Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Big Picture 16

In any given month, I see a couple of dozen art exhibitions. It’s my job, after all – and, sometimes I even like to go. But one thing about all this bounty continues to puzzle me: why are there so few black artists exhibiting their work in Toronto?

I’ve seen works by every imaginable group of people on display in our multi-culti haven – from transgendered Asians to rich WASP trust fund kids – but I can count the number of exhibits I’ve viewed by Caribbean/African-Canadians on one hand.

Without a doubt, the artists and their work are out there, and I’m probably not paying enough attention. But who is? Curators? Not many. Artist-run centres? A couple, some better than others. Commercial galleries? Don’t get me started.

If this sounds like classic white liberal finger-pointing, or, worse yet, do-goodish altruism, let me say that queers like me know all about the price of invisibility, and we also know that if one community gets excluded, we’re likely to be next. A more diverse gallery landscape benefits us all.

Multi-media artist Natalie Wood, curator of an important new exhibition of video installations by black Canadian women entitled The Hero Project, points out that many black artists, especially black women artists, have in the past been drawn almost exclusively to more traditional forms of art making, such as painting and sculpture, and therefore have not been embraced by galleries looking for new media works.

“When I talked to Women’s Art Resource Centre (WARC) about curating a show of work by black women, I knew that there were very few black women artists working in new media, so I wanted to highlight the ones who are employing video and digital technologies.”
But why are so few black female artists using new media?

“Hmm, that’s a tough one,” Wood admits.

“Perhaps the issue of access is what keeps black women from working in new media. And yet, to some extent, when you look at most art forms, new media is one of the most accessible, and a lot of the new media organizations – artists’ co-ops and the like - are trying to bring in under-represented communities, to show them how to gain access to the actual materials. So, I don’t know the immediate answer to your question. It gives me a moment of pause.”

“But when I think of the people out there who are all busy making their own things with new technologies - burning cds, creating digital images and films, mixing music as DJ’s – I think that maybe the answer is to give black artists a new context for what they are already doing, to show them they can take the skills they already have to a new level.”

Just looking at the accomplished, layered (and sometimes very funny) works on display in The Hero Project, it’s obvious there is no shortage of talent. The three video-based works, by multimedia artist Sandra Brewster, animator Grace Channer, and performer/internet artist Camille Turner, convey an obvious comfort with new technology and, more important, a jovial but poignant sense of purpose.

Brewster’s short documentary “Listen” is a collection of reminiscences by elders in the Caribbean diasporic community - people who have faced all the hardships of dislocation and not only thrived, but remain in good spirits. Far from the type of sad-sack “immigrant story” beloved by too many Canadian publishers and the CBC, Brewster’s film depicts a community managing its duality quite nicely, thank you, from the comfort of their living room chesterfields.
“Listen” struck me as a more gentle version of the Out Art made in the 90’s by queer artists - artists who resisted any hint of victimization and created works that were defiantly buoyant. “Listen” shows us that not every moment in the life of an outsider is packed with melodrama. There is also tea and sponge cake.

Drama, however, is at the core of Grace Channer’s smart-ass installation “Bat’Hari Biguum”, a fake film promotion display for an animated super heroine flick starring Big Woman, or Biguum (a kind of black she-Hulk). Complete with posters and even a “win a trip to Biguum’s island” contest (the fictional land of Bat’Hari), Channer’s installation simultaneously mocks and embraces North American pop culture’s obsession with heroism. As unlikely as Hollywood might be to finance a film about a large-and-in-charge black super woman like Biguum, it still made Catwoman, which it marketed as the first African-American super heroine movie. Channer mines this disconnect in pop culture brilliantly, giving the viewer a first glimpse of what hero movies might look like if the dominant culture actually paid attention to the communities it pilfers for inspiration.

Similarly, Camille Turner’s “Miss Canadiana” project - a long-running series of performances and video documents wherein Turner appears in public as the reigning queen of the fictional Miss Canadiana pageant - uses the familiar pop culture tropes of the beauty pageant queen and her sashes and tiaras to pose a simple, but not simply answered question: who is a Canadian?
Turner’s answer, delivered with flair and no small amount of mockery toward the inherent stupidity of the question itself, is that trying to codify one’s identity in a country created by the jarring twin engines of empire and immigration, is, at best, an act of performance. If nobody is absolutely Canadian (even aboriginal peoples belong to each other first), nobody can tell you that you are anything less– so, why not crown yourself queen? It’s all a construct, a form of drag, as the academics say.

“When I started to put this show together,” Wood concludes, “I wanted to know who the heroes for black women are today, because I had a hard time figuring out who my own heroes are. So, I posed the question to the artists - and, true to form, they created their own.”

The Hero Project
WARC Gallery
Suite 122, 401 Richmond Street
Until February 12

Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Big Picture 15

Daniel Olson is a mysterious fellow, and his latest exhibition, Dead End, is not making him any less enigmatic. And I’ve known him for years.
The Montreal-based multi-media artist has spent the last decade creating deeply personal yet markedly evasive, diary-like yet shy and withholding art that manipulates the core traditions of self portraiture.

Olson’s carefully layered acts of self representation ingeniously reverse the standard relationship between audience and self-depicting artist –that time worn dialogue between the viewer, who approaches a self portrait expecting to find an at least partially reliable representation by the artist of him or herself, and the artist who is expected to provide the reasonable facsimile – by refusing to affirm the validity of the self-portrait. Olson’s reluctant confessionals never say “this is me”, but ask, instead, “is this me?”.

How Olson does this is by burying himself in layers upon layers of borrowed imagery, creating a personalized hall of mirrors packed with reproductions of reproductions of reproductions. It’s almost as if Olson is creating pictorial mazes, with walls built around himself made not of literally obscuring imagery, of blurs, erasures, or pixelations, (he is always recognizable in his own works, face front), but of distorting references to multiple art historical antecedents and image reproduction technologies.

If this all sounds too egg-heady to bear, that’s my fault. Despite his fondness for submerging images of himself in everything from found photographs to twice and thrice-copied movie stills, for weaving himself into established visual narratives by everyone from Buster Keaton to Marcel Duchamp, Olson is, at heart, a clown.

“I see this work as playful,” Olson tell me over the phone before a long, careful pause, “… I guess I’m interested in the mutations that happen when you take an image and rework it over and over, especially one of yourself … hmmm … but, remember, that activity, photographing photographs, printing a laser print of a scan of a reproduction of a photograph, is also a framing device.”


“Framing device … umm … I guess .. it’s a process of zeroing in on something, a way to highlight an image by making selections and directing the viewer’s attention to details, but not too forcefully. Photography is grabbing something from the outside world and freezing it. And there’s something inherently playful about that, because it’s a foolish attempt to stop time.”
If, then, making pictures of oneself by constantly culling and reworking core imagery is a kind of mask game, a hide and seek between the artist and an image of the artist, how does Olson know when the game is over?

“Sometimes it’s an intuitive response to a detail that I’ve been drawn too that makes me focus, but sometimes I reproduce things over and over to create distortions, which is I guess the playful aspect, to see what happens when you make a mess.”

Dead End is punctuated by two striking, and strikingly different video projections: one of Olson re-enacting Duchamp’s famous photograph of a round table full of Duchamps, the other of Olson standing in front of a projected photograph of himself as a small boy. Somewhere in between the stances the videos represent - Olson as public artist engaged in in-house art games and Olson as a private person exploring his relationship to his personal past – lies the key to Olson’s work, which has always been about the tension between public and private, between an artist’s need to explore his curiousities in an open forum and Olson’s distrust of mawkish self celebration.

“Some of my work is a way for me to think about my past and my family, to wonder where I came from, where I’m going … but I’d also say that the Duchamp piece, even though it’s loaded with art history connotations, is in a way a kind of family piece too, as Duchamp is kind of my artistic grandfather (and everybody else’s).”

“We make art to figure out where we stand in the world, and this is my way of doing it. But, to be less serious, I have to admit it’s funny, it’s silly to project an image of yourself as a child onto your body … well, a restrained sort of silly.”

A restrained sort of silly. Now he tells me, after I scratched all the hair off the top of my head.


For a more didactic experience (I mean that in a good way), slip between the folds of Diyan Achjadi’s politically charged textile works on display at Open Studio.

Sampling from such diverse visual sources as Chinese Cultural Revolution propaganda art, 1950’s school readers, camouflage prints and batik dyeing, Achjadi creates a kind of picture book in banners, telling the story of a young girl trying to survive a military conflict.

The content of the banners is decidedly not pretty. We see the heroine holding a machine gun in her tiny lap, learning how to use a gas mask, and eventually being overwhelmed, perhaps killed, by a giant soldier. The look of the banners, however, is very pretty indeed.

Saturated in glossy pinks, cookie sprinkle reds and hot fuchsias, these digitally-printed nightmares border on the cruelly parodic – which is why they work so well. Achjadi’s cheery war scenes confront the trivialization, indeed the prettifying, of military conflict by presenting a victim’s tale in the same sanitized, digestible and childish way that mass media cleans up “good wars” for public consumption.

If Open Studio re-titles the show Dora The Explorer Goes To Iraq, maybe a few school buses will show up for a tour.

Finally, I can’t help putting my five cents in on the “Prince Harry The Nazi” scandal.

Why anyone cares what these inbred twits do on their off-time is beyond me, but what does fascinate me about the scandal is how it is wholly based on a single visual, on one hastily taken photo of a dumb kid wearing a swastika.

What that tells us, all inane Royal Family dramedies aside, is that decades after the Nazi horror even a costume swastika has the power to horrify and outrage citizens around the globe. Good. Education about the Holocaust and the evils of fascism is working.

Pity the Buckingham Palace library doesn’t have any history books.

Daniel Olson
Dead End
Gallery TPW 80 Spadina Ave. Suite 310.
Until February 19.

Diyan Achjadi
See Girl
Open Studio Gallery 401 Richmond Street, Suite 104
Until January 29

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Big Picture 14

A confession: I don’t understand the appeal of the so-called “Vancouver School” of photography.

In the last year alone, I’ve seen photographs out of Vancouver depicting the insides of a rotting wood shed, piles of trash in back alleys, stacks of empty, beat-up suitcases, greasy abandoned mattresses, amateurish (and achingly dull) images of rainy airport tarmacs taken from airplane passenger windows, cardboard boxes, and strip mall parking lots. Not exactly the stuff dreams are made of.

Life is banal enough without photographic evidence. Don’t these photographers have any friends they can photograph, or at least cute pets?

My theory about this baffling rush to record nothing has, in the past, been less than kind. Having been to Vancouver several times, my dominant impression is that the city has no middle class – that one is either well off or desperate, a massage school millionaire or a crack addict. And, without a middle class to buy art, cultures stagnate. Subsequently, my former theory goes, photo-artists in Vancouver resorted to romanticizing both poverty and consumerism.
Looking at the notorious East End’s heaps of refuse and urine-stained couch fortresses, these photographers discovered a world of accidental, found art, a new subculture to chronicle (while often treating the actual people who live in such degradation as a fascinating new form of wildlife).

Conversely, the banal images of mall parking lots, airports and vacant condos are the flip side of this equation - an overstated, and rather obvious, critique of the numbing effects of wealth and excess.

Both sets of ideas – the poor are clever survivors (kind of like racoons), the rich are soulless hoarders – are tired, intellectually lazy, and grossly inaccurate, and make for art that resonates only with the artist’s smug sense of superiority.

Looking at two new shows at Monte Clark Gallery (a venue that specializes in the Vancouver School), I’ve realized that the above theory is not only ungenerous, it’s also incomplete. Chris Gergley’s lifeless series of portraits of Vancouver apartment building front doors (what next, the ditches of Kitsalano?) and Howard Ursuliak’s photos of – I warned you – dirty bus shelters, public toilet hand dryers, and rain soaked phone books, have convinced me that photographers in Vancouver have become afraid of beauty.

Think of it this way: you’re a photographer living in a relatively new, fair weather city packed with lush parks and gardens and bordered by the Pacific ocean on one side and the Rockies on the other. How do you compete with that? Every day, you’re saturated with pristine images of natural splendour. No wonder so many photogs in Vancouver head for the slums and the back end of dumpsters for gritty inspiration, or try to replicate the majesty of the ocean in a parking lot puddle. I guess it never occurs to these people to move out of town.

While Gergley’s pictures do attempt to convey a kind of run-down glamour (the apartment buildings are all of the same mid-20th-century vintage, and look like sets from Butterfield 8), the display format – identically sized photos, all apparently taken from the same distance – undercuts the uniqueness of the individual lobbies and defeats any attempt to highlight eccentricities of decorative style or architectural flair. Gergley has taken a potentially intriguing subject and made it about as interesting as a row of geological samples in a museum case.
Ursuliak’s photography, on the other hand, is apparently devoid of visual interest on purpose. As an artist friend of mine who saw the works remarked, “Muddy bus stops? I see that every damned day.”

Arguably, that’s Ursuliak’s point - to make us aware of the visual information in even the most mundane settings. But I don’t buy it. Mere observation is not enough. I need to be convinced that there is something new to see in a phone booth, that a hand dryer has some innate character I have missed, before I’m willing to consider this work anything more than lazy wanking. Ursuliak’s work expects us to admire nothingness for it’s own sake – a decadent prospect, to be magnanimous. Or, the Emperor’s photographers just have no ideas.
Somewhere in Vancouver someone is taking great photos packed with content and vitality. Please call Monte Clark.


As Meatloaf sang, two out of three ain’t bad, and after the monotony of the latest Vancouver offerings, I was in sore need of some lively art. So, off to YYZ and Susan Hobbs.
At YYZ Artists’ Outlet, a trio of great small shows await any viewer who needs an early winter lift. In the front project window, Seth Scriver – an inventive and offbeat illustrator fond of monsters and fuzzy beasts – has decorated the vitrine with a series of narrative drawings about, appropriately enough, breaking windows. Although Scriver’s detailed images of fantastic creatures are a bit difficult to observe from outside a large glass box, the overall effect is pleasingly goofy.

Inside the main gallery, Karim Zouak’s film installation and Elisabeth Belliveau’s sculptures enlarge on the vitrine’s themes of monsters and destruction. Zouak samples brief film reels from Airport, the archetypal “disaster flick”, and places each looped clip of panic and terror behind an ornate gilded frame. The effect, bizarrely enough, is to create a kind of nostalgia for more innocent notions of terrorism, for a time when the story of an airplane being blown up by a madman was considered far-fetched enough (and thus harmless) to be offered as entertainment.
In comparison, Belliveau’s collection of animals made from worn leather gloves, crushed purses, and shredded baseballs are a comforting pit stop in the nursery, even if many of the mangled animals look like they’d be more at home in an abbatoir than a kindergarten. Some may find Belliveau’s work too cutesy-clever, but joyful creativity is so often misunderstood – and I would argue that there is more being said here about the complex inter-relationship between the manufactured and the natural worlds than any boring photographs of weeds in the gutter.
At Susan Hobbs Gallery, a suite of intimate, delicately crafted sculptures by Kevin Yates asks us to reconsider the ordinary by playing games with scale. A pile of garbage bags and a stack of picnic tables - both banal enough subjects to cause a flurry of flashbulb pops in Vancouver - are shrunk down to Atom Man size, which allows us to look at them as purely visual objects unburdened by familiar connotations.

The tiny garbage bags, convincingly replicated in bronze, look like shrunken balloons, folds of green moss, or gangrenous organs. Or, little piles of dog crap. The tower of tiny picnic tables, many carved with miniature messages of love, is a kind of totem pole commemorating the end of summer and carefree times, and is as brown and forlorn as a faded locket portrait.
The lesson here for our shutterbug friends out west? If you’re going to make art out of nothing, think about the art part first.

Chris Gergley Vancouver Apartments & Howard Ursuliak
Recent Photo Works
Monte Clark Gallery, 55 Mill Street, Building 2, Distillery District
Until February 6

Elisabeth Belliveau/Karim Zouak/Seth Scriver
YYZ Artists’ Outlet Suite 140, 401 Richmond Street West
Until February 12

Kevin Yates
Susan Hobbs Gallery 137 Tecumseth Street
Until February 19

Saturday, January 08, 2005

The Big Picture 13

No art is worth leaving the house for in the first week of January.

I mean that.

Were Warhol himself to rise from his Brillo box tomb and offer me a stable of rent boys and a free silk screen portrait, I’d fake a headache. After a solid month of art auctions, holiday art sales, artists’ parties, all the good films Hollywood saves for December, special invitation only viewings, open houses, charity exhibitions, studio sales, and, most tiring, the slack jawed inattentions of Air Canada during the Christmas rush (has Air Canada forgotten that Christmas happens in winter, when it snows, when runways have to be ploughed and wings de-iced, that they are called Air Canada because they’re located in Canada – you know, the same country as the Artic?) the last thing I want to do is haul my shortbread padded backside to a gallery.
Next week, I’ll go next week.

For now, there’s the internet. When I first started wandering the internet 7 years ago, I was convinced that, like television, this new medium would be art proof – because any entertainment device that simultaneously connects the user to images of naked pregnant ladies eating burritos and a lengthy, heartfelt monograph on the plot possibilities of a love child between Captain Kirk and Fembot, is too democratic, too freewheeling for the art world, which relies on creating an aura of exclusion and inimitability.

Wrong again. Art, like rust, never sleeps.

Several Toronto artists have taken to the internet like ticks to a bare ankle, and us shut ins (with high speed connections) need never do the opening night shuffle-and-grin again. Among the best of the lot are those artists who use their sites to promote not only their own creations but to direct the visitor’s attention to other on-line resources, many of which, inevitably, link the visitor to even more sites. As the poet Lynn Crosbie once noted, surfing the internet is like picking an endless scab – a gratifying, compulsive, and joyously counterproductive experience (like the best art). The plethora of online art sites coming out of Toronto are gradually building a local and international gallery that never ends … a frequent nightmare of mine, granted, but you can always turn the computer off.

Multimedia artist Sally McKay’s website is easily the most informative and lively of the lot. Packed with links to everything from cyclist advocacy sites to other artist’s diatribes, as well as McKay’s own sparkling animations and photography, the site has more going on in it than most traditional print art magazines.

McKay’s seemingly limitless curiousity means that the viewer will be treated to ruminations on quantum physics’ latest fad, string theory, a brief essay on the fate of Luna/Tsux’iit (the BC-based whale determined to hang out with his human friends), and a randomly collected assortment of art show Top Tens for 2004 submitted by readers – all decorated with McKay’s images of DNA strands, animated particles, wacky models of the earth, and a sad but sweet set of photos of bizarre gadgets found in a Radio Shack catalogue. Beats flipping through Fuse or Art Forum.

The granddaddy of Toronto art sites is Year Zero One, an online gallery specializing in art made specifically for the internet. Headed by artist Michael Alstad, Year Zero One has been showcasing web art since 1999 – in fact, it helped create the movement. Recent projects include an exhibition staged in a taxicab (with interactive art triggered by GPS transmissions presented on a screen in the cab), a forum on new media art sponsored by the Banff Centre, and teleconferences on a “microprocessor platform” called Art Interface Device (don’t ask me to explain, ask Alstad).

If some, or all, of this sounds too much like reading your laptop owner’s manual, don’t worry. One of the guiding principles of Year Zero One is accessibility, making new media comprehensible to both practicioners and audiences. My only critique is, as a fan of Alstad’s provocative multimedia installations, there is not more of the head honcho’s art on display.
Pete Dako, on the other hand, is decidedly not shy about sharing his work with the world. His personal website offers free samples of his own videos, songs, and idiosyncratic, comics-driven art, as well as more ramblings about culture and politics than you may be able to get through in one visit.

What, I asked Dako (via email, of course) prompts him to put so much free art on his site, to create his own personal museum, when he needs, like any artist, to sell his work?
“Mainly because it's fun! The web is a kind of on-going conversation about everything. The only drawback is that the audience has to be mildly techno-savvy or equipped to make the site work, which is not a problem in a gallery, where you can just walk in.”
And, Dako reminds me, buyers do purchase art off the web, just like clothes or groceries. If anything, he argues, having a never-ending exhibition on line means that his potential sales are not limited to a month long run in a stationary gallery.

Limitless access is also the key to painter Timothy Comeau’s on line project Goodreads. Like Readers’ Digest (without the stories of miraculous rescues by dogs or profiles of sitcom stars), Goodreads sorts through the enormous amount of culture and politics essays on line and sends the subscriber (at no charge) links to what Comeau considers the best. And he has excellent taste.

In any given week, expect dozens of articles about, for instance, voter fraud in the recent American election, the rhetorical problems inherent in trying to give a name to the first years of this century (the zeros? the O’s?), and current developments in mathematical theory. Phew!
While the majority of Comeau’s varied selections link the reader to the latest - and often choicest - bits of unintentionally hilarious art world sniping and counter bitching, Goodreads is not, oh happy day, another incestuous art world bulletin board. Rather, it’s more like a clipping service for anyone with an interest in art making, the social sciences, or the downright weird.

When, I wonder, does Comeau sleep?


Saturday, January 01, 2005

The Big Picture 12

According to a senior editor I know - one of those whisky-soaked, barking J. Jonah Jameson types straight out of central casting - nothing is a more certain sign of lazy journalism than a year-end Best Of list.

Fine, so now I’m lazy. Thanks a lot.

All I do is give, give, give to you people and I’m not allowed to have one week off, one week to myself, one week when I don’t have to think about you and your art and your career and ….

Sound like post-Xmas dialogue around your wilting family tree? I’d hate to break any holiday traditions.

2004 was, like any year in art, a mixed bag. I saw some truly wonderful exhibitions, and some exhibitions that were less visually interesting than a kittens-and –monster-trucks calendars kiosk at the Dufferin Mall.

The worst sort of shows, however, were the ones I’d place somewhere in the middle – exhibitions that lazily bumbled their way onto the walls, coasting on either the artist’s already established fame or on an easy but ultimately defeating style of curation I call the flea market effect (i.e. clutter the gallery with enough stuff and some of it has to be good).

There is room (ample room) in this city’s scene for greatness, and a gracious amount of space for spectacular failure, but with Toronto facing a gallery glut, there’s no time or money left for half-hearted attempts. Shine or stink, but please don’t slouch.

But let’s celebrate the wondrous. I’ll leave the Worst Of lists to journalists who don’t have to go out in public and face their targets. And why start the year off with bad news, images of carnage and smashed hopes? That’s what television is for.

Here, then, are my favourite art moments from 2004. Like Oprah, I’m spending New Year’s Day pouring over my Gratitude Journal. Can I have my own magazine now?


Lex Vaughn’s wacky installation Peanut Brittle, a tribute to all things codgerish, pensioned-off and reeking of Old Spice, was the most fully realized work of art of 2004. Vaughn not only crafted a series of aptly sketchy portraits of elderly dandies, she re-created an impoverished old man’s apartment in the gallery - complete with toothbrush, dog-eared titty mags, and a bent back cot.

To top it off, Vaughn spent the entire run of her show inhabiting the space in character as “Uncle Peanut Brittle”, a prattling retiree who liked to corner visitors and suck them into long, incoherent conversations. I hope she videotaped their reactions.

Vaughn’s love of her subject matter, her conviction that lost old men actually carry a kind of innate dignity and even style, made Peanut Brittle, both character and exhibition, much more than a mean spirited stunt or easy bit of Second City style caricature. And artists who immerse themselves in the worlds they explore to the point where you can’t tell the difference between artist and subject will always fascinate me – perhaps because I’m a bit of a drag queen myself.
I would like to see this exhibition remounted, in a larger space with funding that would enable Vaughn to fully realize her character’s run down but still kicking world; to build a Peanut Brittle World, with rides in ancient Cadillacs and home haircuts.
And, no, Vaughn and I are not related. Lucky her.


For pure bizarre fun, nothing came close to Mykola Syadristy’s Micro-Art: Ten Microminiature Sculptures, an exhibition of sculptures made from such Whoville materials as a single human hair, a lotus seed, and, literally, the head of a pin.

On display at the CNE, complementing the giant dahlias and prize winning super hogs, these freakish wonders revived my faith in art to make people oow and aww. Of course the sculptures were tacky – atom sized heads of the Pope, Lilliputan chess sets moulded in gold and silver, an ivory rose inserted into a hair follicle – but, this was on display at the CNE, not the National Gallery.

What surprised me most about this show was the response I got after I first wrote about it. “It’s not art”, I was scolded. Or, “It’s pointless”.

Tell that to the uniformed hordes lined up to gaze at the unimaginable.


Fargo Deborah Whitman is not a household name, yet, but the American artist better known for her brave “coming out” as a person with Multiple Personality Disorder deserves more attention – especially for her actual art.

I was asked to interview Whitman on stage during her appearance in Toronto and I think I’ve developed a crush. As forthright as a farmer, Whitman talks about not only the challenges of making her way around the world with MPD, but, and more to the point, the joys of making art with all of her various personalities as collaborators.

Much has been theorized in the last decade about the inherently dissociative state that fuels the creative process, and Whitman is said state incarnate. As she put it, “all artists have multiple personalities – some of us are just lucky enough to learn their names.”


Finally, a moment of regret (what’s New Year’s without a bit of self abuse?). Sometime in August I was peddling down Queen Street West and spied an elderly lady selling her art on the sidewalk.

One of her paintings depicted two owls sitting on a branch in the moonlight, and was, well, poorly executed by any standard. Yet, there was something about the painting, something in the way the artist had obviously painted and repainted the owl’s feathers, trying to get them just right, that I found inspiring – and not because the artist was a cute old lady or because I am prone to romanticizing so-called “outsider artists”.

The layers of underpainting made the feathers appear to move, like a lenticular photograph. Why didn’t I buy the painting? The artist wanted what I thought was too much money (and was really not much more than the cost of a CD). I let my stupid, gallery-bred notions of price – that false math of venue times name value of the artist – decide for me, and I haven’t seen the lady since.

That will not happen in 2005.