Lorna Mills and Sally McKay
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R.M. Vaughan's Ten Most Disappointing Things About 2009
10. The Michael Jackson Funeral.
Brooke Shields? Brooke fucking Shields? That's the best they could do? She even admitted she hadn't spoken to MJ in over a decade.
Here's what I learned: Plan your own funeral, now, or you get that guy who shared your lab desk in grade 9 biology class, the one who smelled like a three day old peeled apple, delivering your eulogy.
9. Barack Obama
There, I said it. You are all thinking it, but I said it. Don't yell at me.
8. The Sobey Art Award
David Altmejd is a very nice man, but that's beside the point. David Altmejd makes wonderful art, but that too is beside the point. I sometimes think we don't really award culture in this country so much as confirm it - see a wagon, hop on board. Bring your band with you, kettle drums and brass section in front. I think this way because …..
7. The Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Award
I was on the jury, and I was flattered and happy to be asked, and I am ultimately very pleased with the books we selected and I got along just fine with my fellow jurors - but, well, sometimes it felt like the choices were somewhat pre-determined, by factors not entirely relating to literary merit. This feeling was confirmed when I did the announcement of the finalists for the press, and Every Single Media Outlet present asked me "What about the Atwood book?", as if I'd run over a pedestrian and kept going, oblivious, a pedestrian dressed in a brightly coloured clown suit and a three foot high top hat.
6. My Total Poetry Award Shut Out
I'm not bitter-ing, I'm just noticing. My book (his book), Troubled got some of the best reviews of my life, and of any poetry book in the country. And yet, not a single nod. No Griffin, no Governor General's, no Toronto Book Award, no Lambda, no Trillium.
This guy, Jeramy Dodds, got it all instead, on his first book yet. Mr. Dodds is tall and handsome and straight. I am short and fat and gay. The top of my head is all scratched up by the lovely but very pointy lavender stucco that coats the ceiling of my career.
5. Swine Flu
I was promised an Omega Man-like flupocalypse, and I had plans, dammit, plans! There are several houses on my street I have already redecorated in my mind, once the corpses are cleared out. Cheated again.
4. Drag Queens
Not one Susan Boyle impersonator. It's not like any of these hags would have to do all that much to get her look down. Yes, Keith Cole, I am looking right at you.
3. Elizabeth Taylor
As I write this, there are 9 days left for her to become the Best Dead Person of 2009.
2. My Complete Lack of Feeling A Lack
At the start of 2009, I decided that I was only going to go see art that was either made by my friends or that I was being paid to assess. As you can imagine, this gave me a hell of a lot more free time, because I don't care for that many people in the first place, and newspapers don't run art reviews anymore. What I thought would happen, however, was that by about June or July, I would start to miss going to see art. Nope, not one bit. When the fall season started, I felt the same. No phantom limb syndrome, no 5 stages of grief. Maybe I never really liked most art in the first place? Or, maybe a life without art is actually a perfectly acceptable type of life? Or, maybe I am just a tired, washed up hack (ask the poetry award juries)? My resolution for 2010 is to go to at least one art show a month by somebody I have never heard of and/or no newspaper will ever cover. Go bi-polar or go home.
1. Andrew Harwood
Herself moved to Winnipeg. He had many good reasons, and his life has improved - but what about the rest of us? The city is boring without him. I honestly didn't have great expectations of Barack Obama, but Mrs. Harwood, well, he always delivered.
A.B.'s A and B lists for 2009
LIST A - Top Five Classic Food Stylist's Tips As Revealed To Me in 2009:
1) For a farm-fresh looking bowl of cereal and milk, substitute white glue for the milk.
2) Scoops of mashed potato are an effective double for ice cream.
3) A thin application of hair conditioner lends sheen to vegetables, chops, etc. etc.
4) To keep food from absorbing moisture, spray with fabric protector.
5) For the pancake money shot, use WD40 instead of syrup.
LIST B - Five Reasons Why Led Zeppelin Didn't Reform This Year
1) Simon Cowell did not decree that this should be so.
2) Music is merely soundtrack now, so the game doesn't seem worth the candle, as the Brits say.
3) Of lemons and legs. These days their whole male-female stock in trade seems puzzling. Strangely, in their own way the lyrics valorized women (at the same time they totally exploited us).
4) The Mage is in his physick garden and probably sees no reason to deal with a load of tacky Entertainment-Tonight-style questions.
5) Have you listened to 'The Battle Of Evermore' recently?? It says you can't stop the tide of history, man!!
A recent TVO episode of the Agenda on the Future of Reading brought a panel of people together to worry and argue about whether the book as an object is going to disappear and (some of them) to advocate for e-readers and the potentials of reading in a networked environment. I got itchy and squirmy. Nobody was talking about libraries, nobody was talking about access to information, nor about the fact that critical inquiry is not just for those with post secondary degrees and money for electronic gee-gaws. Publishers are filters, they receive submissions and choose manuscripts based on their own criteria. Whether or not the reader agrees with the publisher's criteria, the system is one in which the reader expects to have their own assumptions challenged. Questioning, evaluating, participating, questioning...these are the processes of shared cultural activity, and they ought to be available to everyone. Who cares if it happens on paper or on a screen? What matters is whether or not the base of participants is broad enough that the challenges of diversity help keep things evolving. And that means doing more than just carving culture up into a jumble of isolated self-perpetuating, self-affirming niche communities.
Bob Stein had an interesting thing to say, but I wonder what he means by "successful" and I wonder what he means by "community."
"The reason why I disagree completely about the idea that branding of publishers is on the way out is that I think that the the successful publishers of the future are going to be those that understand how to build a community around an author and her work and her readers."
Anthony Easton's Ten Aesthetic Events of 2009
1. The Reptiles in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call; New Orleans. (Herzog)
The movie was as insane as a match-up of Herzog and Cage could be, and there was much that could recommend it—but the visuals of the reptile have cineaste/film study thesis all over it. From the engorged python swimming through the brackish muck of a flooded jail, to a crocodile POV of a sunbaked highway, to the instantly legendary double iguana a musical number; most hermetically visionary symbolism of the year.
2. Magdeleana Abakanowicz Head (Detroit Institute of The Arts, 1975)
The 70s were sort of a game in how ugly, how abject, how brutal an object could be before it was rejected out of hand, weren't t hey? This burlap sack, sort of like Harlon Ellison's mouth that could not scream, had a brutality and bluntness that gut hits with it's crudity and unskilled, almost democratic, lowest common denominator materials. (The DIA was strange, 5th largest collection in the united states, equally divided into European aristocratic prettiness and a tight/well curated contemporary collection)
3.The snapshot from Ray Nielson of Chicago, untitled 2009 Best use of orange evah.
and this shot by Brad Moore of Laguna Beach, California, “Kermore Lane, Stanton, California,” 2008
Because it is scant miles from Irvine, with the Lewis Baltz heritage, because of it's brilliant use of vertical and horizontal composition, because of its use of colour, because it finds sophistication in work that seems to be overly processed already, because it's digital.
4. The catalog essay from the NGO show about Dan Flavin's early works and icons Corinna Theirolf and Johannes Vogy.
Which for some reason, aside from being well printed, with great colour transfers, had a great essay about iconoclasm and iconography in modern art.
5. Matt Zoller Sietz's video of the follow scene http://www.thelmagazine.com/newyork/following/Content?oid=1185679
Because collating has been the new creating for decades (see also this fan video decimating the line b/w homosocial and homosexual in the case of martin and lewis):
(also Oliver Laric's baptisms and his clip art) [posted stills from Laric's ↓ ↑]
6. The Dirt Clod fight in Where the Wild Things Are
Earnest, and about child hood, but also about the painful, difficult, and not very rewarding traumas, the banal acts of violence and destruction that amalgamate somewhere near the cerebral cortex.
7.The George Ohr show at the Gardiner Museum
Ohr is one of the most important American artists of the 19th century. His work is visually innovative, radically new, and is among the first to figure out how to aestheticise craft—we all owe him a huge debt. This tight, badly installed show, with no publicity, and a jaw droopingly stupid review in one of the free weeklies. It had a dozen of his best pieces, but who would know it?
8.Otto Marseus van Schick's serpents and insects, 1690
New Orleans has a rep for being sexy, mucky, for climbing from the fetid swamp—this huge (10x20) foot painting of insects, snakes, frogs, and one menacing turtle stood out as meet and right, esp. In the context of acres of French meringue.
9. Kirk Cameron's Fireproof, and subsequent para-texts.
The pro-am cult of the evangelical latches onto American Christan's obsession with public confession and thinking they are not quite pure enough. There is a revolving mirror to this: Outsider work made by an insider for an outsider audience who likes the celebrity of the insider but always wants to maintain their outsider status.
10. Kevin Yates at Susan Hobbes
Tiny bronze trees mirrored perfectly into decrepit houses—the most exquisitely constructed, obsessive and melancholy show, one of profound tenderness and an almost permanent detachment.
(Runner's Up: John Heward's messy post minimalism at MoCCA, Nicholas Baer's abstracted, weirdly heart breaking landscapes at MOCCA; How all of the paintings in the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame were painted by a decent but not very memorable artist in the mid 50s, the wallpaper in my friend David Preyde's home, the giant tigers outside of Detroit Stadium; wool jersey's from Midwestern industrial teams from the 40s and 50s; Levi Johnson's gorgeous, meaty ass; Bob Dylan's xmas album; the insatiable ego of Jeff Koons; having a bf for 3 months that looked like the guy from the Pringles package; Wesleyan Methodist Church in Oshawa, that small Jack Bush at the fall Heffel auction, with the stripe of unprimed canvas; That long narrow one—Rose, in the TD Centre, that long and wide pink sash one at OISE; the quirky Benglis' pieces that pop up all over the web, Mooi's one/one scale horse, rabbit and pig furniture; the hand painted mural at the back of Norman Royal Furs; the bus driver portraits at Eglinton station; the card player portraits at the Bridge Club at Bathurst/Lawrence;the Jesus loves me banner made by children at the Church of Redeemer near keele; Jean the legendary Mississauga hoarder, Sholem Krishtalka's scarves; Eaton's spring catalogs from 1968; seeing the 34th floor of the Mies temple on King; Madam Levant's Grave; Shitney Bears; the exquisite disappointment of Obama; that weird bondage queen of a neo-classical martyr at Knox; the Ryman's at the AGO; Fighter; The Gaitor Bait Bar; the polychromed statue of Joan of Arc at the Catherdral of New Orleans; getting a handjob from the easter bunny at a bar called the Bourbon Cowboy in the French quarter; The Tulane episcopal centre; any number of dutch paintings of hanging rabbits; this wrangler king of the cowboys poster at the Ft Sask Laramie; the Wedgwood ROM show; Rob Lowe as Rough Trade shot by Nan Goldin; Tim Scott's giant and sexy sexy plastics at Mirvish's weird Scarborough warehouse; Silvercliff library; Funpix Eggos; Glittery Costco era Poinsettia's; “feel like a drag, leave like a queen” on a wig store near parliament; Andy Parke's house; Atwood's weird and slightly inappropriate purple eye shadow on the cover of Zoomer; Faith La Roque on Convenience Gallery; Swedish Folk Ribbon at MacFAB; the 70s murals at that public school near Christie I did the job classes at; and the Griffin Mac Funeral Home near Main Street Station.)
The Toronto Alliance of Art Critics panel organized by Nadja Sayej a couple of weeks ago is now available on Youtube. Leah Sandals and John Bentley Mays have both written interesting blog posts about it. Having watched the video documentation, I find myself most impressed with David Balzer. Here are two things he said that I like:
The reason why people don't care about criticism isn't because there's a general apathy towards it but because it doesn't do service to the community, to the art scene, for critics to have a voice...because [artists are the] audience for us. And that needs to change. What I'm interested in as a critic is actually not the artists reading me but rather the people that aren't artists, and I don't think that there are very many. Film is different. Film is an industry, it's part of the culture, its part of the zeitgeist, people put money into it and want to know if something's good or bad. (video 6 of 8 at 4:21)Balzer is right on. But interestingly both of his statements speak more to editing and publishing than they do to writing. It's the responsibility of a publication to encourage confliciting opinions, to set up a context in which a diversity of readers are welcomed, and create an environment that readers come to because they can expect to have their assumptions challenged. There are umpteen reasons why writers self-censor, but I think the biggest is fear of offending artists. But if it is clear in the context of the publication that the audience for criticism is not the artist, but a broad and unpredictable scope of readers, then the pressure on the writers shifts less on the negative need to establish defensible positions and more towards the positive need to communicate their points of view. Editors may be frustrated that writers hold back, but that just means editors have to work harder to encourage dialogue and set a precedent. This means actively seeking out challenging critiques and then assuming responsibility when artists get their noses out of joint, rather than putting everything on the shoulders of the writer. And keeping the conversation going from issue to issue. It doesn't really matter if the context is academic or populist, the importance of editorial risk and responsibility is pretty much the same.
Being an editor has really taught me a lot of things and one of the most dangerous things you can do as a writer is to assume there is editorial opposition to what you really want to say. There is a lot of self-censure in the freelance writer community, and actually the reality of it is that there's a lot of freedom, especially in Canada, and you can say what you actually want to say ...so say it. (video 7 of 8 at 4:23)