Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Review: Ian Wallace Retrospective VAG

At the Vancouver Art Gallery until February 24, 2013

Ian Wallace: At the Intersection of Painting and Photography is a major survey exhibition of the work of one of Canada's most significant contemporary artists. Based in Vancouver, Wallace has played a critical role in the development of contemporary art since the late 1960s. His early experiments with monochromatic painting, his production of large–scale photographic tableaux and his juxtapositions of photography with painting stand as the basis for a distinct body of work for which Wallace has become internationally recognized.

The exhibition has its own "microsite" which includes a very useful gallery of the works on display. Given the inevitable issues over copyright I am going to suggest that you take a look at that gallery - and do that before you decide to invest your time and money in a visit to the VAG. It is a big exhibition and its not cheap. You may also prefer to read the reviews published in the Georgia Strait, Canadian Art or art daily - all of which are positive about the experience. They seem to have got permission to use some images. I am not going to rip them off. 

I came away feeling that I had wasted a lot of time, and spent more than I would have wished. Wallace is also an academic who talks and writes a lot about his art and what it is supposed to achieve. There are a couple of tv sets that show an interview he recorded with the show's curator. In one of those he talks about the importance of the label that accompanies each artwork on display and the significance of the facts it presents about the work and how it was created. So let me just take one work - In the Metro - as one example. It is actually untitled - so I assume that the curator added the apparently informative label. It is not actually in the metro - and that is not hard to establish just by looking at the poster for the cinema that features in it so strongly. It is in London's West End. This is NOT "The Metro", it's the tube - or The Underground. Is that important? Well since the picture that accompanies it is about the Clayquot Sound protest, which is location critical, this must be too. Given Wallace's clearly intimate relationship with the creation of this exhibit, what are we to make of this carelessness?  Or is it intentional? Is a subsurface public transportation system generic - or is the term Metro somehow artier - more nouvelle vague

How the art is created is also important - according to Wallace himself - and he goes to great lengths to explain how his early works had to be photographed in monochrome, enlarged and then painted as apparently the technology for huge colour enlargements did not exist in 1979 . Except of course outdoor advertising had been using very large colour photographic images for many years at that time. And while there is a lot of information about how "Lookout" was done ("hand-coloured silver gelatin prints") there is a lot less about the more recent At the Crosswalk VIII, 2011 ("photolaminate, acrylic on canvas") - are these giant TIFFs from a digital camera (as some other images are identified)? Why not use large format colour film for the original image? Then you get a much finer grain and far more detail in the final image. 

The objects that I have the hardest time accepting as worthwhile exhibits in an exhibition are those where the artist simply gives the curator a set of instructions - go buy some timber, cut it into these sizes and lay them out like so. The timber then gets returned to the store at the end of the exhibition. A set of white boards leaning against a wall. The white line down the middle of the road represented by more painted timber. And so on. The feeling this created for me was that we, the paying public, are being taken as gullible mugs. 

And there is, of course, lots of verbiage talking about these exhibits in learned academic tones. "Conceptual vigour and aesthetic innovation" indeed. Harrumph.

The protests at Clayoquot Sound were very significant events. He chose not to photograph the clashes with police, but shows the extraordinary variety of people who turned up and simply sat peacefully to stop the logging of huge old growth trees. Very few were hippies.  So far, the protest has been successfull. The trees still stand - for now. Recording the peaceful protest is actually useful - it certainly corrects the images I had of the event simply because I was not there and only have mainstream media and its sensationalism to rely on for my previous view of what happened. Juxtaposing that image - or actually interrupting it - with plywood painted to reveal its grain adds very little "value" other than rudely yelling at the viewer "I'm an artist! This is art. It's not news!" What you make of a set of pages torn from a magazine and stuck to the wall with masking tape - or a monochrome panel, neatly painted framed - is up to you. Actually a series of four of them on the walls of the staircase are rather effective. 

With admission to this exhibit you also get a floor of Conceptual Art in Canada 1965 - 1980 - which is Wallace again and his contemporaries - some of which will produce wry smiles. Shipping a log across Canada by train as passenger "loggage" is fun. But when you have to write lots of words to explain the picture(s) as is done in both these shows, I start to question the value of the image. A word is apparently only worth 1/1,000th of an image - so why so many of them?

On the top floor are some chaps doing some very large Haida wood carvings - which is a very slow painstaking process. Not much progress is going to made while you stand there. And some Emily Carr water colours (good) alongside those of Charles John Collings - who seemed to be a better house builder than water colour painter on the evidence presented here.  

The weather at present is dreadful. An afternoon at the art gallery is a good way to keep dry and warm - and the cafe is always worth the visit.  This is an expensive pass time but far less crowded than the adjacent Pacific Centre where the shopping is frenetic before Christmas. But maybe you can find better uses for your time and money. 

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Review: Bard on the Beach: Merry Wives of Windsor

That's Windsor, Ontario - and its the sixties. On the Douglas Campbell Studio Stage, it opened this week. Now that the warm weather is finally here, my mind turned to the beach. And I think nothing says summer in Vancouver so much as the festival of theatre in Vanier Park. There have been changes over the years, but the appeal remains the same. And I go for the acting - not the idea that seeing actors in front of a West Coast sunset is really neat. The tent for the studio stage gets replaced next year - the main stage was done last year. Seating is on three sides with the acting in the middle, which means many of the conventions of the proscenium stage must be ignored. So yes some actors will have their backs to you when speaking - and really it does NOT matter. You know the plot either because you have seen it before, read the programme notes or listened to In a Nutshell from Christopher Gaze beforehand (well worth getting there early for that performance alone). So you may miss some dialogue without distress.

What is surprising is how well Country & Western can be fitted in to the play. It does not seem at all odd when anyone picks up a guitar and starts warbling. It's not exclusively C&W either - "These Boots" never were western, and the only niggle I have is the way it gets reprised. There must have been something else that would have fitted given the torrent of output from the Old Opry alone.

I will confess I would normally avoid C&W - but I really enjoyed the whole thing, and the performers really showed that they could play musical instruments and sing as well as act. I also suspect that this may be the first time that a didgeridoo has appeared in a Shakespeare play - but I concede I may be wrong about that. Wives is not all like any other of the cannon - for one thing its in prose and originally it was set in a place and time that Shakespeare knew at first hand. The plot is contrived - and pretty silly - but it does not matter. It just needs a stout Falstaff - someone who is a bounder but somehow loveable - and Ashley Wright does that admirably. And it needs the promise (but not of course the delivery) of sex. Amber Lewis in her sixties get up seems to be channelling Samantha Eggar (as she was in "The Collector"). I think Mistress Quickly needed to be a bit rounder - Patti Allan was more competent than compelling, and this is a role that has often allowed the slightly older actress to upstage the ingenues.

You should go. Two warnings: you can now select your seat so book early to get a good one. And right now some mosquito repellant, applied beforehand, may save some discomfort later.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Great value lunch in Paris

And I am not talking about some out of the way cafe, or some far distant suburb. There is a great place for an excellent three course lunch in centre of the city. It is underground, but easy to find, though its advertising is minimal. No flashy signs - and no terrase either. Also only water to drink - just the stuff that comes out of the tap. And you are doing a Good Deed by eating here.

Restaurant Associatif, Foyer de la Madeleine offers a €15 prix fixe 3 course menu from 11:45am until 2pm Monday to Friday. Or you could join the Association for €5 and eat there more often for €8. I got the impression that most people there are regulars. The choice is limited - especially if you turn up close to 2pm as we did - but the cooking is excellent. All the service is provided by volunteers, and the price you pay helps provide subsidized meals for the needy and support other good causes - I think today it was for a hospital in Vietnam.

If your French is good or you can tolerate the English that Google turns it into they do have a web page http://www.eglise-lamadeleine.com/foyer

 Today the menu was Soupe du Poisson, Cassoulet, Tarte aux Girolles, Tarte aux Poireaux, Endive Braisees, and Puree. We were offered a choice of cold entrees, I chose something that looked a bit like cold ratatouille with fish and my partner had an avocado with shrimps - and someone else at our table (we were asked to share) had a salad. As the Cassoulet was all gone we all three asked for the alternate Pork and Beans with the endive on the side, and each of us was given a delicious chocolate eclair for dessert. There may have been other choices too, but they did not even get considered.

We did not know of the restaurant's existence before: we were simply standing in the rain outside the church wondering where to get lunch when my companion noticed a sign near what I took to be the entrance to the crypt. This is half way along the eastern wall (Madeleine is oriented roughly north-south, oddly for a christian church). I thought it was probably a soup kitchen for the homeless - and indeed at the next table there were some people who could well have fitted that description. I certainly did not miss professional wait staff - or the lack of a paper menu. And it may well be I have misrepresented the available choices, especially for those who like to eat lunch early. But I can heartily recommend good food where you get a square meal for the same price many restaurants charge for a burger!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

How to poach eggs

On the other blog not so long ago I posted a TED talk about how to tie your shoelaces. That did have a transportation aspect to it, but this doesn't.

You can buy egg poachers, of course - including ones that are supposed to work in a microwave. I cannot recommend the expense of either a specialized stove pan or the microwave kits. A saucepan with a lid is all you need. I happen to have a Le Creuset cast iron one, that does not have a pouring lip. The lid doubles as a small skillet. Because it is cast iron it retains heat - and the lid holds in the steam.

The key is to have the eggs at room temperature before you start. This advice is all over the place, but like nearly everyone I know, I keep the eggs in the fridge. If you know you want poached eggs, take them out of the fridge long enough before you start so that they are not chilled. Overnight works well. This greatly reduces the frothing of the white.

Secondly put a small splash of ordinary white vinegar in the water. This stops the eggs spreading around.

My foolproof technique is to heat the water until it is boiling, and then take it off the heat. Add the eggs to the, by now, gently simmering water, put the lid on and then leave it alone. I like my eggs on toasted english muffins, and the length of time it takes to toast the muffins and then butter them is about right for perfect poached eggs. The white is cooked but the yolk is liquid. When you lift the egg out of the water with a slotted spoon you need to gently shake it to allow all the water to drain. This will confirm that the egg is cooked properly. There is no photo to go with this post. That is because once I have cooked my poached eggs I eat them straight away. As with nearly every other egg dish, they continue to cook, so while I fiddle around with a camera, the yolks would harden. Not gonna do that.

I do not understand the local obsession with Eggs Benedict. Free range fresh poached eggs on buttered whole wheat English muffins do not need any sauce. A short twist of the salt and pepper grinders is, in my view, the only condiment needed.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

TED talks on Netflix

I am a recent convert to Netflix. Initially I was not sure that I would want to watch movies on a MacBookPro. I do not have the sort of TV that can be connected to the internet, though I am aware of people who manage to watch netflix on their theirs using BlueRay players. They have much more modern TVs than I do.

I had been using zip.ca who sent me DVDs in the mail from a zip list, that I had increasing difficulty topping up after a while. It was impossible to tell when the movies I had asked to see would arrive, and every so often when they did I had already seen them by other means. So far Netflix has been pretty good at finding me the movies I want to see, when I want to see them. They do not always have some of the older pictures I have been looking for.

But I must say that the ease and convenience of getting a movie has more than overcome the small disadvantages of a relatively small screen (15") and tiny speakers.

When using services like Stumbleupon or Very Short List, I have been impressed by TED talks, and I have even embedded one into my other blog. So you can count me a fan of TED. Of course, there is no way I would ever be able to get to see a TED talk live. But today I got a Press Release, which I am copying below, which says that as a Netflix member I get access to TED talks. Quite how this is an advantage over simply going to the TED web page and getting the talk from there it does not say.

Beverly Hills, Calif., March 15, 2012 – Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) today announced the availability of the first group of fourteen themed TEDTalks Shows for Netflix streaming members in the US, Canada, Latin America, UK and Ireland.

TED is a nonprofit organization that showcases “ideas worth spreading” in technology, entertainment and design. The world-renowned TED brings together remarkable minds – leading thinkers, adventurers, artists, performers, icons and educators – to give riveting talks on various topics – all in 18 minutes or less. Each year, the TED Conference in Long Beach, CA and TEDGlobal Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland invites a who’s who of the world to deliver signature “TEDTalks” – lectures on a single idea to help grow awareness around amazing ideas or concepts. TED speakers have included Bill Gates, Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sir Richard Branson, Nandan Nilekani, Philippe Starck, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Isabel Allende, James Cameron and former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Over 1,000 talks have occurred.

Each TEDTalks Show on Netflix is uniquely packaged with curated talks that introduce Netflix members to powerful ideas that can help make the world a better place.

“We are excited to be bringing this initial TEDTalks offering to our global streaming member community and look forward to a continued relationship with TED,” said Lisa Nishimura, Vice President of Independent Film Content Acquisition.

"TED is delighted to offer Netflix subscribers these jumping-off points for exploring the world of ideas: astonishing inventions, fresh approaches to old problems, new ways to stir the imagination,” said June Cohen, Executive Producer of TED Media.

The initial offering of TEDTalks Shows on Netflix are grouped around these areas of interest:

· Beasts, Bugs & Bio-wilderment

· Beauty & Fashion: Beneath the Skin Deep

· Building Wonder

· Chew On This

· Crime & Punishment

· Cyber Awe

Restaurant Review: The Crab King, Steveston

Crab King Premises.

There was a sudden outbreak of sunshine this morning, which convinced me that I should get out of the house, and have lunch outside somewhere. A couple of weeks ago we had been walking in Steveston and saw that there was a new float moored between the fish sales dock and Pajos, and it was open, selling crabs. This is a meal of which I am inordinately fond. One of the highlights of our trip to San Francisco was the availability of crab meals almost everywhere, but especially at fisherman's wharf, where the competition between restaurants selling crab is intense. It has since struck me as curious that we do not seem to be as keen on eating crab as they are. The Crab King is the first venture of its kind here.

Fortunately the sunshine had also persuaded the owners to open for lunch. However not many people were as interested as I was in eating outside. The cafe had sustained some damage in the week's windstorm, losing much of its weather protection. So sitting there today in a stiff breeze was quite chilly. By the time I had finished my half crab the small bowl of melted butter was solid.

Small stock today

As a weather dependent business they have to get good at predicting demand, I was their only customer between 12 and 1 today - though quite a few people came to look around. They will have many more crabs at the weekend, they said. At present these crabs come from the Island: once the season opens, they will come from Howe Sound or the Straight.

The half steamed crab I had was very tasty


This link takes you to their menu, which differs considerably from what was on offer today.

I had half a steamed crab which came to $12.95 with GST $14.50. They take cash or interac - no credit cards.


Thursday, 9 February 2012

I hate Captcha

There are debates going on all over the internet. Usually I try to get my comments into one of my own blogs. I also try to avoid those who insist on using time wasters like captcha

This is why (screenshot taken from Translink's Buzzer web discussion on fare evasion)