The accidental week in Sayulita – in photos.

We went to the coast for three days. Jen’s brother-in-law was caught in an avalanche back in Canada so we wanted to spend some time here before she left to help her family. We camped along the beach along with other travellers, many of whom were surfers from all around the world.

We woke up in our little tent on the third day with Norwalk Virus like sickness. I leaned out of my tent and threw up. Jen could barely walk through the heat to the shared bathrooms. Apparently everyone staying here at the campground for any extended time caught the same sickness.

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10 local photo works

The following is an artistic reflection on a series of photos of my Hamilton neighbourhood that I’ve been publishing on Twitter. It describes why I started taking street photos and why I am taking the street photos I am taking. I am attempting to describe this process with using only 10 photos.  Mt twitter handle is @muskoxen (tweets & links are also in the margin of this post). 

This was a difficult but a very valuable endeavour. The tight constraint of choosing 10 photos over a scope of over three years was challenging. I found it almost an all-consuming activity to scroll through the 40,000 digital images I’ve accumulated during that time. During this exercise of self-curation, I’ve realized it is only possible to understand my photo work by understanding why it suddenly became such a prolific activity in my life. It’s quite a pathetic story but has a well as you could expect ending. So far.

I was pretty much just a painter and drawer until just over three years ago. At that time I finally found some time and studio space to work and so I did — but, as it turned out, only for a month. Then a condition that would only be accurately identified years later as “Frozen Shoulder” struck my right arm and everything stopped. Except for the debilitating pain.

Of course … I paint and draw, write, get dressed and even piss with my right hand. You don’t think about how many times a day you need to use an arm in certain way. How many times a day you need to reach up above your shoulder? How would you get dressed or even stand in busy bus? Even a touch, a jolt, a sway or simply standing was agony.

Unable to get off of the couch for more than a few minutes at a time, I was very frustrated at my lot. Lying down was the only way to keep manage the pain. No work, no walking and not even my fair share of house chores.  However, I could have a laptop resting on top of me, hunting-and-pecking awkwardly with my left hand.

Decided to keep myself busy as possible and proceed with this scheduled studio time. Produce as much work as possible.  Keep my sanity through artistic insanity. It worked for me through worse.

I started to scour my hard drive for digital work perhaps I’ve forgotten about. I had done some previous photo based work but not substantially. I found lots of videos and some earlier studio and travel photos I had messed around with and, as with most abandoned work, had always intended to return to. “Well, I guess now was the time.” I thought and started to pull stills from the videos and started to finally create some collage work.

This was very rewarding and liberating.  I felt I was appealing to the frustrated painter me by working with digital images as if they were scraps of paint. Through the ease of today’s software I became enthralled with creating many variations of grid work with every digital image I could muster. You can see some of that work here but for the purposes of this post / assignment I want to stick with the street photography that began at this time as well.

I needed more photos. I was invigorated and motivated to get more source material and, at the same time, exercise my brain with composition studies.

I loved walking and exploring, at first around interesting parks and industrial areas then through neighbourhoods and streets. I never really took many photos as I did this but now I was living somewhere inaccessible to most people. I was living in the depressed area of my city most noted for crime, poverty and abandoned storefronts. It’s a place you drive through to get to another part of the city. With the drugs and street prostitution some don’t admit to coming here. To most they simply hear about it, read about and see the smudge of it from the scenic lookout overlooking Hamilton from the escarpment. They don’t come here because they don’t have to. They are afraid of who lives here.

Ward 3 House

There are many boarded up houses. Not for sale, not with any plan or project but just …. there. There is an odd acceptance of these neatly ignored derelicts in a community. I can always feel myself forgetting to find and look at them.

Fair enough but not for the people who do live here.  One of the insights I’ve had since arriving in Barton Village is that the problems of the area are not the fault of the people who live here. Rather, they are here because this is the area that many marginalized people and communities can go to because this where they are expected to go to.

You can see this attitude reflected in the blowing garbage and oversized one way roads leading in, through and out of this place. You can see it in the thriving parking lot industry sheltering the hospital, shelter and school employees who don’t live here.  You see it at night where the only food available is at the convenience stores. You see it the empty and neglected buildings that absentee owners sit on until it’s worth their while to sell. Some have been waiting for decades. There is no local drugstore or bank where I live but there is a jail and a drive through beer store. Charities, churches and police also thrive here.

Corner Store

Unless you have motorized transport, this is it for anything you might need. It is the only community gathering place that is always open. I like the almost holy light emanating in this shot and the estate of asphalt.

So when I decided to start walking as much as I could (I was thinking this may help my mysterious should ailment) everyday I decided to take street photos of my area but not of the people. I was interested in the narrative of the spaces and buildings. Especially when compared with the blandness of the suburbs this area turned out to be a rich visual environment beyond my expectations. Even almost beautiful at times. If I slept soundly, went out first thing in the morning and used my left hand then I could take some photos.

Sign

I started to take photos of abandoned signs and billboards. To me, there is a tension between the beautiful formality of these surfaces and the symbolism of what their continued existence.

It was very interesting to work with a new medium with my opposite hand. I am convinced it used different parts of my brain to approach and process this act. I started to adopt a “no cropping” rule for myself; I found it is almost always a stronger composition if you get it right when you take the photo.  Especially with a mobile device camera it is all about your body position and reflexivity to your subject. I started to prefer squared and defined areas devoid of meaningful community communications – an area of visual cognitive atrophy as induced by the conditions of this place.

Sometimes I made more collages and sometimes I posted these to my blog but otherwise I collected these works on my hard drive and dreamed of painting and drawing very large works.

Window

It’s amazing what you can see in the windows of sketchy buildings. The grime adds to muted blurs of the reflection with the assorted storage items and makeshift glass repair adding up a rather luscious and problematic composition. I’ve taken lots and lots of window shots.

The other half of the story of my street photo series came about a year later when things got political. I started posting my street photos as a critical reaction to some decisions affecting  my community.

At this time, I had gone through unsuccessful diagnosis, prescriptions and physiotherapy until my right shoulder just ended up getting better anyways on its own. It was still kind of delicate.  The worst part was not knowing if I could or would aggravate this injury.

I then discovered that the big, beautiful 1932 heritage school building close to my house had suddenly been slated to be torn down. The school board had already been issued a demolition permit. This place was a no-brainer to be renovated and turned into all kinds of community things, and I discovered later there would of been a line-up of developers with more profitable ideas for preserving it.

Poor areas are typically vulnerable to these kind of bad decisions. Similar public school buildings in more affluent wards of the city are still standing and are important hubs for their communities. The one near my house was purposefully neglected for a decade. It’s part of a strategy I learned about since living here called “demolition by neglect”.

A small group of us fought to save it, to at least head of the demolition until developers could present proposals to re-purpose it. That was a bitter couple of months as I learned there really was no hope all along. It was a total sham, a farce. There is a community that cares here, but that group of us were too small and outside of influential circles. Why didn’t more people fight to save it? Perhaps for the same reasons this area also has very low voter turn out.

There is hopelessness and resignation embedded in these decisions. T found more hope for this area when talking the locals, but they tend to be non-participants in these decisions. The decision to demolish this otherwise sound and important example of historic architecture was not a community based one.

This is a very small town with blind spots the size of cities. The biggest argument I encountered for tearing the building down was so there would be plenty of parking. I actually watched a city politician and a school board trustee tell us, at the same meeting, about how difficult working with each other’s bureaucracy is. Thus they had agreed to demolish the building and maybe someday other politicians would build something there. There was and is no funding to replace it with much needed community facilities.

It seemed the plan was a patch of grass beside an empty parking lot. I was told they had not and would not consider using that parking lot for the green space instead. Later, as you’ll read, I found out why, and why they were in such a rush.

We lost. The building was demolished in early 2013.

Sanford Avenue School mid-demolition

One of many panoramic works with Sanford Avenue School. I tried to brings a sense of Victorian paintings of ruins sensibility to many of these shots. To hint at what I felt was a great tragedy worthy of immortalizing in art.

I felt powerless. Local politics had made roadkill of my sense of civic pride. Though my blog posts, tweets and speeches at meetings had garnered some attention it did not matter. I become background noise as my voice was taken away. Activism has spawned an industry of marketing, propaganda and political lingo and I felt my voice was just currency in some sort of giant babble machine.

House

I messed around with Instagram for awhile and enjoyed adding popular filters to contrast with the decay and neglect of even the most innocuous surfaces.

So I decided to stop talking. I wanted to reach beyond this wall of my ward and show the world what was happening here. Through posting my pictures of my neighbourhood on my Twitter account I wanted to let anyone anywhere decide what they were seeing.

I followed the demolition of Sanford closely and posted pictures of the process. I posted photos of the empty storefronts. I posted photos of garbage in the parks and sagging houses.

Sign

Another neglected sign of this time. The surface texture is fascinating to me. I literally wish I could paint paintings as beautiful as this. I wish I could paint text like this.

At this time my left arm then succumbed to the same pain that my right arm did. I switched back to using my weakened and slightly atrophied right arm and continued to take as much street photography as I could. I could not renovate my house, I could not work, I could not leave this place. I wanted to and still do, but until then I intended to work with everything I could handle.

I tried my best to be as good as painter with these photos as I could be. I really did enjoy the formal and artistic qualities of doing this. The peeling facade of derelict store sign, or the mesh of brutually assembled plywood boards over a window. Sometimes the way garbage has collected around an open sewer grate. These are beautiful to me now, and they are political. I am no longer held back by my physical ailment or my political powerlessness. I am no longer toiling in artistic obscurity, isolated from the western arts district of Hamilton. These threads of self-empowerment converged through this textual act of taking photos of my neighbourhood and posting them to social media. I have reached up and beyond my ward with these photos and they cannot be demolished or obscured from history. When this place is completely changed, many years from now, people will see this is the way it was.

House

Another condemned house. I think there was a fire in this one. There are many fires in this area. Mostly in empty buildings. I’ve photographed as many as I run across. When I hear of a fire now nearby I try to go and find it.

That was not enough. I decided to represent my community by hash-tagging these photos #panam in preparation for the 2015 Pan-Am Games taking place in this ward.

By addition to the local hash tag #hamont and geo-location info, I have been preparing my tweeted photos for mass scrutiny.

My photos of my neighbourhood are as a real and valid as any other representation of my neighbourhood. I will not self-censor the defining visual characteristics of my landscape.

As these games approach more people will search online for information about this city and the Pan Am Stadium that is being built in my neighbourhood. Many will find my photos and many already have.

Left

Trash is everywhere here. There are huge streets and few trees so the wind pushes it everywhere. I’ve been seeing compositions in these too when I look straight down where I am walking. This is another series within this series.

You see, this isn’t all sour grapes and hurt feelings. This has made a material and tangible positive difference already. I have heard from a “friend of a friend” that the purpose of the demolition of the school was not even to put in a patch of grass but actually to create a giant parking lot for the Pan-Am games! So that’s why there were in such a rush to tear it down and sell of the pieces…

Since my little group and I put up a such a public fuss, especially with social media efforts such as my neighbourhood street photos and documentation of Sanford School being demolished, they felt there was suddenly too much scrutiny focused on this issue.

It is also an election year. So there is a really nice expanse of grass with a state-of-the-art self-watering system and fences all the way round to try to keep the neighbourhood dogs out. We’ll see.

Store

I took many photos of the local store fronts here. They are sad, but so full of potential. They are ruins. Someday no one will believe it looked like this. Even worse, someday no one will care. Again though, I find this beautiful, even liberating compared to what my life was like in the bland suburbs. It is an opportunity  to live in a place like this with time to explore and work with it like I have.

My left arm is much better now. I am relieved that this nightmare is almost over and the currently the single biggest obstacle to my taking street photos is the cold weather draining the batteries quickly on my iPhone. That and the awfully nice patch of grass makes for boring photos.

I think my relationship now to photography is one of activity, as performance on par with memory and communication.  It was not an approach to create an object so much as a record of meaningful work or even a meaningful presence in a certain time and place.

Now I see compositions everywhere I go, but in the uncelebrated parts of our daily realities. I know I am sending missives from an outpost. I am an outcast here, a silent walker some may see stop, raise my iPhone briefly and then quickly walk on. Sometimes people will confront me — who am I? What am I doing here? This area has seen enough exploitation and colonization by speculators, developers and other representatives and I look like just another middle class, middle aged entitled white asshole traipsing through their community. When I explain I live here and I’m an artist and that this is art, there is surprise and then acceptance.

Mostly.

Often I will hear stories about where this area has been, what is going on and what they hope will happen. These are the same narratives as my photos.

I am almost well enough to move from here. We are hoping to have the house on the market by April. The real estate market is heating up here because prices are lower than in Toronto or even in other parts of Hamilton.

I know I’ll probably never come back here.

You can see more of my Barton Village images here. After the jump I’ve added 14 photos that did not “make the cut” for the above post. 

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Self-Portrait as a Simulacrum

I’ve been enjoying working in virtual reality this past school term, and that has led to messing around with 3D modelling apps on my mobile phone.  As I keep figuring out about myself, I really enjoy working with the possibilities and limitations of a mobile device – including the artefacts and degradation of importing the real world into the digital world.

I’ve also enjoyed my philosophy class, wherein I’ve learned about thinkers such as Jean Baudrillard – though exploration of his ideas does not necessarily mean I agree with them, but there is something to them when we think about why people think they way they think.

IMG_7848 IMG_7849 IMG_7850

I would love to do an interactive full body work like this. So much fun.

Here’s some bonus screen shots of a sad stapler – my first attempt.

IMG_7823 IMG_7824 IMG_7825

Artist Superpower: Shipping & Receiving

Don’t you think this is the most important skill that is not a skill? I do.

Sometimes I wonder if there is a correlation between being a “good shipper” and artistic success. Obviously, this is true for online art sales. My point is you probably are held back if you can’t pack it or rack it efficiently.

Don’t look at me. I suck at that and, frankly, am intimidated by the whole process.  When I actually get around to packing something its never that bad. But its definitely not great either.

I  have some artist friends who are fanatical about packing. They’ll build a crate for a week. They are such nice crates one keeps the crate forever. Me, I just started to use paper and work with digital prints more.

Even just the act of postcards or stuffing envelopes and actually going to the post office is simply not to be underestimated.  International? You are at the mercy of a series of several shipping challenges which are so little appreciated and understood by me that they are impossible to describe here.

Speaking for myself, I think having a personal delivery drone would help. Then I could tell it to deliver hand written exhibition invitations so I would not have to ship work.

A cool idea might be to turn a drone into an actual gallery. It  flies around at art festivals holding a work, for example.  I would have to pack it in carefully constructed crates in order to send it to galleries and festivals around the world. Ah, forget it.

I wish I was better at shipping and receiving.

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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What is a blog? What is the point of all this?

The act of blogging is unnatural at best.

At worst, it is a natural part of what already exists – a lot of marketing, advertising, business, porn, political and industry propaganda, some news and opinion. Outside of the guided tour provided by search engines, the reality of the real blogosphere is one that is overwhelmingly dominated by empty graveyards of abandoned blogs and an ecosystem of robots who scour everything.

I never really held a structuralist view of blogs as being different that any content posted to the web. It does not really matter as you cannot ultimately control the appearance of your content, but you can frame how you would like to be seen. (If you want it to be seen with a blue background colour, for example, then you are SOL). You can control exactly how something is to be seen but then it needs to be something other than a blog or website.

The same goes for the content of this blog – what the hell have I done here? It’s all over the place. There’s no editorial calendar. Those involved in one sector of my professional life are probably aghast if they read my opinions about my other professional haunts. Blogs and social media are already experiencing an actual to goodness paradigm shift based on reputation management and other vulnerabilities. It is an extension of our own local laws and customs and often there is more than one layer of this. Some folks are virtually unhireable based on what was posted about them, and not on any exceptional qualities or for any other reason uncommon in society. A true online diary is a risky and rare thing now and perhaps this is for the best.  Most, if not all, of what you will be able to find is arguably contrived.

(I always wondered why submarines don’t have more windows. The Nautilus did. Are we not able to reproduce the technology of steampunk? I mention this because navigating the web is much like I imagine being in a submarine is like: a map, a sonar and a radio but you are not actually looking at the landscape. Giant squids can still sneak up on you.)

So blogs now seem best suited for a professional narrative or to house a serious project. Things that you want to be found. Sometimes I post things that I don’t want to be found. Sometimes I change things or contradict myself. Sometimes I ramble.

I felt bad about the way I blog, over these last 4 years, until I started reading Michel de Montaigne. He is the source of essays and, by extension, blogging. He also would of loved LOLcats.

This makes me happy with what I’ve done, and ok with the fact that what I have compiled here is worthy and interesting. It is a rich source of my projects and priorities since 2009 and in some ways I see parallels with Montaigne deciding to write and reflect in his tower. Seeing yourself reflected in Montaigne is actually quite common, apparently, but I’m ok with that. It is reassuring.

However. There are many differences and many changes coming to my own life at this point. I feel the urge to destroy and create. This blog, my blog, is a constantly changing and evolving and contradicting and snarky and satire and serious and pathetic and .. popular. The more it becomes popular, the greater the risk of not being able to manage my online reputation effectively.

However… I know it sounds simple, but I have recently realized social media is different for artists than it is for everyone else. The same rules do not apply – there is more elbow room for the personal and controversial. If you are a professional outside of cultural spokespeople, then you have to pure as the driven snow. I called this the social eunuch in a previous post.

My posts are not me. They are my work and my work is part of who I am. I have treated my blog as both a sandbox and a jade garden. I’m ok with that and so are many people but most do not get it. I understand and accept it now but not always and not until recently. I have also realized if you are going to do something then do it all the way. If you are going to be an artist online then be an artist online but don’t be what you think other people think an artist online is supposed to look like. Don’t be a simulacrum.

So, by this time next year I should have my grad degree finished. These last four years have been a self-imposed series of learn’ins and experiences vital for preparing for a career of serious work in earnest. Four years ago I lost my business, house, fiance and worst of all time with my son. What was the point of that? A failure for a most people. A typical and honourable tale for an entrepreneur. Rich texture for the life of an artist.

So. It has come to this.

I think it is time I close up and summarize this blog and my art listings professional endevours too. I want all content I produce to be housed on my server with teaser content on social media. What I am thinking, researching, producing will be my posts of my art and creative writings. My communications work will on linkedin and throughout that industry.

I think I have other channels emerging and a new art magazine website project starting next year. I want to “thread” my content out and disperse it widely. A new blog for my activist posts and another blog for my communications career. A third blog for my artwork is almost done. I am trying to currently decide whether to port over some of this content first or simply start anew? I do like a blank sheet of paper.

I am also considering a name change. I am considering a complete severance with any work done prior to 2009. I am considering a PhD in Bio Art. These are all refreshing ideas to me and suitable as interesting blog posts. After I post about them, I will probably be in a better position to understand how I actually feel about them.

There are a lot of things to purge and clip by the end of next summer. I’ll keep this blog going until then and will post new links and updates in the meantime.

I think I am starting the equivalent of Montaigne’s second book. Maybe the third.

It’s in the BAG: Barton Art Gallery project space finally opens next week

I have a small, enclosed front porch with it’s own lighting and electrical outlet. It’s almost perfect to maintain a small gallery space so that’s what I have been threatening to do.

So, now I am. The space is still not finished and has a whack of drywall leaning on one side. I’ve been waiting for our cheap and (very slow) renovations to stop but I don’t think they will before I leave Hamilton. Sometimes, you just gotta say “fuck it” and go ahead with a project – this kind of public declaration essentially forces you to carry through with your threat of art. Sometimes it takes me years to demonstrate I was serious (and usually right) about something and the BAG Project Space is such a something.

So, no time like the present. After agonizing for a year about how I am going to work with and work around the long vertical windows on the west, east and north walls I finally came up with a practical, cheap solution that is easy to implement and just as easy to remove and without damage to the space before we sell the house: white fabric over the walls. It sure beats my previous plan to have a series of drywall panels with wooden frames hanging from the ceiling by hinges.

The 6 sheets of drywall leaning against the west wall are not going anywhere but with a white sheet draped over that, it will transform into a respectable plinth. Hey, it’s my project space and I can do whatever I want.

So the first exhibit “slower: advice for the economy” (a projection about the industrial skyscape) opens up next week on Friday the 13th from 6-9pm. Yes, I am aware of the symbolism of both sets of numbers. For local readers, you will also no doubt recognize that my gallery is open during the exact hours of the ArtCrawl.  You will also note that I live in a poor, some would say “scary”, area of downtown Hamilton not know for arts and culture. Well, consider this new gallery space as a response to that – I’ve criticized designated areas for arts and culture in a city before. Now I believe independence for an artist is the most desirable goal to achieve – more than funding.  No, I don’t believe in the BS that anti-arts advocates spout about not funding the arts. I believe the arts should be so integrated and integral as part of our society that we would have trouble even distinguishing where support ends and begins.

So. I have a humble and independent space for exhibiting a series of exhibits by others and myself. I have some really exciting ideas to materialize in this space, and in many way culminates my work about and in Hamilton over these three years. I have not listed the address because I want to encourage people to explore this community in order to find. I want people to explore this community because that is the way to improve any neighbourhood – go walk through it. Lots of people out walking through a place is a very powerful device. I know many people will probably not bother coming to find it at all, especially if I keep the exhibition hours the same as ArtCrawl and I don’t pander to the usual agencies for promotion. I don’t care if anyone shows up or not – I care about the projects and the documentation. The reason we were able to buy a house here was because of the negative impressions people have of this area – and they don’t come here so the houses were affordable. Why should I now conduct my business on my estate grounds with any different formula?

However, I care if the local community here engages with the projects. I do care about people coming here to engage with the projects too. This space is simply part of this neighbourhood though the act of a pop up art space should be universal.

Contained therein this act and through this upcoming series of projects is my final dialogue with Hamilton.