On Broken Bulbs & Flat Tires

This story starts with a discovery.

Last Friday, I am in my washroom. One of the light bulbs is burned out above the mirror. I go to replace it and notice there’s an outlet attached to the light fixture. I am curious, grab my hair dryer from my bedroom and plug it in above the mirror. Turn it on, and away it blasts. After almost 2 years of living in my apartment and blow drying my hair in my bedroom, I discover there is—always was—an outlet in the washroom. No one—myself, the Artist, my dad, or my landlord—noticed it.

And then the other day when the Artist was over, he discovered the inside of the pantry door had a lock on it. Why on earth is there a lock on the inside? This is what I love about old character apartments—sometimes they don’t make sense. And they surprise you. After I thought I knew everything there is to know about my apartment, I am still discovering it.

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The next day was a Saturday much like this one. Sun shining, cherry blossoms out, my amaryllis in full bloom. I needed to run an errand on Main Street and was tempted to drive for convenience sake, and then thought: Why drive when I could bike? Not only could I bike, but I could bike in a T-shirt! In February!

I had never biked east of Cambie Street before, so it was a new route for me. I took Ontario Street all the way north to 27th Avenue. And because I had never ridden that street before, I was greeted with more discoveries. Ontario Street is the street of schools. First Langara College, which I had always known about because the Canada Line SkyTrain station nearby is called Langara, but had never seen the actual building. And then I pedalled by some old brick beauties: Sir William Van Horne Elementary and General Wolfe Elementary School.

Sir William Van Horne

Sir William Van Horne

General Wolfe

General Wolfe

Since Ontario Street is a bike street, there are fun bike sculptures along the way, such as these bike seat benches in Queen Elizabeth Park.IMG_1012

On my way home, I sat and started reading a used book I picked up while I was running my errand. I got it a Y’s Books, a store I had never seen before, and you know I am a sucker for my classics, especially when they’re at a great price!

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Everything was perfect the way there & the way back from Main Street. That is, until it started feeling like I was pulling a 100-tonne truck behind me when I wasn’t even going up a hill. I get off my bike. The back tire is as flat as a pancake. I am still a 15-20 minute ride from home. But I am on Ontario Street and there are people standing on patios enjoying the sunshine, so I walk over and ask, “Would you happen to have a bike pump?”

Sure enough, the man does. He fetches it and helps me pump it up. But then we discover the outer tube/valve where the air goes in is broken and only keeps air in if held a certain way. By this time, another neighbour comes out to offer his assistance, running to get electrical tape and secure the precarious tube. He also sends me home with one of his pumps in case I need to use it along the way. I am speechless. “Really? You want to lend this to me?”

He says, “It’s no big deal. You know where I live now and so just swing by and return it when you get the chance.”

I am stunned, and grateful. I ride home and the air comes out of my tire within another five minutes. And I am hauling a truck again. I pump it up and get back on it, and it lasts another minute. I do this maybe one more time before I realize I’m better off walking it home.

And so I do. At first I’m upset that the otherwise perfect day ended with a flat tire, but then this thought came into view: This is how I slow you down, Charlene.

I don’t slow down very easily. Unless I’m forced to. And I’ve been more aware of it during this Lenten season where I’m trying to pay attention to what God is doing. Maybe there are some discoveries that await in walking my bike instead of riding it. In making some new “neighbours” who don’t live near me at all but who set aside half an hour of their afternoon to show love to a stranger and quiet those naysayers who purport that Vancouver isn’t a friendly place.

I need to slow down, to see the beauty and discovery that comes from broken things and a bunch of people trying to fix it together.

I now have the most wonderful reason to bake a batch of cookies.

The Foreigner

On Thursday night at the Surrey Arts Centre, I got to see Pacific Theatre‘s production of The Foreigner presented by the Arts Club on Tour. I had been meaning to see this at PT when it first came out in Vancouver but didn’t get around to it, so was very delighted to hear I could have another opportunity—and with all the same original cast!

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It’s been a while since I’ve taken in some live theatre and it was wonderful. I had pretty high expectations as this was the play in which John Voth, who plays Charlie, won a Jessie award for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Lead Role.

The quick synopsis of the play from PT’s website reads:

Charlie is visiting from England, painfully shy and very much in need of rest. His friend has the perfect solution – he leaves him at a rural fishing lodge, telling his hosts that Charlie is from an exotic foreign land and speaks no English. All is well until “the foreigner” overhears more than he should.

It was funny; it was serious; it was silly; it was sinister.

When Charlie gets dropped off at a rural fishing lodge in Georgia by his friend Froggy, he appears uptight and concerned with his ailing yet cheating wife. I learned a great word from this review of the play: “milquetoast.” It means “a person who is tired or submissive.” Yes, this describes Charlie perfectly. He sits at the kitchen table in the first scene, looking like Eeyore, and asks Froggy, “How does one acquire personality? What must it be like to tell a funny story? To arouse laughter? Anger? Respect? To be thought wise?”

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Erla Faye Forsyth as Betty and Ryan Scramstad as Froggy.

Very prescient question. Froggy tells Betty, the garrulous, doting woman who runs the lodge, that Charlie is a non English-speaking foreigner who wants some peace and quiet. She is fascinated by the idea of a foreigner and treats him like her pet. Catherine and her fiancé, the reverend David, are staying at the lodge too, as well as Catherine’s slow but likeable brother Ellard. The play largely develops from each character’s interaction with the foreigner.

The audience gradually sees Charlie acquire personality as he acts out the roles the various guests at the lodge attribute to him: Catherine’s confessor, Ellard’s pupil, Betty’s pet skunk. Catherine is told Charlie doesn’t speak English so she tells him all her secrets, including how she feels about becoming a preacher’s wife. Ellard gets a boost of confidence (and so does everyone else) by teaching Charlie English in a record amount of time. Betty has someone she gets to completely spoil, true to the profile of a typical southern woman.

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On left: Ellard played by Peter Carlone. Right: Charlie played by John Voth

What impressed me so much about the play was the script, written by Larry Shue. It was such an unusual and refreshing plot, where a lot of the words are gibberish (when Charlie has to speak in his “native” tongue at the request of his new friends). I heard some other audience members saying as they walked out of the theatre, “I wonder if the actors say the same words each time, or if the gibberish is different in each performance.” I was wondering the same thing.

Regardless, it was extremely amusing and John Voth was utterly in his element, acting the meek and mild Charlie at the beginning, and then erupting into the life of the party with his unconventional ways of storytelling. The sinister parts come into play with the character of David, (Catherine’s fiancé) who has his own dirty secret and who’s in cahoots with Owen, a slimeball involved with the KKK.

Erla Faye Forsyth (Betty), Peter Carlone (Ellard) John Voth (Charlie) Kaitlin Williams (Catherine)

Erla Faye Forsyth (Betty), Peter Carlone (Ellard) John Voth (Charlie) Kaitlin Williams (Catherine)

But it all works up to a rewarding climax where the bad guys are given their comeuppance and the good guys succeed and grow closer, so much closer that the hint of a relationship between Charlie and Catherine is implied. What surprised me (and somewhat disappointed me) is that Charlie never reveals his secret in the end. He still has everyone fooled that he’s a foreigner, and I went away asking, “Is this a good thing or not?” On one hand, yes—play-acting has allowed him to become someone he couldn’t have been otherwise, perhaps even more himself. But on the other hand, the moral issue remains, “But he’s still lying to all of them!” David turns out to be a big scumbag and liar at the end, but how different is Charlie from this if he also doesn’t tell Catherine the truth?

Maybe other theatre-goers don’t analyze out the aftermath to the same extent I do, but I was curious about the note it ends on. Charlie very much embodies this quote by Oscar Wilde:

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

For those of you interested in seeing The Foreigner (which I recommend), it’s on at the Surrey Arts Centre until February 28. For those of you who have seen it, what are your thoughts?

Chasing the Clock & Stepping Back in Time

For this post, I thought it’d be interesting to contrast two places/experiences in the city I had recently. First is the artwork at the Canada Line terminus station downtown Vancouver. This is the same space I previously wrote about here where each panel had a list of first lines from songs that all begin with “Here comes…”

The art at this location tends to be time-related, which the current exhibit makes obvious.

IMG_0956IMG_0950IMG_0951IMG_0953I like the bright colours of the vortex clocks, but I don’t find this work as engaging or intriguing as “Here Comes.” Yes, we’re busy and frantic. Yes, we wish we had more time. Does this artwork invite us to stop in a busy area and breathe a little easier? Reflect on something hopeful? Or does it just reinforce the fact that we’re late, need to hurry, walk faster? The sameness of the panels, minus the colours, highlights the relentless regularity of our lives. The tone of the write-up takes a similar doom & gloom stance with descriptions that give all agency to the clock, in which humans are “trapped in its vice forever.” Is its triumph really inevitable? Are we slaves to time? What about all the times we stop people, look at the little girl eating an ice cream cone, listen to a busker belt out melodies; share a conversation with somebody in the grocery line-up?

IMG_0947From chasing the clock, we go to stepping back in time. I was on Broadway Street this morning, meeting friends for coffee & lunch and exploring some shops in that area. My friend suggested we go into a store called Stepback (neither of us had been before) and we were there for almost an hour, oohing and ahhing at its many vintage treasures.

Unfortunately their website doesn’t have any pictures, but you can get a sense of the kind of items they have from this short write-up that VanMag did with the owner two years ago, as well as this blog that has some awesome pictures.

I was especially thrilled as the wedding theme I’m going for is vintage, so I was surrounded by inspiration! The window display was decorated with dozens of old hardcover red books (homage to Valentine’s Day) and pewter dishes. The store contains a stack of suitcases from the 1940s, typewriters, Scrabble letters, eye exam & bicycle posters, plenty of hardcover classics & dictionaries, wooden block letters, old postcards, stamps, matches, wooden chairs, and more. This store may even rival my love for Urban Source!

I will be stepping back there again, taking all the time in the world.

That Time When My Fiancé Bought Me a Taylor Swift CD

He drops me off at work, mentions he’s going to hit up Target to see what they have on sale before they close.

“Ooh, maybe you could get the new Taylor Swift CD for me?” I say not too seriously. A friend had it on in the car the other day and though I was sceptical at first, I kinda liked her full-fledged immersion into pop.

“Haha, ya right,” he jokes. A fan of Johnny Cash, Patty Griffin, and Guns N’ Roses, Taylor Swift is not someone he would ever listen to on his own volition.

I forget about the conversation the rest of the day but guess what is waiting for me on the passenger seat when he picks me up?

1989

“You didn’t!”

“I did.”

“You actuallly got it for me!”

“Well, you said you wanted it.”

Not only did my fiancé buy me Taylor Swift’s 1989 album, but he bought me the deluxe version, complete with 3 bonus tracks and 3 voice memos about her songwriting process, as well as 13 polaroid photos of her with various song lyrics written in her hand at the bottom. I felt a little silly and teenager-like having all this T. Swift hoopla on me when I’m not even a huge fan, but on the other hand, I was impressed by how much she gives her fans. You can tell she really likes them. Considering a lot of musicians don’t even put their lyrics in the album booklet anymore (which is the only reason to even buy physical CDs rather than just getting them off iTunes, in my opinion), it was really refreshing to find all her lyrics in there AND a foreword to the album.

I have not followed the ins and outs of Taylor Swift’s life at all—just liked some of her hits now and then—but this foreword offered a pretty personal glimpse into her life. I think that’s what’s attractive to her fans—she talks to them like friends, like she’s learning and growing with them. I’ve always thought she was a good songwriter, but she’s also a pretty good prose writer.

For the last few years, I’ve woken up every day not wanting, but needing to write a new style of music. I needed to change the way I told my stories and the way they sounded. I listened a lot to music from the decade in which I was born and I listened to my intuition that it was a good thing to follow this gut feeling. I was also writing a different storyline than I’d ever told you before.

She goes on to discuss moving to New York City, something she said she’d never do. The big synth-pop sound of  her opening track “Welcome to New York” starts the album off with a bang that lets you know we are not in Nashville anymore.

Everybody here wanted something more

Searching for a sound we hadn’t heard before

. . .

It’s a new soundtrack

I could dance to this beat

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That’s probably my favourite song on the album and it’s fun to sing to when driving, bass up, windows down (and yes, even my fiancé sings along!). “Welcome to New York” could become the next New York anthem (after “Empire State of Mind” by Alicia Keys and Jay Z). Full of adventure and hope, it sounds like everything I remember feeling when I visited four years ago. I like songs that bring you back in an instant. “Style” is another fun one to sing to while driving. For a slower one, “You Are in Love” (one of the bonus tracks).

Anyway, I don’t often write about celebrities or albums but it’s been years since I’ve bought, let alone received a CD, and I felt this was one worth talking about.

Ivory Tower Meets the Mainstreeters

On Saturday, I had the chance to participate in a 3-for-1 in terms of the downtown Vancouver art scene. The Contemporary Art Gallery, Audain Gallery, and Satellite Gallery teamed up to provide 3 tours within 3 hours, all walking distance within one another. I love it when galleries join forces like this and you get an afternoon of taking in a wide variety of art.

The schedule was as follows:

1pm: Audain Gallery, 149 W Hastings Street. Join a tour of Geometry of Knowing Part 2 led by curators Amy Kazymerchyk and Melanie O’Brian.

2pm: Satellite Gallery, 560 Seymour Street, 2nd floor. Join a tour of Mainstreeters: Taking Advantage, 1972-1982 led by curators Allison Collins and Michael Turner.

3pm: Contemporary Art Gallery, 555 Nelson Street. Join a tour of the current exhibitions by Grace Schwindt and Krista Belle Stewart led by CAG Director Nigel Prince.

It was a fabulous turnout—I would say at least 150 people, and it just seemed to grow from one tour to the next. I did the first 2 tours as those were the ones I was particularly interested in and had never visited those galleries.

Audain Gallery

The Audain Gallery is a bright, spacious gallery in SFU Woodward’s location. Simon Fraser University follows a decentralized university model with 3 campus: the original Burnaby mountain location (the “ivory tower” setting) and then 2 more on-the-ground, in-the-city sites at Surrey City Centre and downtown Vancouver, which coincides with the university’s vision to be Canada’s leading community-engaged research university.

The Geometry of Knowing exhibition asks the question, “What does it mean for a gallery to exist within a university? What is our role in shaping how we come to know ourselves and the world we live in?” A visual theme in the exhibit was the presence of triangles that echo the shape of Burnaby Mountain and the connotation of a university as an ivory tower of learning, situated high up and far away from everybody else and the conversations happening on the ground.

SFU Burnaby Mountain

SFU Burnaby Mountain

Untitled by Brent Wadden.

Untitled by Brent Wadden

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You have that idea paired with a video like Smashing where Jimmie Durham sits at a bureaucratic desk in a suit, smashing objects with a large stone brought to him by his art students who are taking part in an artist residency. You see Durham smashing/”deconstructing” coffee beans, a bag of flour, shaving cream, & countless other objects as a statement about how art is made and the role of critique. And then Durham stamps a piece of paper and gives it to the students as their official “pass.” The tour guide also talked about the idea of a stone being this ancient and simple material that still has so much weight in our digitized 21st century world, whether to build or to destroy. Smashing is a 90-minute video but here’s a 4-minute version I found on YouTube:

Satellite Gallery

The Satellite Gallery is a little harder to spot if you don’t know where you’re going. On the second floor of a slightly run-down building on Seymour Street, it is noticeably darker and smaller-feeling with low ceilings and less light which is a little unexpected in modern art galleries these days.

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Satellite Gallery. Image from their website.

Nevertheless, I was really excited to see their Mainstreeters: Taking Advantage exhibit, partly because I love Main Street myself, but also because I like learning about the local Vancouver art scene back in the days when I wasn’t alive. The exhibit spans the decade 1972-1982 and yes, the Mainstreeters were actually a self-titled “art gang”.

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This is what the description on their website reads:

The Mainstreeters—Kenneth Fletcher, Deborah Fong, Carol Hackett, Marlene MacGregor, Annastacia McDonald, Charles Rea, Jeanette Reinhardt and Paul Wong—were an “art gang” who took advantage of the times, a new medium (video), and each other. Emerging from the end-stage hippie era, the gang drew from glam, punk and a thriving gay scene to become an important node in the local art scene. Their activities connect the influential interdisciplinary salon of Vancouver’s Roy Kiyooka in the early 1960s with the collective-oriented social practices that have emerged worldwide in the early years of the 21st century. Like the current “digital natives” generation, the Mainstreeters were the first generation to grow up with video cameras. The resulting documents focus on a decade of their lives, including forays into sex, love, drugs and art.

Check out this introductory panel to the exhibit that discusses how they’re all connected (if you can read it, that is! I apologize for the bad picture):

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Clear as mud, right? Doesn’t it have the makings of a soap opera? And I guess that’s the impression I was left with after viewing the exhibit. Mainstreeters: Taking Advantage is primarily archival photographs of the group—where they lived, hung out, and partied. I saw more about them than I did their art, which was a little disappointing. The curators were very upfront about this, stating that it was more a documentary-style exhibit on the group, but that that was also part of the point—that their art & their lives (socially, politically, etc) all bled together and informed one another.

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The art that was on view was their homemade videos, which was interesting insofar as the video camera was new technology back then and they used it like people first used facebook or twitter when it came out (& maybe some people still do!): documenting absolutely everything about their lives, even the not-so-interesting-to-everybody-else bits. The 70s-style grainy look to their videos is now back in fashion with all the old-school instagram filters available, so it’s funny how things have come around to that again with our modern technology.

My favourite part of the exhibit was reading the notes they left one another. I felt I got to know the Mainstreeters as much through their words as their images.

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All in all, what a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and what a contrast—going from the academia-infused Geometry of Knowing to the hippie drug & love era of Mainstreeters; Taking Advantage, 1972-1982! I hope these galleries offer more joint events in the future. It’s nice to explore the smaller and lesser-known downtown galleries in addition to the behemoth of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Views from the Southbank I

Hi everyone, just wanted to say a (very) belated Happy New Years! With my engagement and then Christmas and then the beginning of wedding planning, let’s just say things have been more than a little crazy.

Unfortunately this blog has been a little dormant as a result. But hopefully for not much longer!

Low Clouds by Nicoletta Baumeister.

Low Clouds by Nicoletta Baumeister.

Tis the season for a lot of new art exhibits. Since I now work at the Surrey Art Gallery and our big opening reception for 3 exhibits is tonight, I thought I’d say a little about it and plug it for all you last-minute planners who may even want to check it out!

As You Were by Micah Lexier. Photo by artist.

Installation of Micah Lexier’s A Project for Surrey. Photo by the artist.

It’s the Gallery’s 40th anniversary this year, and in celebration of that, the curator has chosen exhibits that focus on Surrey and its surrounding area. Vancouver art gets a lot of attention as the new Mainstreeters: Taking Advantage, 1972-1982 exhibit that just launched at the Satellite Gallery indicates, but art from/about the suburbs isn’t always so hot.

But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be! 25 artists from across Surrey, Langley, Delta, and Vancouver are represented in Views from the Southbank I: Histories, Memories, Myths – the first of a series of 3 installations that will run throughout the year. Surrey has the reputation of being a very young & rapidly-growing city with tons of new development, especially in the City Centre, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have deep history.

Payal 128th by Ravi Gill.

Payal 128th by Ravi Gill.

Sean Alward, Nicoletta Baumeister, and Polly Gibbons are a few of the artists who explore the deep roots of place, and the connections with memory, perception, and identity – collective and individual.

Surrey Urban Sprawl by Roxanne Charles.

Surrey Urban Sprawl by Roxanne Charles.

There is an astonishing variety of art mediums packed in to the Gallery’s space, from Roxanne Charles’ new monumental wall relief “Surrey Urban Sprawl” that weaves together cedar bark, construction tape, copper, brass, wire, polyethylene, vinyl siding, nylon, and synthetic fiber to Brian Howell’s large photograph of a conveyor system at the Kennedy Heights Printing Plant in Surrey (now shut down) where the Vancouver Sun and the Province used to publish their newspapers. And then there are large paintings by White Rock artist Jim Adams in the manner of Edward Hopper, featuring dramatic lighting, stormy skies, and a look into neighbours’ lives through their windows that reminded me of a scene in The Great Gatsby.

Here are some before & after shots. As you can see, there is literally art everywhere, from floor to ceiling!

Before

Before

After

After

The other 2 shows you can see/listen to are:

The opening reception goes from 7:30-9:30 pm on Saturday, Jan 17 with formal remarks at 7:45 pm. If you’re not able to make it out tonight, it runs until mid-March so make sure you see it before it comes down!