Category Archives: Critical musings

Here’s where I get all to nag, observe and be a general know-it-all about the business of being artists.

© BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

A dissenting opinion about selling Detroit’s public art collection

My initial gut feeling and my enduring general position is that the City of Detroit should sell off its art collection.

Strictly speaking, what the City of Detroit decides to do with its public art collection is none of my business as I’m Canadian. However, the phenomenon of large and valuable public art collections is universal across much of the world. As such there are some common characteristics that I do feel comfortable commenting on.

The problem with large valuable art collections is that they are tombs for the collected works. You the public will ever only see the very tip of the iceberg, even if you attend every exhibit at one of these large institutions during your entire life. A public art institution buying your work is most likely a death sentence for that work, but a nice addition to your pedigree. The worth through this relationship is thus largely removed from reality — conceptual and abstract for the artist and the public. To me, this is the same kind of instability produced through the financial system on perceived worth of bonds, stocks and futures. At some point, for the institution, the physical cost of housing, maintaining and documenting a large amount of work increased the value of a few works and the others depreciate because no one has ever heard of these artists or seen their work.

What selling this collection would do is allow most of this work to see the light of day again. This work could be disseminated across the world, allowing people to see it who would never have been able to see it otherwise. This is great news for the work and the artist(s) who made the work. It is not such great news for the institution that was hoarding it but how does or how should that affect our opinion? I feel it does affect most people’s perspective on this situation but I also think most people do not realize they are associating the art with an institution. An organization’s ambitions are not the same thing as important art works, though I think they want to be and we want somebody to be taking collecting art works seriously on our behalf. That’s cool but if we believe in collecting works we would be disingenuous to deny the collection of collections.

Another benefit would be the absence created by selling off an entire collection as presumably the institution would need to start collecting again. This is a great opportunity for artists and a great opportunity for cultural institution workers. Imagine the activity and spending that would happen that could be spun into economic feel good indicators.

In principle I also like the idea of demonstrating the worth of collecting art by selling it and paying off the debts incurred by business-oriented ideology. I think the US, as with many countries, already gets this idea and accepts the worth of art in society. Sadly, this last point may be a more useful albeit basic lesson for Canadian arts funding models.

The Canada - U.S.A. Border.

Derelict country homes, police challenges & military helicopters; my tourist experience visiting North West New York State. [slideshow]

I have travelled through the U.S. last year in January and saw hints of what ails this country. Almost the entire trip through to Mexico I saw the vast ruins and hardscrabble towns interrupted at regular intervals by shiny McDonalds or WalMarts.  These poor states such as Oklahoma contrasted sharply with affluent neighbouring states such as Texas. Texas was surprisingly boring, bland and visually homogenous to travel through and thus reminded me the most of Ontario.

This trip though was to attend an academic conference in upstate New York, just a couple hours east of Buffalo. I love Buffalo – I really admire their arts community and the way they’ve preserved their heritage buildings. So I was eager to see some of the countryside and small towns on a road trip with friend and classmate Kyle Cihosky.

I’m always nervous going through customs. I’m sure that is nothing remarkable or unusual for most people passing through customs anywhere. No matter how many planes land safely I’ll always probably be a nervous flyer as well. Anyways, this U.S. Border Guard was not tall but muscly-bulky with a short cropped buzz cut and sharp, unsympathetic eyes. He was gruff, did not look at me as I talked to him and I could barely hear his grunted questions or instructions. Because I asked him to repeat himself I was afraid he would get annoyed and strip search us and tear my car apart. That is the nature of authority.

He waved us through and he turned out to be the nicest experience with an authority figure we had.

We arrived at the College at Brockport residences and met up with the conference coordinator. Our floor was men only for this event and he told me it was ok to use the women’s washroom – so I did! When I came back out there was Kyle, the coordinator and a not tall, muscly-bulky cop with short cropped buzz cut and sharp, unsympathetic eyes. He looked at me accusingly, evaluating who I was and what I was doing in the women’s washroom. He seemed to be standing in a defensive posture and one hand was resting on the mace on his belt. I know this because I looked to see what he was resting his hand on. Turns out there is a thing called campus police and their police station was on the first floor of this very building. This intrepid individual heard us talking and checking out our assigned rooms and patrolled up one flight of stairs to investigate.

He asked what we doing here.

The coordinator informed him there was actually a conference happening this weekend and lots of more people were coming to check in. I remember him saying softly over and over “no tensions, no problems” and giving us a slightly exasperated glance when this policeman finally relaxed and decided to end his investigation.

I got a sense that this is part of an overall cultural reality here.

Later, we went out for a beer and we were asked for ID. This pleased me as I’m over 40. Later, when we a bought a four pack of beer and twelve ciders at the local grocery store the cashier asked me for ID as well. I then realized there is no reflection, analysis or judgement allowed here – there is instructions to ask for ID no matter what is before your eyes. Our purchases were watched by male employees whose job it was to stand at each cash and watch purchases. They stood between us and the door.

Kyle and I played board games in our dorm room and sipped our drinks. When I went to bed, it was cold in the sparse dorm room with only a thin blanket and one flimsy pillow. There were stains on the hard carpeted floor. Kyle had it worse – his room had noisy pipes.

The next day the conference ended and we drove back. The video above is Kyle taking photos with my camera as I drove. You’ll get a sense of the many derelict business and homes that sit within sight of the road and almost every barn we saw was in an advanced state of disrepair. As we approached the border, no less than four black military helicopters flew overhead.

I chose the lane for our Canadian customs poorly. I noticed the guy kept directing cars over to the side for inspection. The other lanes were going more smoothly, more quickly.  Fuck. It was too late to switch lanes now. I’ve always found Canadian customs guards to be more challenging, more stern — more macho somehow than their American counterparts. Looks like we got the guy with something to prove.

You see, we were nervous because we had more booze in the car than we were supposed to for a less than a 48 hour visit. I had two cans of beer left and Kyle had 11 cans of cider left and now one bottle of red wine he just bought for a big date he had the next day. Apparently, it is up to the whim of the Border official if you will be allowed to keep your purchase or pay extra. We chatted briefly about NAFTA and how this doesn’t apply to us.

Our turn came and we pulled up to the kiosk. Our Canadian Border Services representative was a not tall, muscly-bulky man with short cropped buzz cut and sharp, unsympathetic eyes.

I gave him exact answers to where we were and how long we were there. I got the name of the college we were at wrong and Kyle corrected me. Oh shit. I told him we had exactly 2 beers, 11 ciders and 1 bottle of wine in the car. We had given him our passports already opened to our photos. I hoped this consideration to his work would help.

He asked us for our receipts for this alcohol. We both sprang into action and I found the receipt for the original 4 beers and 12 ciders in my wallet – I had absentmindedly stuffed it in there. Thankfully. Who knows what would have happened if my paperwork was not in order. Kyle found his duty free wine purchase documentation papers. The officer looked at them and then asked me to re-state exactly how many cans of alcoholic beverages we had left. 2 beers and 11 ciders. This man would now know we had only three drinks last night.

We answered his questions correctly. He waved us through. He handed us back our receipts. I actually felt grateful for a brief moment that my car is an ugly green 2010 Hatchback Hyundai Accent. I think no one worth investigating is attending academic conferences in cheap, ugly cars. I think it’s important in the face of security experts to have a vehicle that is less nice than they would drive.

We drove back and I dropped off Kyle at his house near our University. It was dark now and we parked at his house’s drive way while unloading his stuff and making sure he had not forgotten anything. I heard a car on the street behind me and I looked to see a police car stopped in front of us, with a not tall, muscly-bulky cop with short cropped buzz cut and sharp, unsympathetic eyes staring at us. We ignored him and continued to chat by the car.

The police car then pulled into Kyle’s driveway and drove up beside us.

“You guys students moving out?” He leaned slightly to talk out of his open window.

Huh? Was this cop actually entering private property and asking us questions?

I did not reply. I just stared at him. I was suddenly very tired and resentful of being kept safe. Kyle briefly talked to him, assuring him (much like the conference coordinator did) that we were allowed to be here.

“Ok. I am patrolling around here tonight looking for parties”,  he warned us, backing out and slowly patrolling down the residential street.

I have never experienced a police officer just entering my yard and demanding to know who I was and what I was doing. I wanted to confront him but it was Kyle’s place not mine. I did wait for awhile to get into my car and drive home because I was concerned this guy would pull me over if he spotted my car again.

That’s the way the law works.

Music from FMA: Johnny Ripper, Ego Death

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.49.14 AM

Unsafe Alighting into Audio / Visual Art [New Work]

Alighting: An audio visual textural exploration of the King Street bus lane in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

An Action-Research Collaboration between Christopher Healey & Ryan Price.

Running west on the north side from Mary Street to New St, the King Street dedicated bus lane is a pilot project for the City of Hamilton. Since it’s launch in October 2013 this project has proven to be a source of public debate among business owners, car drivers, transit riders and cyclists who depend on King Street to travel west.

We decided to research this sphere of public discourse through a series of investigations along the entire length of the bus lane. Our methodology consisted of walking the route with a sound recording device, identifying and collecting sounds that were specific to this routes space. Different sections of the route contained different audio environments: the ambient sounds of traffic near Dundurn Street could be defined as light (cars, mopeds, and motor bikes) and heavy traffic (trucks, buses, and tractor trailers), the audio space around Jackson Square was defined by community (sounds of pedestrians, street buskers, children and even a policeman on a horse), the space east of John, while less dense in terms of pedestrians, also contained less voracious audio characteristics in contrast to the Dundurn traffic (simply because it was only two lanes at that point).

After some reflection, our next cycle of research consisted of capturing visuals along the length of the route. What symbols, signs and textual objects could we identify that reflect public opinion and subsequent debate regarding the dedicated bus lane pilot project? To answer this, we captured visual elements of the bus lane itself: the buses, cyclists, vehicular traffic and pedestrians who all share this common space, the storefronts, both occupied and empty and in various states of upkeep, and bus lane propaganda. These images help support an overall narrative of the problematic nature of this street’s community history and uncertain future direction. For example, our research raised the question of who these businesses purporting to be suffering were actually serving — local communities or commuters from the surrounding suburbs?

Now that we had a soundscape and visual data to compare and contrast, we desired more layers to reveal greater insights into this dynamic space. We decided to seek out opinion from both those opposed to the bus lane project and those who support it.
We created another research cycle to repeat the last observation process with our sound recorder and camera while riding the bus along the dedicated transit lane. This resulted in a soundscape that we used as a baseline for the project. This research cycle acts as a constant throughout the entire work and defines the length and undergirds the textual fabric of the work.

Loosely keeping a narrative based on time, location and proximity to the bus lane we have layered our collected sets of audio and visual data into a holistic artwork that explores many of the dynamic and rich variables of this urban space. We observed from the whole of our work in the field and reflection of our collected resources that there are rhythms of traffic, conversations, and foot traffic. Using these elements of a busy urban street we reflected this repeated, familiar codes of traffic sounds and imagery into loops and staggered patterns. We also incorporated the two conversations (as well as some tertiary dialogue from ambient streetscape recordings) about two thirds into the work, giving each some prominent amplification and overlapping the two together to reflect the competing, noisy environment that this space reflects both physically and politically.

Next, we created an audio/visual work attempting to encapsulate many of the elements that define the community surrounding the bus lane, the inside of a bus, and the civic debate. The video displayed here was created as a real-time process, with both artists sharing the controls of a midi mixing controller, adjusting aspects of the source videos, such as speed, direction, zoom, contrast, saturation, and brightness, among other properties. Our manipulation of the video was done while listening to the soundtrack, making on-the-fly decisions based on the the actions of the the sound, the video, and each other’s actions.

The combination of layering and texturing gradually after establishing a normalized sound environment indicates for the audience a deliberate and composed work that leads to several perspectives which may be shared or not shared. Hopefully there are opportunities of discovery and familiarity embedded in the work for the audience. The artwork itself renders these perspectives in new ways allowing for unconsidered entry points into the issues of the dedicated bus lane pilot project. We’ve attempted to construct the work to peak in activity, noise and movement and eventually crescendo into a combination of all the elements, then concluding with the simple sounds of disembarking from the bus. Or, as the sign says, alighting safely.

 

Christopher Healey

Some thoughts on the art and idea of photography

One of the reasons I choose to pursue a graduate degree right now is to catch up to what the current thinking is about many of the things I have been interested and involved with in the last 20 years. Communications, new media and art are the three big ones. Some of you hear “animated ad banners on a blog” when I say that, but really I am interested in what we think we are doing in these areas and where this thinking comes from.

For example, I read some very compelling arguments about how everything from the 1939 British Monarchy visiting Canada shaped the CBC’s style, to an eccentric French nobleman from 1583 invented the way we use social media today. I have now seen an overview of communications theory that I recognize in the art world. I have researched new media art work and community projects that I never knew existed and push me to deeper into the rabbit hole of my own studio ambitions. I’ve learned new words and have had some great conversations. Sure beats making animated gif ad banners for blogs.
Research at this level is very rigorous and any sloppy or unfounded  aspects of your argument can be met with, at best, derision and mocking to, at worst, expulsion and scowls for life. Good. I mean, we must be paying all this money for exactly this sort of thing, right?
However, it is a good thing to have a blog in these cases so one can just spit out some ideas that 1) have no references or basis in demonstrated fact that appear in a lazy top 10 results on Google 2) are more speculative and initiative than even “East Sweat Sock U” would allow and 3) probably has already been written about by someone, and that someone is probably smarter, a better writer and better looking than me. Certainly slimmer. Not may giant academics out there but I imagine there are a few in Viking countries, but I don’t know why. This is an example of a statement that belongs on a blog rather than in an assignment or conference paper. Maybe.
Anyways. I have had some thoughts about photography since I am in a photography class and am hearing a lot of what photographers are telling about what photography is. Those who know me know I don’t think the experts in any field are the best judges of what they are doing or why. Forest versus the tree thing. Those who come fresh to a scene can see things others can’t, often quickly.
So with that faint justification, I’ll jot down a few thoughts I’ve had about photography recently.

1. There is no such thing as photography

We are not talking about the same thing when we discuss photography. What your grandparents had in the family album is not the same thing you see uploaded to Facebook. What Edward Burtynsky hangs in a gallery is not the same thing as the selfie someone uploads to Twitter, in the same way War and Peace is not the same thing as a stop sign. The technology, uses, functions and underlying philosophies differ so greatly, we may as well refer to anything that arrives through the post office as “mail” as opposed to what it is i.e. a cheque or a book or birthday card. Yet at one point these all arrived as the same thing (mail) through a certain frame (postal service), as do photos through a lens.

2. Imagery is primarily physical

I thought this when learning about what the fashion magazine and advertising industry does when treating photographs of models. I realized that this treatment, which is a controversial topic of oppression by unnatural body proportions, to me makes these models look almost identical, at least without closer and sustained scrutiny. Maybe this is because I am exposed to this imagery in places like grocery store check out lines and highway bulletin boards. I don’t have a TV and I don’t go to shopping malls very often. But for those who do, I think they see a great amount of difference in the subtlest of differences or adjustments. I think their physical proximity to these images shapes their relationship to this certain philosophy of lens and computer graphic work. I also think our brain plasticity is affected by what ever media and environment we are in and so people who buy into this world, which I think is most people where I live, are literally hard-wired for sensitivity to this. Or perhaps they are de-sensitized to it and simply don’t notice that there is no difference.

3. No one cares about digital imagery. Not really.

If you cared about it enough you would print it out, and print it on super fancy archival musuemy paper. If others cared about your work enough then they would do the same. Every image you have out there in the cloud will be gone in a hundred years because that is longer than our best digital archiving technologies allow for. This does not even take into account how current media that somehow may survive will be able to be viewed in the future. Have a gramophone player handy? Or how about a telegram clacking machine? Third party websites are not your fans, guardians or sponsors. They are tenuous apparatuses that at the moment are storing your shit on servers they are paying for. Not only that, but a lot can go wrong with our telecommunications platforms for a variety of economical, political and natural reasons.
Don’t believe me that only physical imagery matters? Think about this: would you rather buy 3am commercial time on your local TV station to present a slideshow of your lens based work or would you rather have show at your local gallery?

4. If you call yourself a photographer, then the imagery you make is already pre-defined.

I’ve previously made this same argument about calling yourself an artist. Just use a camera as a tool to get somewhere else, and stop worrying about an audience. Unless you want to be a commercial success, then by all means call yourself a photographer and tell people who’re looking at it that this is, indeed, photography. But if you want critical success, then you need the confidence to wait for others to label what you do.
skulls 020

I am very disappointed in my Kindergarten class.

I remember, I really do, looking at my young classmates and thinking “Great, this is a no-brainer, we can stop this bad behaviour”.

Well, maybe not those exact words but that is a honest paraphrase of my assumptions in during my early public school years. For me, I did not know what racism, environmentalism, sexism or even classism was. I only learned about these “ism’s” when a special adult visitor would present to us the definition and told us about these issues and we can grow up in a world without these problems.

Sure! Sign me up! Where do I vote?

Sometimes I wonder if I am the only one left from those years who holds onto these early directives. You see, Rob Ford is of my generation and he’s an asshole. Stephen Harper is in my generation and he’s an asshole. Danielle Smith? Asshole. Rona Ambrose? Asshole. Hell, Vladimir Putin is of my generation and he’s most definitely an asshole. It’s not that these people are assholes per se that alarms me, but they are the tip of the iceberg for the asshole generation my Kindergarten class turned into.

We see my generation reflected in the urban sprawl, the environmental death by a thousand paper cuts, the derision of students who demand affordable tuition, by any concept that does not somehow sound like an economic formula. We see it in hating second-class people who get health care or the hatred for homosexual love. More than ever, as a whole, we have slid back into a dark and selfish place where extreme hatred, conservatism and short-sighted gain are the only currency.

Fuck you my Kindergarten class. You had a chance to stop this madness before it go this bad and you fucked it up. You know that mean, stinky neighbour who would scowl at us whenever we were having too much fun too close by? You are worse than that adult now. You will be the generation that is remembered that way forever or at least for however long we have left on this planet. You became a larger and scarier version of your parents.

I should not have said that about the planet. I now realize concepts like “planet” are too large for my Kindergarten classmates to grasp and provides the dismissive point they need to escape from my entire argument. I need to keep my arguments within the confines of the local mall, soccer field and vague economic platitudes.

Sometimes, when I think back to those adults educating us about social issues, I wonder if this had the opposite effect of imposing these negative attitudes onto us. I did not realize my friend was a visible minority until it was pointed out me and that we should not pick on my friend. So, of course, we did. Look at the amount of propaganda we suffered at the hands of the dairy industry about “the four food groups”. That was a chart for life long health problems.

I am much more hopeful about the millennial generation. They have access to ideas outside of the confines of their households and remote education industry bureaucracies. They see more of the material effects of the previous generations on the world around them and the world everywhere. They understand there is a world because there was instant news of the world as they grew up. Best of all, they treat things I say and things anyone from my generation says with innate scepticism and doubt.

Yes! These are the tools I was missing from my early school years. This is why, despite all the doom and gloom I’ve mentioned above, I am certain that we are living in conservatism’s last grand gasp. Though through my entire lifetime I will be squirming under the thumb of assholes I now know this is likely the strength of a death’s grip. It is already fading because the forces of progression, smashed into a million pieces by corporate hammers, are quietly still working away and changing that one thing that defies all right wing philosophy: culture.

I thought of this while listening to a Pete Seger interview on the radio.

A 10 photo based works from the last 3 years

This post is a school assignment for my class “New Media Studio” (hey everyone). As I understand this exercise, we are to post 10 photos that we’ve taken. Next week we are presenting another photo assignment of 10 works from around our neighbourhood.

Since quite a large part of my photographic practice is specifically about where I live, so I’ve decided to present 10 works that outside of this part of my work. I’ll save the local stuff and its sordid back-story for that next assignment.

This was a difficult but a very valuable endeavour. The tight constraint of choosing 10 interesting photo works over a scope of over three years was challenging but rewarding.

For example, after reviewing so much of my work as chronical narrative, I am starting to believe my relationship with photography is as activity, performance on par with gratifications of memory and communication.  Perhaps it was not an approach to create an object so much as a record of meaningful work.

I am pretty much a painter and drawer, even with a camera. Everything I do is composition and conceptual based and sacrifices any notion of being a window or representation in order to try to be interesting.

I don’t know how to use even use a proper camera and I look forward to picking up those technical skills and the chance to work with DSLRs. In the meantime, I’ve been working with my cell phones and whatever software I could hack or was free. Welcome to my digital image revolution.

I scanned the well worn path up the side of a mountain in Mexico with the panorama function of the iPhone 4s, happily stressing both its purpose and ability to render seamlessly. It is important to me at this point that my work is entirely captured, rendered and output through a mobile device and on location during one session.

For me, there are several classical and contemporary themes in the work, such as: the supernatural; a formal approach to landscape; a questioning of political / social issues involving digital topographical mapping; a spiritual journey reflecting on death. There are many other contemplations that are evoked for me when I engage the work, and hopefully there will be for the viewer as well.

I enjoy the compositions of the shadows and the rocks, as well as the idea of a digital shadow cast on real objects through a challenging process of documentation for both the tools and the artist. The stresses of this effort on the image and the human traces archived in the process are a very interesting for me.

As you can see in the previous work, I seem to like taking things apart and reassembling them in different presentations. Including landscapes and the idea of collage led to this kind of work of pulling stills from video I would take on trips and presenting them one by one. More maps of time and space. The below video is from a bus trip many would be familiar with between Hamilton and Toronto, and right through Ford Nation territory. As such, I named it “A Nation’s Official Landscape”. I like the blury smears of colour and the wiry trees and bleakness.  It reflects my astonishment of the landscape of southern Ontario consisting almost entirely of suburban sprawl and highways. This is our shared ceremonial landscape and I understand if you grew up in a populous region such as this it is not unusual. But it is for me and this is my way of showing you that, I think.

I also enjoyed the wide array of consumer level photo tools available, and continued to enjoy pushing them to stressful limits both conceptually and technically. I often made work through multiple exposures, layering, as I did with this series of photos from a protest in Hamilton. I made this anon because I wanted to focus on the mass of people as a formal study of light and landscape and not political.
Here’s a recent photo that I like a lot. It stresses the technology and is an interesting formal composition to me, as the paper border is broken only by my hand and a little leak of light at the bottom left hand corner. I think I am finding placing myself as evidence of framing my own photos is theme that is emerging.

Here’s another selfie. I like messing around with as many image capture and rendering apps as I can, so I tried to capture my head with a 3D object app. The result is simply simulacrum. I really want to do a whole series of this, whole bodies in groups. Somehow so each part is something you can turn and play with.

Again, I love the idea of imperfect transportation into the digital realm. Perhaps I have Tron envy.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading the post and thanks to my classmates and Professor for being my captive audience for this artist talk. I’ll take it when I can get it.

What I have learned from grad school so far

This is the best single example of this relationship so far.  From my slide deck presentation for Communications Research Methodology on Chapman & Sawchuk’s “creation research”  (Canadian Journal of Communications) and *unexpectedly* put together for me by Google+ during automatic archiving from my phone.

Happy 2014 everyone! Make art not oil.