Michael Snow (December 10, 1929 – January 5, 2023)

Snow is perhaps Canada’s most famous and most important unknown artist. Canadians really don’t know their artists until long after they’ve died and, even then, not unless their work has been turned into posters, greeting cards and umbrellas.

Snow travelled Europe in the 50s and moved to New York in the 60s, which gave him the kind of exposure that leads to recognition. His cool, intellectual, philosophical or analytic approach to art making earned great respect while also placing him in a category relatively unto himself, certainly in Canada but also in terms of Western art.

You could say Snow was a part of conceptualism insofar as he employed strategies for making things. His ‘walking women” of the 60s are fundamentally an exercise in framing, a methodology further developed in my favourite of his works, the self-referential (a work that refers to itself by revealing the process or steps of its making) self-portrait of 1969.

Black and white photographs and cloth tape on mirror in metal frame by Michael Snow, 1969 (courtesy National Gallery of Canada/Musée des Beaux-Arts du Canada, Ottawa). Copied here from The Canadian Encyclopedia, link below.

A lot of what you read about Snow says it is hard to categorize his work. I think that is  because of a few public artworks that are difficult to read. Snow’s geese in Toronto’s Eaton Centre may be familiar to many people but few would know that, while the forms are sculpted fibreglass,  the surfaces are actual photographs of a goose (Flight Stop, 1982). The parody sculpture on Toronto’s skydome (The Audience, 1989) seemed at the time, to me, to be purposively throwing people off the scent, or perhaps it was a raspberry like the ones depicted by the characters directed at the art world that had by then devolved into a dismaying anything goes sort of anti-intellectualism then called “postmodernism”.

I think of Snow’s work as fundamentally post-structuralist. He matured as an artist just as Barthes and Foucault, Derrida, Baudrillard and others’ ideas about semiotics (language theory) and deconstruction (cultural, ideological critique) began to reach North America.

Snow worked adeptly in all media, painting, sculpture but also film and music. He brought his unique sensibility and thoughtfulness to all of it.

I also  have thought (mistakenly) that there is a text artwork by Snow called “Reason over Passion.” In fact, that work was made around the same time as the self-portrait above by his partner, Joyce Weiland, no doubt a poke at  her so serious and more famous husband. Still I love the idea and think of it as very Canadian, to put reason over passion. If only we could more of that now.

Joyce Wieland, Reason over Passion, 1968
Quilted cotton, 256.5 x 302.3 x 8 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Copied here from: https://www.aci-iac.ca/art-books/joyce-wieland/significance-and-critical-issues/

There’s a lot of material about Michael Snow online, including this: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/michael-snow

Look him up. He was a great person, thinker and artist.

Dave Chappelle: Toronto January 1, 2023

A warm roar enveloped Dave Chappelle as he took the stage in Toronto on New Year’s Day. These people clearly adore Dave Chappelle.

It’s not hard to see why. Chappelle is a gifted raconteur, speaking with a casual aplomb  while weaving interesting stories laced with gags and insight. He moves effortlessly between topics, often circling back to twist an earlier joke in a way that ties the whole thing together. It’s classic comedy and he’s a master.

I can’t recall a lot of the show (should’a taken notes) but a few things stick out:

Digital tickets on your phone were scanned at the door, but then the phones went into a sealed sack, so they had people giving out post-its so you could remember your seat no. So sophisticated, so real 🙂

DC opened with a stab at the taboo on handicapped jokes, feigning a gimpy arm. It was tasteless, provocative but gentle somehow. DC is able to simultaneously express compassion and kindness while also poking fun. Few comedians today are able to do that and increasingly, few are willing to risk a scolding by the righteousness signallers. A good example was a rant later in the show in which pretty much everybody, of every stripe and colour, got referred to with the  nword. Spread it around liberally enough with a generous intention and a word like that loses the hate in it.

Another classic topic for comedy is the personal relationship. The secret to a successful marriage, DC asked? “I cheat.” For which he gave no real evidence but did deliver some funny scenarios, like unlocking his wife’s phone, and she doing the same to him, by mimicking the others facial features, she Asian, him Black. Her lack of jealousy despite the evidence and his jealousy/suspicion despite the lack of evidence of any cheating on her part was totally endearing.

In response to his wife’s concern about their family’s future if something were to happen to DC, he told his wife about a safety deposit box that will “take care of everything.” She checked it out and found only a notebook. “Tell those jokes just the way I wrote them and you’ll be fine,” he said.

There was some audience interaction, the usual making fun of ethnicity/nationality, generations X, Y (millennials), and Z, or just how people look. As a boomer, I felt a bit left out, but then, we were a small minority of the audience. It was a very mixed, balanced crowd I’d say, and a gay friend of mine said some of his friends went.

A long bit about Chuck Berry’s sexual exploits, as seen by DC on “Pornhub”, while masturbating, was designed to shock because there was hardly a funny line in it.  It went on an on, just getting more and more gross until finally it ended, with a fart. A fart joke? Really Dave? Are we 12?

As the show wore on, DC prowled the stage, rambling around, hunched over like he was about to fall down from being so amused by his own jokes. It’s great when comedians laugh at their own jokes, it breaks the fourth wall between them and the audience but for DC it seemed a bit rehearsed.

I like fashion and tend to notice things like the suit DC was wearing. Pretty suave but for the pants that he kept having to pull up. Expensive looking, like what Armani might do with sweats, one draw string hanging out below the precisely tailored jacket.  DC should’a just done the ties up, and saved us all some anxiety about whether his pants were going to fall down.

The highlight of the evening for me was a very small aside, lightly thrown off towards the end of the show. “Don’t get me wrong,” DC said, apropos of nothing in particular, “I love gay people. I just think they’re gross.”

If the reason we seek out comedy is because it releases some of the tension we feel about how to be in the world, we need it to touch on truths, to rub up against them, test them. One such thorny uncomfortable truth about the hetero/gayness thing is that nobody chooses to be either; we are wired for attraction and the opposite of attraction is, whether we like it or not, repulsion. This is not ideology or acculturation but a visceral, physical feeling. Gay people feel repulsed by  hetero sex the same way hetero people feel repulsed by gay sex. As one of the guys I went to the show with said afterwards, “That’s fine, just keep it away from me.” (He was talking about the new brand of moralizing scolds masquerading as comedians, but no matter, I love that expression and it fits this issue well I think.)

Then DC circled back to the gimpy arm that started the show, mimicking that person smiling with glee that the show is okay now that he’s making fun of the gays. Classic.  Human nature was ever thus.

Last thought. I dunno, is DC the GOAT? He’s definitely a polished presenter, a good writer with great timing. And he’s a legend; it felt special to be in the same room with him, sharing the experience with 18,000 of my closest friends, as he put it. But did the show blow the roof off? Maybe it’s time for DC to reach into that notebook in the safety deposit box.

One beef I have to mention: stadium sounds systems are totally inadequate to the spoken word. It was loud and garbled, like a Raptor’s announcer. Truly terrible. A lot of lines were missed by a lot of people. We can do better. Similarly, the big screens over DC’s head were a distraction, hard not to watch when the image is so big compared to the little body far away on stage. (And we had pretty good seats.) Maybe subtitles?

I should have said something about the warm up acts. There were three,  each a bit better than the one before. Perhaps I’ll add something about them later.

A question that came up after the show, also for another time: Is comedy the same as comics, as in the drawn kind? Are the funny papers funny the same way comedy is funny?

 

Wither the Internet?

Who remembers when the internet was free?

It might be argued that the internet is ruining everything; accelerating civilization’s rush to the abyss of extinction. It, and cell phones. Never has so much ignorance spread so far so fast.

It didn’t need to happen this way. The internet was a scholarly not for profit project in the beginning. Just ask Wikipedia, which is still fighting for that cause: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commercialization_of_the_Internet

I remember clearly the day it was announced on the radio that the Internet consortium had decided to permit advertising. Out loud I cried, “Oh no!”

This article about ad blocking is about as naïvely charming as those early twinking banner ads:

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/04/the-first-ever-banner-ad-on-the-web/523728/

Today’s internet is a pain to surf. Social media, in their gambit to become the primary interface for users, so manipulative that one wants to hide.

 

Claes Oldenburg (January 28, 1929 – July 18, 2022)

It was Claes Oldenburg’s sense of humour I most enjoyed, and the general lightness of his work. Pop art with a European sensibility. (Which is bit ironic given Oldenburg, though born in Sweden, grew up in the USA.)

If comedy is the highest form of art (because it perforce operates on a meta level: playing on what we already know), as Alva Noë says in his book Strange Tools, Oldenburg is a kind of meta-artist, an artists’ artist, but then perhaps the best art is always about art before it is about anything else.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claes_Oldenburg

https://whitney.org/collection/works/13506

Christmas 2022

this year’s Christmas card found Santa a little tied up

also a shortage of elves left him uncoloured so the card shipped with a red pencil

recipients were invited to send a pic of their colourized versions

hope to post some of those here

Look who’s talking…

You’ve heard of Substack, a subscription service for professional writers. Well there’s also within it something called Toonstack where a group of pro cartoonists publish their work regularly. Trés fun.

https://toonstack.substack.com/p/look-whos-small-talking?s=r&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=email

This week’s topic is “small talk”. Loved this one by Sophia Warren (@proustandpanda https://sofiawarren.com ) for the wordplay. Like one I coined many, many years ago: “Some people never shop talking.” Must draw that up sometime.

If the image is too small to read the caption, it is: “This town is too small for the talk of us.” …and they are holding wine glasses!

 

 

Slingshot – How gravity propels us into a better future

The idea that adversity makes us stronger is not new. Learning to cope and persevere through difficulty is something that more or less just  happens, like callouses formed from hard work; our strength and ability to rebound increase and we can do more after we have endured a trial than we could before.

We might think of this in formulaic terms, something like: for each ounce of adversity overcome, an ounce of strength is produced. I have to say though, that right now I’m feeling no benefit at all from the pandemic experience. I feel no stronger physically or emotionally. I’m exhausted and discouraged.

Never mind, I found this article in this blog’s drafts folder, started in January, 2021 when I was evidently hoping for  something positive to come out of all the Covid madness.

I asked: What if the positive effect of some kinds of challenges was much more than 1:1?

In fact, there is such a phenomenon, a “boosting” effect that can been seen when the proximate energy of a body is harnessed in order to add to the energy of a body approaching it.  This is what is known as gravity assist.

Gravity assist, n. The use of the gravitational field of a moon, planet, or other moving celestial object to change a spacecraft’s trajectory, especially to increase its velocity. (Ref.)

If we look at the current crises (e.g. the pandemic, US election madness, Ukraine) as kind of gravitational bodies, and certain other global problems (e.g. global warming) as an approaching body, might not the effect of the gravity of one be harnessed to change direction and speed of the other? Could the pandemic be used to leverage change in our approach to global warming and actually accelerate us in a new direction at an incredible new speed?

If we look at global warming as a group of bodies (science + popular opinion + political will): as these bodies enter the gravitational pull of other world crises (there are so many to choose from: food security, militarism, xenophobia…) these ‘weighty’ matters first pull on the global warming group, accelerating them, then swing  them around to a new direction, after which they speed off toward profound, game changing, hitherto unimaginable solutions. Crisis averted: science, popular opinion and political will  aligned in a positive direction, speeding off together toward a better future.

Yours truly,
– Pollyanna
___
Other refs:
https://www.amazon.com/Spring-Bouncing-Rejection-Ambi-Parameswaran-ebook/dp/B08G1SV9MZ
https://www.khanacademy.org/science/physics/mechanical-waves-and-sound/simple-harmonic-motion-with-calculus/v/introduction-to-harmonic-motion