Armchair dispatch: of art, hockey, and labour protest
The tune and words of Oh Canada resonate inside my head this morning, something that hasn’t happened since my “watchin’ the Stanley Cup” days back in the, er, 80’s -well, okay, maybe it was the 70’s. On radio stations, reports come in about the “all time success” of “Games merchandizing” – Visa t.v. adverts with Donald Sutherland/ Morgan Freeman voice-overs and those ubiquitous 10 buck red mittens. Confession: I now own a pair; but more about those red mittens, later. Outside my office, during the Canada-USA hockey game, four red and white clad men and women issue a few whoops and hollers. Cars passing by honk their horns. A writer friend of mine, at last week’s Canada-Russia match-up, told of people spontaneously erupting into our national anthem when exiting the cavernous stadium. Who will prevail: Ryan Miller or Roberto Luongo? Into the first period of an Olympic Gold hockey game, (1-o for us) I credit this cyber space for giving room to inscribe about two historical events that drew in their day, in this city, thousands more than any anti-Olympic protest at 2010. And that is thanks to the ingenuity of artists, not funded, as far as I can tell, by the current Olympiad.
“In Dialogue: Bik Van der Pol & Urban Subjects” comprises two installations, each one a replica of physical structures.
In I confess, I care, a brown box, designed to be a recording room, is large enough to hold two or three people. A light sparks red when I enter and inside, a microphone, and on the walls, black cushiony pads, the “box, fully wired for sound – everything discussed is recorded.” I recite a poem, a short list history of British Columbia, from a series written when riding the Sky-Train. My recording will join others and will be transcribed to appear as part of a publication, a sort of “bid book.”
Outside this brown box, another installation devised by Urban Subjects, to “grab historical moments” –a kind of cabin, and in it, a grainy black and white photograph, wall sized, of a seminal occurrence in the history of British Columbia : “Premier Bill Bennett and labour leader Jack Munro stand on the patio of Bennett’s house in Kelowna just after they have shaken hands to seal a deal that ‘would end the most massive protest in the province’s history.’ (Stan Perksy/Solidarity Times, 1983).”
When I stand inside this “cabin”, and look out its window, I see a second image, installed on the wall outside and opposite, at eye level: an “archival photograph of Herbert Marcuse, speaking to 1, 300 students at Simon Fraser University, March 25, 1969. Marcuse theorized about “everyday life within a ‘totally administered society.’”
That phrase unlocks at least one aspect of my lived experience of these 2010 Olympics.
Both installations find a home at The Western Front, a structure that houses the gallery space and offices of a local artist run collecive in east Vancouver, where, with the aid Cultural Olympiad funding, one can smile at the work of Reece Terris.
What will be the lasting impressions of the 2010 Cultural Olympiad? I welcome reader stories.
In my last blog, I dissed “Altered,” having mistakenly only seen a part of it – another one of those grainy “looped videos” which seem the darling of the avant garde.
But here’s the thing: I went back to the installation’s main site, and there found Jan Wade’s collection of letters and objects about her cousin’s deployment to Vietnam and the terrible things that happened to him upon his return home. Next to Wade’s exhibit, an accompanying installation by Nhan Nguyen: a set of shrines, one, towering almost at ceiling height, built entirely out of paperback books and flowers, surrounded by candles, gilded crutches, and enhanced by recorded sound and video images. On the walls of the installation space, patterns made of recycled materials, scores of hand-flattened tea light containers, their aluminium surfaces flicker in the light.
Nyguyen uses these objects to ask the viewer “how do we remember lost loved ones?” as part of the experience of war and exile. The reminder of collective suffering in the middle of these Olympics, highly salient. Canada and the US along with NATO allies fight a ground war this spring in Afghanistan. No amount of red and white happiness can atone for it.