I'm excited. No, I'm ecstatic.
I'm in Montreal this summer, where another of my most favourite public art pieces is out again.
21 Balançoires (<-totally click on that), by Montreal-based design house Daily tous les jours, is an interactive musical installation that plays best when people join to play on it together. It's a sensorial wonder, evoking memories, connections, and tenderness where words don't reach - oh, it also makes music.
I missed it last time I was in la belle ville, but it's annual spring appearance is being carried over into the summer this year I hear (<- click to listen to the April 29 show at 8:29 minute mark).
This is place-making at its most breathtaking. I can't wait.
I'm a life-long swinger*. I swing when I'm happy. I swing when I'm sad. In the summer, I swing almost every day, and sometimes late on a warm night too. I never tire of it, and am constantly surprised at how much joy I experience gliding back and forth through the air, flying and diving at the same time.
Can't wait to share this. À bientôt les 21 balançoires! Here's a little snippet ...
* I mourn the loss of some of the older words - swinging, thongs, kangaroo jacket, for example - now needing to explain myself when I use them. I'm very attached to these words, or perhaps it's to the era when they were actively used, so innocently it now seems.
Maybe it's that loss of innocence, that gentler time, that I yearn for. When I ran around with thongs on my feet, sometimes stubbing my toe because the flimsy rubber sole folded under itself; the kangaroo jacket, that handy muff (another word) pocket in front where anything shoved in there could be readily accessed by either side, and a hood for warmth at night by the fire; and my beloved swinging, an activity whose word for it conveys the unfettered freedom and fun of this spectacular experience, now plunged into the murky underworld of fringier experiences that have laid claim to that once perfect word.
So, I finally got to myself to The Happy Show! Terry and I went yesterday. Like freeform cheeseballs, we listened to Pharrell's Happy on my itouch as we danced our way into the exhibit. Why not?!
I've been very excited about the show, having streamed all I can find on-line in the way of interviews and talks with Sagmeister. For over a decade, he's been researching and experimenting with what makes happiness, and his own in particular, and the show synthesizes some of what he's discovered.
Here's a slide from a TED talk he gave - it really grabbed me, so I screen-grabbed it, and then changed the colours. It's an outline of what he's discovered "works" for him, a concept I'm now fleshing out for myself (I'll share my list when it's done).
Here's his list. Some of the maxim's show up in the exhibit.
And here's a bit of The Happy Show, as experienced by me and Terry yesterday.
A very awesome interactive piece, expressing the maxim: being not truthful works against me.
This is me and Terry discovering it - then we started dancing in front of it, and running back and forth.
Yes, we were the loud ones at the show.
Our answers to the question: what is your symbol of happiness.
Trying to look good limits my life. Good maxim.
When I read this, first at home and then again at the show, each time I thought it referred to the concern with how we look in terms of our appearance: as in how we're dressed, our hair cut, and so on. Surface. (Maybe it's the clothing designer in me.)
Terry read it as meaning a concern for how we appear to others in terms of our behaviour, our choices, our way of living, our gestures, and so on. Substance.
Either way, the concern for looking good is limiting, restricting our spontaneous expressions of self, arguably (maybe) censoring those most authentic manifestations of who we are.
Grooming vs/ hygiene, and finding the limiting line. Authenticity vs/ obnoxiousness, and the location of that line.
Perhaps, the boundaries to watch out for are the ones that maintain balance.
I've long believed in the social function of beauty, what some call looking good, my take on it extending from surface to substance. It's good to be reminded of this.
I'm struggling with very big decisions right now, and finding myself ricocheting around a triangle whose points of contact are faith, fear and flakiness.
I love Sagmeister's take on flexibility and how it interacts with flakiness, so I'm working it into my mind model as I make this big decision.
His piece is in black; the coloured stuff is mine.
His work plan for a sabbatical.
I took notes (well, a photo) to inspire my own scheduling
of the impending vastness of time before me,
the vastness I'm stepping up to.
Another maxim: assuming is stifling.
What I like about this is its activeness.
Unlike that other one,
assuming makes an ass of you and me,
Sagmeister's angle tells us
something useful to consider
in terms of
and most interestingly (to me)
in the ways we live
with what's around us.
This is a shot of an old installation I put up in my place a few years back.
Leaving the Happy Show yesterday, I thought of it as my response to the experience I had there.
As Terry and I watched the 12 minute clip from Sagmeister's The Happy Film,
I commented on a sense of melancholy I feel coming off the man and his work;
Terry called it longing, which is a good word for it too.
Sagmeister rates his own level of happiness quite high,
and there's tangible euphoria in what he makes,
Maybe Terry and I are off the mark,
I now wonder about the possibility of being happy and wistful at the same time.
I think it's possible.
I think it's common.
I think it's human.
I think it's ok.
I'm pretty excited. The Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival in on, and a nearby billboard again becomes my favourite, proving one can have such a thing.
Last year, as now, I happened upon the site by accident, as I biked along a weird back route to get to Our Social Fabric (another highlight in town).
There's nothing like being dazzled by surprise. An unexpected encounter of the non-commercial on a commercial surface; art for all. So, head on over to on E. 2nd, just slightly west of Clark Drive.
from his BAU Series, by Takashi Suzuki, May 2015
Tonto Pray for You, by Dana Claxton, May 2014
Friends have commented on the element of the creepy, or ugly, in this piece - something I tend to skirt in my aesthetics. But sometimes - ehem - the truth isn't pretty.
This is about the making of ugly, about the mounting of monsters; and about their final fate: the erasure of the monster. It's a meditation on the designing of narratives necessary to the paring away of someone's humanity; on the background consensus and constructs needed to revoke another's selfhood and place within kin and community. For how else can the unkind, the cruel, and even the unscrupulous, be perpetrated? Take away context, and place, and person, and what's left is the object, where in the space of all that's removed there remains, purportedly, objectivity, the slippery illusion at the crux of any monster-making story for those making it.
It's an odd experience to be on the inside of this dynamic and to be aware of it, from its inception to its conclusion, at once subject and witness. But it's a perspective that remains on the outside - which is the point of the monster enterprise from the outset; be it about me, or whoever is next.
There's a great new piece of public art in Vancouver, thanks to the brilliant Vancouver Biennale. I completely love this piece - Trans Am Totem. The location is provocative, as are its elements. The piece sparks a fast stream of ideas in me, leaping together in free association. Here's what that stream produced: I call it Trans Am Totem ToMe, and it's also running on the Vancouver Public Space Network blog. (A great Vancouver organization, by the way, that works to champion the importance of public space and to the overall liveability of the city - all on volunteer steam.)
I was part of a super fun neighbourhood poetry crawl over the weekend, and I wrote about it for the Vancouver Public Space Network (my current volunteer gig).
The Vancouver Poetry Crawl 2015 was organized by Vancouver poet Kevin Spenst, and began at my neighbours Terry and Owen's place with a pot-luck breakfast; from there, the crawl ventured into neighbourhood art galleries, connecting ten venues where eighteen poets read their work.
You can read the whole story about the crawl on the VPSN blog, and below you can find the visual recap of this out-of-the-box poetry extravaganza; if you click on the photos you'll see captions to offer a bit of info on what you're looking at.
I’m in Miami again, where all my family on my father’s side lives. Every time I’m here I love it, the pull of memory and family ties strong and calling. Now I’m thinking about moving, with my dual citizenship making it a real possibility. But I’m deeply Canadian, in some indescribable way, and this is a very American city. What does it all mean? Is there room for me? Room for how I live? For how I live in Vancouver? For those parts of how I live that I can’t give up? And just what is it that I can’t give up?
Doesn’t that look like a great bike lock-up?
It’s beside MOCA; beside palm trees, under the sun.
But here’s what it looks like curbside, a mere spin of the peddles away ....
This is what bike-riding involves here—notice the sharrows symbol painted on the pavement in the traffic lane meant for sharing? Not so reassuring, let alone inviting, with that move accident vehicles from travel lanes signage right beside the sharrows symbol. And that bike you see on the sidewalk? The person riding it arrived there by sidewalk, not via the sharrow. Unlike Vancouver, there aren’t any bike paths running alongside traffic lanes anywhere that I've seen, and there are no designated bike routes nearby as alternates to busy thoroughfares either.
Metro Miami, 6,000 square miles of land hugging the Atlantic coast with about 250 days of sunshine per year, an average temperature of 25ºC, and whose mean elevation is 6 ft above sea level—a bike-rider’s paradise, right? (Climate crisis/rising sea level issues, not glibly, set aside here.) A paradise for bike-riding someday perhaps, but the city and its car culture has a long way to go before being safe for riding in. So, hauling on raingear for Vancouver’s 168 days of rain per year isn’t looking quite as bad, with biking so central to the city’s commuting culture, and made so thanks to great bike routes and a growing consciousness among automobilists to share the road properly.
I love riding busses and taking in the scenery, especially in a new place where all is to discover; they’re also great for people-watching and a bit of a cultural soak, as well as, obviously, great for getting somewhere.
Beautiful scenery, cool nods to important history, even the hopeful gesture of a bus bike-rack (being used!). So, a great place to ride the bus, right?
But then there’s this ….
Service every 60 minutes Monday – Friday.
NO service Saturday & Sunday.
What, qué, sa?!
This is a commuter route! This 15 km line (about the distance of YVR to downtown) runs north/south through many neighbourhoods on its way to downtown, intersecting with a dozen connecting routes running perpendicular. (Not the only line with really restricted hours.)
This bus route is beside my aunt’s house and I use it when I’m visiting and have the leisure to plan things out around this strange schedule, but what if I lived here and needed to rely on this bus as part of my daily life?
250 days of tropical sunshine, in a flat land. Walking just makes sense, and beckons. What’s there not to like?
But then there’s this: no sidewalks .....
There are plenty of neighbourhoods without sidewalks, and there must be plenty with them too (not where I walked, but there must be.) What about people in wheelchairs, and with strollers?
Driving, Driving, Driving
Last year, I rode my cousin’s bike (only for little neighbourhood jaunts on side streets) and took the bus everywhere. This year the bike’s broken, and I have my aunt’s car. (I don’t own a car in Vancouver so driving is always novel for me.) With public transit servicing only around 8% of the population, here’s what getting around in a car looks like. You get my drift.
I see this a lot too—people walking between canyons of stopped cars, fund-raising for school, selling and advertising things. This man’s t-shirt says:
accident, crash, slip or falls 1-800-need-help.
I close my eyes, alone in an idling car.
What does it mean? For me?
The combination of no sidewalks, bad transit, and terrifying biking, forces people into cars—the antithesis of community. So, when out on foot navigating scrappy boulevards under heavenly canopies of sun and palm and birdsong, I’m the only one out walking. And because I’m the only one out on foot, when another walker once appeared, here’s what happened to me: a sense of wariness crept in. Instead of feeling any connection to this fellow pedestrian, instead of readying to nod and say hello, I froze, noticing how alone I was on a street that suddenly felt deserted and secluded—the antithesis of community.
So, Vancouver, despite your average of 197 days of rain per year, you make getting around easy. Whether I want to walk, take transit or ride my bike, I can get to where I’m going, feeling invited and considered, and connected.
Community-making requires not just the desire to be a part of something, it requires the supports that bring people together. The best place to start is where we live, right outside our front doors, in our neighbourhoods (neighborhoods), with the roads and transportation systems available and ready for us to jump on so we can all jump in.
Miami—try it, you’ll like it. Till then, I think I’m staying where it’s easier to live the way I do—in motion in community, in Vancouver.
I've started volunteering with the awesome
Vancouver Public Space Network, writing blogs.
Here's my first one .... (also on the VPSN website).
NB: Not included in the VPSN blog piece is this:
It's really hard for me to declare any kind of allegiance to Vancouver over Miami,
even in the face of the challenges I face getting around there on my own steam.
So, while everything I say here about Miami is true, it's also true that Vancouver isn't for me.
It's a good reminder to us all about the performative in the declarative.
It's also a good reminder about the irrational nature of love.
I'm now about as far way from Vancouver as I can get and still be on the North American continent - I'm in Miami. Here, a final section of a current project will come to join what is currently "in progress". This series is part of a large, on-going meta-series (if you will), entitled seamlessness, and it joins with another meta-series, iamMIA; and another, pilgrimage. It starts with two photo works of mine that I then had printed on silk crepe de chine; with these fabrics I made a dress and a top. Both photos include layers of me in Miami and me in Vancouver. Here in Miami, I'll wear these pieces in the water as the next part in the series. The work is about belonging, about finding home and fully landing there - body, mind, soul, and spirit together in one place.
Here's where it is now, and I've order the pix here chronologically:
a documentary directed by Marcelo Mesquita and Guilherme Valiengo
about São Paulo’s street art and artists, particularly Os Gêmeos, Nunca and Nina
a piece I've written for Pull Focus, a cool Vancouver organization that happens to be founded and run by a friend of mine.
Art is communication, art is connection, art is even war. In the case of São Paulo, Brazil’s sprawling grey city, and in the case of the documentary Grey City about some of São Paulo’s artists, the terrain for this art is the street, more precisely the walls in the street.
In the 1980s, São Paulo took the world stage as the epicenter for urban visual street art known as pixo — graffiti and tagging. Its antecedents, Pixação, “wall writings", originated in São Paulo in the 1940s and 50s when citizens painted political statements in tar on walls in response to political slogans painted by political parties. Pixo’s evolution through to today has maintained that spirit of dialogue and defiance—a kind of urban calligraphy where some of São Paulo’s most marginalized endeavour to tag as high as they can, in as many public places as possible, incontrovertibly asserting their existence as a form of challenge to the city’s privileged who consider pixo ugly, ignorant, and illegal, much in the way they view the pichadores (the pixo makers) themselves.
The 80s re-emergence of pixo was an organic extension of other street art forms like hip hop and break-dancing. Such was the route for Os Gêmeos, the twin brother graffiti team featured in Grey City. With the same nimbleness of their breakdancing, identical brothers Otavio and Gustavo moved toward paint, starting first with pixo and then expanding their work into more pictoral murals. Today, their early pixo style can still be found within their murals, and the impetus to connect and converse with their city is at its heart.
Os Gemêos is out to communicate, to engage, and to contribute something positive for the public good—these are their guides. Producing their work during the day is critical to the process and to their pieces: how else will they know what’s going on, what they need to say, and to whom? How else will they connect directly with people and engage in real time? That’s how they see it. And what they encounter speaks back to them through the smiles and joy returned by passersby—this enthusiastic feedback loop affirming for them that they’ve honoured their vocation and their destiny.
Graffiti, however, also operates within the framework of the city’s regulatory, mercantile and political interests. So the war this artform engages in is often with the clean up crews contracted by City Hall to paint over the murals not deemed to be “artistic”—so, armed with grey paint, a subjective and anonymous army disappears the art, randomly and arbitrarily. However, in a metropolis of almost 20M people that sprawls across almost 8,000 square kilometres (the largest city of the Americas), the effectiveness of the clean up efforts doesn’t really keep pace with the artists, and so a kind of dialogue reverberates between leagues of creative resistance and the amorphous apparatus mobilized to squelch it.
This is where the graffiti movement truly embodies its role as a public art. No one possesses it, directly challenging the fundamentals of capitalism, and no one really controls it either, though many try and wish they could. In the case of Os Gemêos, their rigorous code of conduct keeps their work “clean”, in the sense that their concern with public good means shunning any form of negative messaging, and their tireless commitment to producing such work, in proliferation, eventually attracted international attention, rendering their colourful contribution to the city’s walls more and more challenging to object to.
Os Gemêos’ progressive rise to worldwide acclaim has ironically jettisoned their work to the reaches of national sanction too: they were commissioned to tag the plane of Brazil’s national football team competing in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Perhaps, though, this is a most apt illustration of remaining true to the artists’ animating values—speaking truth to power—in this case attaining lift off with jet engines; though, told not to paint the jet’s engines covers, they did it anyway, ever true to another animating force of the grafiteiro, tagging where authorities don’t want you to. Perhaps not quite biting the hand that feeds them, we could fairly say that Os Gemêos is willing to paint it.
Here in our own grey city, Vancouver is now home to the latest Os Gemêos piece, Giants, thanks to Vancouver Biennale and their partnership with Ocean Cement on Granville Island.
Giants is an ongoing Os Gemêos project, adding Canada to the Giants growing international family of Greece, USA, Poland, Portugal, the Netherlands, Brazil and England.
As Os Gemêos believes, “Every city needs art and art has to be in the middle of the people”, so Vancouver now has art, in the middle of the city, and this art happens to be a kind of people in its own right—Giants—an excellent symbol of art’s enduring heart, which is 3 dimensional, multiple, central, colourful, and gigantic.
Here's the film trailer .....
Today is my father's birthday.
Martin Thomas Welch was born September 12, 1926.
He would have been 88 years old today.
At home in the US, he was known as Marty; when living in Canada he was known as Tom because he lived in Vancouver's Chinatown where people had trouble pronouncing Marty.
In the unusual configuration that composes my family, as a child I sometimes referred to him as Papa Tom to distinguish between him and my foster father. In person, though, I always called him Daddy, even in adulthood.
I often wondered why I continued with the childlike term Daddy - then, when returning to Miami last winter on a family pilgrimage I realized that everyone in my family refers to their father as Daddy - even my 92 year-old aunt.
So, today, in honour of my father, I'm going out for donuts. Daddy loved going to Krispy Kreme on NE 167th St. in North Miami; there he made friends, paid for others though he was poor himself, and once brought a homeless woman to my Grammy's house to help the woman out.
There's no Krispy Kreme in Vancouver so I'm going to a Tim Horton's. I think Daddy would approve.
RIP Daddy. I miss you so much, and love your more.
(PS: This photo was part of a piece I had published in the excellent photography magazine, Ciel Variable, automne 1991, a few months after Daddy's death; the image was accompanied by a poem I wrote entitled "mon père".)
One thing ends, another begins.
I'm closing my business down, the one I've focussed on for the past 3 years. ad lib has been my clothing design company, a project full of interest to me. I've loved it.
And now I'm leaving it.
I start something new tomorrow, income-earning-wise that is.
When my store closed a year ago today, I was already into the next thing in my personal practice - this right here: zoetrope.me
I'll always make things. It's in my blood and my brain to do so. I'm born this way.
My ultimate motivator is beauty - making beauty, making what I imagine beauty to be in a broad sense: as part of living well, in gesture and endeavour, expressed through all the ways in which we engage the world around us day by day—beauty writ large.
I understand clothing on this grander scale, as more than how we cover ourselves: it's about how we carry ourselves, and how we conduct ourselves, culminating, most importantly, in how we concern ourselves with the world around us and how we care for it--it’s being conscious and conscientious.
I will now transpose this concern for beauty into other concrete forms of work that I pursue. In this external one, this new income-earning thing I start tomorrow; and in all my creative work making things.
Most importantly though, I'll continue to bring my concern for beauty into how I behave. Towards others. Towards myself. Towards the space I occupy, large and small.
And so it goes.
my thoughts on boyhood (the film) by Richard Linklater
Making anything takes time—making something with your hands, making a decision, an observation, a change—it takes time to do, and it also takes time away to reflect. The leisure of allowing time’s force to bear itself upon one’s work is seldom afforded, especially in the case of film. Michael Apted’s Up series is based in the passage of time, but sequentially, across 8 discreet segments that express the 49 years it so far encompasses. Boyhood gives us 12 years, but all within one piece.
So, what we see, Boyhood’s narrative conceit at first reading, is 12 years in the life of a boy, Mason, from 6 to 18, following with him through his own becoming. And it’s true, we do see this. What we also see though, when the screen drops dark and we walk away, is the work of an artist bringing to bear the inimitable insights that only time grants, when invited to.
Boyhood is infused with love and tenderness, cutting us all some slack about what’s imperfect and misguided in the shambolic jumble that is being alive and living a life. In Boyhood, people restrain themselves, without withholding; not settling for too little, yet accepting each other’s limitations because each seems to be aware that they too have their own.
Everything is mundane and anodyne, yet it’s all, also, potent and consequential. Like the fado singer who wails into words the deepest mysteries of what it means to live, Linklater, the mercifully milder balladeer, reminds us about the bittersweet truth that all is finite, and yet, splendidly, as Mason begins to comprehend, all we ever have is now. So use it well.
Linklater does—he uses time to tell this story, longitudinally checking in with now, twelve times. It’s across the passage of time, and through Mason’s growing, that we understand the ripening of self-knowledge and world wisdom; that, in the process of maturation and becoming, there’s no short cut. Time is a constant, and while we’re a part of it, the only way forward is through. So, what’s gained while we witness Mason feeling his way into his life and into his own becoming, is really our own. Witnessing the wilderness of Mason’s intimacies, we know our own; but we’re not on our own, alone, Linklater seems to say. Somehow, we’re all with Linklater, the film’s ultimate witness, a man who seems to have deliberately structured this work to document his own growth, looking back while casting forward from here, and what he sees and learns seems to lay perfectly over, or become embedded within, the gaze of a growing boy. The parallel lives of these two separate people are shared, and the continuity between them reaches across time and the screen to join with all of us.
In Boyhood, Linklater captures and conveys his own maturation as a man, exploring his own understanding of (his) life, and his own maturation as an artist, sorting, still, through his creative cosmos for what matters. And what he seems to be discovering is that these two things cohere: the artist and the man are one; the boy and the man are one; the maker and the witness are one—there is seamlessness between who we are and what we do, or there should be, or can be. And that’s what we can hope for, reach for, and make for ourselves.
We may all be just winging it, as Mason’s father confirms to his son, but what we do matters, and it matters most, Linklater is saying, to ourselves as much in our solitude as in our connections. At some point you’re no longer growing up, you’re aging, but no one can pinpoint that moment exactly, so take care, pay attention, notice the flow of the minutiae, cut a little slack, know that it matters, and take the time to make it so.
It’s the 2nd super moon of the summer; this one—the middle of three—is the fullest of them in the sky, and the closest to us down here.
Saturday night at dusk I went to the park next door to pay my respects, and stayed till full night fell. There were only a few of us out. Four guys on the next bench over were drinking beer from cans, playing guitar and singing together; they had the lyrics to “Lying Eyes” shining before them on an iphone. Their voices weren’t great, but who cares. They asked me to join them, and when I lay down later on the grass to take pictures of the sky, noticing me there, one asked if I was ok.
I was playing with a camera I have on loan till Wednesday, one passed along to me so I can decide if I like it enough to buy. With a few technical things figured out, I then played with the moon.
Out again in reverence Sunday night, the air much warmer and soft on bare skin, the park’s slope was fuller. People were out to look up at the sky. There were small groups, some on blankets, others solitary, like me.
No camera this time, I listened to music: Benediction. (click the link to listen)
A plane passed overhead again, to the north of the moon, following the same flight path as the night before, at the same time.
A shade of cerulean hovered at the edges of the moon, bracketing it—I could see it especially when I looked from my peripheral vision.
Resting on the dry grass of the hill, with the warm air all around, and neighbours out and near, the mottled moon on its slow rise in the sky above all of us out gathered willingly below, we watched its passage through our lives tonight.
I remembered what being in love feels like, feeling myself there falling in love again with everything, anew.
It’s love made of unconditional willingness to be a part of it all, coming after forgiveness, or acceptance, of everything that’s come before, even if that everything’s not all understood, or, in fact, not understood at all.
It all comes surrender me to absolute mystery, where relinquishing of needing anything, even for a moment, busts me open to knowing about my own freedom.
A few days later, when the 2nd one appeared, I wanted a different outcome; so I kept reading, and it rested at my headboard through the night. In the morning, it was still there and I wondered if it was dead. But when I checked on it after my tea, I saw it was gone.
Next, I found a wasp nest in my loft. Still small, it had been abandoned before completion, and never inhabited.
A wasp nest is made of paper. Wasps chew wood and plant fibres to produce the material they use to make their nest. It's a remarkable feat of ingenuity, creativity, and beauty.
So the wasps, creators of paper, makers of delicate and clever homes, eschewed nesting here. I think they have a point.
Last night super moon, summer in the city. Midnight was warm. Lush life, air itself.
It was my Mom's birthday - she would have been 84.
I want to lay my head down in God’s lap, or lie on Jesus’s couch safe in love. Instead, today I'll walk across the sand flats at Spanish Banks - it’s the lowest tide of the year, in concert with the super noon. My pilgrimage. I’m going to wear a silk shift that has a print of the ocean and sky on it, with a freighter on the horizon line.
I’ll fit right in. And that's what I seek. Seamlessness.
I'm at my YVR gate. I'm leaving for Miami, my first time back since my father's memorial in April 1991 after he took his own life. He was 64. I was 29. Ten months later my mother would take her's, but I didn't know that yet, not then.
it's a little bit awful
and then she had to leave
to cry outside
away from where I could see