Thursday, January 31, 2008

Triple Bill
Isabelle Pauwels

Curated by Melanie O'Brian

26 January -- 1 March 2008

233 Carrall Street
Vancouver, British Columbia
V6B 2J2

Kelly Wood
Monika Grzymala

Curated by Jessie Caryl

18 January – 16 February 2008

Catriona Jeffries Gallery
274 East 1st Avenue
Vancouver, British Columbia
V5T 1A6

The World Etc.
Roy Arden

31 January -- 1 March 2008

Monte Clark Gallery

2339 Granville Street
Vancouver, BC
V6H 3G4


You love her. You leave her.
You try to achieve a breadth of vision that she has from the start.

I got Street Despair carved into my heart.
I got Street Despair carved into my heart...

(Image: Ellsworth Kelly, Colors for a Large Wall, 1951)

A Short Guide to the Consensus Curator Career Ladder; or Why All Shows Look the Same

"Any curator buying fully into the system must follow all these rules. Those not doing so are a gift from God and have a difficult life. . . .If you want a break from academic mannerism, then this locked-down arrangement must be broken open through criticism."

(thx. Jen)
Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"When a freak accident with a gas line blows out the windows of novelist Gabriel English's apartment, driving a sun-drenched billboard advertising Cuba through his bed, he is forced to come to terms with the disappearance of his enigmatic girlfriend, Nell."

(Dust jacket copy from Michael Winter's The Architects Are Here, in across the desk this afternoon)
Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Q: "So, you're still in school, right?"

A: As per the link. AACI designation = additional (& harder!) courses!

Exponential Future

Morris and Helen Belkin Gallery, Vancouver

Artworks by Tim Lee, Alex Morrison, Isabelle Pauwels, Kevin Schmidt, Mark Soo, Corin Sworn, Althea Thauberger, Elizabeth Zvonar

Curated by Juan Gaitan and Scott Watson

18 January - 27 April, 2008

Reviewed by Christopher Brayshaw

Exponential Future
, the Morris and Helen Belkin Gallery’s new survey of emerging Vancouver art, is a failure of artistic and institutional nerve. “Curators Juan Gaitan and Scott Watson chose artists working in different media whose work involved a wide range of issues to give an overview of the new artistic thinking of our time and place,” claims an unsigned gallery press release. “The curators were interested in works that engaged the complex reality of urban life at the beginning of the twenty-first century.” This thesis would make a first-rate show, but bears only passing resemblance to the exhibition Gaitan and Watson have assembled.

What’s remarkable about Exponential Future is how reluctant its participants are to directly engage “the complex reality of urban life” without the comfortable props of theory, or subjects and themes around which critical consensus has already formed like mould on cheese. Realism – the ostensibly transparent representation of the now -- has a long history on the West Coast. A mid-career retrospective of Roy Arden, on display this fall at the Vancouver Art Gallery, cogently summarized realism’s ongoing relevance to a region being razed and rebuilt just in time for the spectacle of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

Realism has been important to a younger generation of Vancouver artists, including Evan Lee, Mike Grill, Adam Harrison, Alison Yip, Scott McFarland, Jamie Tolagson, Sara Mameni, Chris Gergley, Owen Kydd, Brad Phillips, Sylvia Borda, and others. Exponential Future muscles realism off-stage. In its place it deploys works that are canny, learned, self-reflexive, and deeply ironized. Most of these pieces pair quotations from avant-gardist practices (modernism in all its guises; Pop, Minimal and Conceptual Art; “photoconceptualism”) with subject matter either lifted from popular culture, or rehearsing the by now well-trodden tropes of “the failed utopia” or “alternative culture.” The anything-goes spirit of the works on display recalls the free ranging-across-forms of another local, Rodney Graham. But Exponential Future’s works largely lack Graham’s idiosyncratic wit and playfulness. The art is learned, in the worst sense of the word.

This isn’t to say that the artists in Exponential Future haven’t previously made good work. Most of them have. But these pieces aren’t in the show. Take Tim Lee, whose videos and photographs are exemplary in their hybridization of art-historical and pop-cultural sources. Lee’s output was recently surveyed by a Presentation House retrospective that included some middling photographs and one good new piece: Goldberg Variations: Aria, BWV 988, Johann Sebastian Bach, 1741 (Glenn Gould, 1981), a two-channel video projection in which Lee, a non-musician, slowly and clumsily rehearsed the fingerings the virtuoso pianist Gould played to produce his ostensibly “seamless,” but actually patched-together-from-multiple-takes 1981 performance of the same Bach piece.

The inadequacy of Lee’s amateur performance in the face of Gould’s genius is, I think, its point: its deliberately flaunted belatedness and inadequacy is the candid response of an ambitious, historically savvy young artist who suspects, perhaps accurately, that larger talents have sucked most of the oxygen out of the arena.

Lee’s contributions to Exponential Future include two photographs, Untitled (The Pink Panther, 2092) which refer to Dan Graham’s photographs of himself reflected in his architectual pavilions, and Peter Sellers’ deadpan performances as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. These highly detailed pictures, which linger almost fetishistically over the weave of Lee’s clothes, the huge gleaming barrel lens of the camera he squints into, and his chin-stubble and hair on the backs of his hands, feel brittle and contrived; they lack the productive neurosis animating Lee’s better works, like Goldberg Variations.

The air of contrivance that hovers over the Pink Panther photographs also clings to works by Elizabeth Zvonar and Mark Soo. Zvonar’s Sign of The Times is a large serpentine stone sculpture of a huge black hand flashing a “peace” sign: a Rodin remade in Berkeley or Oakland some time in the late 1960s. Zvonar has created some major works, including a shaped-glass window for Artspeak Gallery that effortlessly stood comparison with Dan Graham’s mirrored pavilions. Sign of The Times, in contrast, seems peculiarly inert and unsatisfying.

Mark Soo’s That’s That’s Alright Alright Mama Mama, a huge two-part 3D photograph of Memphis’ Sun Recording Studios, is similarly unmoving. The two part image and the layers of color might reference sound reproduction and multi-track recording. Or not. Soo’s decisions governing his piece’s form are disappointingly un-intuitable from the physical facts of the work.

What is most disappointing about these works is their air of calculation, their reduction of the complexity of lived experience to an ironized half-nod at modernist or utopian failings. Lee, Zvonar and Soo have all made stronger works than these, and Watson and Gaitan are remiss for either not caring sufficiently about the difference between Goldberg Variations and The Pink Panther, or between Zvonar’s mirror pieces and Sign of the Times, or for not recognizing that these aesthetic differences exist in the first place.

Althea Thauberger’s projects, like Alex Morrison’s, are less overtly “learned” and more conscious of a larger social world. Thauberger’s Zivildienst ≠ Kunstprojekt is a twenty minute long black and white video projection developed in collaboration with a group of young German men. Her performers find themselves trapped on a scaffold in a Berlin gallery and improvise short actions as a distraction from their confinement. Thauberger is attentive to the performers’ micro-gestures, and her work is enriched and sharpened by the endless complexity of human bodies moving through space.

Another Thauberger piece, The Art of Seeing Without Being Seen, is a huge staged color photograph of a group of young Canadian Forces troops conducting a surveillance exercise on a CF base in
British Columbia’s Chilliwack Valley. The picture is installed in the foyer of UBC’s Koerner Library, a reminder, as local critic Clint Burnham suggested to me, that not everyone in their twenties is studying at university. The Art of Seeing is a window opening onto a larger, harsher, and more ambiguous world, one that, given the evidence of a comment book alongside the piece in the library, many UBC students, staff and faculty would prefer not to confront.

Alex Morrison’s
Giving the Story a Treatment (Battle in Seattle), consists of three black and white photographic panels depicting riot police lounging about on the streets of downtown Vancouver surrounded by cameras, reflectors, and other filmmaking apparatus. A movie about the Seattle WTO protests is being shot in Vancouver. Vancouver’s specificity is elided; Vancouver stands in for Seattle, or, by extension, for any place at all.

Morrison’s photographs are not “good pictures” by any stretch of the imagination. They are documents, which call attention to the film’s mechanisms of production, which are typically hidden from viewers. This isn’t a particularly novel insight, but it demonstrates Morrison’s awareness of art’s usefulness as a critical tool, a scalpel that can cut through ideological boundaries.

Corin Sworn contributes a suite of drawings of Summerhill, A.S. Neill’s visionary “free school.” Sworn draws well, blending high-focus representation with passages of biomorphic abstraction that recall the 1930s experiments of English draughtsmen like Graham Sutherland and Paul Nash.

Isabelle Pauwels’ The Embellishers is a video shot in two slightly different takes of approximately fifteen minutes each. Like all of Pauwels’ work, it resists easy summation. The artist and her twin sister, an aspiring actress, argue and make up in the actress’ apartment. Some times they wear plastic monkey masks. Other times they appear as themselves. Long self-revelatory monologues are intercut with winking digressions on urban development, desire (the subject of a number of recent Pauwels videos), Vancouver’s booming film industry, and the sisters’ poor employment prospects. The Embellishers is dry-witted, politically engaged, and eminently watchable. It resembles a Lenny Bruce take on the history of western art video. Pauwels’ is a realism totally unlike most other realist practices, and her simple, low-budget work towers over everything else in the show.

Finally, Kevin Schmidt contributes two works, made during a recent residency in the Yukon. Aurora With Roman Candle is a time-lapse photograph of a firework’s plume and sparkle in the midst of a frozen northern landscape. Schmidt’s other contribution, Wild Signals, is a video loop depicting gear that could easily belong to a local hair-metal band – smoke machine; speakers; colored lights – parked in the middle of a frozen winter lake at twilight. As the lights blink wildly and fake fog rolls across the snow, the speakers pump out a low-tech version of Close Encounters of the Third Kind’s famous five-note theme. In Steven Spielberg's film, a group of scientists use a sequence of notes and lights to lure an alien mother ship down to earth. Sound and light build a bridge between two vastly different worlds. In Schmidt’s video the mother ship does not appear, and the lights and music eventually die down into darkness. It’s a strangely moving experience, whose palpable sense of loss is mirrored by the many expectations Exponential Futures raises, then fails to deliver.
Snow, sleet, slush, shush, salt-spray, sanding trucks.

Feet warm inside clunky insulated climbing boots.

Day off.

To the Belkin, again, to fact-check Exponential Future.
Monday, January 28, 2008
ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing): No Kids, You Look Good to Me. As yet unreleased, but heard on a Xmas mix CD supplied by Mr. Harrison, and also over at Radio

Washing Cat. Photograph by Grace James.

Turbulent grey sky, snow flurries rolling through, Brian Eno's "Another Day on Earth" on the deck.

I'm going to show some photographs toward the end of March. The exhibition is called Into Thin Air, and the (found) image for the e-vite is above. Two sequences (Legacy; Readers), one or two ghosts, one or two standalone pictures, and two text works. The pictures won't be up long, just two or three days, but I want the experience of studying them as real objects that exist in the world, and in dialogue with one another.

Further details (including venue) in due course.
Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sample and hold
Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Never coming near what he wanted to say


Scissors, glue

Jasper Johns, Target, 1971

Robert Rauschenberg, Erased De Kooning Drawing, 1953

Tim Lee, Untitled (No. 4, 1970), 2002
Permanently altered production proof
Collection of CJB

"For Bataille, and Mauss, economic rationalism cannot explain all the practices of production and consumption. This type of approach concentrates on a restrictive economy which tries to rationalise (individual) actions from an economic rationale. For example, a person would only expend their energy on an activity if it was an economically prudent decision. In contrast, a general economy is the practice of (cosmic) expenditure that ‘go[es] against judgments that form a basis of a rational economy.’ This type of expenditure is also a practice of affirmation that 'affirm[s] that it is necessary to dissipate a substantial portion of energy produced, sending it up in smoke.’"

Recent reading. Although it may not always look like it, there's always a book or two in my big purple backpack. It's a strange comfort, the sense of someone speaking authoritatively and directly to you, at your own pace, in your own time. The King is, as always, a mixed bag: a creaky plot hooked up to some gorgeously clear sentences and several remarkable passages of stream-of-consciousness narrative. "A high haze had crept over the dome of the sky, muting the pinpricks of light on the water." Nothing special about that sentence save its clarity: a planed pine board.
Sunday, January 20, 2008

"They walk. They look at the trunk of a redwood tree covered with historical dates. She pronounces an English name he doesn't understand. As in a dream, he shows her a point beyond the tree, hears himself say, 'This is where I come from ...' - and falls back, exhausted. Then another wave of Time washes over him. The result of another injection perhaps.

Now she is asleep in the sun. He knows that in this world to which he has just returned for a while, only to be sent back to her, she is dead. She wakes up. He speaks again. Of a truth too fantastic to be believed he retains the essential: an unreachable country, a long way to go. She listens. She doesn't laugh."

I know tomorrow
You will be
Somewhere in London
Living with someone
You've got some kind of family
There to turn to
And that's more than I could ever give you

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Chris Marker's La Jetée (1962), my favorite artwork of all time. Name the protagonists!

"On the tenth day, images begin to ooze, like confessions.

A peacetime morning. A peacetime bedroom, a real bedroom. Real children. Real birds. Real cats. Real graves.

On the sixteenth day he is on the jetty at Orly. Empty.

Sometimes he recaptures a day of happiness, though different.

A face of happiness, though different.


A girl who could be the one he seeks. He passes her on the jetty. She smiles at him from an automobile. Other images appear, merge, in that museum, which is perhaps that of his memory."


Tom Otterness -- a sculptor I'm apparently not supposed to like, but really do. Seen in the bowels of the NYC subway system in early summer 2003 and recalled ever since with pleasure and surprise. Mr. Otterness knows Monopoly, Carl Barks, and Karl Marx, by the look of his puzzled little characters. (Somewhere I have a photograph of the Incredible Talking Cats among Otterness' tiny cartoon figures, amused Manhattan commuters ambling by). Recalled today via an email exchange with Jeffrey Boone, who is busily converting a previously not-so-interesting commercial gallery into an ambitious home for several of my closest friends.

Kevin Madill

CSA Space
#5 - 2414 Main Street
Vancouver, British Columbia
Canada. V5T 3E2

18 January – 17 February 2008

Opening Friday 18 January 30, 6-9pm

Curated by Christopher Brayshaw

He Loved Him Madly, 1974. Dave Liebman's alto, Miles floating somewhere above, cold wind drifting over sheet metal--

"[Producer Teo Macero] called Miles to note that it seemed like a whole woodwind section and big band could be mysteriously heard, as if Duke was somehow looking down on the session. . . ."
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Q: How come you don't post as frequently as you used to?

A: Winter depression (mediated by Vitamins B, C and D, but still unmistakably present); BUSI 121, Foundations of Real Estate Mathematics (15-20 hours a week); and, just for giggles, the as-yet undiagnosed medical incident (mini-stroke or nerve damage, jury still out) that essentially paralyzed my typing/writing hand from Sunday through yesterday afternoon. Seriously: my handwriting, never your classic up-and-down cursive, degenerated into full-on Cy Twombly-meets-Morse-code scrawl. Dashes 'n curlicues!

And, while I'm in a bitter, ungenerous mood:

An Open Letter to Vancouver's Visual Artists, Especially Those Given to Repeatedly Visiting Me At Work

Hi, guys 'n gals. CJB here, possibly the only Canadian critic who doesn't have an office door that locks. If you're contemplating dropping by the bookstore simply to update me on your career, or conspicuous lack thereof, please think again. And if you're planning to ask me to write an (inevitably unpaid) review of your exhibition of ballpoint-pen drawings of birds; dumb-ass "process-based performance"; or staged photographs of dolls and Matchbox toys, beware: I just might.

The Lost Luggage Depot, 2001: the only good photo-documentation I've found of this strange public monument. Mr. Floyd Burroughs calls dibs on the washcloth at left, originally taken from his Alabama farmhouse by some seedy FSA type in 1935 or '36.
Monday, January 14, 2008

You, you walk up thin blue lines possible with reality
And I, I see through small red eyes,

Glowing still at your uncertainty

Out of darkness you will come around,
I know you will

I know you will

And I'll find you
And I'll find you there

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Readers, 2007-8. Panel 4 of 6.


Reaction time is a factor in this, so please pay attention. Now, answer as quickly as you can.
Saturday, January 12, 2008


Note to JWV

I don't have any problem with aestheticized labor -- you could comfortably site my "art practice" in that category and I wouldn't whisper a word of complaint. But I do have a problem with so-called "knowledge workers" conceptualizing structures which they then expect to be built by other people out of the goodness of their collective hearts. Eg., social networking sites, "e-magazines," etc., which endlessly advertise for "content" (free, natch!), for "interns," & the like. I've never had "interns" at the bookstore, because it never seemed to me that someone's working for free was making their life, or the culture at large, visibly better. If I couldn't afford to pay for someone's work -- eg., better than minimum wage, with the prospect of further increases -- I always did the work myself, or put it off until I could afford to pay. There's a whiff of arrogance to a (even fairly well established) website's claim that it can't pay all its contributors. Even twenty-five bucks for five hundred words is preferable to the inflated claim that publication on Site X really constitutes "getting your name out there." Sure, to lots of other sites as proof that they don't have to pay for content, either.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sign In, Stranger

Constant Reader JW Veldhoen descends from a cloud of post-po-mo' and carefully and thoughtfully responds to my first-of-the-year worries:

"Hey Chris,

Hope things are doing OK. Your post was worrying but bang-on, actually. After six months living in the heart of the world, from my cloistered advantage in Morningside Heights, you wouldn't know it, but it is pretty clear that things won't hold once back in Calgary, where everything is four months slow, all the media to be consumed already vetted by me. Wasting my time on the web, reading, going to galleries, talking... And barely preparing for a future I've spoiled on an embarrassment of riches.

My parents received their property assessment today and the tax they are paying is ridiculous and way out of range the costs of services provided by a city with only a million inhabitants. Or maybe due to the fact there are only a million inhabitants, spread over a space so gigantic that I can't believe it, and idiotically nobody here thinks it is a problem. The effects of an economy with no value for labor. Unfilled condos everywhere and a city planner on the news with blue eyeshadow claiming the success of a relatively slower economy, predicting boom times for the city, rich on oil and gas, ahead. Despite the sprawl, the flab, everything will be fine.

I don't have the heart to tell my folks that I won't keep the house, and they don't want to sell it, so every day I can feel the effect of a disrespect for work, and the humiliation and anger I feel, being powerless to stop it, is profound. So I disagree with you on this notion of unproductive labor and social networking sites. There is the slightest tinge to it, an over-concern for self-promotion, vanity, as compared to the sturdy utility of real world work, and it is as though you believe that if labor is aesthetic, labor is exploited. I don't think so. I think the value of the user far exceeds the corporate imperatives that power sites like Blogger and Facebook, at least for the time being.

Have a good year, in spite of all."

Farewell Sir Edmund Hillary, first co-climber, along with Tenzing Norgay, of Everest. . . .

"'As I chipped steps, I wondered how long we could keep it up,' Sir Edmund said. 'Then I realized that the ridge, instead of rising ahead, now dropped sharply away. I looked upward to see a narrow ridge running up to a sharp point. A few more whacks of the ice axe and we stood on the summit.'

The vast panorama of the Himalayas lay before them: fleecy clouds and the pastel shades of Tibet to the north, and in all directions sweeping ranks of jagged mountains, cloud-filled valleys, great natural amphitheaters of snow and rock, and the glittering Kangshung Glacier 10,000 feet below."

Cat: It's What's For Dinner

"You don't have to pay a lot!"
Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Feeder, 2008
Thursday, January 03, 2008

Short NYT survey of the career of great American director Paul Thomas Anderson (above left). I've seen every one of his films (even the obscure ones, like this excellent Michael Penn video), and am eagerly awaiting his new adaptation of my favorite Upton Sinclair novel, Oil!

A lot of me contained in Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love (2002): "[a] truly strange movie told mostly in long, slow, unbroken camera moves, interspersed with abstract color patterns and partly scored with a harmonium. . . ."

Hot Flash, III, 10p., 5.8. Dreaming of spring. . .

Say, it Smells Like a Pool in Here!

Screaming little girl runs up and down the aisles, waving the plastic rats around. Parents totally oblivious. As it turns out, this is only a warm-up for her encore: pissing all over the floor.

You fill in the rest.
Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Oriented strand board (Wikipedia)

Choosing Between Oriented Strandboard (OSB) and Plywood

OSB Prices and Industry Consolidation

Current OSB producers:

Ainsworth Lumber Company Limited
Boise Cascade Holdings LLC
Canfor Corporation
Collins Companies Incorporated
Columbia Forest Products
Flakeboard Company Limited
Grant Forest Products Incorporated
Great Lakes MDF LLC
Hood Companies
Hoover Treated Wood Products Incorporated
Huber (JM) Corporation
Hunt Forest Products Incorporated
International Paper Company
Knight-Celotex LLC
Koch Industries Incorporated
Langboard Incorporated
Louisiana-Pacific Corporation
Martin (Roy O.) Lumber Management LLC
Norbord Incorporated
Plum Creek Timber Company Incorporated
Potlatch Corporation
Roseburg Forest Products Company
SierraPine Limited
Stimson Lumber Company Incorporated
Temple-Inland Incorporated
Timber Products Company
Tolko Industries Limited
Weyerhaeuser Company

An interesting (and potentially profitable) exercise for the new year: calculate the current market share of each participant above, the sustainability of that share, and predict the eventual members of the oligopoly described by the second article above.

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