Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Life is Art - oh, really? In glossy B & W it is.

Since when has decluttering, cleaning, wiping, cleansing, washing, soaking  become art?

There's a black and white photo I've rediscovered of a kitchen sink in a delapidated counter that pretty much says it all.

Except there's no place to put it so I can see it and know that this state of affairs is a shared anguish.

This photograph has the distinction of being the first piece of art I've bought and not traded for...or surreptitously thought that if I wanted one badly enough I could make my own.  (Come to think of it, I do have a similar snapshot burried in my clutter - a snapshot I didn't have the courage to call a photograph) 

 The artist was alone in a booth, surrounded by kitsch-artists.  She was just a kid, and I had the honour of watching her self-esteem flower as she accepted my $8 that justified her as artist and photographer.

Thursday, July 22, 2004


verb:  transitive.   Cleaning up after construction.
Interesting that "junk"  is what the other person collects, isn't it? 
Staying married in spite of renovations....or, in (t)his case, renovating in spite of being married.
Trapped in a room with Home and Garden television and a stack of ironing; the fridge in the family room, the contents of the cupboards heaped in the dining room, the new holes in the drywall
Maybe I've been spoiled by the Clean Sweep team who get it done in two days.  There's no team of organizers behind me.  No carpenters.  Just one, very kind, very patient girlfriend who is doing her level best to keep me focussed on throwing stuff out.
Home and Garden television has replaced the beautiful skinny model on the glossies in ensuring my feelings of inadequacy remain deeply imbedded.
NEAT episode showcased a musician who wasn't being musical because her apartment was cluttered.  It made me want to cry.  There but for the grace of God go I....not being artistical because of the clutter.  But, of course, it's not the studio that's being fixed.  It's the kitchen - the slave room.
The kitchen WILL look great with the new floor.
Martha Stewart  sits in jail and her stock climbs.  I sit at home and my blood pressure climbs.
Deadline:  The day before boy-child gets back from camp.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Nietzsche, Vancouver and Manhole Covers

"For these serious readers, let this serve as a caution: I am convinced that art is the highest task and the essential metaphysical capability of this life, in the sense of that man to whom I here, as to my inspiring pioneer on this path, have dedicated this book.
Basel, December 1871"
Friedrich Nietzsche - The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music", 1871
That inspiring pioneer to Nietzsche was Wagner.  Nietszche's lyrical, witty, energetic writings - poetry, I think - are as much fun to  take out of context as they are illuminating to read seriously.  (click on Nietzsche Speaks at
Not to elaborate here on the aesthetic issues that Nietzsche grapples with win the Birth of Tragedy , but to elaborate on the much simplified "art is life and life is art".
And how better to make art life than to put it on manhole covers?  Art galleries are great places to find art you can't afford,  art you don't understand, art that other people choose to call art.  Art galleries take good care of art to keep 500 year old paint from chipping off.  They can be really snotty (would you prefer the word "rarified" instead?) spaces.  People whisper in galleries, because apparently you have to be quiet to appreciate art....or at least be quiet so people can hear their audioguides telling them what to think.
I got kicked out the Vancouver Art Gallery when my son was less than a year old because he made baby noises that disturbed other patrons, according to the guard that relayed the information.  And we aren't talking tantrum here, just human baby noises.  There were maybe half a dozen people in this huge space.  I live across the continent, and had come to my birthplace, looking forward to seeing regional works and collections that don't travel east.  I was already soured by the "children's gallery" that had the works hung for a lower eye level - and they were still over my head. 
After I finished the $20 piece of lettuce and carrot sliver, I did register my disappointment with the powers that be.  Art teachers aren't keen on places that are unfriendly to children.  Hey - Mom, when I'm 18 can I go to an art gallery?  No answer.  No response.  Just fill out the form, lady.
As an aside, four years later, a guard at the National Gallery in Ottawa told my son he could go to jail for making rubber boot noises while walking in rubber boots.  Terrified the poor kid.  I think he thought he was being funny, but the child's face going white at the idea of not seeing Mommy or Daddy....
It took me a moment to collect my wits, but this time I was armed and dangerous.  As an instructor at the Ottawa School of Art at the time, I took kids there regularly with the idea of creating a love affair with wierd and wonderful works.  Went flying down the staircase, and fortunately knew the folks at the information desk.  The guard manager's manager with with us in minutes, apologizing to the little fellow while I tried very hard to identify the offender without reference to race, religion or gender. 
Satisfactory, that time.  But once again, the gallery becomes a forbidding place if you need to guard it from people.  One gallery that isn't so forbidding - in fact, downright noisy, and crowded every time I've been there, is the Musee des Beaux Arts in Montreal.  Oh yeah, baby!
I digress.  I love art galleries and I'm not afraid of them.  I just started thinking when I saw Duchamp's Urinal (Fountain)...and the rest of the Ready Mades...about place as context.  Is it still art in the men's bathroom?  What about Kohler's bathroom fixtures?  And what about manhole covers?
To take any object, to make it beautiful, to bring art to people (instead of bringing people to art),  to celebrate the ordinary, to make visible the overlooked....kudos to Vancouver's Public Art Program!
There have been some economic complaints - it's going to cost the city $50,000 and shouldn't the homeless be given shelters?  The National Post says "And because the production price is based on weight, not artistic merit, they will cost no more than the art-free versions we all know and ignore".  The city was going to replace them anyway, so they wouldn't cost any more to make them pretty.  Except that there are 30 people who are going to get $2,000 each, so by my arithmetic, these beauties are only going to cost an extra $60,000.
Which, in the grand scheme of things, isn't really that much money....didn't $100 million disappear into advertising firms to put up a few flags and banners in Quebec?  Why not pay a few artists a few dollars so they don't become the homeless?  Why, in Newmarket this week, the town is digging up all the storm grates (leaving an abyss and huge orange traffic pylons at the end of my driveway, by the by); re-cementing the curbs, and a week later, repaving the abyss and taking a chunk of my what purpose? 
Changing the direction of the grill so bicycles don't trip over them.
I'm all in favour of beautiful manholes.  I already know to ride my bike around a storm grate.