Thursday, January 31, 2008

Heath Ledger, another Gilliam film, RIP

Much has been made about the marketing dilemma facing Warner Brothers and the Christopher Nolan directed Batman sequel The Dark Knight, after Heath Ledger's death last week. HIs character, the Joker, was central to the marketing campaign developed around the film, and the studio are reportedly rethinking their strategy.

Filmmaker Terry Gilliam faces the more difficult problem of trying to finish his film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which not only starred Ledger, but was bankrolled on the strength of his name. The Canadian co-production was set to begin 40 days of shooting in British Columbia, after three weeks of shooting in London. In addition to Ledger, the film also starred Christopher Plummer (who worked with Gilliam on Twelve Monkeys, in 1995), Lily Cole and Tom Waits (who had an uncredited cameo in the director's The Fisher King, 1991) as the devil. Gilliam had also worked with Ledger before, on 2005's The Brothers Grimm, alongside Matt Damon.

Many of Gilliam's films have been plagued with production disasters, beginning with Brazil in 1985. The director had to battle the studio to release the film (including an infamous full page open letter in Variety) which went on to much acclaim but little box office success. His follow-up three years later, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, saw it's original budget of 23.5 million nearly double and then take in a mere 8 million at the box office. A decade later Gilliam attempted to film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, but the actor playing Quixote (Jean Rochefort) suffered a herniated disc a week into filming, and a flood severely damaged the set. The film, also starring box-office draw Johnny Depp, was cancelled outright. These fiascos are well documented, the first in the Jack Matthews book The Battle of Brazil, the second in the Andrew Yule book Losing the Light , and the last in the theatrically released documentary Lost in La Mancha.

Christopher Plummer says Gilliam may take advantage of the film's magic-based story to save the picture - perhaps by turning Ledger's character into other people, using stills or using computer-generated-imaging effects. But Greg Chambers, business manager for the craft union ACFC West, told the Vancouver Sun newspaper that The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was "currently listed as a force majeure", a clause which allows producers to end contracts in extraordinary circumstances.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty threatened

Robert Smithson's widow Nancy Holt issued an email to journalists today, noting that the Spiral Jetty is being threatened by plans to drill for oil. The deadline to protest has past, but here is her letter in full:

"Yesterday I received an urgent email from Lynn DeFreitas, Director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake, telling me of plans for drilling oil in the Salt Lake near Spiral Jetty. See Attachments. The deadline for protest is [today] Wednesday, at 5PM. Of course, DIA has been informed and are meeting about it today.

I have been told by Lynn that the oil wells will not be above the water, but that means some kind of industrial complex of pipes and pumps beneath the water and on the shore. The operation would require roads for oil tank trucks, cranes, pumps etc. which produce noise and will severely alter the wild, natural place.

If you want to send a letter of protest to save the beautiful, natural Utah environment around the Spiral Jetty from oil drilling, the emails or calls of protest go to Jonathan Jemming 801-537-9023 Please refer to Application # 8853. Every letter makes a big difference, they do take a lot of notice and know that publicity may follow. Since the Spiral Jetty has global significance, emails from foreign countries would be of special value.

They try to slip these drilling contracts under the radar, that’s why we found out so late, not through notification, but from a watchdog lawyer at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the group that alerted me to the land leasing for oil and gas near Sun Tunnels last May.

Thank you for your consideration of this serious environmental matter."

Office Party

Save the date!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

David Askevold, RIP

David Askevold died peacefully in a Halifax hospital today. He was 67.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


The Oscar nominations were announced today, with a better than usual fare competing for Best Picture. Julian Schnabel has been nominated for Best Director, for his third film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I haven't seen it yet, and the reviews are mixed, but it's interesting to see someone from the visual arts community in the running. Basquiat, his 1996 debut film, was decent but flawed. It survived the stunt-casting of David Bowie as Warhol, but not Gary Oldman as Julian Schnabel. Worst scene: JS as loving father, dancing with his daughter to the tune of a song by, ah, Julian Schnabel. I don't remember thinking much of the follow-up, Before Night Falls.

Other 80s visual artists turned filmmakers have not had as much luck crossing over. Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo each made a single film in mid-nineties (Office Killer and Johnny Mnemonic, respectively), but neither has shown any indication that they will return to the medium.

Pierre Bismuth won an oscar in 2005, as co-writer (with Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry) for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mark Dion

Artist Mark Dion, whose exhibition Maquettes opened at Goodwater Gallery last Thursday, presented an excellent lecture at the ROM Friday night, as part of the Canadian Art Foundation International Lecture series (which in the past has presented talks by James Turrell, Greil Marcus, Diana Thater, Simon Starling and many others). Early on Dion identified himself as a 'museum fundamentalist', which he defined as being in opposition to desperate attempts by museums to upgrade and modernize. The lecture hall itself (complete with the rumblings of passing subway trains) is admittedly modest compared to the starchitecture of the main space, but the irony was not lost on the ICC director, who took to the stage after Dion to jokingly take exception to the remark.

Maquettes continues until February 23rd. For information on visit Goodwater.

John Giorno

On Tuesday, February 12th, Art Metropole presents Everyone Gets Lighter, a performance by John Giorno. Giorno is an activist and poet, with many ties to the visual arts community. He was the subject of Andy Warhol's first film Sleep, which was shot in his apartment in 1963 when he and Warhol were lovers, one of his better known books (Cancer in My Left Ball) was published by Dick Higgins' artist book imprint The Something Else Press, and his Giorno Poetry Systems label published (an unrivaled?) fifty LPs and CDs of artists' recordings.

The label grew out of his innovative Dial-A–Poem project of 1968 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which made contemporary poetry available over the phone to millions of people. The LPs featured writers (Jim Carroll, Allen Ginsberg, Kathy Acker, William Burroughs), Fluxus artists (Dick Higgins, Emmett Williams), songwriters (Patti Smith, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, David Byrne), Black Panther members (Bobby Seale, Kathleen Cleaver), rock bands (Husker Du, Sonic Youth, Henry Rollins Bands, New Order, The Swans), filmmakers (John Waters), Performance Artists (Lydia Lunch, Laurie Anderson, Karen Finley), experimental vocalists (Meredith Monk, Diamanda Galas), sound artists (John Cage, Philip Glass, Glenn Branca) and dozens of others. The covers were often designed by artists such as Les Levine, Keith Haring and Robert Williams.

In 1978 he organized The Nova Convention over three days in NYC, with performances by Anne Waldman, Ed Sanders, Allen Ginsberg, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Laurie Anderson, Patti Smith, Philip Glass, Timothy Leary, Robert Wilson, Brion Gysin, Terry Southern and Frank Zappa. The event sold-out quickly due to the inclusion of Keith Richards on the bill. However, due to a heroin bust in Toronto the year prior, Richards' handlers suggested appearing alongside Burroughs would be a bad idea, and he cancelled at the last minute.

Giorno is a performance poet as much as anything else, having participated in high-profile tours in art and rock venues around the world, as a solo performer, with the John Giorno Band and on collaborative tours with Laurie Anderson and William S Burroughs (who he toured together with for more than thirty years). His readings are bellowed and stuttered, often with electronic modifications. Presumably Everyone Gets Lighter is a rumination on death, as the artist has never shied away from death and disease, either in his writings (Cancer in My Left Ball is a harrowing account of the surgery to remove his testicular tumors) or his activist work (he founded the AIDS Treatment Project in 1984 and continues to work as an AIDS fundraiser and activist). However, it is unlikely to be a strictly sombre affair - I saw him read in '94 and it was both dark and funny.

Giorno turns 72 this year. The collection Subduing Demons in America: The Selected Poems of John Giorno, 1962-2007, will be published by Soft Skull/Counterpoint later this year. One of his signature works, I Don't Want it, I Don't Need it, and you Cheated Me Out of it, is available here, at Ubuweb. An interview with Giorno by Hans Ulrich Obrist can be found here.

For more information, visit

People in Order

This 'viral video' plays like a populist version of works by Micah Lexier or Hans-Peter Feldmann. The filmmakers Lenka Clayton and James Price recorded one hundred people drumming, aged 1 to one hundred.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

No Wave

Earlier this week Pitchfork published an excerpt from staff writer Marc Masters' new book No Wave, which is now available from Black Dog Publishing. The 4000+ word excerpt traces possible origins of the term 'no wave', which include Lydia Lunch sneering when asked if her music shared anything with New Wave, the zine that chronicled the scene called NO and the Jean-Luc Godard remark that "There are no new waves, there is only the ocean". Elsewhere Arto Lindsay claims the moniker is wholly an invention of the Soho Weekly News and that none of the bands involved felt much affinity to the term.

Most accounts cite the five-day festival in May of 1978 held at Artists' Space, at its 105 Hudson Street location, as a seminal moment in the history of the short-lived ‘scene'. Posters advertising the event simply read "BANDS" and a list of performers, which included the four bands that subsequently appeared on the influential compilation No New York (James Chance and the Contortions, DNA, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and MARS), and half a dozen more that the above consipered to keep off the LP (The Theoretical Girls/Glenn Branca, The Gynecologists/Rhys Chatham and Red Transistor, etc.).

In attendance at these concerts were several influential journalists including John Rockwell of The New York Times, Robert Christgau of The Village Voice and Roy Trakin of New York Rocker, and Brian Eno, then a newly in-demand producer. He proposed the compilation and served as producer, though without imposing any of his usual sonic signatures.

The album was reissued a few years ago, but is now only available at costly import prices. The 22-track compilation NY No Wave, issued in 2003, is a reasonable substitute and the soundtrack to the film Downtown 81 (starring Jean-Michel Basquiat) was re-issued last November, and covers similar territory. Soul Jazz (the label that successfully marketed the excellent ESG re-issues a few years ago) has three volumes of New York Noise available, and released a photo book last August.

Thurston Moore and Byron Coley are also finishing up a book about the era, highlighting the cross-pollination of music, performance art, film and poetry. Titled No Wave: Post-Punk. Underground. New York. 1976-1980, the book is slated for June of this year.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Budget Committee hearing

On February 5th the Toronto City Budget committee will hear public concerns about city spending. You can sign up for a three minute slot by emailing With city money being as tight as it is, it's easy to assume that arts funding will be on the chopping block if the voices of the arts community are not heard.

Apparently Toronto funds its artists at a much lower rate per capita than other North American cities. The differences listed here are pretty staggering:

Toronto: $13 per capita

Chicago: $16

Vancouver $19

Montreal $32

New York $54

San Francisco $80

Admittedly it's unfair to compare the figures with the US, where state and national funding are undoubtedly lower than in Canada, but the comparisons with Vancouver and Montreal (almost three times as high) is troubling.


Mark Dion's "Maquettes" opens tonight at 8pm at Goodwater Gallery and runs until February 23rd. Goodwater is located at 234 Queen Street West. For more info, contact

Kerri Reid's "Some Material Concerns" opens at the Harbourfront Centre (York Quay Gallery) Saturday January 19th and runs until March 2nd. An opening reception will be held tomorrow night (Friday the 18th) from 6 to 9pm. For more information visit

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Rhys Chatham

Pitchfork announced today that Table of the Elements will release a three disc set titled Guitar Trio is My Life, featuring the trademark Rhys Chatham minimalist piece, performed live with a slew of special guests. Recorded in NYC, Chicago, Montreal, Toronto), Chicago, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis, the set features members of Sonic Youth, Tortoise, Hüsker Dü and Canadians Godspeed You Black Emperor and Final Fantasy.

The collection will be released March 4th. Check out the score here, and the description of the Toronto performance here.

The disc arrives a little more than a year after TOTE released A Crimson Grail, a recording of a 400 guitar composition by Chatham that was commissioned for Paris' 2005 Nuit Blanche. Apparently 10,000 people witnessed the live event, and another 100,000 watched the live television broadcast.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Art in the Shadow of War

Signals in the Dark: Art in the Shadow of War opens at Blackwood Gallery & the JMB next Wednesday, January 16th. Curated by Séamus Kealy, the show explores art's relationship to war and its representations and includes Mercer faves Kristan Horton and Annie MacDonell from Toronto and Ron Terada from Vancouver. Also included are Maja Bajević from Bosnia, Omer Fast from Israel and Johan Grimonprez from Belgium (best known for his excellent 1997 hi-jacking film Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y), amongst others.

The exhibition runs from January 17th to March 2nd, 2008 with a symposium held on Friday January 25th. The opening reception will be held on Wednesday January 16th from 5 to 7 pm @ the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery and from 7 to 9 pm @ the Blackwood Gallery. The galleries are providing free shuttle buses from Toronto to Mississauga for both the opening night and the day of the symposium.

Party Like It's 1989

A few months ago My Bloody Valentine announced their first album in nearly two decades would be followed by a tour and Kim Deal's Breeders have just announced the same, and they begin in Toronto. The Deal sisters kick off the tour as part of Canadian Music Week on March 5th. The album, Mountain Battles, was written and recorded after Deal's participation in the Pixies reunion tour and was recorded by Steve Albini, who handled their 1989 debut Pod and 2002's Title TK. It is slated for release on the 8th of April, on 4AD records.

The tour is the first in 6 years and I think their first visit to Toronto in more than 15 (I'd double-check but Google searches bring up too many horse-breeding sites to sift thru). I saw both MBV and the Breeders play at the Opera House at the turn of the decade. The former were catharticly loud and the latter was stoned, careless and sloppy. In the best possible way.

Six Shaggy Dog Stories

Next Tuesday (Jan 15th) is the last chance to see Jon Sasaki's Six Shaggy Dog Stories at Blackwood Gallery in Mississauga. The exhibition includes the videos Fireworks, 24 lbs, No Response, Ladder Climb, Friction and the brand new The Destination and the Journey, all featuring Sasaki as the earnest everyman. For more information, visit or

Pacifist Warcraft

Today (home to posts about censorship, sci-fi, and things made to look like Super Mario Bros) linked to a profile of a fifty-year old XP Warcraft player who succeeds thru the various levels of the game without killing other players. I've been playing chess against the computer the last few weeks, in the attempt to force checkmate without the loss of any pieces, to either side. My single success is below.

C Magazine

C Magazine launches the new winter issue "Real Existing Capitalism" with a fundraiser Saturday Night at Paul Petro Contemporary Art. The issue features Emily Vey Duke on Astria Suparak, Andria Hickey on the Atlas Group, Steve Kado on Brian Joseph Davis, artist projects by Devon Knowles and Steve Topping, etc. etc.

The Drawing Club fundraiser (featuring Amy Bowles, John Brown, Gary Evans, Ted Fullerton, Oliver Girling, Sadko Hadzihasanovic, Olia Mishchenko, Allyson Mitchell and Jennifer Murphy) begins at 6pm and the launch follows at 8. Saturday January 12th, 980 Queen St W, Toronto.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Kelly Mark Retrospective

If you missed either half of Kelly Mark's Stupid Heaven retrospective at the JMB and Blackwood Galleries last year, the show travels to Cambridge Galleries for a run from January 12th to February 24th, 2008. The opening reception is this Saturday at 2:30 pm. The show features photoworks, neon text pieces, and a series of television related projects, including the feature length film REM.

Correction, Panel Discussion

Contrary to the listing in the Mercer Union brochure, there will not be an artist talk at this Friday's opening. However, Mercer Union (in collaboration with the Koffler Gallery) will host a panel discussion on Thursday, January 31, 2008, at 6:30 pm. Titled "Apocalypse – Now what? Art After Political Trauma" the panel will discuss contemporary art created in cultures that are still transitioning from the experience of a traumatizing political system. Moderated by Georgiana Uhlyarik, the panel will examine ways in which artistic production reflects and analyzes the difficult past and still uncertain present, striving to shape new directions. The speakers include Calin Mihailescu, Adrian Blackwell, Mario Di Paolantonio and Gerald McMaster.

The exhibitions "Living Units" by Mona Vatamanu and Florin Tudor and "Environs" by Beth Howe open this Friday (Jan 11) at 8pm.

Trampoline Hall

Jon McCurley curates the next Trampoline Hall Lecture Series, which takes place Monday January 14th at Sneeky Dee's. This months speakers are Bonny Poon, Gerry Campbell and filmmaker Oliver Husain.

For more information visit

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

London's Fourth Plinth

Today the six artists shortlisted to have their work shown on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth, unveiled their plans at the National Gallery. Antony Gormley proposes an empty plinth where volunteers will stand on it around the clock for an hour at a time, Jeremy Deller proposes a burned-out car that has been destroyed in an attack on civilians in Iraq, and Bob & Roberta Smith suggests a hundred-foot-tall peace sign powered by the sun and wind. The other artists are Anish Kapoor, Yinka Shonibare, and Tracey Emin.

The location is best known for displaying controversial works by Marc Quinn and Mark Wallinger.

Hirschhorn Lifts Ban

In 2003, Thomas Hirschhorn barred exhibitions of his work in Switzerland as a protest against the election of the right-wing politician Christoph Blocher to the national parliament. "Blocher is not a dictator," Hirschhorn said, "but he legitimizes Swiss xenophobia, isolationism, nationalism; he legitimizes the feeling in Switzerland that all these foreigners want to come and take their money. He is a dangerous populist."

From self-imposed exile the artist still managed to stir controversy in his native Switzerland. In 2004 his exhibition "Swiss Swiss Democracy" at the Swiss Cultural Centre in Paris featured a one-hour play presented daily that included an actor vomitting into a ballot box and another pissing onto a poster of Blocher. In retaliation the Swiss legislature voted 24 to 13 to slash the budget of the country's arts council (the Pro Helvetia) by a million Swiss Francs.

Last month Blocher—the leader of the populist anti-immigrant Swiss People's Party and the justice minister under the prior administration—was voted out by a member of his own party and the opposition Social Democrats and Christian Democrats. In response, Hirschhorn has ended his four-year boycott.

Monday, January 7, 2008


I used to get mostly CDs for Christmas. This year I got one - Young@Heart Chorus' "Mostly Live". Young@Heart are a senior's choir who perform songs by the Talking Heads, The Ramones, Sonic Youth and other contemporary acts of the last thirty years. It's a spotty record, with many of the tracks wearing out their welcome quickly, but some are excellent. Outkast's Hey Ya and Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side never overcome the novelty factor, but Radiohead's Fake Plastic Trees and Schizophrenia by Sonic Youth both succeed.

Because the initial hook is the unusual selection of material, the obvious choices seem particularly redundant. Every Breath You Take by the Police has been covered to death, and Johnny Cash already wrestled the bombast from U2's One. Should I Stay or Should I Go? (my least favorite Clash song anyway) is particularly unnecessary.

Surprisingly, the choices that go for pathos are best. Reedy elderly voices carefully enunciating lines like "I was dreaming of the past" or "yesterday doesn't matter if it's gone" is heartbreaking.

The record makes a good companion to "Innocence and Despair" by The Langley Schools Music Project, which was recorded in 1976 in a school gymnasium in British Columbia and released in 2001. The 60-voice elementary school choir recorded songs by the Beatles, David Bowie, and the Carpenters with a Shaggs-meet-Phil Spector approach to arrangement.

The highlight is a nine-year old girl singing the otherwise awful Desperado.

Hugo Boss Finalists Announced

The Hugo Boss Prize finalists were announced last week, they include: Christoph Buchel, Patty Chang, Sam Durant, Emily Jacir, Joachim Koester, and Roman Signer. The jury noted that while a number of painters had been nominated they felt that conceptual work and installation art were the areas where innovative developments were taking place.

The $50 000 prize is awarded biannually (sponsored by Hugo Boss, administered by the Guggenheim). Previous winners include Matthew Barney, Douglas Gordon, Marjetica Potrč, Pierre Huyghe, Rirkrit Tiravanija and Tacita Dean. Stan Douglas is the sole Canadian nominee, 12 years ago.

Celebrity Hijack

Today Britain's The Independent reported that Channel 4's Celebrity Big Brother will return this year as Celebrity Hijack with guests including punk impresario Malcolm McLaren and artists The Chapman Brothers. To further their indignity, they will be joined by Joan Rivers, Jimmy Carr and the catch-phrase uttering Matt Lucas of Little Britain.

Locus Suspectus, VOCA

The current issue of Locus Suspectus features articles on two Mercer Union fall exhibitions: Alex Snukal writes about Michel de Broin's Shared Propulsion Car and Stephanie Rogerson takes on Instant Coffee's Nooks. The latter article also discusses Anitra Hamilton's ongoing Satchel project. Hamilton exhibited Beater at MU last spring. The issue also features Mercer favorites BGL on the cover. BGL exhibited Reason to Believe at Mercer Union in 2005, elements of which are now on display at the National Gallery in Ottawa.

Also, yesterday at View on Canadian Art, Andrea Carsons posted her interview with Michel de Broin. Check it out here.

Henri Chopin, RIP

Sound poet Henri Chopin died last week (January 3rd) at his home in England, with his family. He was 85.