Literature & Writing Archives

Words -- from me or from someone actually famous.

Activity and Energy

March 09, 2004 at 05:20 PM

Category: Literature & Writing

An excerpt from an essay I'm writing, giving background to the inspiration for a proposal for (maybe) my 4th year project:


I was thousands of feet above the ground on an evening flight to Toronto. The cabin was quiet with most of my fellow passengers dozing in their seats as we cut through the dark sky. The interior lights were dim allowing me to peer out the tiny airplane window as I looked for signs of civilization in the darkness below.

I noted how the presence of farmers, rural homeowners and lonely truck drivers were precisely pinpointed in the speckles of lights that were far and few in between; glowing clusters indicated small towns. I wondered about all the people who must be getting ready for bed at this very moment, or perhaps they were cuddled in front of their televisions. Although I could not see actual people from this height, the electricity that flowed through the space they occupied marked their existence.

Hours passed by and finally an announcement was made to indicate that we would be approaching Toronto shortly. I will always remember the breathtaking moment of watching the clusters of lights getting bigger and closer together until finally the entire horizon exploded with illumination.

A mass of moving car headlights snaked between grids of streetlamps. Brightness emitted from the pores of all the stores and restaurants open late and from the rows upon rows of homes. At that moment, I felt that I could see the entire city from my seat in the air as if it were laid out in front of me like a map of energy.

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Books are still awesome

January 23, 2003 at 12:00 AM

Category: Art & Design, Literature & Writing

Damn Indigo for having so many good books!!

Picked up "The Art of Interactive Design" by Chris Crawford. What prose for a computer book! Some good quotes within the first 10 pages:

"If you consider interactivity design to be a variation on traditional human factors design, then you should hurl this book away from you with vehement force; its carefree disregard for the eternal verities of your field will only upset you."

"... With the term interactivity yanked around so much as to be half-dead... I'll bet that one day you'll walk into the grocery store and find a box of laundry detergent with a big banner slashing diagonally across its top, saying, 'NEW! IMPROVED! INTERACTIVE!'"

"We tend to think of interactivity as a Boolean property (either you have it or you don't) like virginity."

I also bought this month's issue of metro-pop since it was an illustration special.

Art Now (one of those huge Taschen books) was calling me too but I resisted... for now anyways.

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Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn, Kodak Lecture

November 29, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Category: Literature & Writing

To paraphrase Joshua Davis (of, "I hate Jackson Pollock. I hate his works with a passion. So what did I do? I read everything I could about him." Seems bizarre to immerse yourself in what you hate but it's more than likely that you hate what you don't understand.

I must admit that I didn't like Atanarjuat - The Fast Runner at all. I felt that the plot was hard to follow, the scenes seemed haphazardly put together and slow moving, and my opinion of the acting wasn't very high. While watching the film for the first time, I had to leave halfway through because I didn't think I could make it all the way to the end.

When I arrived at the Kodak Lecture they were showing The Fast Runner. (Having to see it again is truly a test of understanding through immersion.) At the halfway point, they stopped the movie and turned the floor to Zacharias Kunuk (director) and Norman Cohn (photography director).

Kunuk, in his accented English, spoke shortly about his childhood growing up in Nunavut and how he started making videos in the North at a time when television was rare. Cohn, a New Yorker, continued Kunuk's story of how they met and ended up working on The Fast Runner together.

The majority of the lecture was a Q&A period and it was actually quite revealing of Kunuk and Cohn's character and viewpoints. Kunuk mostly remained quiet and was content with watching Cohn's hands through the eyes of his mini-DV camcorder -- evidence of the Inuit non-didactic storytelling style. On the other hand, Cohn was very opinionated and he usually spent a few minutes answering each audience member's question. (Unfortunately, his humour seemed to be coloured with a slightly condescending tone which affected my view of the presentation quality.)

The answers of most interest to me were on the topic of video versus film. I suppose Hollywood has brainwashed me into thinking that each scene should be well planned in order to save on film but Cohn argues that video will change that mindset and allow a wider range of freedom. Video allows the director to stop worrying about the costs of shooting and instead focus on catching the unexpected moment which can be more interesting than what's written in the script.

In the end, I still didn't think The Fast Runner was any better but having Cohn and Kunuk as speakers did explain quite a lot to me. They definitely used an approach to cinematic representation that hasn't been seen often before and even the subject matter of the North has been scarcely touched.

Cohn had asked, "Who has the power to represent?" And just as Walter Benjamin optimistically wrote in his essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Cohn and Kunuk seem to believe that the magic of video is that everyone can have that power."

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Take Me, I'm Yours

November 19, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Category: Art & Design, Literature & Writing

Take Me, I'm Yours

Novemeber 14 to December 15, 2002

Curated by:
Jan Allen

Featuring works by:
Laurel Woodcock

Laurel Woodcock's Lured I (front) and Lured II (back)

Laurel Woodcock is an artist, writer and teacher in Montreal so I haven't ever met her before in my life but I think Laurel and I must have a psychic thing going on.

The shoes that appear in her cinematic-sized video projection Lured I are in my closet. And since I actually have a few fly pictures of my own, it's good to know that I'm not the only one who thinks flies can be made into an art form as Laurel has done in her operetta piece.

Overall, I thought that Laurel Woodcock: take me, I'm yours, a selection of her works since 1997, was a great show. I was worried when I read that her works were 'ambiguous juxtapositions' because I thought it would end up to be one of those bizarre art shows where nothing makes sense while a curator prances around proclaiming how "marvelous!" everything was but Laurel's art pieces were definitley down to earth.

There seemed to have been an overall theme of taking little things and blowing them out of prorportion. For example, Woodcock's Advisory Warning seemed to have been examining the futileness of trying to predict our future. Next to a magnify glass examining a 'business card horoscope', a tiny LCD screen was showing a tornado. Much like how weather is based on chaos theory, trying to understand our future using the occult pokes fun at those who obsess over their daily horoscope. The use of a magnify glass was quite amusing since it was hard to read the horoscope without twisting my head this way and that. It also seems to play on the idea of those who examine parapsychology phenomenon and how they are fighting to have their field taken seriously as a true science.

A whirlwind tour of the rest of the exhibit:

  • Extreme Sport was quite amusing. It reminded me of sitting in the nose bleed section of a sporting arena, staring at dots of people, wondering what the heck is going on down in the playing field or basketball court.
  • Lured I seems to capture the human psyche very well. As I wondered why I was watching this woman lose her keys in the sewer drain over and over again (a different angle each time), I thought about how we replay are most stupid moments again and again in our heads as if we could somehow change the past.
  • Lured II (a pile of silver candy and a video of a pre-teen girl examining how our personality is projected in the way we eat candy) caused an interesting effect on me. I had a candy before listening to the video so when the girl started talking, I immediately felt self-conscious. Turn that around and it made me remember how it felt to be her age again with everyone scrutinizing me (or at least feeling like everyone was scrutinizing me).
  • A series of framed, stark white photos of a sole fly were in one corner. Definetley a play on the idea of a "fly on the wall". It's interesting how we have an ability to pay attention to only what other people tell us to pay attention to.
  • Operetta was talked a lot about during my visit so I'll only compliment Laurel here. (Good job, Laurel.)

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Ian-Carr Harris

November 12, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Category: Art & Design, Literature & Writing

Ian-Carr Harris

Power Plant
September 21 to November 17, 2002

Curated by:
Philip Monk

Featuring work by:
Ian Carr-Harris

"My work centers on acts of re-tracing -- we could call it 're-touching' -- conceived as forms of demonstration. Events rather than objects, they require that we look at something that we already 'know', and in that looking to discover -- not quickly, nor entirely grasped -- something we took for granted." -- Ian Carr-Harris

Okay, well I seem to understand what Carr-Harris' goal was but I found that this survey exhibition of his work from 1989 to 1999 was very 'un-eventful' and unimpressive for an artist producing work for the past few decades.

Perhaps it's because I don't care to put the effort and time into understanding his complexities -- just as our tour guide seemed to suggest about the art critics who have decided against even writing anything about Carr-Harris' works. At least it makes me feel good that I'm not alone in my feelings and that the befuddlement that is Ian Carr-Harris has caused the current issue of Lola Magazine to feature an entire article about this 'generation art gap'.

Let's examine his piece Jan. - Mar. then. Okay, so it's some sort of wooden office island/cabinet with a bundled stack of magazines on top. The magazines are contemporary and the title of the work seems to suggest something about time. One end of the office island appears unfinished, the tour guide doesn't want us to touch anything so we can't open any of the drawers and, most importantly, it's a piece of furniture in the middle of an art gallery. All of this must be focusing on the non-functional nature of the work.

So, now am I suppose to realize how much I take office furniture for granted? (How much I take functional office furniture for granted??) Made in Hong Kong (a bookcase cabinet) caused similar confusion with me.

Yes, indeed, there seems to be a generation gap (mental gap?) going on here.

Even Annabel, created in 1999, would have appeared to connect more with me since it featured a computer voice but I felt no emotional tug with this one either. The voice was a bit garbled too so I couldn't even tell what the words were.

The curator, Philip Monk, writes in his essay, "the banality of the voice... [leaves] a strange mix of longing and loss."

Unfortunately, I only feel that Carr-Harris' message was lost.

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A Letter to Fiona

November 06, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Category: Literature & Writing

Excerpts from a Jessica Helfand essay, written in the style of Fay Weldon's ""Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen:

"Dear Fiona:

You are turning two in a few weeks and I think that it's high time you understood a thing or two about graphic design. After all, you are part of Generation ABC and what are ABCs, after all, but typography?

... A lot of people say print is dead... Print isn't dead, sweetheart. It's just sleeping.

So as you begin to learn your ABCs, remember that your mind is like a giant alarm clock that wakes those letters up so that they spell something, so that they mean something.

... Remember that your ABCs are what helps you read, and reading is what opens up your mind so that you can learn about anything you want... And even though we read them printed on paper and you will very likely read them emblazoned on a screen... It doesn't matter, because no matter what the typography does (or doesn't do), and no matter what print is (or isn't), words are just ideas waiting to be read. And reading will never die. Reading is your ticket to the world.""

A Letter to Fiona on First Reading The End of Print
from Screen: Essays on Graphic Design, New Media, and Visual Culture
by Jessica Helfand (2000)

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October 26, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Category: Art & Design, Literature & Writing


Art System
October 25 to October 27, 2002

Curated by:
Derek Mainella

Featuring works by:
Matthew Bennett, Jubal Brown, Jason Hallows, Andrew Kidder, Derek Mainella, Anna Jane Mcintyre

Painting at Arcade

It's 3pm on a Saturday afternoon.

My detour into Chinatown to find the elusive* Art System gallery has led me up a flight of stairs and through a very pink door. I seem to vaguely recall my old roommate telling me that Art System puts on good parties.

As I enter the gallery, I feel the alcoholic stickiness of last night's opening reception party tug at the sole of my shoes while a young man half-heartedly sweeps plastic cups and straws into piles. (I think it's the curator, Derek Mainella, but I don't ask.)

"Sorry for the condition of that display," he tells me while pointing to a wall of disorganized pixel art paintings (possibly his own, see below), half of which were in a pile on the floor. "I ran out of sale stickers last night and was selling them right off the wall."

Looks like I missed an interesting night -- especially since the flyer was encouraging 'Pac-Man era attire'.

I wasn't too sure what to expect from Arcade!, a survey exhibition of arcade-related art work. It did cross my mind how geeky this idea of having a gallery show dedicated to video game art was. Yet, just as the curator proposed with this show, it is truly a reflection of my generation.

The so-called geeks are turning out to the ones making the big bucks and, considering how mainstream computing and gaming have become, the geeks are most certainly going to be shaping our visual landscape of the present and future.

left: paintings by Matthew Bennett | right: (non)pixel art paintings (Derek Mainella

In terms of Arcade!, most works had a retro-80s look. Some of the artists chose to monumentalize video game art by increasing the scale and transferring each pixel onto canvas through paint. There is something truly ritualistic about meticulously painting straight-edged squares one after another.

Matthew Bennett, co-founder of Mind Control Studios in Toronto, decided to approach it differently and made Metroid** into erotica (see above, left). I guess it's every boy's fantasy to have a woman who can kick alien butt. And with that heavy armour, it's even easier to imagine the mystique. (Of course, now is the time to point out how only one of the six featured artists is a woman.)

While I don't want to underscore the influences of video games on representation in a digital culture, I considered Arcade! as only a nice blast to the past. An interesting re-mediation of low art versus high art but overall uninspiring for my current New Media practices. Nevertheless, I still went home and played some Metroid.

* elusive since Art System doesn't even seem to have a website... very strange for a gallery that showcases a lot of multimedia events.
** actually, I'm not too sure if it's Metroid but I can't think of any other female video game characters.

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The Paradise Institute

October 20, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Category: Art & Design, Literature & Writing

The Paradise Institute

Power Plant
September 21 to November 17, 2002

Curated by:
Philip Monk

Featuring work by:
Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller

From The Paradise Institute artist catalogue

Art galleries are the last place that I would have expected to feel like I just stepped off a roller coaster but Canadian artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller have truly engineered an installation ride of hyper-realism that's just as thrilling as being in an amusement park.

Cardiff and Miller have collaborated many times in the past and this time they bring us The Paradise Institute -- a specially built mini-movie theatre of wood, real theatre seats and faked theatre space. Headphones are used and moving images are displayed on a screen much smaller than what would appear in an actual movie house.

At this point, I would like to state that mere words are futile in describing the complexity of this installation, nor can words do justice for this piece.

The sound production quality experienced in Cardiff and Miller's theatre of illusion make it impossible to describe how easy it was to believe that someone was whispering in your ear, that someone was undressing right behind you, or that a mob of people outside the theatre installation were banging on the walls.

Janet Cardiff is quite well known for her audio walks so the attention to detail in The Paradise Institute's audio shouldn't come as any surprise. Quite possibly I could go on for ages about the sound but let us not forget about the 'theatre' concept of the installation. It was very interesting how the visuals played with -- and against -- the audio. The 'film' being shown was fragmented in a Cubist way while the audio narrative stayed more or less linear.

The most intriguing part about The Paradise Institute is when the on-screen fiction mixes with the off-screen fiction. It felt analogous to when I watch movies and, in my head, I project my own director's cut onto the screen. It also works the other way around, such as when you need that break from mundane life so you daydream about being a fictional character in the last movie you saw. (Yes, I'll admit it: I think having spidy-powers would be cool.)

Interior view of The Paradise Institute

More reading: Atom Egoyan interview with Janet Cardiff

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The Found and the Familiar

October 19, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Category: Art & Design, Literature & Writing

The Found and the Familiar:
Snapshots in Contemporary Canadian Art

Gallery TPW
October 17 to November 16, 2002

Curated by:
Sophie Hackett and Jennifer Long

Featuring works by:
Sara Angelucci, Barbara Astman, Dean Baldwin, Chris Curreri, Max Dean, Nancy Friedland, Clint Griffin, Vid Ingelevics, Germaine Koh, Adrienne Lai and Nina Levitt

A collage by Clint Griffin

A few days earlier, my roommate's boyfriend interviewed me for one of his journalism assignments. The topic was cultural identity and somehow we got talking about how our 'boundaries' in Toronto affect our perception of culture.

Being that I'm Asian, one would think that I would know more about Markham, the Pacific Mall or Toronto's Chinese newspapers, but alas, I am in the dark.

"You have to understand," I tell Jon (my interviewer), "that I grew up in Regina. And that Toronto to me means everything south of Bloor, west of Yonge and east of High Park."

It would seem that Clint Griffin also agrees that familiar roads can serve as our boundaries. Griffin is an Ontario-born artist who likes to collect discarded photos and his sense of playfulness is alive in his piece pictured above and below. (Sorry, I forgot to write down the title!).

A close up. Note: 'Eglinton', 'St. Clair'

The pencil sketchings on this mixed media collage of cutout photos and used mailing envelopes imply a room and the space beyond. The corners of the walls and ceiling are Toronto streets alluding to how we box ourselves into a certain environment. A painting on the illusionary wall depicts a sketched out map of Toronto supporting my idea that perception is what we are most familiar with.

The Found and the Familiar plays on this idea of taking things that we know (snapshots) in order to reflect on our perception of how things are represented. What we choose to present (or hide) in these informal pictures indicate the values of a society that believes "a picture is worth a thousand words."

I felt that the artists featured appealed much more to me on an intellectual level, rather than emotional, so I did not find this show to be very exciting. However, the re-mediation of snapshots did cause me to wonder what my photo shoebox is saying about me. (Talking behind my back, no doubt.)

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Case Studies: Kinematics

October 19, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Category: Art & Design, Literature & Writing

Case Studies: Kinematics

York Quay Centre
September 20 to November 3, 2002

Curated by:
Patrick Macaulay

Featuring works by:
Doug Back, Michael Buchanan, Peter Gazendam, Lee Goreas, Jen Hamilton, Gordon Hicks, Marla Hlady and Devon Knowles

The hallway at York Quay Centre

Kinematics is a group show featuring eight artists who explore and/or break our preconceived notions of motion or sound. The first of eight vitrines in the hallway leading to the gallery contains Devon Knowles' 60 Second Blues.

This piece is a polished wooden box, approximately 15-inches tall by 13-inches wide with a thicker base. Several cutout pieces in the front of the box give the impression of a 1940's radio -- a circular cutout for the tuning knob and long narrow strips where speakers might go. (It had a nice solid weight to it even with its haphazard looking cutouts.)

There is a power source in the vitrine which allows a small light source to shine through a slowly rotating multi-coloured glass disc built inside the top of the wooden box. This creates soothing shades of orange, green and blue to glow on the inside of the box. The colours ebb and flow much like how a soft jazzy blues tune would drift. (I think of the families of the past who huddled around the radio like a fireplace in order to pay homage to their broadcasting celebrities.)

I believe Knowles' goal was to take one of our senses (sight) and make it conjure up an idea of another sense (hearing). The plainness of the box and the cutouts seemed to imply the 'constructed-ness' of music composition. In an abstract sense, music is just a bunch of sounds but when you add movement and rhythm to it, that's when it becomes a song. Therefore, the effectiveness of the piece is very much dependent on kinetics and the time required to experience the artwork.

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