Sunday, September 24, 2023

On Art 

“I just liked the look of it and thought it was funny to put it on the wall.”

Again this year I passed on Toronto's all night art thing, Nuit Blanche. It used to be an important date on my calendar until I just grew tired of the crowds. I particularly grew tired of crowds at any interactive art piece, where mostly the audience participation involved taking photos of themselves to post on social media. That's not to say I no longer think about art. What I wrote below was written in the café at the Art Gallery of Ontario after an afternoon of ambling through its galleries.

The more the merrier.
More is not always better. Much of modernity is a Minimalist act (in spite of maximum consumerism), famously encapsulated by the credo, "less is more". Sometimes art is nothing more than a moment but there is also a lot of art where there are so many ideas packaged so deeply into a single piece that no idea emerges at all. Is a work the piece itself, the performance during its creation or the personal essay that accompanies it?

So much self examination.
There seems to be so much discussion of the uniqueness of hybrid lives (I am indigenous-, Polish-, gay-, straight-, Canadian etc). I understand the language of the "multi-hyphenate", but sometimes I think some artists should understand that the search for their identity, be it a stage of their life or a life-long quest, while a personal interest, just may not be that interesting to other people. They should also accept that lack of interest isn't a rejection of anyone's identity. Sometimes your audience isn't rejecting you, they are just saying your journey of self-discovery is boring. We are all multiples of ourselves (mothers, sisters, professionals, friends). Self-expression has self-examination built-in, no? Can you have one without the other? In any respect, it feels like there might be too many "journeys of identity" taking up space in our limited galleries. 

While Colonization is often considered where a white culture overwhelms, suppresses, destroys or seeks to control an indigenous one, it shouldn’t be forgotten that within Europe there are many cases of white colonizers attempting to erase neighbouring white populations. (Russian v Ukrainian for example). Not to mention the definition and inclusion of "whiteness" has historically changed. At one time Toronto was seen as an Anglo-Saxon Protestant town excluding all other groups, namely Jewish, Catholic, Irish, or Italian, who would all eventually be considered some flavour of white. Basically, it's good to know the time, place and context of any art you are consuming to understand whether it is an act of colonization or a reaction to it.

On exoticism
We sometimes “other” those different than ourselves both in a discriminating way or in a fetishized way. Both are objectifying. The art of any given culture, but particularly the art in European institutions is not just evidence to this but a map to what was considered "exotic" or "other". I like to wonder what caveats we will have to give contemporary art in 50 years. 

What does it mean?
Art does not have to mean something. Why can’t there simply be a formal exploration of image or sound or whatever? I have a paper shooting target framed and hanging on my wall and I’ve been asked “What does it mean?” My guess is this question comes from an over interpretation of art from Rembrandt to Pollock. If you ever were shown art in a class in school, the teacher probably read in their course syllabus that this art had "the following symbols and meaning". I don't just mean art shown in an art class, but any class like history or geography. In my case of owning a shooting target, I could argue that framing and hanging a cheaply produced graphic meant to practice marksmanship was an act of “recontextualization” - changing its context from a bit of performative violence (the act of shooting) to a contemplative consideration as art. But the truth is I liked the image, the form, the balance and proportions of the figures in what to me looked as much like a music poster than as disposable collateral for target practice. Or I could recognize that someone who used it for shooting practice might save it as a souvenir if they had shot well and I saved it as souvenir of never having shot anything at all.

Mostly though I just liked the look of it and thought it was funny to put it on the wall.

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Saturday, September 23, 2023

Put a sock on it. 

Sock Day declaration.

On the Autumnal Equinox (technically at 9PM on September 21) I donned socks. Of course, when hiking through parts of Gros Morne or in the sub-arctic trails of the Northern Peninsula in August, I also wore socks. Yet in Toronto, I haven't had to or wanted to wear socks since early May. I prefer my feet to be free and unfettered for as much of the year as possible. I’ve learned to rotate a summer collection of shoes to avoid foot funk and inside the house, while I often wear my beloved Birken-crocs (a suitably accurate portmanteau of Birkenstocks + Crocs), I do love to pat around bare footed. while many times in history or in places throughout the world, being shoeless is certainly a sign of poverty, yet it still feels deliciously decadent to decide to bear one’s feet by choice.

The cold-warm-cold sandwich of fall days can be trying times for sartorial choices. Chilly mornings easily become high noon heat only to turn off the burners the second the sun gets low. There were some days I wanted to wear socks, AKA sweaters for your feet, but I pushed through until that afternoon warmth arrived. On the equinoctial morning, despite the sunny sky, the temperature hit the single digit mark and I knew it was time. Time for socks.

It is by this logic that I feel confident to declare that September 21 not only by marked by our Earth’s celestial orbit, or by a certain Earth, Wind & Fire classic but also by the presence of socks. Let’s call it what it is. Sock Day. Or at least I will call it that and honour it in song, good food, fellowship and of course, by wearing a comfortable pair of socks.


Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Seen in August 

12 Angry Men - mostly white, mostly preturbed and definitely men.

Summertime is for blockbusters right? I mean this summer we had The Flash, a new Indiana Jones flick, another Fast and the Furious thing, a Spider-man movie and this summer's magnus opus portmanteau Barbenheimer. But going to a theatre seems like such a hassle these days, plus we were travelling and you don't waste travel time in a movie theatre - you can do that another time, right? This August's viewing seemed more about catchups and old favourites.

In 1968, broke and without any acting prospects or film career to turn to, Judy Garland (played to much acclaim by Renée Zellweger) undertook a series of sold-out shows in London. Her plan was to make enough money to settle down in the States and be reunited with her two youngest children who were living with her ex-husband, Hollywood producer Sidney Luft. Throughout the 50's and 60's Garland had made a number of come backs on television or on stage but never with any lasting success. By 1968, her London performances were a mix of masterful and missteps. Here was a performer who grew up on studio lots, skipping school, meals and sleep at the behest of the studio system and when they were done with her, they moved on and left her, like other performers, near the trash outside the door. During her last London shows she married her fifth husband, and continued to struggle with alcohol and substance use. Garland died in 1969 at the age of 47 and it hardly matters whether it was from her diet, substance use, alcoholism or complications from ill health from years before, the truth was, as Ray Bolger said, she was simply worn out. Zellweger not only acts but sings in this film that is concise and padded a bit with musical numbers. The film itself leaves a lot out by focusing on this last brief stage of Garland's life, but Zellweger deservedly won praise and the Academy Award for best actress in this role. Zellweger really does disappear into the role of a performing someone who couldn't stop performing, to her fans, to her family and maybe even to herself.

Jeremy Allen White as Carmy in The Bear.

The Bear S02
A neighbourhood sandwich shop is the setting for this intense and engaging drama (that is somehow nominated for an Emmy in the comedy category). Carmine Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) is an accomplished chef who, in season one, returned to Chicago to take over the family restaurant after his brother's suicide. Having found money that his brother borrowed and owed was ingeniously stashed, season two opens with the Berzatto family and sandwich shop crew struggling to re-open the restaurant as a highly aspirational, top notch eatery. Through the transformation, many members of the restaurant formerly known as The Original Beef, go on their own journeys of self-discovery and finding purpose. It's great entertainment even if it is anxiety inducing at times.

Kubrick by Candlelight
A short film with the storied Irish set of Kubrick's Barry Lyndon as its backdrop. Kubrick wanted to film his period drama using only available light appropriate to the time which meant thousands of candles were used on set for the interior shots and so part of this short is about how the locals hired for filming procured so many candles. The primary story though is of an imagined on-set romance between an Irish extra and a pretty production assistant.
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Monday, September 04, 2023

Summer Shorts 

"Summer breeze, makes me feel fine… blowing in the jasmine in my mind."

The smell of fresh cut grass or roasting corn on the BBQ. The sound of rainfall on broad leaves or of a zipper of a nylon tent. Long lingering dusk light or harsh shadows. The smell of fresh basil on your hands after picking it. Of all the things that send my mind into summer, one of the most evocative for me is the sight of a single towel and swimsuit hanging on the line in the afternoon sun.

I’ve started swimming regularly again. I could’ve started earlier in the year but anxiety around my skin and the sensation of hives, eczema and just the chill of spring all kept me from the pool. Now I’m back and loving it. There are so many unpleasant obstacles to a swim: finding a nice pool, the required pre-swim and post swim showers, the uncomfortable flip-flops that are a must on any pool deck, the vulnerability of walking around in public in hardly more fabric than a handkerchief — all of it slowed my roll to swimming. Yet none of it is enough to take away the thrill of cool submersion in that pale blue world and the sweet emptying of stress and worry and complete loosening of every muscle fiber in my body. The after swim glow is real and the sleep it brings at night is summer’s version of aprés ski (or hyyge if you like). I noticed recently looking at my phone's Health app, that since I've started swimming again, my average resting heart rate has dropped from 79 Bpm to 64 Bbm. That's a 20% drop after just over a month. I expected only marginal gains but I was feeling significant ones.

Then suddenly, by a nose, it was cut short. A congested, runny, sneezing nose. What I thought was just a bad allergy day turned out to be a lot worse. By the next morning, I was feeling awful. Headache, congestion, trouble breathing, exhaustion, muscle aches and joint pain. Maybe it had been so long since I had a cold, I forgot what they were like, but I thought I might as well check to see if it was COVID or not. It wasn't even a question. Two solid red lines showed me something I hadn't seen before. A positive test. I went back to bed and by the next day, of course, J. had it too. Misery loves company I guess. The next few days were a blur of wakefulness and obliteration.

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