge of Years (1991), the best science fiction book I've read in 2006. No idea why it's taken as long as it has for me to get around to former Vancouver & Nanaimo resident RCW's smart, stylish prose; I think that I have always subliminally confused him with mediocre Canadian SF novelist Robert Sawyer, best known for his trilogy about dinosaur astronauts, of which the less said the better.

Bridge is best summarized as James Cameron's Terminator as rewritten by Stephen King and Philip K. Dick. I'm aware of how ridiculous and sound-bitey this sounds, but in this case the description is both accurate and appropriate.

Two representative paragraphs:


"During the hot afternoons Tom achieved a sort of Zen quiescence, as if he was surveying all this bustle from a hot-air balloon. Abstractly, he understood that he needed this job to eat; but he could coast awhile even if he lost it, and there were other jobs. Above all, there was an impossible tunnel hidden behind the sheetrock in his basement; his home was full of gemlike creatures the size of his thumb; his bloodstream carried benign microscopic robots and his TV had begun to talk to him. In the face of which, it was extremely difficult not to smile cheerfully and suggest some alternative ways of disposing of that troublesome '76 Coronet."


"It was hard to navigate coherently. He walked in a daze, blinded by the miraculous. The most prosaic object -- a woman's hat in a milliner's window, a billboard, a chromium hood ornament -- would suddenly capture his attention. They were tokens of the commutation of time, bodies risen from the grave. He could not say which was stranger, his own numbing awareness of the transience of these things or the nonchalance of the people he passed -- people for whom this was merely the present, solid as houses."

I admire Wilson's simple, straightforward prose, and the sympathy with which he treats even his most appalling characters, like the half-man, half-machine soldier from the future, Billy Gargullo, who stalks through the book's latter chapters in his shining power armour: "like cloth, quite golden, rigid only when impacted at high velocity. Bulging here and there with instrumentation, power packs, processing units."
Ideas for Paintings

"Still-Life with Rabbit

A wooden table is chockablock with fruit, cheese, and a glass of wine. To one side is a dead rabbit, a dead pheasant, and a dead eel. And you’re thinking, Thanks for the fruit, but, man, take better care of your pets."

Friday, March 17, 2006

Samuel Palmer, In a Shoreham Garden, 1829.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Making pictures of flowers, even those on private property, provides loads of camera-club style verbal outs:

[CJB conspicuous in the middle of a vacant lot on Point Grey Road. The lot's owner unexpectedly materializes in an expensive late-model SUV and executes a slow circle around the startled photographer]


CJB: Just taking a snapshot of this tree.

SPO: Snapshot, eh?

CJB: Nice saturated colors today...rain...leading lines..."18% grey", check it out. [Proffers camera]

[Digital-playback mode]

SPO: Why is there only one picture of my tree, and sixteen-odd pictures of logging slash and construction debris?

CJB: Um....
Awesome amphibious Japanese robot snake -- play the accompanying video clip! (thx WG blog!)
My pal James recommends Derek Kirk Kim's fine 1-new-panel-a-day-probably-forever digital graphic novel, Healing Hands.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What's up with all the magnolias?

An ancient genus of flowering trees. Magnolias predate bees! I like their strange bullet-shaped flowers, the best of which remind me of 1930s lamps. A tree that lays Art Deco bulbs!

Early flowering plants call attention to themselves in spring; all that pink and white froth is like turning a spotlight on a thing which, for the remaining 11 1/2 months of the year, disappears from view. Think of Carrie White arriving at her high school prom, or the scent of Proust's madeline. Latency.

I wanted to make a picture of a young tree that was still getting used to flowering. I found it on 8th Avenue in New Westminster, on a walk with my friend and bookseller colleague John Preston, and made its portrait over three consecutive days (A Young Magnolia in Spring, March 14). I like that its flowers are present, but unopened. When they are it will be a very different-looking tree. But I prefer to remember it this way, slowly changing from one thing into another.

The plan is to make four to six images of magnolias over the next week to ten days, and to collect them as a portfolio, a sequence of trees. Though as I hope is evident from today's pictures, the photographs are only nominally about the trees they depict, and more about flowering in place, under pressure.

Magnolia Flowering on Point Grey Road, 2006

Coming soon! John Tweed dropped off a CD-R last week of "rough" studio demos: fuzzy guitar, Wayne yowling, not much else. Where, I wondered, did all the Atari noises and the strings get to? Not far, apparently. ("Finished" evidence courtesy Tolagson and Unnamed Illicit Audio Trading Site).

Q: Why are you posting at 9:35am? Aren't you supposed to be in Squamish today?

A: Grapuel, sleet, etc.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A Young Magnolia in Spring, 2006


"A vast, ghostly cat-thing descends on New York City, bestowing on its citizens a kind of rapture."

Morph The Cat
Words and music by Donald Fagen

High above Manhattan town
What floats and has a shape like that
Fans like us who watch the skies
We know it's Morph the Cat

Gliding like a big blue cloud
From Tompkins Square to Upper Broadway
Beyond the park to Sugar Hill
Stops a minute for a latte

He oozes down the heating duct
Swims like seaweed down the hall
He briefly digs your wiggy pad
And seeps out through the wall

It's kind of like an arctic mindbath
Cool and sweet and slightly rough
Liquid light on New York City
Like Christmas without the chintzy stuff

What exactly does he want
This Rabelasian puff of smoke
To make you feel all warm and cozy
Like you heard a good joke

Like you heard an Arlen tune
Or bought yourself a crazy hat
Like you had a mango cooler
Ooh -- Morph the Cat!

He's all the talk in shops and schoolyards
Sutton Place -- the Automat
Players playin' in the Bronx
Respect to Morph the Cat

It's kind of like an arctic mindbath
Cool and sweet and slightly rough
Liquid light on New York City
Like Christmas without the chintzy stuff

So rich is his charisma
You can almost hear it sing
He skims the roofs
And bells begin to ring

Chinese cashiers can feel it now
Grand old gals at evening mass
Young racketeers
And teenage models
Laughing on the grass

Blessed Yankees have an ally
When this feline comes to bat
Bringing joy to old Manhattan
All watch the skies for Morph the Cat
Monday, March 13, 2006

Robert Charles Wilson, Spin:

"There is a predjudice imposed on us by our brief window of consciousness: things that move are alive; things that don't are dead. The living worm twines under the dead and static rock. Stars and planets move, but only according to the inert laws of gravitation: a stone may fall but is not alive, and orbital motion is only the same falling indefinitely prolonged.

But extend our mayfly existence, as the Hypotheticals had, and the distinction blurs. Stars are born, live, die, and bequeath their elementary ashes to newer stars. The sum of their various motions is not simple but unimaginably complex, a dance of attraction and velocity, beautiful but frightening. Frightening because, like an earthquake, the writhing stars make mutable what ought to be solid. Frightening because our deepest organic secrets, our couplings and our messy acts of reproduction, turn out not to be secrets after all: the stars are also bleeding and laboring."

Little blue books, from an estate collection we bought last week. "The Library of Useful Stories," c.1901. Including such fine titles as, The Story of a Grain of Wheat, The Story of Ice (pictured), and The Story of the Wanderings of the Atoms. I suspect the titles are more impressive than the actual fact-content, but still....
Sunday, March 12, 2006

You'd never believe it
But once there was a time

When love was in my life

I sometimes wonder

What happened to that flame

The answer's still the same

It was you, it was you

Tonight you're still on my mind

An independent station
With jazz and conversation

From the foot of Mt. Belzoni

Sweet music

Tonight the night is mine

Late line 'til the sun
Comes through the skylight

My pal Steve refers me to, the self-proclaimed "electronic fishwrap of the applicance industry." I love trade journals, especially muckraking ones with a good sense of humor.

Sample news item:

"Electrolux to open laundry factory in Juarez, Mexico.

In related story, 700 families in Webster City, IA are kicked to curb.

An $100 million factory for laundry products should be in full operation by the end of 2007, replacing a big chunk of a factory already in existence in Webster City, IA.

What will 700 workers do without work in Webster City? That wasn't in the press release.

Electrolux said:

'Front-load washers and companion dryers are a high-growth segment of the North American market, and the Webster City factory doesn't have the capacity needed to meet anticipated demand.'

No space to expand in Iowa?

Wouldn't it be nice to see an honest press release such as:

'We attempted in good faith to negotiate with our Webster City workers, now paid $18/hour, by offering them the more globally competitive $20/day, but they refused. Obviously the choice was theirs.'

Isn't Free Trade fantastic!!!"
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Non-Vancouver readers may appreciate some context for today's image.

Untitled (Multiples), 2006

Just back from Michael Haneke's Cache, at Tinseltown.

A year or two ago, I rented Haneke's Piano Teacher, starring Isabelle Huppert, with the idea that I was renting a black kink-themed comedy. What I saw instead, first with shock, then with mounting admiration, was a psychologically nuanced portrait of an obsessive personality, an elegantly directed modern tragedy on a par with Coetzee's Disgrace, or Richter's Baader-Meinhof paintings.

Cache moves deliberately slowly; many scenes are either visually static, or unroll in "real" viewing time, then roll back, alerting you to the static image's status as a pre-recorded thing. It's like watching an interlinked series of moving art photographs; at many points, I felt as if I was watching the before and after of a Jeff Wall picture.

Cinema hardly ever triggers an "art response" in me -- I almost always watch it as illustrated narrative, with an eye toward plot development, dialogue, etc., and less frequently for image-composition or cinematography. But Cache's steady, relentless juxtaposition of static and mobile scenes, coupled with its lack of a musical soundtrack, amazing staging and lighting, and the rich performances of Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil, prompted my close attention.

Aspiring photographers of people can learn a lot from how Haneke frames even his incidental players -- Auteuil's character's bedridden mother; the son of the Algerian boy she once tried to adopt as a young woman -- with a gaze both tender -- in the sense of "showing each character off" at his or her best, by not reflexively prejudging them -- and dispassionate, in that Haneke treats both psychopaths and innocents with equal lack of prejudgement. This has led a lot of critics to label him "cold" or "dispassionate" or "existentialist," epithets that typically get slapped on anyone who's unafraid to make their audience really work at identifying what makes their characters tick. I prefer to think of Haneke as an artist like Goya, Manet, Wall, or, for that matter, Ian McEwen: creators who do their subjects, and audiences, the courtesy of witholding their own opinions of their characters.

Calderoids -- yet another modernist coin-op mashup with real play value from the talented Canadian creators of Pac-Mondrian.
Observed Conditions, Main & Broadway

Graupel: a small white ice particle that falls as precipitation and breaks apart easily when it lands on a surface. Also called snow pellets, soft hail.

Visibility nil.

If I was a cherry tree, or any kind of spring plant, I'd be confused this morning.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Sucker window! Half an hour of dramatic sunlight and ragged skies, followed by the biggest, blackest, fastest clouds in recent memory. Invading Mordorish armies, chewing up that little silhouette of sky between the side of the Lee Building and Architectural Antiques (see Untitled (Sky) in the archives for a schematic view of same).

The rain begins again, driving against the pavement hard enough to kick up spray.
Horizontal blowing rain and sleet, the Subaru's windshield and hood covered this morning in a sodden mass of slush, as if the world's biggest unflavored Slurpee had been upended over the car.

Driving to work, late, the heater on full blast. Fist-sized holes of clarity in a windshield the color (& transparency!) of Long Beach fog.

The buses sluicing by, fantails of water showering the curb. Local budget sushi joint deserted, "I Will Survive" in place of the usual Cantonese instrumental pop-muzak.

Lemon Breeze tea with honey, the "secret stash" not displayed anywhere on the Cuppa Joe counter.

Light running out of the day at half-past one.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
LW, again:

"Sometimes the conceptual is dominant in an aspect. That is to say: Sometimes the experience of an aspect can be expressed only through a conceptual explanation. And this explanation can take many different forms."
Ludwig Wittgenstein:

"I think it could also be put this way: Astonishment is essential to a change of aspect. And astonishment is thinking."
Monday, March 06, 2006

Baron Von Raschke of the American Wrestling Association (AWA). Fond elementary school memories of apples, ice cream, and b&w televised mayhem. Or in other words, Sunday afternoon c. 1980-2 at my "Esquimalt Grandma's" -- Louisa Brayshaw, my father's mother -- in her small, neat third floor Ambleside apartment, with Inuit carved snow goggles and hunting implements -- originally purchased by her Arctic navigator husband, James Brayshaw, from their makers -- hung on the wall by the delicate Edwardian china and the long teak dining table that sat in shadow year round. Out on the narrow balcony, a sliver of the Lion's Gate and a single arch of bridge visible between two smaller buildings. Trees in bud all along Esquimalt Avenue. The thick green leaves of the summer chestnuts and the buildings' carefully manicured lawns. Her soft voice and curly white hair. And her hand at the window, pulling back the bedroom's knit curtain, to gaze down at us as we waved and drove away.

(chronological rewrite courtesy dru)
Warren Buffett's new 2005 Chairman's Letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders available here.
Sunday, March 05, 2006



CJB & ITCs: Huzzuh?

ANNOYING YOUNG WIGGER #1: Open the fuckin' door, Sam! I want my fuckin' stuff back!


#1: Fuckin' open the fuckin' door, man! I'm not kiddin'! I want the fuckin' stuff back!

ANNOYING YOUNG WIGGER #2: ...Maybe he's not home.

#1: I don't care! I'll kick the fuckin' door down!


#1: You in there, Sammy? Jackin' off?

[CJB staggers out of bed, naked under dressing gown, pads in darkness through the apartment, retrieves ice axe from the umbrella stand in the front hall, throws apartment door wide open, murder in his eyes]


#1: Isn't this...

#2: Sixth floor, man.

#1: I am so sorry...

CJB: [slams door]

Back to sleep at 6am!
ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing): The Destroyer Drinking Game
Saturday, March 04, 2006
Lengthy interview with Donald Fagen (edited to remove copious misspellings, grammatical mistakes, etc. in the moreorless unedited source)

"Q: Do you often draw upon literature for inspiration?

A: Well, when Walter and I met, we-- aside from having some musical favorites in common-- we were both jazz fans as, really as kids, which is kind of very unusual, especially for that time, you know, like since we were 10 or 11 years old, type of thing. But we also had some literary tastes in common, particularly what they used to call black humor, which is not African American books so much but a dark humor like Kurt Vonnegut and Thomas Berger, Philip Roth, and Vladimir Nabokov. And although these represent a wide variety of authors, they were kind those days kind of categorized as a type of literature, which before that time one had really categorized them that way, but it was very big in the early '50s and the early '60s.

Q: Were you a fan of Philip K. Dick?

A: Yeah also...well, science fiction writers were part of that in a way, although in those days they didn't make science fiction with what they would call literary fiction. But indeed, Philip K. Dick as well as the books of Fredrick Pohl, C.M. Kornbluth, and...Alfred Bester is another one I remember, and some of the Theodore Sturgeon stories. And just, a lot of science fiction writers really are satirists--they just use the form to satirize the present, really."

Sylvia Grace Borda, 3 March 2006, 2006
Friday, March 03, 2006
Everything I Forgot to Mention (& some worth mentioning again)

Spring birds outside my window; 7am sunlight on a wall; fresh snow on the Tetrahedron Plateau. Mount Bishop's craggy white peak, clearly visible from Ontario and East Broadway. This cold that just won't die. Sour Blue Mountain tea, its lime fumes penetrating my sadly clogged head. New shelves. Sawdust on the floor. A Mount Pleasant baby's astonishing blue eyes. Dominion Citrus' reincarnation as a miniature income trust (11% yield!). New pictures at the Lab. David Sklansky cleaning up on the wall-mounted TV above the sushi bar. Steven Tong's recipe for removing white Super Gloss paint from the CSA floor. Robert Bresson's little book of aphorisms. Destroyer's rubies. You get the picture.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Robert Bresson, Notes on the Cinematographer:

"From the beings and things of nature, washed clean of all art and especially of the art of drama, you will make an art."

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