Sunday, April 25, 2010

The joke is on you white guy

When I look at Jeff Wall's Mimic (1982), I can’t help but be embarrassed. Here we have a sophisticated Asian gentlemen minding his own business, when this white guy comes along and simultaneously gives him the finger and makes fun of his race. It seems he is walking just far enough behind the Asian gentleman so that he doesn’t actually have to confront him, and instead is able to mock him passively without risking a rebuttal. The white gentleman appears to be dragging his girlfriend along behind him in a way that suggests her subordinate role. The woman is dressed in skimpy shorts, a skimpy top, and heels. Everything about the photo makes the viewer side with the Asian man. He has the appearance of a respectable person who is a member of the business community. I think the purpose of Wall’s piece is to elicit this type of reaction, to embarrass us and compel us to side with the Asian man. The topic of racism and the Asian community is very Vancouver. As sad as it is to say, especially during the eighties, the increasing Asian population would have festered attitudes of racism. This picture exposes a racism that appears to have stemmed out of both jealousy and misdirected hatred. This photo has the effect of revealing racism as trashy and uncalled for. Although Wall’s Mimic doesn’t exactly shine Vancouver in the most positive light, it has the ability to create awareness about racism in our city.

East Van is horrible! But art is good!

I know some of you love this horrible thing but I think it looks like a Bibles for Missions shelter. Apparently it has been a popular graffiti symbol around East Van for years but it's still ugly. I love art. I love that some people hate something and other people love it. I love that I don't get it. I love that I think it's ugly. I love that although I think it's ugly it got made and displayed as public art. I don't really love Ken Lum but I'm pretty sure he's an OK guy. Oh, and from the angle of this photo, it almost looks nice.

Ken Lum had this to say to the Globe and Mail:

“Nietzsche says there are three kinds of history,” Lum says: monumental history (aggrandizing a people or historical moment), antiquarian history (the obsessive validation of facts) and critical history (interpreting the past in order to engage with the present). Lum’s Monument for East Vancouver arises, he says, from this latter approach, identifying an issue in the sociopolitical present and activating critical thinking.

I'm not sure that I agree that this big shiny cross "interprets the past" or "activates critical thinking" but it certainly does stimulate debate, which is always good.

Trauma Tourism

While reading Laurie Beth Clark's "Placed and Displaced: Trauma Memorial" I was reminded of the town of Kalavryta in Greece. I visited the town by train and went to see the memorial there. What is interesting is that although there is a specific memorial "place", the whole town is really a sacred shrine of remembrance. This is what happened there:

Due to partisan activity around the town of Kalavryta in southern Greece, a unit of the German army
surrounded the town on the morning of Monday, December 13. All the inhabitants were herded into the local school. Females and young boys were separated from the men and youths, the latter being marched to a hollow in a nearby hillside. There the soldiers took up positions behind machine-guns. Below, they witnessed the town being set on fire. Just after 2pm a red flare was fired from the town. This was the signal for the soldiers to start firing on the men and youths who were huddled in the hollow. At 2.34pm the firing stopped and the soldiers marched away. Behind them lay the bodies of 696 persons, the entire male population of Kalavryta. There were 13 survivors of the massacre, the town itself totally destroyed. Only eight houses out of nearly five hundred, were left standing. It was not until late afternoon that the women and young boys were released to face the enormity of the tragedy. Today a memorial stands on the site of the massacre on which are carved the names of 1,300 men and boys from Kalavryta and 24 nearby villages who were murdered that day.

Because the town was totally destroyed, it had to be rebuilt in the wake of the tragedy. I found out about the place through a tourist guide (Clark calls this Trauma Tourism). While no one can deny the tragedy is real, and there was an eeriness about the place, it is still a destination, there is still gift shops around the town commemorating the event. This merging of what Clark calls "popular participation with state construction" doesn't seem to be harming anyone so...go capitalism!

Context context context!

If someone had shown me a photograph of Jeff Wall’s A View from an Apartment, I never would have looked at it as art. This “what is art?” question is reoccurring in my mind, and although his work clearly has cultural commentary and urban relevance, I can’t help but think that in the context of a classroom, my mindset is changed from passive to critical. Upon viewing a piece of art in a gallery, I immediately rack my brain for its meaning and depth (and usually think “I could’ve done that, especially if it’s an abstract piece with four different coloured lines). However, seeing it in another context might leave me uninspired and leave the work unnoticed. This is why I think that the context tells us how to treat a photograph or a sculpture. Whereas as a kid, I might be inclined to climb a statue in a park, I would probably have a million things to say about it in an art history class in college.

Remembering life, not tragedy.

There were two really tragic deaths in my high school.

It makes me sad that in my mind, they’re still classified as “those two really tragic deaths in my high school”. These kids were known around the hallways, at parties, from elementary school, and in classrooms. I now think back to them and automatically associate the eerie funerals, the lowered flag, the banners and the inscriptions on the school benches to their entire memories.

Of course I wish they were still around, but I also now wish that none of the memorial stuff lingered in my mind. In a way, those constant reminders seem like a pathetic attempt to force memory; aside from having a comforting place to pay respects, I think it would be nice if we had some confidence in our memories.

April 20th.

So it was 4:20 a few days ago...
I know this isn’t along the same lines of the types of cultural memory we’ve been talking about (monuments, tragedies, etc.), but I think it’s kind of cool how the cannabis culture club connects and organizes this massive get-together and chillfest on every April 20th. It feels like there’s a certain pressure to keep up the tradition, and therefore it’s more of a performance of memory than remembering itself. It’s a recognizable date regardless of partially losing its original meaning, and portrays Vancouver’s attachment to the cannabis subculture through the performance specifically found around the Art Gallery.
I really like the umbrellas here too...

Olympics and OlymPICS

Clint Burnham discussed the Vancouver Public Library design as compensating a city “which fears both its First Nations past and Asian future” (36).
I was thinking about the Olympics opening and closing ceremonies... I found it interesting that the closing ceremonies were so infused with classic Canadian stereotypes: giant (expensive) beavers, lumberjacks, and the like. Once everything had been said and done, and the weight of the opening ceremony (and the Games!) had lifted,
Vancouver breathed a sigh of relief and seemed to poke fun of its Canadian-ness. Fully embracing the standard jokes about Canada, it was as if we felt that the Games proved we were more than the label, therefore we gave in and felt safe to play up the stereotypes, of course, just for fun. Neither the opening nor closing dealt with any of the other cultures, such as Chinese influence in Vancouver (especially with the New Years so close!), bringing Burnham’s quote into conversation...
I also found it fascinating how much the First Nations culture was stressed. Throughout the Games, I noticed that each of the shows I went to (in the Cultural Olympiad) had a sideshow, portraying very typical First Nations art and performance. In the opening ceremonies, there was almost an over-expression of First Nations influence, not only “pigeonholing” the art, but resulting in a pressured pigeonholing of
Canada as well.

Another Note on the Olympics...
(since my Simpsons post didn’t count!)

I was out and about in the streets of Vancouver for almost all of the two heavenly, school-free, party-filled Olympics weeks. Fully embracing the presence of the foreigners and the (uncharacteristically warm) exciting air, I noticed some pretty interesting interactions.
For one, there was a very clear clash between the Americans and the Canadians. I don’t really need to say much about this. But one really cool thing I observed was how many foreigners were backing
Canada up after their countries were out/not in certain games. Aside from the Russians, who refused to change out of their tracksuits (don’t get me wrong, I love ‘em), a variety of nations were standing behind Canadians. I don’t necessarily count the purchasing of those flag-capes as super meaningful, but it was nice to see out-of-towners singing along to the anthem, or saying “cheers” to Canada at the local pubs. I think overall, regardless of the competition or the speedbumps along the way, the actual two weeks were an unforgettable experience, bringing out patriotism in those that didn’t even realize they had it.

Attached are some pics :)