GG_sm Lorna Mills and Sally McKay

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I saw Big Fish recently, cause it was a good night for self-indulgence. Tim Burton makes interesting things to look at, and Ewan MacGregor still turns my crank. My friend S. used the word "forced" in a positive way to describe the weird fictive visuals. Father/son drama is about as loaded as it gets: hot cipher-on-cipher action. This movie was surprising and captivating except for all the other parts where it was tiresome and predictable. Why must Tim Burton work with Danny Elfman? (In fact, couldn't we do away with Danny Elfman's music altogether?) The fiction/reality flip-floppery was fun, but not quite fun enough to outweigh the long-winded, broad-stroke, get-out-the-violins crap. For a really intense, scary, beautiful , unsentimental (and short) father son film, see Collin Zipp's artist's project at Samplesize.

- sally mckay 5-20-2004 7:42 am [link] [4 comments]

As I left my neighbourhood diner the other day, the waiter remarked, "You sure seemed to be enjoying that book." I gather I'd been chortling aloud over my pasta and pint. Great, more fodder for the neighbours' impression that I am some kind of no-good weirdo freak. No wonder I like Girls Who Bite Back, the latest project from the ever prolific Emily Pohl-Weary. I was initially a tad dubious about the topic for this anthology: female superheroes. And there are a lot of references to a certain pretty, moody blond TV icon vampire slayer. But Buffy is just a launching pad and a bunch of these essays are on a uniquely oddball edge that it feels damn good to indulge.

I'm still reading the book, and not in any particular order, but one of my favourites so far is Carma Livingstone's "Madame Mouth's Little Get Together," in which a clatch of female video game characters meet up to discuss their profession and get looped on a beverage called CircuitPlus. The cast are The Legs, The Hair, The Ass, The Brain, The Tits, and Madame Mouth. They spend the whole time agressively bickering, comparing notes on nude patches and the "bitch actresses" who are portraying them in the movie versions of their games. They all flirt with The Tits, who only has eyes for The Brain. There is violence, but I don't want to spoil the story so I'll say no more.

"Five Case Studies of Females With Enhanced Characteristics" by S.P. Bustos, is an incredibly convincing study in fictional genetics that charts mutations in the X chromosome resulting in super powers.
This mutated protein allows the subject to undergo morphological alterations of the body to resemble any person. Nerve-growth factors become up-regulated in the subject, which triggers high numbers of cells to migrate throughout the body and form various tissues, including cartilage and bone. Strict regulation of tissue formation, especially in the facial area, allows successful morphogenesis.
I also very much enjoyed Sophie Levy's "A Manifesto For The Bitten," a riff on cyborgs, aliens, vampires and queers.
When cyborgs look in the mirror, do they see vampire reflections? What do they see? And how do they see it? Robot vision only becomes discernible in the movies at the point when it fails -- pixellates. Think about the last moments we share with the T-100 in Terminator II: as he dissolves himself, his vision fails, breaks up, and we are reminded (at the point of his most human action) that he is a robot. His eyes are screens upon which the world is projected. When we look into cyborg eyes, do we see ourselves reflected and distorted as on the convex surface of the television screen?
I can't wait to read the rest of this strange, energetic book. The Toronto launch for Girls Who Bite Back is this Thursday evening at the Cameron House from 6 to 9pm.

For those of you in New York, go meet Emily and contributors Carly Stasko, Daniel Heath Justice, and Mariko Tamaki on Sunday, May 23, 7 pm at The Lucky Cat (245 Grand St, Williamsburg). More details about both events are here on the website.

- sally mckay 5-19-2004 5:51 pm [link] [add a comment]

Two cyclists were killed in the Toronto area last week. Some ARCers (not me) did a memorial ride yesterday. Sad pictures here, by Tino, of nice people taking flowers to an empty place. The other memorial ride, much more central, is planned for Wednesday. If you are a cyclist you are welcome to attend. Here are the details:
One week following the death of a 29-year-old cyclist, Toronto cyclists will ride to the site of the fatality to pay their respects to a fellow cyclist. Flowers will be left at the site to mark the death.

When: Wednesday, May 19 at 6:00 p.m.

Where: Intersection of Dundas St. W. Service Road and Dupont St.

Meet: Cyclists will gather at the Bloor/Spadina parkette and ride to the site together leaving at 5:30 p.m.

There will be a brief ceremony of solidarity and respect at Dundas and Dupont at 6:00 p.m.

At 6:30 p.m. the cyclists will leave together and ride to the Ferry terminal to catch the 7:15 p.m. ferry to Ward's Island. A ceremony and celebration of the cyclist's life organized by his family and friends will be held on Ward's Island at 7:45 p.m.

- sally mckay 5-17-2004 7:22 pm [link] [5 comments]

Any Canadians feeling smug about our general left-wingedness as compared to USA should read Christie Blatchford's article today in the Globe and Mail, an article about crimes committed by people wearing hoods being more heinous than those by perpetrators who are boldly bare-faced (no outright mention of skin colour...), an article that begins and ends with her $200 trip to the hair salon. Actually, I take that back: nobody should read it, but in case you feel like getting all steamed up, here's the link. I am finding it extremely disturbing that degrading images of Iraqis are still being splattered, now with musical soundtrack and voice-over narration (as on CBC's "The National"), all over the mainstream broadcast news. We have devolved the function of this footage from breaking information to yet more vaguely titillating eye-candy, a transition that opens the door for idle, decadent speculation such as Blatchford's. Reminds me of the now too famous 1968 photograph by Eddie Adams of the execution of a Viet Cong prisoner. It might be my ignorance, but I can't think of any images of white people in extremes of dehumanisation that have been adopted in this fashion, recontextualised, and mutliplied a million times by the western press.

- sally mckay 5-17-2004 5:33 am [link] [22 comments]

daniel richter
Power Plant brochure with painting by Daniel Richter
It takes me forever to go to art shows. I recently went down to see the current show at The Power Plant and because I'd already heard everybody else griping about how bad it is, I ended up liking it much more than I thought. In fact, I actually got caught taking pictures of Daniel Richter's work and had to erase them in front of the gallery attendant. D-OH! I'm not easily mortified, but that did it. Later I realised that the shot I wanted is the exact same one they used on the cover of the free brochure. So here's a picture of that instead, as it looks sitting on my window ledge.

Enough anecdote...on with the art review! Daniel Richter's paintings caught me off guard. I spent a full five minutes in battle with myself, saying "these are horrible, and everyone knows it" while at the exact same time digging them quite a bit. They are scratchy and ugly and too big for their britches. They are animistic, apocalyptic doomsday carnivals that remind me of Euorpean science fiction and revolution. The one on the brochure, titled, "Das Missverstandnis" (now that I have the spelling right, I think the translation is "The Misunderstanding" ... any help with this would be appreciated), depicts a motely crew of feathered, costumed folk, come up from town to pay some sort of strange homage or serenade to a big tree full of birds. Yet all the while a predatory, knowing, radioactive cat is stalking the scene and giving us art viewers the nod. An interesting note on Richter is that he used to paint abstraction, and recently, suddenly, took on rendered space, representational form, and content. It's an unusual transition. There is an image of one of his abstract works from 1999 here.
Cloaca, image stolen from
The main event, of course, is Wim Delvoye's "Cloaca", a big machine that has been exhibited all over the world, and takes food (in this case table scraps from a fancy downtown Toronto restaurant) and, through a complicated process that replicates human digestion, produces small, demure portions of poo. One of my friends who saw it early in the run complained that it was too clean and sterile. I believe the exact words were : "much too clinical for an ass-licker like me." But by the time I got down there the damn thing stank badly and I was kind of impressed. I could barely stand in the room for the time it took to tour of the mechanism, and fled before I'd seen quite as much as I wanted. The gallery attendant (a different one) was very generous with information, and shared with me that when she goes home from work, people sitting next to her on the streetcar wrinkle up their noses and go "sniff sniff." Geez, thanks, Wim. I liked the sad cyborg aspect of this work, but I think the digs at both corporate culture (see the Mr. Clean w/bowels icon and "buy feces now" slogan) and art world preciousness are add-ons, making up a shaky, ironic patina that fails to function as subversion, but gives the piece a detrimental sheen of political correctness.

- sally mckay 5-15-2004 7:56 pm [link] [19 comments]


Last night as I was watching TV my normally restless clicky-thumb stopped on a show called The Fifties, The Fear And The Dream. The imagery that caught my eye was Levittown, a model new community in New York for GIs returning from the war to have their families. Thank you for the f88king ugly suburbs, William Levitt. The show, however, a simple straightforward Canadian-made history, cast these middle-low income burbs in a contextual light that made more sense to me than usual, the extreme social value placed on an affordable patch of lawn a reward for enduring wartime: enough with catastrophic world events, time to look after me and mine. It was an understandable reaction, too bad it's now an internalised, systemic ideology. There's a good website on Levittown here (where I stole the picture above).

My friend J. reminded me today that the USA is based on single heros doing big things, while Canada is based on groups of individuals doing small things. My reiteration here is oversimplified, but this idea somehow oddly helped me in my current anxiety about the USA. The grand symbolic gesture of the nuclear bomb...too much a singular icon. Nuclear physics also employed powerful, charismatic, and icnonic personalities. In some lights Oppenheimer is the most romantic, tragic anti-hero I can imagine: responsible for the A-bomb and the deaths of cities of people, remorseful and politicised, arguing passionately against Teller's (who, I just found out, is the inspiration for the Dr. Strangelove character...makes perfect sense, duh) plans for the H-bomb and the potential deaths of countries, continents, even planets. There is footage of Oppenheimer in the documentary, a man in pain in an impossible position, speaking, imploring his country to see people in other lands (ie: potential victims of hydrogen bombs) as "men like ourselves". I've been looking for the quote and can't find it. But I did find this (below), I think from the same interview with Edward R. Murrow in 1954.
Oppenheimer on secrecy: "The trouble with secrecy is that it denies to the government itself the wisdom and the resources of the whole community, of the whole country, and the only way you can do this is to let almost anyone say what he thinks - to try to give the best synopses, the best popularizations, the best mediations of technical things that you can, and to let men deny what they think is false - argue what they think is false, you have to have a free and uncorrupted communication.

"And this is - this is so the heart of living in a complicated technological world - it is so the heart of freedom that that is why we are all the time saying, `Does this really have to be secret?' `Couldn't you say more about that?' `Are we really acting in a wise way?' Not because we enjoy chattering - not because we are not aware of the dangers of the world we live in, but because these dangers cannot be met in any other way.

"The fact is, our government cannot do without us - all of us."

- sally mckay 5-15-2004 9:29 am [link] [8 comments]

Common Dreams has an excellent, cheering (in a hell-in-a-handbasket kind of way) essay by 81-year-old Kurt Vonnegut.
"By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas."

- sally mckay 5-13-2004 7:17 am [link] [1 comment]


My neighbourhood has Nighthawks. In the summer I sleep with my head next to a window, and I can hear them going peent peent* as they dart around up above the rowhouses, conducting their nocturnal flycatching activities.
*according to Roger Tory Peterson (actually the cry really does sound like that, which is part of the reason I like them)

- sally mckay 5-12-2004 7:56 am [link] [7 comments]

krazy kat

big pencil

Remember Krazy Kat? I find it hard to believe that George Herriman was writing this strip at the beginning of the last century. The art jokes are self-referential, and the mood is existential. The characters are obssessed with one another, and yet they utterly fail to communicate. The disconnects are so consistent that they don't even notice, each content with his own version of events. It's an exquisitely poignant picture of humanity: ultimately all we really need is to register one another's existence. But this proves to be no small task. Here's what E.E. cummings said about Krazy Kat: "The sensical law of this world is might makes right; the nonsensical law of our heroine* is love conquers all."
* Krazy Kat was supposedly genderless, but I guess the guy is entitled to his opinion.

krazy kat 2

- sally mckay 5-12-2004 2:59 am [link] [6 comments]