Archives: “it's art, silly”

Shadowy Geese


Michael Snow’s Canadian Geese, probably one of the most photographed pieces of public art in Canada. Every time I see this and the inevitable small group of tourists taking photos of it I can’t help but think of an excerpt from Don Delillo’s novel White Noise.

Here’s the excerpt. I normally don’t dump a large section from a novel into a post, and maybe you already know it well, but it’s so awesome it’s worth repeating. I’ve been thinking about it a lot these days.

Several days later Murray asked me about a tourist attraction known as the most photographed barn in America. We drove 22 miles into the country around Farmington. There were meadows and apple orchards. White fences trailed through the rolling fields. Soon the sign started appearing. THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. We counted five signs before we reached the site. There were 40 cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photographing. All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits. A man in a booth sold postcards and slides — pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot. We stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers. Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book.

“No one sees the barn,” he said finally.

A long silence followed.

“Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.”

» Shadowy Geese continues...

Soda Pop and Graphic Design

guaranaI’m a sucker for a bunch of things, and one of them is soda pop from other countries. If I wanted to be all pretentious and self-serving, I’d say that this fascination stems from how “pop” is deeply woven into the mainstream of most cultures, and by drinking popular beverages from other cultures, I’m getting a part of that experience, albeit second-hand.

But I won’t be pretentious. The truth is that there’s way more variety in tastes and flavours from exotic pops than most North American ones, which tend to taste like liquified dust or syrupy, “HEY MAN, YOU’RE DRINKING ME!” sugar explosions.

Not international pop - it tastes good, man! Well, many of them do, though I haven’t had the privilege of trying Pocari Sweat yet. Maybe one day when I’m feeling daring.

Another thing that I really like about foreign soda is that they often have had some of the best poster art and graphic design attached to them throughout the years. Coca-Cola has had some great visuals in the past too, but the stuff tastes like crap so it doesn’t count here. smile

(Trivial note: The “Cola” in Coca-Cola comes from the Kola fruit, which was mixed with flavouring from the coca leaf to create the original taste of Coke. So Coke used to be a kind of fruit drink, though I highly doubt it tastes anything near what it used to taste like.)

» Soda Pop and Graphic Design continues...

Painting with Sound

You’ve probably played “the hypothetical game” with friends way back when you were kicking it, high school-style. No doubt you were lying out on some cool, freshly cut grass with the stars twinkling overhead, a bottle of illegitimately procured alcohol beside you, and The Cure’s “A Night Like This” reverberating from a car parked nearby, when the person you were with asked:

If you had to lose one sense, which one would it be: taste, smell, touch, sight, or hearing?

This question would always provoke a deep contemplation on what life would be like with part of the sensory spectrum removed. For me, a life without a sense of taste or smell would be disastrous, but a life without the ability to hear would be unbearable.

oldEarsSound was ever-present at home. As a kid, I was brought up enveloped in the routine of music lessons (accordian, organ, piano, school band, etc.), as were my sister and brothers. I remember basking in the cacophony that were the stereo wars my two older brothers waged; punk rock and new wave vs. arena schlock and early 80’s guitar posturing. Upstairs, my father played crooners, 60’s lounge music, and a seemingly neverending stream of classic music to help inspire our piano playing.

No doubt because of this, my favourite art is sound-based. Music (the playing of and listening to) has played a huge role in my life, and to this day if I’m feeling stressed out or melancholy, plucking an acoustic guitar or listening to a choice album always helps. Playing music is what helped define who I felt I was in my late teens and earlier twenties. I won’t allow myself to stoop to rampant cliché (too late), but I don’t know what I would have done without music then. Music doth soothe the savage beast, indeed.

Sound fascinates me. I’m especially fascinated by animals and people with highly attuned senses of hearing, like the blind person who can tell who is approaching by the sound of their walk, or my cats, who ignore the sounds of anyone else opening the main door of our building, but leap to attention when some secret auditory signal tells them that Renée has just opened the door.

The idea of sound, and the act of actually listening to and absorbing the sounds you are hearing, are what opens up the possibilities of existence. This, even more so than seeing, allows you to truly connect with the act of living. Between experiences and memory is sound.

This post was inspired by the discovery this afternoon of The Quiet American’s One-Minute Vacation, which describes itself as:

“Surely you can spare a minute to clean your ears? Take a one-minute vacation from the life you are living.

One-minute vacations are unedited recordings of somewhere, somewhen. Sixty seconds of something else. Sixty seconds to be someone else.”

My answer to that hypothetical question posed so long ago? “Anything, as long as it wasn’t the ability to hear.”

un poème pour toi

while you and I have lips an’ voices which are for kissing and to sing with, who cares if some one-eyed son of a bitch invents an instrument to measure spring with?

— ee cummings

Things That Make Me Say “Damn” part 1


TV: The Office

I originally got turned on to this short-lived BBC series via Lana and her frequent declarations of love. With its combination of office politics, strange human behaviour, and cubicle humour, it seemed like a natural. It helps too that Renée has a deep, undying love of British humour, a love which I generally share, though I've never understood her appreciation for Kevin Turvey Investigates.

The first episode was funny, but didn't bowl me over, but by the second episode it was obvious that this was destined to become a home crowd favourite. How could you not love exchanges like this:

Gareth: What ones (catch phrases) are yours that I use?
David: Same shit, different day, that's mine. Exsqueeze me, instead of excuse me.
Tim: Wank you very much.
David: Yeah, I invented that.

This is possibly the first show I've ever watched where I cannot stand watching more than one episode at a time. This is even though we have the entire first season on DVD, and each episode is only 30 minutes, which practically invites devouring the entire season in one sitting.

But no. This is mainly due to the infuriating personalities of the Wernham Hogg crew, who simultaneously make me laugh so hard it hurts, and frustrate me because they are so... infuriatingly evocative. This is really the show's strength: the ability to be both shit-your-pants hilarious, and at the same time maddening beyond belief as it reminds you of past office horrors. Damn good.

» Things That Make Me Say “Damn” part 1 continues...

Spem in Alium

Possibly one of my favourite art pieces that I had the chance to experience in person is Canadian Janet Cardiff's Forty-Part Motet. Janet Cardiff's work is really fascinating, and exactly the kind of art that I like; organic, immediate without being superficial, and involving. Her work requires you to participate in some way, whether it's mentally, physically, emotionally, or all three.

Last year when I was visiting Montreal with my friend Paul (photos here), there was a large collection of Janet Cardiff's work at the Musée D'art Contemporain de Montréal. The centrepiece of the exhibition was the Forty-Part Motet, which is based around a choral piece by composer Thomas Tallis entitled Spem in Alium.

cardiff.jpgThe piece is set in a very large room, with seating and mats directly in the centre. At the periphery of the room and encirling the seating are forty high-quality speakers, each one on a speaker stand which raises it to head level.

Just before Spem in Alium begins, you can hear each of the forty singers warming up, coughing, and talking. The beauty of the piece is that Cardiff has separated each singer into their own speaker, so you can walk around the room and focus in on one single voice, step back and listen to a small section of singers, or sit in the middle of the room and take in everything at once.

Spem in Alium starts off as a simple, quiet piece, but slowly becomes more and more multi-layered as more voices join in counterpart, repeating the same prayer, until the piece nearly overwhelms you in wave after wave of sound. By itself, it's an astonishingly beautiful, emotional piece of music. In the context that Cardiff presents it in, it's devastating. I'm not a deeply religious person, but if anything can communicate what it feels like to swoon in the sense of god, it's this.

Before you read any further, listen to an except from the piece.

Cardiff's work in this piece seems to have honed and clarified the emotions of Spem in Alium. The singing lasts for around 15 minutes, and by the end the overlapping voices build to such a crescendo that it is almost orgastic in its emotional impact. When Paul and I heard this piece, a large percentage of the people listening were in tears at the end. The sound was loud, bone-shaking, and arrestingly clear.

Some people lay on the floor and closed their eyes as they listened, while others sat. Paul and I walked around the room, focusing in on one single speaker, and one single voice, and then moving back into the centre of the room to immerse ourselves in the full spectrum of the sound.

Forty-Part Motet is more than just a gorgeous piece of music, or a fascinating way of working with sound: it is a perfect example of collaborative beauty. I've been thinking a lot about how experiencing this piece affected me, and how I seem to return to the memory of this experience again and again. If you ever get the chance to partake of Cardiff's work, and Forty-Part Motet, don't hesitate.

Scrapbook of the Revolution

mao.jpg"I purchased two photo albums from a man at the Gui Shi flea market in Beijing. The albums contain the images you see here."

Seeing this stuff reminds me of being a young boy looking through photo albums and the assorted nostalgia of my parents. (link courtesy of coudal.)

Prairie Pop Tarts

It's always heartening to finally see long-deserving folks get their dues in the mainstream media. Local record label endearing gets the Globe and Mail treatment in this full page article. It's about time.

Speaking of good local tunes, bands signed to endearing that are worth checking out include Projektor (heavy, brooding rock music with a melodic soul), Novillero (pastoral, brit-pop goodliness), and The Waking Eyes (AM radio re-interpreted by XTC). Winnipeg is a fertile ground for some damn fine music, and I'm not just saying that as a hometown boy. Go and discover.

In Search of Famous Women

WomenRenée and I were talking last night about famous artistic women. Actually, we were talking about how we were having problems remembering the names of famous artistic women.

It all started because I was trying to think up the names of any famous female classical composers. The problem is I couldn't think of any. Sure, I could recall the names of famous classic performers who were women, but I was a bit surprised that I couldn't think of any women who actually created classical works.

This then spread to directors, poets, writers, and painters, and we both had problems naming more than a handful of famous women in each category.

Has the cultured history been so dominated by men that women's expression was never allowed to reach a wide audience?

Even now, I'm trying to think of famous present day women, and besides a smattering of so-called "independent" artists, the big names elude me.

Can anyone who's less of a philistine than me help? Are women getting a fairer chance of having their work reach a wide audience in the arts, or is it still the same male-dominated business as usual?

Mouth camera

I'm teaching digital photography next term, which I'm really looking forward to. Not only do I get my own, as the French would say, hyper-cool Canon Powershot G2 for the whole term, I also get to play with the beast that is the Canon EOS-D60.

Mouth CatGear-geekiness aside, it's also going to be fun to spend three months with the students shooting like crazy and doing something with such an immediate and creative focus (pardon the pun). My photography skills are bound to improve.

I wonder if the college will let me get away with doing something like this: Pinhole photography and A Day in the life of my mouth.

Somehow I don't think so. Pity, that.

Viva Los Carteles Cubanos

cubanPosterSteve recently wrote the BeatnikPad:

I have designed a cuban poster web site. Unfortunately it not as thorough as CPP [Ed: Steve, what's CPP?], but, you can't top 'complete'! I do have some posters which cannot be found elswhere on the web.

Boy oh boy, do I love a good poster art site. Steve's collection is quite nice and features a fairly broad selection. Go on, check out Steve's site. Posters are good for the soul.

Another Photographic History Moment

Man working on SubToday's theme is history, and moments frozen in light and emulsion. First off is a recent discovery: the American National Archives and Records Administration Website. This is a veritable treasure trove of forehead-slapping cool old shit - I mean artifacts - such as the Picturing the Century collection.

There's some astounding photos here, including such historic moments as the Wright Brother's first flight, and the explosion of the USS Shaw during the Pearl Harbor attack. There's also work by bigwigs such as Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, and colour work by Danny Lyon. Go now.

dickTractor.jpgThe other photographic link for today is images from the Wisconson Historical Society. It's a smaller and less ambitious collection, but still worth poking through. My favorite? This photo of Richard Nixon riding a tractor. Yeehaw!

On a personal note, big thanks and virtual squeezes to all who wished me a happy birthday via e-mail or on this site. For the record, it was a lovely, relaxing weekend, filled with scrumptious Guatemalan cuisine, good company, and big grins all around. I'm normally pretty carefree about birthdays, but this year's comes with a lot of personal baggage; it's an amazing feeling to be surrounded by so much warmth.

Lately, I've been feeling a lot like this. (mp3, 1.1 mb)

Le Musée Mecanique

MecaniqueOne of my favorite places in the entire world has been given a second chance. The Musée Mecanique, a gigantic, endlessly fascinating collection of vintange coin-operated machines (most dating back to the turn of the century) located in San Francisco will stay open.

I almost spent more time just at the Cliff House, where the museum is located, than anywhere else in my trips to San Francisco. Looking forward to going back for another visit.

The Magic Camera

Beautiful ChairThis is what photography is all about: happy accidents, freak transformations, and capturing a view of the world never seen before.

Farrell Eaves calls it his magic camera. It takes the darnedest pictures. Sometimes it creates pastel auras or adds symmetrical streaks the color of rainbows. Sometimes drips or blobs of color will magically appear that change a well-composed snapshot into art.

Very cool.

60’s British Pop Culture

Yeah, baby, yeah! My Brit-obsessed friend Trev would giggle with glee with this site, a virtual compendium of 60's British Pop culture. There's the usual suspects (band lists, movies, TV), and also some rather unusual pieces, like the section entitled, "Digger's MIDI Juke box".

Unfortunately, the site is godawful-ugly (I mean, who in their right mind uses the excretable Comic MS Sans as a body text font?)... but there's so much to look at here the aesthetic deficiencies can be overlooked.

(I know, I know - the last few posts have been pretty lightweight. I'm busy, dammit!)

Shadows, Dreams, and Propoganda

russianPosterHere's a small but nice collection of Russian propoganda art, roughly split up into categories with names like "Aviation and Space", and "Lenin and Stalin" for your viewing pleasure.

Also came across a fascinating (and quite sublime) collection of Ukiyo-e ("pictures of the floating, or sorrowful, world"), containing prints, books, and drawing from the 17th through to 19th century - on display right now in the Library of Congress.

The show's Web site has some great examples from the collection. Worth a look, if you lke this kind of thing.

More Poster Art

Some really nice gig poster work by the folks at Aesthetic Apparatus.

The Chairman Smiles

The Chairman Smiles: I’m koo-koo for good poster art, and this collection of Communist proproganda posters from China, Cuba, and the Soviet union has easily sucked away the time I earmarked for working on my sadly ignored freelance Web development site. Bad Neil!

The Artist Run Website™

ArtKrush: As the name says. Yummy, yummy art. Eat it up. (Why the trademark, though?)

beautiful banality

SUPERSHAPES // RANDOM EXPLORATION OF FORM: “It is easy to forget what surrounds us when we pass by it everyday. The ordinary, if there is such a state, offers us many great experiences - we just have to remember to stop once in a while and regard the spectatcle in front of our eyes.”

Where I get to use the word “deconstruction”

Yugo Art: Car becomes artistic vehicle.

Silly, silly. The junction where art and literal "deconstruction" is a strangely wonderful place: something like the feeling one gets when they smash something with a large, ball-peen hammer. Ahhh.


Looks like Ev got Blogger working again. How joyous. Let the blogging begin!

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