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Hidden Gem Review: William Gibson’s Virtual Light

Posted by art On January - 30 - 2009

virtual_light_uk_coverVirtual Light [Viking Press, 1994]
By William Gibson

By Rachel Kahn

I’m that reader who, upon starting a gripping novel, can hardly maintain a conversation in the real world on any topic but said book, until I’ve finished it. It’s the perfect hibernation activity, because I don’t hear the hail hitting the window, or notice that the pizza delivery man is an hour late due to the weather. That’s why winter is my catch-up season: I can put a dent in my reading list.

While in San Diego (I think I was at Ocean Beach?) last fall, I bought myself a fanned-out paperback of Virtual Light by William Gibson. [Aside: In a related unfortunate turn of events, I also bought All Tomorrow's Parties, and not having internet access to clarify for myself, and with neither book stating anything on the subject, read that one first, unaware that it was the third in the Bridge trilogy that Virtual Light begins, and, I have to say, the weakest link.]

Virtual Light tells the stories of Berry Rydell, ex-cop, and Chevette Washington, bike courier, when her petty theft of a pair of dark glasses and his sketchy new employers bring them to the centre of a power struggle over the future shape of San Francisco. The city, at this point in Gibson’s near future, is split in two by a collapsed Golden Gate Bridge; on the bridge is a vibrant, autonomous community of squatters, and that community becomes a character in its own right. If it’s starting to sound like a pulp paperback, that’s because it is. Gibson’s an expert at throwing together things that are awesome, badass, and thought-provoking. Though this book isn’t heavy on the thought-provoking, it’s there if you want it.

Virtual Light was an incredibly fun read, and I was completely immersed in the world of the bridge. The romanticism of a bike-courier-loft-nesting-bar-hopping lifestyle did a number on my brain. Even now, I find myself pondering what it would take to get my poor bike up and running for spring. (Let it be known I am a terrible biker.) I’m saddened by the fact that Gibson’s bridge is not a real place, and that San Francisco will never have anything like his pseudo-utopic shantytown, no matter how long I wait to visit.

Gibson’s books always impart upon me an incredible sense of place. Reading this novel shortly after riding the train from San Diego to Seattle gave me a wealth of personal images of California to flesh out Gibson’s evocative but concise descriptions. There’s a kind of pathos to California, a sense of loss or rubbed-off glamour that pervades most of the contemporary fiction I’ve read about it (thanks, Coupland); and Gibson uses it consciously to add a sheen of romance. It stayed with me in the form of visual vignettes: the road at night where Berry sees the holographic girl; the foggy ocean view from the top of Skinner’s place on the bridge; the dark, chaotic, glowing hotel room where Chevette steals the glasses; the crowded body mod shop where she meets Sammy Sal. And of course, the bridge. The bridge feels to me like an infusion of a non-North American manifestation of shantytowns and markets into the foggy, crowded, bohemian world that I imagine San Francisco to be.

Gibson does write a lot of throwaway villains, though — while I was happy to keep things mysterious for most of the book, the ending would have made more sense if I’d had a better understanding of the power structures of the upper-class bad guys: instead, like Berry and Chevette, I was mostly mystified at how it all worked out. Key figures that required more information: Chevette’s ex-boyfriend and the hacker crew; Warbaby’s secretive employers and their plans; and of course the glasses — their contents, their makers, anything.

The narrative format is one of the subtlest and smartest things Gibson does. He jumps from past to present, anecdote to flashback to dreamy memory, person to person to person’s point of view, without a single jarring transition. Gibson’s themes continue to cast technology as a misused tool of the upper class, and the lower class as a group of people with an almost instinctual ability to warp it to their needs when given the opportunity. But these themes work for and against him. On one hand, it is at once sensible and awesome to have an underground hacker secret society. On other hand, Berry’s understanding of the netherworld of techno-manipulators is pretty advanced for a character who has been unable to keep a job for the entire book.

In summary, this is a fun book. It’s a fairy tale, where the underdogs win out once again, through luck, a good eye for the right button to push, and, on the bridge, mob rule. It’s a sci-fi novel — there’s exciting technology and significant social change between reality and Gibson’s world, but the focus isn’t really on the toys as it is on the characters and their situations. It’s a damn fun read, is my point, and it’ll make you want to move to San Francisco and join the squatters.

Warm And Spreading: The ‘08 Winter Mix

Posted by music On December - 23 - 2008

Warm And Spreading, Like Wetting The Bed
Allana’s Winter Mix ‘08

As a semi-prelude to the best-of-2008 listmaking that’s to come, I introduce my winter mix of 2008 (not necessarily representative of the best-of, mind you). Usually it’s a lot less content from the year at hand, and more a random smattering of whatever suits my fancy, but this year I had a bit of a change of heart. Rather than try to encompass the frigid, frostbitten ways of our frozen North, somehow this mix ended up well on the warm, fuzzy, energetic electronic side. I might just be in denial (as such, this mix has been in progress for three weeks while I weighed my options). But as I write this, I can still see green grass, so let’s just check back in in a month, okay?

Here, have some music.

1. Studio – 2 Hearts (Version by Studio) (from Yearbook 2, 2008)
2. TV on the Radio – Crying (from Dear Science, 2008)
3. Cibelle – City People (from The Shine of Dried Electric Leaves, 2006)
4. No Kids – For Halloween (from Come Into My House, 2008)
5. Akufen – Tournee 1 (from Hawaiian Wodka Party, 2003)
6. Chequerboard – Penny Black (from Penny Black, 2008)
7. Skyphone – All Is Wood (from Avellaneda, 2008)
8. (Smog) – Let’s Move to the Country (from Knock Knock, 1999)
9. Jay-Jay Johanson – I Fantasize of You (from Poison, 2000)
10. Mark Kozelek – Lazy (from The Finally LP, 2008)
11. The Instruments – Ode To The Sea (from Dark Småland, 2008)
12. Bowery Electric – Without Stopping (from Beat, 1996)
13. Dosh – Hit and Pearls (from Wolves and Wishes, 2008)
14. Yann Tiersen – Au Dessous Du Volcan (from Tabarly, 2008)
15. Yann Tiersen – Atlantique Nord (from Tabarly, 2008)

Allana Mayer
Music Editor

(The cover image was gleefully stolen from the photography collection of our own EIC, Rachel Kahn.)

Five Alternatives to Smoking

Posted by lifestyle On October - 31 - 2008
Not Pictured: Marlene Dietrich up a tree.

Not Pictured: Marlene Dietrich up a tree.

These methods are for use at social gatherings only. The author is not responsible for any attempts to use these methods at the office, the studio, at school, or anywhere people might try to take you seriously.

By Rachel Kahn

Face it. We know all the cool kids still smoke. They’re out there, in nicotine communion, sharing deep secrets on the privacy of the front stoop. Being left out of conversation after conversation can be depressing, especially when the rest of the party isn’t as fun as you’d hoped, but that’s no reason to take up smoking. Here’s a list of alternative activities to force you outside alongside all the James Deans and Marlene Dietrichs, and into their addicted hearts.

  • Fireworks – There is no way in hell they’re going to let you use them inside. Pack a few roman candles in your jacket pockets to light up any back alley confession session with your presence.
  • Bubbles – Again, it’s only polite to take this soapy adventure out of the kitchen. These might be a little childish for some of you readers, but with the right level of drugs or alcohol in your system they will become magical. For bonus points, invite your favourite smokers to make smoke-filled bubbles.
  • Remote-Controlled Cars – Does this seem even more childish than bubbles? You are obviously dead inside. Everyone will want to try your Hot Wheels RC 4×4 All-Terrain monster at least once, so make sure to bring extra batteries.
  • Climbing Skills – If you can shimmy up a lightpost into a tree and over onto the roof, you will win friends and impress people you otherwise would never have met. Some of them might be police officers. Don’t let that get you down.
  • Hackey Sack – For the traditionalist; this technique has been handed down through highschool hallways for decades. Keep one where you would keep cigarettes if you smoked them: close to your heart.

Of course, after a few successful sessions outside, you will discover that smokers mostly talk about smoking, and specifically, when they’re going to quit doing it, and all the mystery and romance will be over. But I can’t blame you for trying.

Artist of the (Two) Week(s): Mathew Borrett, Part II

Posted by art On August - 15 - 2008

Untitled - pencil.

By Rachel Kahn

A few weeks ago, Mathew Borrett answered some of my questions regarding his work – so many questions, in fact, that you’ll have to click here to read the first half of the interview.

MONDO: So you said your day job includes 3-D imaging; have you made art with 3-D imaging as well?

MB: Yeah, actually, it’s a whole other side of the coin. At times it’s totally taken over from the drawing. I worked in graphic design and illustration and only kind of dabbled in 3-D, but recently I started working for a special effects company doing matte painting, which involves some 3-D. Using the computer to make art is something I’ve done since I had my Commodore 64, where you couldn’t just make graphics, you had to program them. I have looked for ways to integrate the two more, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get quite there.

MONDO: Do you find it affects how you think when you sit down and draw?

MB: Yes. In fact, my girlfriend and I bought a house and totally gutted it, and I’ve been really absorbed in renovating it and only recently took a break. So I hadn’t done any drawing in a long time, but I had done a lot of computer stuff at work, so when it came time to actually sit down and do drawings, I had to shake off the urge to begin the process on the computer and just let the drawing do its thing. So maybe it’s not a good idea to integrate the two, but one certainly informs the other.

Untitled - pencil.

MB: Uh, not really. I don’t put on a particular hat or a particular pair of shoes. I do have to kind of get myself feeling at home and surround myself with familiar objects and things. Often I’ll look through my old sketchbooks because there are hundreds of ideas there. I do need a certain amount of isolation and quiet, and music is a big factor, too. I’ll listen to a very specific kind of really ambient techno music or something to get me into the right headspace.

MONDO: Is having a studio space away from home important to your process?

MB: I’ve tried a lot of different arrangements. I think it works better for me, partially because my house right now is a small house, and, renovations aside, I don’t really have my own room. I kind of need my own little den.

MONDO: Why did you take a break from having a studio?

MB: I guess, I don’t know, certain twists and turns in my life. I had a studio here for a few years, and I lived down the road and had a solo show at AWOL. But then I had been working the same job for a long time and got really sick of it, and on a whim I bought an old van and went on a road trip. A lot of people were disappointed because I’d had that solo show, and people were kind of watching me. I’d even had a little spread in Mix magazine, but I took off and left. I do find it a little uncomfortable feeling any expectations, but I think I needed inspiration, so I went off and got some. I guess I’m on my own timetable with drawing. And with the house, that totally took over our lives for a couple years. It was virtually impossible to do any drawing.

A Nightmare Remembered 17 Years Later - ink on paper.

MB: I guess so, yeah. I think, for the room drawings in particular, part of the inspiration for those was my memories of the old farm house I grew up in being slowly renovated over the years that we lived there. I remember being – and this kind of ties into the whole Poetics of Space and the psychology of space – I remember being fascinated when my dad would rip a hole in a wall, and you could see from one room into another where before they had been completely discrete spaces, both physically and psychologically. I would always have dreams after that about finding different versions of my house that were at some level of deconstruction or in a different location, like my house in a desert or half-destroyed by a tornado. I had lots of dreams about finding rooms that didn’t really exist, and in those rooms, usually what I would find is some Lego set that I wanted – I was obsessed with Lego as a kid – or some manifestation of fear would live there. They were often really dilapidated, scary and uncomfortable; like, I’d find this horrible shaft beside my room that went down to the basement, where there would be a black pool of water that was really deep.

MONDO: Were you a big sci-fi and fantasy reader?

Uptown Trail - pencil on illustration board.

MB: Oh yeah, totally. Sometimes I have an urge to indulge myself by putting a bit more of a sci-fi/fantasy slant on my work, and sometimes I do. Sometimes with the art that I do on the computer – which is sort of in its own world, I don’t really show it, it just tends to be my tinkering away – tends to be more sci-fi. One specific thing that fascinates me, and one thing I’m starting to explore more of in my work, is time travel. The whole idea of time, the whole notion of Time, is fascinating. I used to have this weird fantasy where I would show people from the past around; like I would take someone from Toronto circa 1899 and show them Toronto now.

In reverse, I recently became totally obsessed with looking at the Toronto Archives online; they have 30,000 photographs of the city as it used to be, and I’ve studied all these pictures, so I basically have an overlay of Victorian Toronto in my mind everywhere I go. It’s informing a lot of the work that I’m planning or thinking of doing. I have this idea where I want to show some future version of the city with a 500-year-old CN Tower that’s been repurposed or something like that. And in the work that I just did for the Outdoor, it’s starting to creep in there as well. I’m trying to show buildings that might be reminiscent of modern buildings but aren’t, or they’ve been changed or remodeled or something like that. So walking around the city, I love to just observe and see how things have changed over time. And how history, the great depression, and all these things have had this huge effect on the city.

MONDO: In ten years people will be perfectly okay with the fact that Maple Leaf Gardens houses a grocery store.

MB: Sad but true.

MONDO: As you become more interested in drawing future Toronto, are you using photo reference or just relying on your visual memory?

Untitled - pencil.

MB: That’s part of the problem, why I have yet to take any of these ideas and do any finished work with them. I don’t like drawing from observation – it bores me. I understand the skill – it definitely improves your drawing – but I would never consider drawing the CN Tower as it is now because it’s boring. It would have to be a science fiction CN Tower or a ruined CN Tower. However, I am very interested in plausibility, believe it or not, and when it comes to this idea, I really want to know how concrete decays over a long period of time. What actually happens to old buildings? If I use any reference, it’s just photoed ruins in general; when I went on a backpacking trip to Europe, I took pictures of ruined abbeys and decaying buildings and that kind of thing. I think the other side of this idea is that I actually have 3-D computer models of the CN Tower and the Skydome that are accurate, and one thing I want to try is taking computer generated images and projecting them and drawing with that as a starting point. But there’s a danger in that, too, because then it might be too realistic or might lose something.

MONDO: So, do you have any advice for people who are looking to start kicking themselves into making their own art?

MB: Start out by just forgetting everything that you think you should do that may be stemming more from trying to please a client or your teachers. Try to quiet the voice of the critic in your head a little bit, and just try to start with what comes naturally. Like I said, I had stopped drawing, and I even wondered if “well maybe I’m just not going to do any art anymore.” So I just went back to basics and started scribbling in the sketchbook – literally doing scribbly five-second drawings. Try to find what comes naturally and use that as your starting place.

MONDO: Do you participate in the art network that exists in Toronto? Is it a support system for you, or do you exist outside of it?

MB: For the most part I feel I exist outside of it, but I have a fair number of connections, and that’s part of the reason why having a studio here is good. You feel more connected; I can take a short walk to go see some galleries, and being in the shared studio environment like this is also really great. The AWOL folks are great. The sense of community is definitely an important thing that I do want to immerse myself in more at times.

Elemental Revenge Laboratory - ink on paper.

MB: I think I was much less social when I was at school. I wasn’t even a small-town kid, I was a country kid, and when I first moved to the city, I was pretty overwhelmed; I think I was intimidated by the “scene.” And now I see that certain aspects of it kind of turn me off. But doing things like the Toronto Outdoor show is fantastic because you get such a cross-section of people who wouldn’t normally go gallery hopping, and I get a lot of nourishment from that kind of experience, as exhausting as it is. Also, in terms of community, I’m more involved or associate more with people who are activist types; you know Spacing Magazine? All the people who are involved in Spacing are friends of mine, and people who are involved in the community of the city, that’s sort of more interesting to me than the art scene, whatever the art scene is.

MONDO: Do you have any shows coming up?

MB: There’s the award winners from the Toronto Outdoor show’s group show at the First Canadian Place in January. All the winners get to have one piece in the show, and it’s up for six weeks. Oh, and I intend to do a piece or two for the Square Foot show. Other than that, though, no, and I’m at that dangerous point now where I have to keep drawing. There was a lot of interest generated from the Toronto Outdoor show, though – I sold as many pieces after the show as I did during the show and sold out of most of the little drawings that I did.

You can further explore Mathew Borrett’s art here.

Artist of the Week: Mathew Borrett

Posted by art On August - 12 - 2008
<em>Hiding Places</em> - Ink on paper

Hiding Places - ink on paper

By Rachel Kahn

I met Mathew Borrett at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition last month, sitting in a booth surrounded by drawings one could almost literally lose oneself in. Fittingly, Mathew Borrett was awarded Best of Category for Drawing, and had run out of business cards before I got to his booth. He found time to sit with me in his studio and discuss his detailed art in detail. What follows is Part I of the two-part interview.

MONDO: For the sake of the readers who haven’t seen your work before, how would you describe what you do?

Mathew Borrett: Drawing, in pencil and ink, and almost exclusively from my imagination. Typically really obsessively detailed, architectural-type subject matter, based on lots of things: dreams, childhood, or often just whatever I find fascinating and interesting.

MONDO: So, when did you get into art and drawing?

MB: As soon as I could make marks with crayons; since I can remember. Though I never really seriously thought of becoming an artist; I was quite intent on becoming an architect for a long time, which may explain a few things — I guess maybe I’m a frustrated architect. But then I had a roommate in college who was in the architecture program, and he always referred to it as “archi-torture.” So I think maybe I’m happier to be an architect in my imagination. I get to do more exciting projects, I think.

MONDO: You’ve done some illustration work as well as your personal work, right?

MB: Actually that was what I was trained for — I went to OCAD for Illustration.

MONDO: Were you focusing on technical illustration?

MB: No, in some ways I didn’t get back to drawing until after I left school. I think when I went to college for illustration the focus was a lot more on assignments and trying to communicate certain ideas so it became less about what you personally wanted to express. And I experimented a lot with different techniques and didn’t do anything remotely like I do now. I realized afterwards that I didn’t draw anymore for my own enjoyment like I used to — you know the kind of drawing that I would want to be doing in math class in high school, doodling in my notebook or wherever. So I decided to throw out everything that I had been doing up to that point, because I had kind of stagnated, and decided to just start scribbling, and just drawing and doodling, and in some ways I consider the work I do now to be really involved doodles.

<em>The Hexemeticulator</em> - Ink on paper

The Hexemeticulator - ink on paper

MONDO: They definitely make me think of drawings from back in math class, things that just spread out on the page.

MB: Yeah. Ideally I like to draw kind of organically. Sometimes I’ll have a plan, but if I plan too much it feels like I’m just a slave to some idea.

MONDO: Do you work with a grid or a ruler at all?

MB: Um, not really — sometimes, for the larger pieces, I’ll do a very widely spaced grid, but it typically will just fade out while I’m drawing. Even though they look precise, they’re really very kind of loose and wonky all the time, without any precise perspective. This piece, The Hexemeticulator — this is the largest drawing I’ve ever done — it was the most planned. But in such an overarching way that there was a lot of room for play within the idea. And with it, I actually did a little bit of 3-D modelling on a computer to kind of get the shape and perspective because I thought it’d be useful, but I don’t know if it was even necessary. Other drawings I pick a place to start and I just kind of go.

MONDO: There is a very consistent angle to a lot of your work — that’s an exceptional part of it.

MB: Yeah, a very isometric, draftsman-like, removed kind of perspective.

MONDO: So had you studied architecture for a while before going into illustration?

MB: No, not really. I took a couple classes in high school. I do a lot of 3-D graphics, they’ve kind of been part of my day job for a while, so I do think three-dimensionally, and quite literally in my drawings a lot of them are cross-sections of an imagined place.

MONDO: When you’re looking at art or at other things, where do you get your inspiration? What turns your brain on?

MB: Nature. Anything. Lots of things. I love to just go for walks around the city and really look at places. I think we tend to just pass through our surroundings a lot without really paying any attention to them. So I guess my environment, whatever it may be, has a strong influence. Like, I went on a long road trip, a few years ago, down to the southwest U.S., so I just started drawing all these kind of desolate road landscapes and rocks, stuff like that. It seemed like a natural process of whatever I see I process and it finds its way into my drawings.

<em>At Night He Hid</em> - ink on paper

At Night He Hid - ink on paper

MONDO: How do you come to your titles?

MB: Either I don’t know what a drawing is about, or I have no idea what I could possibly call it. I often won’t even title a piece, or I like to be playful or quasi-poetic with the names, or hint at some kind of story, like it might be an illustration in a book.

MONDO: So they’re largely after the fact?

MB: Very much so. And often just out of feeling like, “Oh, I guess I should name this,” because people will want to know what the names are. Although it does add another dimension to it.

MONDO: Some change very drastically upon reading the title. There’s a sense of anonymity to a lot of it, especially your room drawings, that really lends itself to that kind of titling and that kind of reading.

MB: I can kind of be mysterious and put any title I want, really.

MONDO: When I look at your art, I start seeing references to a lot of different kinds of theory, like thought theory — do you put that there? Or do you trip over that sometimes?

MB: I do. I don’t really consciously try to express philosophical thoughts with the work — it just kind of naturally pops into my head with it. I haven’t really read a lot of philosophy, though I did read a book called The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard — that was a really cool book. I think I’ve always had a strong sense of how a place feels, especially as a kid. And I don’t so much now, but I used to have a dream life that at times felt more extensive, somehow, than my waking life. I would see things far more vividly in dreams than through my eyes when I was awake. I often try to capture those sorts of feelings, where I feel like a place in a dream is a living thing somehow or that a forest or a city’s got some kind of consciousness to it.

MONDO: Okay, let’s go into materials for a minute — do you have a favourite pencil, a favourite kind of paper?

MB: Lately I’ve been drawing with these technical pencils (just HB technical pencils, partly because I don’t have to sharpen them) so any paper that accepts pencil nicely seems to work. I’ve been working on illustration board recently, because I like something a little rigid, and the ink drawings, the older ones, I was doing on printmaking paper. I’ve gotten to the point where I like a setup where I can just walk into the studio, sit down, and start working right away without doing a lot of preparation. Leading up to the Toronto Outdoor show I started working on this piece here in pen and ink, it was a little bit slow and laborious and it wasn’t working for me, so I kind of abandoned this when it was 90 percent finished. I will get back to it, but I switched to pencil, because pencil just feels so natural. I don’t feel any pressure around working with it, it’s very forgiving, I can erase things if I need to, whereas with something like pen, there’s really a level of anxiety that goes along with it, because you kind of have to roll with it if you mess up.

Detail of <em>The Hexemeticulator</em>

Detail of The Hexemeticulator

MONDO: Do you do a lot of under-drawing?

MB: Yeah, I kind of do it in bits and pieces, in keeping with letting things grow like doodles. I’ll kind of sketch ahead with a lighter pencil, and just plan out a little bit ahead of time, and then sort of fill it in with detail. With The Hexemeticulator I had a very broad idea and I knew what the shapes were — it’s quite different than the other ones, it’s more designed.

MONDO: The Hexemeticulator is really surreal to look at in person. When you see it online you see the details and you think, “Oh it must be huge!” — and it is big — but it seems completely impossible that you made all those tiny little marks.

MB: Yeah, I think in the execution of the pieces, I have to keep it interesting trying to make different kinds of marks or really playing with different kinds of lines, and that got to an extreme in this piece because I think I did hours and hours and hours of pointillism in the sandy area. I kind of played with it, but it was pretty crazy. So to really have some fun and challenge myself I had these two little lines coming down here and basically except for the little floating bits there is one continuous line that I basically worked around each side until they connect down underneath. Kind of crazy, but fun!

MONDO: I was going to ask if you had fun.

MB: I do! Well, I do and I don’t. Some pieces are a struggle! Working on one for the Toronto Outdoor, I really struggled with it. I kept thinking “Oh, this is terrible, what am I doing this for, this is so laborious,” and I wasn’t having fun. So a lot of it is trying to keep it fun within the framework of something that’s going to take hours and hours and hours to finish.

MONDO: You have an incredible precision; have you always taken this approach or is it something you kind of grew into?

MB: I think it comes naturally to me. It doesn’t feel like hard work to be precise and detailed at all. I find it hard to be loose and leave something alone, and I admire artists who can dash off paintings that have a lot of energy to them and look good.

MONDO: You’re designing spaces, and they’re spaces that, especially in terms of the perspective, feel very real, very believable, and very tactile. Is that something that you look for when you look at art?

<em>Exploring a Hypnogogic City</em> - ink on paper

Exploring a Hypnogogic City - ink on paper

MB: Yeah, absolutely. If I see a painting at a gallery one of the first things I do is go right up close and look at the fine-grain details, and if I don’t see any detail on a certain level of magnification I lose interest, somehow. An overall image can keep my attention for a certain amount of time, but I like to be able to fall into something, which is why I get a lot of inspiration from Nature. You know it’s just got layer upon layer of detail; it just keeps going and going and it only stops when you can’t see any farther, and you can get a magnifying glass and look even closer, and there’s just worlds within worlds within worlds.

MONDO: When I saw your work at the Toronto Outdoor the first thing that came to mind were some Borges short stories I’d read where he writes about the idea of the infinite. I think that’s something I see in your work. Do you think about the infinite a lot?

MB: Not really, no. It’s just something that I feel is a reality. I’m glad that I grew up in the country actually, in a place where you can actually see the stars. It’s something I really miss — and I forget about — living in the city. These ideas of the infinite, I don’t really feel they’re my own thoughts; I do get this feeling when I’m working on a piece or coming up with ideas that I’m kind of channelling something. I can’t explain it any further.

MONDO: That kind of describes the spontaneous process.

MB: Yeah, it’s something contained within that. The Hexemeticulator, for example, I had three weeks or four weeks before a group show and had to do a piece for it and I was kind of stuck, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I knew I wanted to do some kind of interior or cave-like thing, and I was in my old studio here down the hall, and I was having a nap, just dozing on a couch, and literally, that whole idea just kind of popped into my head all at once — in outline. I guess at the time I was looking for ways to integrate a lot of different ideas. I don’t have any examples here, but for the work that I used to do, I used to paint on plywood. I did these very iconic shapes — basically that whole cored-out shape in The Hexemeticulator; that shape exactly, now that I think of it — and I would do these very geometric kind of pieces, but I had totally dropped that, and so this piece was kind of a way to integrate my drawing, which I’d started, and those more overarching geometric kind of ideas, as well as the designing using different tools.

To be continued… please check back for Part II next week.

Tales of Earthsea Hidden Gem’d. Kinda

Posted by film On June - 24 - 2008

Tales of Earthsea
Directed By Goro Miyazaki 
Studio Ghibli, 2006

By Rachel Kahn

It’s amazing that Hayao Miyazaki’s son somehow acquired rights to Ursula K. Leguin’s Earthsea trilogy (now in five parts). I’m  not sure how this happened, since the last movie made from it was so bad that Le Guin disowned it entirely. Ghibli must have wooed her with the most scenic clips from Princess Mononoke and My Neighbour Totoro

That said, if there is one thing this movie accomplishes effortlessly, it is the pure magic of the landscape, and the character designs look like the work of someone who had at least skimmed the books, and key details that stood out to me as a reader manifest on screen. If you haven’t read the books, you will find it easy to tell characters apart, if not much else about them, but you will still be confused because none of the wizards look like Gandalf.

You will also be confused by the hundreds of little references throughout the film to concepts, places, and people that are explained thoroughly in the novels but are given almost no context in the film. This is because, for some reason or another, Miyazaki has chosen to adapt the third book in the series, not the first. 

I can think of many good reasons for this: the third book has a strong moral, the third book has a larger conflict, and the third book has more dragons. However, the third book relies on two full novels of lead-up and backstory, and there was no room in the already-rushed plot to fill in many of those gaps. If you’re the kind of viewer who is okay with the occasional non-sequitur in your movies, though, you should be alright. The basics of the plot are explained clearly enough, and the villains are stereotyped enough, that you should be able to follow the conflict. And thankfully for the slower viewers, the movie wraps up with a Ghibli-patented exposition speech where every character gets a chance to tell you the moral of the story. Courtesy of Leguin, of course, it’s a very heady moral, but, regardless, everyone spells it out in their own special way in the last half hour of the film.

As far as the plot goes, it’s a pretty standard good-wizard-versus-evil-wizard set-up: a rogue prince, an eccentric little girl, some evil guards, and a dragon-powered deus ex machina. Leguin’s tweaks on the fairy-tale plot do show up in the film, but that’s largely where the non-sequiturs come in, and this is what makes me sad. Those familiar with anime will write off much of the unexplained in this film as cultural artifacts, but there are fantastic plot moments left untold behind many of the monsters, dreamscapes, and cameos, and these blank spots leave the plot of the film feeling weak and superficial at the best. Subtle story moments end up recounted bluntly and didactically by characters who have minimal dialogue otherwise, and much of the exposition time is wasted on cliché pursuit scenes and action sequences. From a studio that is known for movies that build worlds, Ghibli fails to set the scene much beyond painting the pretty backgrounds.

As a lover of the books, this film was a let down, and as a follower of Ghibli, this film was a let down; but if you come to it expecting a pretty fairy tale, you might almost be satisfied.

The Things I Do For a Dollar

Posted by lifestyle On November - 6 - 2007

Ten Reasons to Work at a Small Independent Suburban Gas Station

By Rachel Kahn

10. You are guaranteed to be no more than 50 feet away from a police or fire station. That is because most suburbanite parents are convinced that gas stations are sites of criminal activity, and you should be thankful they do, because this keeps YOU safe from getting held up by the kids of those paranoid parents.

9. If you have the good fortune to work alone, you will never get behind in your reading again. I personally completed eight novels over the course of a month and a half, because who the hell buys gas at six in the morning on a Sunday?

8. Once they finally install that Dunkin’ Donuts/Coffee Time/Tim Hortons next door, you’ll never sleep through an opening shift again. If you’re really persistent, the girls will even walk your order across the parking lot, so you can get hot coffee even when you’re not on break. Oh, the convenience!

7. Sometimes the power goes out and you have to eat all the ice cream treats in the freezer. Especially if the power goes out for over four hours. At that point it’s your DUTY to eat those ice cream treats.

6. Not one of your customers will complain about the price of gas, because your boss’s pricing strategy is “$0.002 below the Esso up the street” and you have company binoculars to keep that price consistent.

5. Quicker than you can imagine, you’ll build serious relationships with all the local tow-truck drivers. They’re the first to figure out that you’re $0.002 cheaper than the Esso, and if you’re really lucky, they’ll hit on you constantly. Of course, if you get tired of hearing about the “horsepower” of their “engines,” you can always call on Bubba. He runs the garage and repair shop behind the gas station, and he’s totally got your back.

4. You can develop an insider’s knowledge of lottery and cigarette addicts’ habits. This will serve you well in conversation with the tow-truck drivers, as well as at any other point in your life where you need a level of camaraderie with people who consider themselves pretty “bad-ass.” You will also develop the ability to locate a pack of (insert any cigarette brand here) with your eyes closed. That might not serve you so well unless you take up smoking, though, which is a bad habit to have while working at a gas station.

3. You get to play a mental game of bingo with hilarious car/driver pairings. Some of my favourites were the California Drug Lord, a man in his mid-60s, wearing sunglasses, expensive shoes and a Hawaiian shirt, and driving a pristine black 1980s Buick; the Reformed Biker, an overweight, bearded, balding man who has given up Harleys for hand-restored Austin Minis, and wears a t-shirt proclaiming his love thereof beneath his leather jacket; and finally, the Raging Granny, a woman far too old to drive, who frequents your gas station because it’s the only place in her neighbourhood where she can get diesel fuel for her 1973 olive green Mercedes, which she refers to as Ethel. You also get to take bets from Bubba and the coffee girls on how often Ethel “brushes” the stop sign on the way into the station.

2. The constant risk of getting blown up is a subtle, almost Tantric adrenaline rush. After the intense training lectures about things-that-might-make-you-explode, you become aggressively paranoid. Finally some woman pulls out a cellphone — while pumping gas — on the hottest day of the summer — and you just flip out on the poor dear. After she leaves in tears, you feel vaguely proud.

1. When the entire Eastern Seaboard loses power on the hottest day of the summer, you’re the first to see signs of panic. Thankfully, you do get to eat a lot of ice cream.

Artists of the Week: FARrAGO

Posted by art On October - 2 - 2007

By Takashi Hilferink By Kerry Freek
Photos by Rachel Kahn

This week, I spoke with two artists from FARrAGO art collective, Catherine Toth and Cara Bleskie. The word “farrago” means a mixture, a hodgepodge, a medley, and that’s just what the group provides: many fabulous elements thrown into one space. A variety of media populate FARrAGO’s current exhibit: painting, photography, sculpture, textiles and print — all in pursuit of “the correspondence between insulated communities of thought and belief” while “encouraging aesthetic accessibility and navigating esoteric re-entry.”

You can check out FARrAGO work on the third floor of 9 Ossington Avenue from September 19 – October 13, 2007. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Friday 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday & Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.


MONDO: Tell us about yourself and your artwork.

CB: I recently graduated from the Visual Art program at York University, with focus in photography. The performative aspect of the medium, specifically with the modification of familiar spaces and objects into the unexpected and unnatural, is the primary basis of my work.

MONDO: What inspires or ignites you?

CB: It is in common objects and the mundane routine of everyday life that I find my inspiration. Familiar surroundings are easily overlooked, but by deconstructing the banal one can better understand the essence of human nature.

MONDO: What do you expect to come of this collective effort? What does FARrAGO mean to you?

CB: FARrAGO has thus far been a welcome surprise. FARrAGO is an opportunity to glimpse outside the confines of one’s medium and consider all artistic options.

MONDO: Clearly you all have different styles and goals. What do you think unifies the members of FARrAGO?

By Troy CoultermanCB: Even though we are a mish-mash of artists, a number of thematic threads link our interests and artwork together. Most FARrAGO members are trying to remain artistically motivated and challenged. Since most of us have recently graduated, FARrAGO is a means of ensuring that we continue to create.

MONDO: If you weren’t making art, what would you be doing?

CB:Photographing my pets.


MONDO: Tell us about yourself and your artwork.

CT: With my photographs, I want to ask people to look at art and specifically photography as a source of factual information. Phil on the Merc is a photo exploration on the distribution of family photographs. The image was taken in 2006 but appears to have all elements that lead us to believe that it could also exist in ‘76. The recreation of making prints from making negatives from previous prints gives a certain loss of image quality resembling the loss of memory. I remember reading somewhere about a performance artist who came from Japan who asked how she could become a recognized artist in the US. Someone told her to “just distribute her pictures to the city”, so I made these small enough to fit in a wallet. They are all contacts, like the old photographs in my grandmother’s drawer.

By Catherine TothMONDO: What inspires or ignites you?

CT: Takashi.

MONDO: I understand FARrAGO is in its early stages. What do you expect to come of this collective effort? What does FARrAGO mean to you?

CT: FARrAGO is really just the name of the show, but this specific collective we are hoping to begin, I hope, will be the definition of Contemporary Canadian Artists. Using found materials like the birch bark drawing and images of youth in the news, I hope to look at international events from a young, Canadian perspective.

By Amanda McCavour MONDO: Clearly you all have different styles and goals. But what do you think unifies the members of FARrAGO?

CT: York University, and a strong desire to produce and encourage each other to pursue our art on an everyday basis.

MONDO: If you weren’t making art, what would you be doing?

CT: Learning French, highland dancing, ballet, and playing pool.



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