Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The Sadies were in town on November 25 to promote their new album, New Seasons, and as expected, they set the house on fire (see previous post August 2006).
However, I was crushed (literally) to notice that the almighty power of the Sadies has reached the drunken frat crowd here in Montreal. It looked like a goon invasion was threatening to ruin the evening toward the end, as a small group of eedjiots actually started to form a MOSH PIT. Before you could say "what the f-?" we were being plowed left, right and centre by a few really, really happy fans who, evidently more accustomed to frosh party etiquette, took it upon themselves to liven things up a bit for the rest of us. At one point, one guy chucked a water bottle right about head-height onto the stage. That got him a personal chat with Sean the bassist who, bless him, tried to put the kybosh on that gesture of enthusiasm. Meanwhile, some other moron started smashing beer bottles, clanking them together like those asinine inflatable baguettes you see at sports events. Hey you putz - can you hear me? DOES NOT TRANSLATE. It was all a mess, but to the Sadies' credit, they took it all in stride without skipping a beat. All part of the crazy rock n' roll lifestyle, I guess. But before this puts you off ever experiencing the gobsmacking musical virtuosity of The Sadies live in concert, let it be known that in general, their shows attract salt-of-the-earth people of level mind and pure beef heart, not yer standard Nickelback pissed-out-of-their-tree-before-10pm types. Aye, but I suppose music doesn't judge the listener.
In the October 22/07 CBC Radio 3 podcast, guest host Tariq Hussain, sitting in for my dream boyfriend Grant Lawrence, describes encountering the same type of unexpected moronic crowd behaviour in Vancouver at a Weakerthans show! Those sensitive poets of lyrically dense intelligent Prairie indie rock! It's just not right! By virtue of these bouts of misplaced recklessness, these concert crashers may as well be stage-diving at a Rita MacNeil Christmas concert! Sober up or get lost ya mashers!
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Canada boasts more than 100 non-profit, artist-run galleries across the country. Since their beginnings in the 1970s, many have evolved into established institutions that function as the corner-stone of their city's contemporary art scene. At the core of these centres is a common mandate to provide an alternative forum for the dissemination of contemporary art, outside of commercial constraints and interests, while recognizing the contribution of artists through the payment of artist fees.
A full description of our artist-run centre system can be found here on The New Gallery (Calgary) website.
Follow this link for a list of many Artist-run centres in Canada
Also included are links to some of the best contemporary art periodicals in Canada.
ESSE arts et opinions
Photo credit: articule artist-run centre, Montreal, Quebec
artwork: Therese Mastroiacovo
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Les Fleurs du Mal Magazine
Issue Three Launch Party
Wednesday, September 19, 8 PM
262 Fairmount Ouest, Metro Laurier
Les Fleurs du Mal magazine invites you to celebrate the launch of its latest issue: “Interactive Art.” This event will feature DJ and VJ entertainment, tasty snacks and bar, a silent-auction fundraiser featuring works donated by Montreal artists — and, of course, free (always!) advance copies of the magazine. Pencil it in!
About Les Fleurs du Mal Magazine
Les Fleurs du Mal is Montreal’s newest art magazine for emerging and professional artists. We focus on emerging art and artists primarily in the Montreal area, as well as on news, topics and issues in contemporary art. Les Fleurs du Mal is published on an occasional basis, and is produced entirely by volunteer labour. We accept submissions in French and English. The magazine’s upcoming issue will be published at a circulation of 3,000 copies and distributed free of charge at artist-run centres and galleries, cafes, restaurants, clubs, cinemas, theatres, university campuses and other selected locations throughout central Montreal, as well as certain locations across Canada and abroad.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
What these gams have to do with Canadian Art is beyooond me, except that they must belong to View on Canadian Art author Andrea Carson, whose blog carries an interesting array of views and reviews on what's happening art-wise across the land, as well as following shows by Canadian artists abroad. Despite this male-bait bio pic (why, oh why?), her credentials remain impressive, as do her shoes. You could puncture a football with those.
It's a good site to bookmark if you like keeping up with the endless treadmill of art events worldwide. Carson does all the (leg)work and provides her recommendations, along with links to relevant articles, interviews and websites.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
A lot of ink and airtime has been spent over the recent relocation to Beverly Hills of Britain's celebrity royals, Posh and Becks. Sweetening the deal (at least theoretically) was Posh's tv show, Victoria Beckham: Coming to America, a shameless publicity vehicle chronicling their move into the aptly dubbed Beckingham Palace. The show was swiftly reduced from a 6-part reality series to a still-too-long one hour special, and predictably panned by US media as "an orgy of self-indulgence". Well, duh.
Underwhelming media response aside, it's hard to imagine Posh taking a lesson in humility and self-restraint even after the glamorous belly flop of an entrance she's engineered. What do you expect when you have to share tabloid tattle with the likes of those other blonde Hollywood rakes? At least they earn their front pages the old-fashioned American way: behind the wheel in a haze of booze and drugs!
On the upside, I hear David Beckham is finally getting around to calling the darn game 'soccer'.
It's been months now since the Montreal Biennale of Contemporary Art ended on July 8, and as summer too, draws to a close, so do many people's memories of the event. Thankfully, some are still reflecting on it. Montrealers Don Goodes and Ed Janzen, both former Winnipeggers, as is the biennale's curator Wayne Baerwaldt, have expressed their views in print and on the web. Goodes offers a three-part interview with Baerwaldt featured on both YouTube and vernissage.tv (linked below). Janzen, for his part, has written a response to the Goodes/Baerwaldt interview, and published it in the independent Concordia Fine Arts journal, Les Fleurs du Mal, out this September. An un-abridged version of his text appears below.
With an exhibition like the biennale, in a city like Montreal, it's easy to let ones' expectations of this grand event rise to lofty heights. We want it to be spectacular. We need it to be. However, previous incarnations proved rather underwhelming (2004 especially comes to mind) . Lack of cohesion, clear vision, funds, whatever, it seemed like the biennale - as far as galvanizing art events go - had nowhere to go but up. Enter Wayne Baerwaldt.
For those who have followed his career since his Plug-In Gallery days in Winnipeg during the 1980s and '90s, Baerwaldt quickly developed a reputation as a visionary curator who challenged audiences with his brand of contemporary art programming, and who, arguably more than any other curator before or since, put Plug In on the map, and helped give Winnipeg a reputation as a city where wierd and wonderful creative things were happening during those cold, interminable winters. Later successes, such as his turn at curating the Canadian pavillion for the Venice Biennale, with an award-winning installation by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, further established Baerwaldt as a Canadian curatorial force. A few years later, and after a brief but nonetheless controversial stint at Toronto's Power Plant, Baerwaldt has now settled in at the Alberta College of Art and Design's Illingworth Kerr Art Gallery.
Understanding his knack for discovering new talent, and also his incredible ability with 'spin' (I've often described him as someone who could convince you the contents of your ashtray made the most interesting piece of conceptual art you'd ever imagined), it looked like this biennale might present a some nice surprises. And while my impressions of the biennale as a whole were mainly positive (save for some questionable installation tactics in some questionable venues), one of my biggest surprises was revealed in the interview with Baerwaldt conducted by Don Goodes. Ed Janzen shares my surprise at this revealing interview, and articulates it well. To know more about it, see the interview on vernissage.tv, then read on:
Interview by Don Goodes on vernissage.tv
Toward a Canadian Biennale
Wayne Baerwaldt and the Politics of Faith
by Ed Janzen
Listening to Biennale de Montréal curator Wayne Baerwaldt speak about his curatorial vision for the exhibitions and performances of more than fifty artists in ten different venues is a harrowing pleasure. Harrowing, because his vision is indistinct and sometimes contradictory. A pleasure, because he seems comfortable with his vision being incomplete — maybe even wrong. An inversion of the image of the curator-as-control-freak, Baerwaldt appears utterly comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Montreal artist and art commentator Don Goodes interviewed Baerwaldt and posted the edited videos of their conversation on YouTube and vernissage.tv (search for “Baerwaldt”). The remarkable results comprise the quotations that appear in this article.
“I was interested in coming here to think about the context of a Canadian Biennale — in Montreal, in Quebec,” Baerwaldt explains, “as part of Canada, but in a very unique cultural milieu that’s been established here over the last 400 years.
“We don’t have our own [Canadian] biennale, at this point. The Biennale de Montréal has played that role to a certain extent, but a very limited extent. It’s been about Montreal … about its connections to Europe. It’s been about a certain political dynamic. And so, it wasn’t really operating in a way I thought a Canadian biennale might.”
“One of the themes, in a very loose way,” he continues, “was dealing with borders and … there are many ways of approaching that, from physical to geographical borders to political borders and those that are absolutely imaginary … transgressing borders, acknowledging borders … most of the artists could conceivably fit in … whether they want to or not.”
Whether they want to or not? Wait a sec…
But there’s more: “[An exhibition concept] can be on a very publicly accessible level. But beyond that, you can really throw caution to the wind … work very intuitively, and hopefully surprise yourself, both through failures and successes. And I’m interested in that sort of fine line between failure and success.”
Exploring this success/failure tension, Baerwaldt discusses how some artists’ works were positioned so that the sound from a particular video could bleed into another space, creating a new environment and producing an unpredictable recontextualization of another artist’s work. (Maybe this is what he means by “whether they want to or not.”) “Somehow, although we think that … sound bleeding from one artist’s work to another can be detrimental, it’s suddenly working on a different level,” says Baerwaldt. “Or I think it is, anyway. Enhancing or impacting upon another artist’s work in some sort of way that works, stimulates the imagination…. Maybe that’s the producer in me thinking … ‘This is the way it should be.’ So, it could be absolutely delusional.”
The success/failure tension was perhaps amplified by the fact that the Biennale only received $500,000 in funding — unlike similar events in other countries, which, Baerwaldt observes, operate “with budgets from $3 million to $300 million.” Five hundred grand “doesn’t go very far,” he observes.
“Everything from the didactic panels, which are incomplete or sometimes non-existent, to the lighting of one piece or another … to some degree it’s about practical limitations, not having staff … or time to finish.”
It sounds like he’s complaining — but get this: “On another level it’s probably seeing fifty per cent of the artists change the titles of works that are created right up to the last minute. And I think that’s legitimate, of course, that’s their every right to do so, and it’s now up to us to respond by changing the didactic panels within a reasonable amount of time and correcting lighting, if possible….”
At this point, many curators would lose their minds. After all, isn’t it the curator’s role to envision and advance a well-defined, theorized concept? Is it really so difficult to print off decent labels, even at the last minute? Shouldn’t the audience — a paying audience at the main venue — expect as much? As chief artistic officer, the curator, even in the most iconoclastic exhibition, remains responsible to the artists and the audience. Ideally, much is demanded of all parties.
Baerwaldt seems to agree: “Producers usually like to know what they’re getting in the end.” But he quickly turns around and upends the traditional relationships: “I’d like to think that some percentage of the presentations here would even confound the producer, and ask for a leap of faith. And I think I, as a rule, put myself in that position wherever possible.”
He’s talking about a big leap of faith. It wouldn’t be difficult to conclude that Baerwaldt’s biennale simply suffered from overreach, that he and his associates failed to bring off a professional-level event owing at least in part (with some justification, granted) to the lack of money. Moreover, Baerwaldt positions himself on the line between success and failure — but, since he appears rather comfortable with failure, even failure becomes success. What does it mean to make a leap of faith when you can’t lose?
What will confound many — has — is that Baerwaldt may be right. Anyone who has followed his career through the years will recognize that he has always worked this way. And, while controversy has dogged him, for all kinds of reasons — programming his friends, frivolous expenditures, exploiting shock value — so has success, and not just his own. While curator at Winnipeg’s Plug In artist-run centre (now Plug In ICA), Baerwaldt “discovered” young artist Marcel Dzama and brought him to the L.A. International show, launching his career. Baerwaldt may promote a handful of “art stars” — sometimes his friends — yet few disagree that the artists, like Dzama, deserve their success. Moreover, many have done far less with far greater resources than Baerwaldt to promote national and international recognition of a relatively small art scene like Winnipeg’s.
Similarly, many remember when Baerwaldt brought the “World Tea Party” event to Plug In back in 1999. Does anyone recall what the week-long event was actually about? Maybe not — but not because it was unmemorable. Quite the opposite, everyone who went remembers it as a magic moment. This is what could be called the “Baerwaldt touch.” It’s not producing gold from base metals; the gold is already there. But he makes people believe in the gold. There’s the leap of faith — and it’s not a bad quality in a curator.
So, was the “Canadian biennale” a golden success — or a racket?
It’s a Canadian predicament. In older industrialized countries, with much longer histories as nations/empires and with internationally recognized roles in the master narrative of art history, big-ticket art events can exude a sort of cultural bravado, a sleek, programmed vision of a nation’s artistic ethos. This would be difficult to achieve in Canada, more or less a massive, colonial resource-extraction project built upon the dispossession of the country’s First Nations. Further, the English colonial project’s primacy was contingent upon the conquest of the French colonial project. That is, Canada is a result of colonization, not a “first cause” (certainly a “secondary cause,” though). And it is a follower, not a source, of art trends.
If Baerwaldt’s “Canadian biennale” seems like a bit of a racket, well, so is Canada, an aggregate of nations interwoven with colonial relationships and animosities in which unity — don’t even mention uniformity — is an unlikely, maybe silly, goal. Perhaps it’s appropriate that Baerwaldt’s vision of a biennale “about borders” is so vague. There are no certainties, here.
Despite Canada’s troubled “national” landscape and despite the government’s (perhaps especially the current government’s) disinterest in prioritizing support for art, Baerwaldt feels that the experiment, the leap of faith, is worthwhile — and that the government and the private sector must necessarily step up to bat with funding. “There should be some sort of celebration, I think, [that] comes close to … a cultural flashpoint for the making of a contemporary art history here,” he says.
“I’m hoping that we come to a point with this biennale where it suggests, ‘Okay, we’ve done that — what wasn’t covered?’ Or, ‘Where else is this going?’ So, either a biennale is an extension to the next step — or the doorway being opened to a biennale that’s absolutely contradictory in terms to the current one.”
Perhaps Baerwaldt’s vision of a Canadian biennale represents an attitude that might work for the country as a whole. If we could be a little more comfortable with being uncomfortable — a little more failure-friendly, and for a reasonably long time — who can say what productive, experimental spaces might open up?
And then again, “it could be absolutely delusional.”
Ed Janzen is a founding publisher and editor of Montreal’s Les Fleurs du Mal magazine. An earlier, condensed version of this article is published in that magazine’s September, 2007 issue.
Official Biennale de Montréal website
Sunday, June 03, 2007
Has it been a year already? Feels like five. I actually can hardly believe I'm still posting (albeit sporadically of late). I'll try to remedy that this year, as Cultural Flotsam ventures forth into its terrible twos. Ramming speed!
Thank you to my regular readers (well, my brother Don, anyway).
B-day cards and prezzies welcome.
I've finally gotten around to documenting some of the interesting signage in my neighborhood of Piccola Italia and adjacent Villeray and Rosemont, which I'd been meaning to do for about, oh, five years. This is by no means a complete archive, as 9 times out of 10, I don't have my camera with me when I see something interesting, but it's a start. There are countless people out there documenting signage in and around their 'hoods, and even some sites dedicated to collecting a comprehensive visual archive of their local sign heritage (see for example the excellent Logo Cities site, and my links section for more). These examples have more to do with the quirky ones from eras gone by that I fear are about to get torn down in the name of progress. I've already missed a few too many (the incredible Vegas-style exterminator at the corner of Christophe-Colomb and Rosemont comes to mind. Sigh...)
La Petite Bouffe (above) is a little 'casse-croute' which mainly caters to the local workforce. On the menu are standard greasy-spoon fare, including breakfast and lunch options. They recently replaced the handpainted sign that hangs perpendicularly to the building with this rather unfortunate flowered one. The previous sign, painted in an equally tentative but charming manner, had small steaming cups of coffee and the word RESTAURANT on a diagonal. None of this pansy country charm crap. Oh well. At least they still have the big arse swallowing the stool. Classic.
I caught these beautiful peeling CO-OP BAKERY and CAKE SHOP letters just in time, as they are now completely covered by brown corrugated sheet metal. Why that aesthetic crime was dreamt up and called progress is a mystery to me.
This is what happens when you wait too long to document something: nature takes over. For years I've been cycling by this mysterious homage to FAYE DUNAWAY, only to now find it partially obstructed by a young tree. I briefly considered hacking away at it so I could get the full view, but then thought that would be a bit barbaric. What has Faye done lately anyway?
If I could give awards for the most hilarious greasy-spoon restaurant name, these two would certainly win. Right across the street from each other are Beaubien Nouveau Système (fear not finding a loose bolt in your poutine, our machines are new!) and Hot Dog Élégant (no doubt boiled to perfection by dashing line cooks).
I remember reading "Ali Baba et les 40 voleurs" as a kid.
I don't remember anything about mufflers.
BEER and WINE HOTLINE!!! With FREE DELIVERY!!!
WHAT A CITY!!!
I've been wanting to have a glass of draft here for ages but despite the convivial sign, this is definitely a 'regulars only' joint. This shot was taken at 10 am on a Sunday, and let me tell you, the faithful were already worshipping at the taps. Praise the Lord and pass the sauce!
I dare someone to go in there and ask for "The Manhattan".
Monday, May 21, 2007
If you've been to the town of Banff lately, you can probably attest to its increasing mall-like atmosphere. While there seem to be measures in place to control the influx of chain stores and restaurants, many still manage to muscle their way through, ensuring nature-loving tourists will never be too far away from their Triple 2/3 Decaf Grande Non-Fat 2 Splenda Latte.
Just off the branded and beaten path of Banff Avenue is what has to be one of the town's most interesting attractions: The Indian Trading Post.
Amid the rather overwhelming selection of native arts and crafts (more moccasins, dreamcatchers and turquoise/sterling silver jewellery than I've ever seen anywhere. And hey, I thought those 'native' dolls were politically incorrect! I'm so confused) is a stunning collection of taxidermy, big and small, furry and feathered. Most interesting is the halved specimens - goats, bears, cougars - all sliced in half lengthwise, right down the middle, and mounted flat against the wall in a variety of action poses. My rationale for this, being in a national park, is that perhaps these were salvaged from road kill. What you see is the side of the animal that didn't meet your man's bumper. Just a guess.
It also begs the question, did famous British artist Damien Hirst ever make an impressionable trip to the old trading post in his pre-Goldsmiths College days?
But BY FAR the most enthralling specimen to be found is the rather modestly (even carelessly) displayed MERMAN in a glass case at the very back of the shop.
This "curious creature of unknown origin", as it's called in the back of this postcard, available at the shop, lives a quiet, almost neglected existence here. You are just as likely not to see it, as you rifle through the stacks of moose-emblazoned sweaters hung all around. Poor creature. Tom Babin of the Calgary Herald, however, has done his homework. Read more about the merman here
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Toronto, in the urban-anthropological sense, is said to be in its adolescence. In some ways, it does evoke a certain self-consciousness that belies its desire to be a self-assured, grown-up metropolis. And like any adolescent, the city has been undergoing a rather dramatic growth spurt of late, accompanied by the necessary growing pains. Private and government investment in the city's cultural capital - such as the construction of new and dramatic add-ons by super-star architects to sites such as the ROM, the AGO, and OCAD - has also trickled down to its latest diamond in the rough, the west-end neighbourhood of Parkdale.
Parkdale's main drag, Queen Street West, has long been home to many of the city's greatest visual artists and musicians who favoured the area for its cheap rents and plentiful studio spaces. It's also held a reputation as a rather rough part of town which, until recent years, no well-heeled urbanite in search of a good cocktail hour would have considered as a desirable playground, never mind a place to crawl home.
Spearheaded by the renovation of the Drake Hotel, Parkdale's hip factor has spread further west, into what for years was considered a no-go zone. Within this neighborhood of used appliance stores, diners, rep video stores, and mom and pop grocers, commercial galleries, clothing boutiques and modern furniture shops have sprouted. And along with this type of commercial revitalization comes an interest in housing. Condo development in the area has reached its apex with the (wait for it) Bohemian Embassy, a luxury condo spread which unabashedly cashes in on Parkdale's reputation as a nesting place for artists, musicians and "free-spirited" creative types. This point is enforced, with all the subtlety of a wrecking ball, by the BE's website and their gobsmackingly horrid poster campaign featuring a model wearing a 'bohemian-pastische' of fishnet, chunky jewellery, floppy hat and braids, and pancake makeup. Oh, and she's clutching a rose. I don't think they could have come up with something more inane if they tried. The great irony in all of this is that the area the BE compound will occupy includes a five-storey turn of the century building which has been used for artists' live-work studios for decades. These artists will be turfed and their building demolished to make way for two condo towers - at 8 and 19 storeys tall - that will not only dwarf the surrounding area's existing buildings, but will be a visual blight on the landscape.
Plenty of people are upset over this, and justifiably so. A site called bohemianembarassment, by Toronto artist Michael Toke, was offline when I tried to google it. According to Globe & Mail columnist Leah McLaren, BE developers have threatened Toke with legal action. And this from a group that claims to be successfully integrating into the community.
It has been said that artists are the stormtroopers of gentrification, and a recent newsletter by the Art Gallery of York Univeristy's Director Philip Monk, illustrates this phenemenon very well. He proposes that any commercial development that displaces or radically upsets existing artist's
way of life be subject to a tax that would be redirected towards cultural development in the neighborhood. The idea would probably never fly, but the point is clear. That the inimitable 'cachet' so sought after by commercial developers to attract buyers is the very thing that is suffocated when development occurs. Inevitably, the same people suffer, and they should be compensated for it.
Conspicuously absent in the BE website's grating descriptions of the neighbourhood (and its far-too-liberal use of the words 'hip' and 'trendy' - they're working really hard to convince you that you won't be a total loser for moving there), is any mention of the very present Centre for Addiction & Mental Health, just a short jog down Queen from the BE. In my recent travels up and down Queen west, I regularly encountered a variety of CAMH residents wandering up and down the street. On a few occasions I witnessed a man simply standing on the sidewalk hollering into the air above him with all his might. Given our proximity to the CAMH, it was safe to assume he was a resident out for a stroll and perhaps low on meds. Or maybe, as I like to think, he too, was appalled at the blind greed that has infected his neighbourhood, and just needed to express his disgust in a way many of us probably wish we could.
One joint that's been doing it right is the Gladstone Hotel, a few blocks west of the Drake. It has managed to integrate the hotel's existing ecclectic citizenry (hard core aging bar flies and alterno-scenesters) while revitalizing and preserving this cornerstone hotel's beauty and heritage. While this may seem like trying to host a party with several vastly different types of people on the guest list, hoping they'll all mingle happily over a warm Labatt 50 and a pint of Smithwick's, for the most part, the experiment seems to be working. Take for instance their artist-designed rooms, where visual artists were invited to develop theme rooms for the hotel's suites. Among the themes are Teen Queen, by Cecilia Berkovic, replete with Hollywood hunk posters plastered on the walls and bubble-gum pink overload. Or Faux Naturelle, by Allyson Mitchell which according to their website "feels like a woodsy retreat where lesbian separatist commune meets Storybook Gardens." For those who prefer to wake up to a little less kitsch, more creatively subdued suites are also available. They've even integrated artist studios into the hotel, available for long or short-term rent. Imagine that. And the bar where the bar flies used to hang out? Largely untouched by the renovations. They've even kept the weekly karaoke nights.
I don't live in Toronto, but I try to visit as often as I can. There are great things about it that I envy, and that my Montreal home simply fails to capture (like artificial ice on outdoor hockey rinks! Yeah!). And while Montreal (or Winnipeg, or any other culturally-rich city for that matter) is no stranger this sort of over-zealous, short-sighted commercial development, one can only hope that more alternative groups will strike while the iron is hot with their own truly creative, home-grown brand of civic investment, to create neighbourhoods that are interesting and enjoyable to live in, not because they try so hard to be (and for the wrong reasons), but because the incentive is about community, not cool.
Local weekly rag The Parkdale Liberty weighs in
AGYU Philip Monk's newsletter
Witness for yourself the horror that is The Bohemian Embassy
The Globe and Mail - Leah McLaren's take on the sitch
And the kvetching goes on! a rant and images of the BE by Kevin Steele on flickr
The 2 cool 4 u Drake Hotel
A fine example of responsible community development The Gladstone Hotel