Art for art’s sake

14 07 2015

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter went to the Vancouver Art Gallery on their Tuesday “by donation” evening. She didn’t get to see everything, but was enthusiastic and wanted to go again. Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed to go with her this evening.

Now, first of all, I have to applaud them for having Tuesday evenings as “by donation”. It allows people who might hem and haw about being able to afford the normal entrance fee to pay what they can, or what they feel appropriate, and still get to experience the art on display. As we queued I saw several posters informing attendees that it was entrance by donation, and that a donation of $10 was appropriate. The normal entrance fee is $20 (or $15 for students) and I think a donation of $10 or even $5 would be quite achievable for anyone who was even vaguely interested in visiting the gallery.

I was quite prepared to fork out my $10 and though I accept I am reasonably affluent, I was appalled by the number of well-dressed, iPhone-toting student types who were handing over 25c coins as their entrance donation. Now, I used to be a student in a former life. I know money can be tight, but 25c?! That, dear reader is most definitely taking the piss! All due respect to the staff though – they smilingly took the mite and issued a receipt and entrance ticket (which possibly cost more than the 25c received!) See elsewhere for my thoughts regarding integrity!

The temporary exhibition was “Of Heaven and Earth: 500 Years of Italian Painting from Glasgow Museums”. These were good, solid religious paintings by the likes of  Botticelli. Not sure why, but I found them intensely boring. Shocking, I know. Some of them were literally hundreds of years old. They were incredibly skilfully painted. Ground-breaking at the time. I could appreciate their art, but they were just not doing it for me.

As we moved to the stairs and the first floor, I was completely lost for words. Here was “modern art” in its extreme. My daughter loved “How Do I Fit This Ghost in My Mouth?” Me though – it looked like a bunch of random items from a car boot sale. With some of it I could again see the skill in its execution, but I was left with an overwhelming sense of WTF?! One entire room (Geoffrey Farmer’s The Surgeon and the Photographer) was filled with foot high folk created from fabric bodies and carefully placed collage from magazines and the like. It looked for all the world like the left-overs from a Terry Gilliam segment of a Monty Python film.

The full half hour?

The full half hour?



Sorry Mr. Farmer… just not my cup of tea.

One of the other rooms was a bizarre installation of animatronic items with changing lights and sound. A small anteroom had an IKEA bed with a sleeping bag on it, and my artsy daughter told me that the main installation was supposed to represent a nightmare as experienced by the person who was overnighting in a strange house. Hm-mmm. Perhaps… I definitely think one of the Slag Brothers from The Wacky Races was there though…

Slag 1 or Slag 2?

Slag 1 or Slag 2?

The installation is called Let’s Make The Water Turn Black and is another Geoffrey Farmer work. It’s supposedly an homage to Frank Zappa and his developments in xenochrony or “strange time”. I can believe that.

The top floor made up for everything though. There was some weird nonsense with “wallpaper” – basically digital patterns projected onto the walls of the room, but otherwise there was some of the VAG’s Emily Carr collection and… photographs! I loved the photographs. “Residue: Persistence of the Real” included a series of photos by Robert Burley (from The Disappearance of Darkness series) of disused manufacturing plants associated with film and photography. There was Polaroid, Ilford and Kodak. I was just mentioning the lack of Agfa (where I used to work) when around the corner there were two images of Agfa’s Mortsel site near Antwerp in Belgium, which I knew very well. I wonder how many casual viewers had even realised the connection between the images.


One wall had a series of three or four images depicting the demolition of one of Kodak’s plants in Rochester as it came to terms with the death of film. End of an era that everyone saw coming except Kodak!

There was another series of images by Geoffrey James called “Inside Kingston Penitentiary” which depicted the final day as the Ontario prison was closed down. These images were stark but very human, showing how prisoners had imprinted their personalities on the harsh environment of the old prison.


2 for 2 – a weekend outside

9 12 2012

Well, I had a mighty fine weekend thank-you. Oh – you weren’t asking? Well I did anyway, so it doesn’t matter. Just go with it, OK?

Still here? Good! Where was I? Oh yes…

I became aware of an opportunity to go snow-shoeing on Saturday, so I added my name to what I felt would be a long list of hyper-fit 20-something year olds and awaited developments. In the end it was just myself and one Rover Scout. We opted for “Dog Mountain“, just off of Seymour Mountain, one of Vancouver’s “North Shore” ski resorts. In the end it was a great day, with around 3 hours on the hill. We were in low cloud, so the usual spectacular views of Vancouver and Stanley Park eluded us. However, we were treated to the cheeky Whiskey-jacks (see their January escapades on the same mountains here) once we reached the peak.

Today I had to go into town to pick up a Craigslist purchase – some Ilford Multigrade filters for my recently acquired B&W enlarger, and took the opportunity to check out the recent snow fall on Grouse Mountain – the middle of the three North Shore Mountains – with another snow shoe trip. During summer, the Grouse has “The Grouse Grind“, and they’ve tried to keep people coming by introducing a winter snow shoeing trail – “The Snow Show Grind”. I didn’t get to the top as I had to get back home for a promised trip to the REI outfitters in Bellingham. Coming down was – how shall I say? – interesting! It was fast and undignified. Let’s leave it at that.

So – I might not have been running of late, but I did get out and about and hiked around 2 of the 3 local peaks. I feel glad for that – we have such lovely scenery here in BC, and it really is a joy to be out there sharing it. You really do feel you’re in excellent company – there are like minded folks around, you’re breathing fresh air, and sharing very special moments in space and time.

There may well be no “meaning to life” beyond propagating our Selfish Genes, but hey – if I get to share those moments on the hills: “Frankly my dear… I don’t give a damn!”

Bunbury, Grouse and Killing Them Softly

1 12 2012

I had a really awesome day today. Bunburying.

I recently made my first ever purchase through Craigslist. It was a Black & White enlarger. There seems to be a glut of them at the moment… can’t think why! I’d made an offer on one a few weeks ago, but the bloke was asking an unreasonable amount. I got this (plus a few assorted bits and bobs) for $75. The thing is – though it works perfectly – it’s a late ’70s model. Czechoslovakian.

Mypota Axomat II

Meopta Axomat II

Most of the options on Craigslist were. What happened to all the Paterson models I used to have in the UK? All the add-ons are Paterson’s, but none of the enlargers that were on offer. They’re almost all Czechoslovakian… from the ’70s!

Anyway, I spent much of the day having great fun whilst trying to track down B&W photographic paper (Ilford) and the necessary chemicals to develop it. It’s like finding rocking-horse shit!

Now I freely admit that part of the attraction of getting back into analogue photography (and B&W to boot!) is because nobody else wants to any more. It’s become a fringe activity, and therefore prime QE material. I was largely successful today though, and perhaps tomorrow will see me developing my first photos in 15+ years. Ironically, the only way of sharing the results with you, dear reader, would be to digitally scan them for you! :). Oh how the world turns…

I finished off the day by using my annual pass to visit Grouse Mountain. I wanted to see if there was enough snow yet to go snow-shoeing. Technically there was (a few brave souls HAD), but not for me. It was actually raining, a cloud was trying to devour the lodge (it sneaked its way in whenever anyone opened a door to the “lack-of-viewing deck”), and it was just down-right unpleasant. My exceedingly good friend Bunbury, I have no doubt whatsoever, would have complained about the inclemency and immediately retreated inside for a hot tea and pain au chocolat.

Once home, I managed to squeeze in a trip to the cinema to see Brad Pitt‘s latest offering: Killing them Softly. I’d seen it advertised in the trailers for the latest Bond film, and it looked interesting. I loved it. Mrs E almost fell asleep, and hated it. The thing is… you had to think! We’ve become used to being spoon fed with totally transparent stories that are consumed exactly as they’re offered. This film is a political allegory. Though purportedly about gangland enforcers and “cleaning up” after an internal robbery… it’s actually about the good ol’ US of A.

Pitt’s character has the closing line in the film: “America’s not a country. It’s just a business. Now fuckin’ pay me.”

If the rest of the film had left you in any doubt of the allegorical nature, this laid it plain and bare.

Pictures & Photos from Killing Them Softly – IMDb.

The continuity is a bit hit and miss in places (check for the mysterious case of the vanishing ice lolly and the self-renewing beer glass), and I do have to say that the pace is a little slow. However, the continual Obama/Bush presence in the background TVs and radios keeps hinting at the underlying message of the film throughout, and it’s easy to think of national-scale parallels to the story being shown. There’s some really technically clever scenes with flying glass, rain drops, blood, etc, but the violence in places is a little over the top and unnecessary. Point made – why keep going on? See Lock, Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels for a contrast, where Vinnie Jones leaves you with the feeling that you’ve seen someone being brutally killed by having their head slammed repeatedly in a car door… until you realise you saw absolutely nothing! You made it all up…

Don’t go and watch it if you’re looking for action or to just turn off your brain. But if you’re looking for a cheeky comment on what the US has become… go. Leave your preconceptions at the popcorn stand, and listen to the message…