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10,000 hours later…. now what?

I’ve been captivated by the 10,000 rule since hearing about it a few years ago. Simply put, if you put 10,000 hours into something you’ll become an expert on it.

Well, since I’ve been launched Art PR Wire (4,732) and Art Listings Professional (7,245) since 2009, I have posted over 10,000 posts. I’ve been aiming for this metric consciously and now must decide what to do next.

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Love #2, 2012: Painting, interrupted.

I am seeing an orthopedic surgeon later this month about my wonky shoulders. Renovations to our old, crappy house are going very slowly, so as usual my studio is packed with storage. We are living in one room in the main floor. I am also in the thick of an intense but enjoyable graduate program focused on communications, new media and teeming with philosophers both alive and dead. Everyone is smarter and quicker than me. Art is my only hope of surviving this. I always feel like Ethan Hawke in Gattica.

With that being said, my “classical” studio practice is on hold. In the meantime, here is a painting from a unpublished text series in progress. Art Toronto is right around the corner and I am always seeing my art on display by someone else (so to speak) so I figured I better start staking my originality claims while I can.

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Ai Weiwei and me

Ai Weiwei & me: A study of his perspective

Ai Weiwei and me

Ai Weiwei and me and you at the Whitehouse.

I went to see the Ai Weiwei exhibit at the AGO this weekend and came away with a new perspective and some re-enforced old perspectives.

You may remember I covered the 1001 Chairs artist protest in Toronto a bit when he was detained by Chinese authorities for being right about the Chinese authorities being typical authoritarian dicks.

I’ve become even more aware of his work since – count me in as a fan. However, I was not a fan of how this exhibit was put together by the AGO.

As my friend remarked, it looked like some sort of “sampler pack” and left us slightly … unsatisfied. They seem to have taken a bit of as many different series of his work as they could and crammed it into as few rooms as they could. If any art deserves lots of white cube space, it’s his work. Weiwei often works on an industrial scale and the AGO reduced his art series to a sort of token participation.

42 bicycles in this installation. During Nuite Blanche, there will be 3000.

7 different (truncated) series in this room. Really?

He is one of the giants of our age and will be a central figure of contemporary art history. If the AGO was ever going to clear as much as possible for an artist, then this was it – but they blew it. They did however have $25 dollar tickets for two hours of viewing, so that part of their machinery is well oiled. Oh, and the Ai Weiwei gift shop in the middle of the exhibit took up probably at least 15% of the total space…really?

One cannot help but think if his passport was not currently revoked, then he would of been able to be here to ensure they curated the work better than this. Then I kinda of realized that for me and many a retrospective at the AGO would be the height of professional achievement, but internationally maybe it’s more a provincial gallery.

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My pique aside, I was sincerely moved – almost to tears at one point – by his work to acknowledge child victims of the 2008 earthquake in the Sichuan province. The underlying political and social critique of labour, economy + government ambition that feeds into corruption in the construction industry strikes a cord that transcends borders. Montreal is dealing with a corruption probe and there has long been the stink of such practices where I live as well. And probably across Canada.

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What really moved me was the rebar that he collected from the disaster scene and then painstakingly straightened. Holy fuck. The poetry of this is reverberated in my brain pan and my eyes started to mist up. I’ve seen a lot of art in my time and I’m a bit jaded and desensitized at this point but this cut right through all that. The material, the process and the presentation are inseparable from it’s content and concept – and it’s simple. This guy is the real deal.

Another revelation for me occurred at this point: As an activist and artist, I understand that an incredible and obvious amount of labour is a way to communicate a powerful message a government authority. It becomes undeniable and that at the end of the day is perhaps the most powerful tool available to a contemporary artist in this day and age.

I also understand that the media is the art and my posts of my own work online is powerful and significant and valid. For Ai Weiwei’s, his social media presence acts as a herald for his work and bridges his universal themes into real spaces around the world. Again, his process and presentation is inseparable from his concept and contains an resolvable tension both conceptually and formally i.e. his studies in perspective. For me as an artist, this validates my own concepts and practice.

A few more photos of the exhibit are posted below – that the public is allowed to take photos at this exhibit is a rarity for the Art Gallery of Ontario and I think is due to the influence of the artist. He understands the power of media more then most artists and galleries.

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It may not appear so, but this is an acknowledge of respect for Ai Weiwei.

It may not appear so, but this is an acknowledge of respect for Ai Weiwei.

The Artist’s Shoulders #3: The terrible weight of the GTA rushhour

This is the third post in my series about my shoulder problems and how it ties into problems with our health system, some public & private problems of being an artist in Canada, perceptions that promote poverty  and thus ultimately the economy … seriously, they are all related and this post outlines a second example of this. 

Life in the GTA can be nasty, brutish & Commute.*

Sometimes you have to go where the work is, and work through any issues involved in getting there.

My first job when I moved to Toronto involved commuting from Parkdale Village to North York. Not stressful but long and unreliable time wise. Trains would always “short turn” as I was travelling opposite rushhour traffic. I was working in some guy’s basement office in the middle of suburbia and he demanded I arrive at 9am sharp. That’s why he was paying me the barely living wage bucks for, so I felt duty-bound to oblige.

To do this I left the apartment at 7:10 am and took the street car and then the subway to Wilson Station. From there I could walk or wait for the bus. Either way, I would usually arrive about 30-20 minutes early and wait outside the house. If I left the apartment any later than 7:10 am, I would be late by about 20 minutes to half hour. It was a goddamn time-space singularity tear in the fabric of North York I tell you.

Going home again took about the same amount of time, but going against rushhour was a real luxury. This was actually a cakewalk compared to what came next … commuting from Hamilton to Toronto everyday.

GTA rush hour is a monster movie twice a day.

Seriously. You have to plan around it or you risk being in the belly of the beast for many hours. The stinking toxic angry oozing innards of the man-made creature called “Toronto Traffic”.

This sucks where ever you live in the GTA, but if you are living in Hamilton and commuting to Toronto is especially heinous. One friend who made the trip only a few times described it as follows: “It’s hellish and will suck your soul out through your eye balls.” – that seems extreme but it is reflecting a real situation that has Toronto ranked in the top 5 for worst traffic in North America and worse than New York, Berlin or London (which seems surprising as those are really big cities and the last two are much older, so I imagine with narrow streets in many parts).

The morning rush hour starts at 7am and lets up about 9:30-10am. The evening rush hour starts at 3:30pm and ends usually around 7:30pm. If you go into and back from Toronto outside of those times then you are very fortunate – otherwise it takes about two hours to get into Toronto and between two and four hours to get home.  The worst part is how exhausting it is – you can’t take your eyes off the road. You have to be constantly inching forward and stopping every few feet, and then gunning whenever you can to – usually for a few seconds then slamming on the breaks. It’s a real battle to get through, and especially to keep an eye out for erratic and angry drivers who start cutting people off suddenly in their induced congestion stupor.  Like me, these people are frustrated that it *should* take under 40 minutes from downtown Hamilton to downtown Toronto and vice-versa. On paper, it looks like Hamilton is close to Toronto – but it’s not. It’s really not.

Why not take public transit and save some time and money?

Good idea. Taking a bus or train will save time and money … except when commuting from Hamilton to Toronto. This is where things get into into the realm of bad planning and thus bad economics.

Believe or not, a one way fare costs more than $10 and so going back and forth costs over $20. You can buy a monthly pass for nearly $350. If you are living on typical cultural worker wages, minimum wage or near the poverty line this amount is prohibitive. When I would drive, I could park for $8 near my work, and factoring in gas that’s actually still less than taking taking the bus or train. The real spit in the eye is that it’s not as expensive the closer you take the bus or train to Toronto. What this means is if you live in the affluent suburbs of Mississauga or Oakville, you are paying only three or four dollars. Those living in depressed Hamilton are paying the most, are the least able to afford it and are in the most need of affordable transportation to find work. Oh, and there’s no wireless on GO Transit, which is no small inconvenience as I explained in a previous post.

Another bit of salt in the wound is Hamilton’s last train leaves at 7:15am and makes most stops along the way, resulting in an almost two hour trip anyways in a *very* crowded train. A train by the way you are not allowed to bring your bicycle onto to so you’ll have to pay more again if you don’t work within walking distance of the Toronto station.  You can take the bus, and even load your bike onto it, but you’ll probably be late if you take it later than … 7:15am.

Oh, and there’s no park’n’go in Hamilton. I would have to pay extra here to take a bus to the station or walk 40 minutes.

You can take a bus to Aldershot station in Burlington, just before Hamilton, that does have all day trains and lots of parking. Aldershot is remarkable for having a Walmart, an empty field and a giant pile of dirt. Hamilton has more people, but apparently the problem is freight trains have more priority than passenger trains. That should help paint a clear picture of the priorities at work here.

They are increasing train times and opening a new station in Hamilton, in time for the PanAm 2014 games. This is a separate boondoggle and we’ll see what actually becomes of it, but I’ve learned to take good news in Hamilton with a grain of salt.

The solution is obvious, and so is the problem: There should be free public transit and there are too many cars on the road (especially with single drivers. Grrrr).

It wouldn’t really be free of course, but already paid for through our taxes. Unfortunately, we live in knee-jerk conservative simpleton times. I’ve gotten into a few disputes about this and sometimes with people who I initially credited with having more reasoning skills. Their argument always boils down to a) they don’t take transit as they have a car so why should they pay for it? and b) it’s too expensive without people paying fares.

Their argument does not make much sense to me. First of all, the service is already publicly funded so how exactly much are we paying for ticket collectors, ticker checkers, cashiers, gates, consultants, services, payment systems, lawyers, training and everything single other thing that goes with having a fare system? Quite a bit I suspect.  Secondly, these people railing against taxes paying for public transit seem to have absolutely no qualms about taxes paying for their roads. What if we slapped a $10 toll on every road into and out of Toronto? Then I suspect we would have a large outcry that roads should remain “free” to drive on. Yep, most people in the GTA aren’t terribly self-reflective.

Another obvious boon would be the boost to the local economy as more people traveled to different areas – buying a coffee, shopping, get a haircut and a job, or whatever. More than this, it would decrease car traffic significantly. Then we wouldn’t have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in expanding roads to accommodate more traffic.  We would save on extra police, ambulances, road maintenance, insurance and even health care costs as the stress levels drop. I bet you dollars to donuts that “free” transit saves more money than having fares.

But what do I know? I’m only an artist and not one of the corporations who are profiting greatly from this current state of affairs and enabled by terrible political leadership. In Canada, we have a very “silo” way of thinking about things, and column A in the spreadsheet is not considered when looking at column B, even if we could save much more tax money overall, and ergo we are left with a disastrous mess that is costing the region billions.

Really hard to imagine that a fare-less transit system is worse than this.

There are improvements they could make immediately like allowing bicycles onto the train. The argument against this is that there is not enough room during rush hour. My argument is that it’s a train – you can add more cars. Their counter-argument is that Union Station can’t handle a larger train or bicycles. My counter-argument is that there are stations on the way and close by, like Exhibition Place, that would accommodate this – the great thing about bicycles is that you can travel to places on them. Obviously, my pleas for reason have been in vain – at least to the transit cop I was arguing with who was busting a kid for bringing his ten speed on the train. When I last saw him, they had pulled him off the train and there were about eight of these “special constables” surrounding this scared teenager. It really broke my heart and opened my eyes that there are interests out there that don’t want things to improve and be more efficient because they are making a living off of the way things are now.

Another immediate improvement would be to equalize the payment on GO Transit so it’s the same all over the system, just like any other public transportation system such as the TTC or the HSR. This would help make it more affordable for Hamiltonians and people in Oakville can pay their fair share. This argument usually ends with the other person giving me a look like I’ve got a tentacle growing out of my forehead.

What has this got to do with my shoulder condition?

So I would commute every work day. It was during this time of living barely paycheque-to-paycheque (but with a very nice job title) that my right shoulder started to hurt. I am a big guy, about 6’4″, so fitting into these little seats built for a shorter brand of human meant I would always be “hunched up”, especially with the masses of people who crowd onto the train along the way and back from Toronto.  I didn’t know about my shoulder condition at that time, so decided to tough it out. My job meant long hours hunched over a computer at work and then long hours at the computer at home (usually when I got back at 8pm) trying to keep up with my own work. Eventually, my back gave out a couple of times and I tried going to physio (quickly ate through my meager health insurance) and exercising but honestly I was so tired all the time. I could hardly function most times.

At the end I could feel my whole arm starting to go. If I reached behind me, or up, a lightening bolt of pain would shoot up from my shoulder and my arm would tingle, go numb, and swell a little bit. I thought this was normal, as I had been experiencing less sever pain in my arms and shoulders throughout my life. It’s kinda funny – I’m experiencing pain doing a certain range of movements so everyone must experience the same thing right? I remember thinking everytime I would have to reach back in the car or up to get something, or even paint or draw on an easel, about the Princess Bride movie where Wesley says “Life is Pain“.

After almost two years I just couldn’t do it anymore. I just couldn’t physically handle the demand, and was too financially impoverished to be able to move closer to downtown Toronto. Without another job lined up closer to where I live, or any other work lined up, I quit. I remember reaching up from my chair to hug a co-worker goodbye and almost cried out from the pain in my arm and shoulder. I couldn’t bear the pain of people bumping into me during the morning commute and the agony of holding onto something because of heavy footed bus and streetcar drivers.

I figured rest would heal my back and shoulders. Lord knows I couldn’t afford massage or physiotherapy, and didn’t have a doctor to go see, but I was sure I would get better sooner than later and be back to painting and drawing. I was wrong.

More to come… in the meantime, please enjoy the below stills from a video of one of my commutes (January 13th, 2012 I believe). This is the shared landscape we have in common, and in turn informs each one of us of the world we live in and the priorities of our communities. Any of this look familiar?

*Adaptation in subtitle is from “Life is … nasty, brutish and short” via Thomas Hobbs but you probably knew that already. But at least you scrolled through the commute pictures – thank you!

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When scientists, media artists and composers collide

Continuum & Subtle Technologies are partnering and both have in common a keen interest in smart people doing smart but unexpected things resulting from cross-discipline collaborations. The resulting project is called “collide” and some of the most interesting people from across Canada are participating in it – and many of these individuals were in attendance at a fundraising party at Gallery 345 in my old haunt of Parkdale Village.

Being manned here in the art outpost of central Hamilton, I promised myself I would make it to more events in Toronto and I was glad to make it to this – especially since Subtle Technologies’ Jim Ruxton has moved into my neighbourhood and I am presenting hounding him for a podcast interview.

Finally, I managed to see inside the space at 345 Sorauren Avenue  I was also very happy to run into Jack Butler, and Susana & Claire from Circuit Gallery, among others.

Below are some photos & a video clip of a performance that evening: Percussionist Ryan Scott performing Erik Griswold’s “Spill.

Look forward to seeing the results of this project!






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[Podcast #6 / Video] Interview with artist Jack Butler

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Podcast #6 (also on iTunes)

Jack Butler is one of the first friends I made when I moved to Hamilton, Ontario 2 years ago – and he also happens to be a significant figure in art history. Not only in Canada throughout his 61 years of exhibiting but also internationally as demonstrated by being the first Canadian artist included in the seminal Jansen’s History of Art. His accomplishments include being a founding member of the Sanavik Cooperative in Baker Lake, Nunavut and being a pioneer in bridging art and science as medical model builder for over thirty years.

For me, this is perhaps one of the most important interviews I have approached, and this is evident by my taking almost 6 months to edit and finish the video and podcast. I struggled to keep up with his keen insight and vast experience both in my familiar area of art knowledge and my unfamiliar area of medical research methodology and culture. I hope I brought a bit of what makes Jack Butler special forward into this three-part conversation.

The first part is discussing a particular experience for Butler as he conquered a phobia induced by a footbridge in Toronto, Canada. The second is a walk through of his studio where we examine some of his current work and research, and the third is an audio only recording delving in his past – including formative moments in his development as an artist. For the video version, I have overlain photographs of his studio, the footbridge and work documented on his website.

Jack has two major exhibits coming up in 2013 – one opens Jan 10th at Hamilton Artists Inc. in Hamilton, Ontario ( http://theinc.ca/2012/12/06/storybones-jack-butler/ ) and the other opens Jan 2nd at Red Head Gallery in Toronto, Ontario ( http://tinyurl.com/ccltzpe )

You can also hear Jack talk more about specific projects at his website below:

http://fatemaps.ca/