Thinking about diagrams and Adobe Illustrator and the alleged legitimation of the handwritten scribble by transforming it into dead font and clipart arrows; thinking about this because one of our On Site contributors was fretting about not being fluent in Illustrator. There are parallels with auto-translation here: a whole lot of meaning, intelligence, emotion and sheer life can be lost from the original.
Allan Fleming's sketches clearly informed the ultimate CN logo: it isn't an entirely intellectual exercise, this design process thing, it is largely a visual exploration, running through hundreds of ideas, relying on the eye to weed them out before they go mechanical.
The 1960s cleaned up a lot of our national icons, gave them all a simplicity which is now mostly replaced by font selection: the Bay, for forty years a quill pen hand pressure ribbon of ink, now a font that looks like a version of Banknote.
Looks like Castle Mountain and the highway to Banff before the Trans-Canada was built. It is paved; even in the 1960s most of the Trans-Canada through the mountains was still gravel. It certainly reduced speed. What I do now in a day used to take two at the minimum, three if one was being leisurely.
The station wagon looks roughly like a mid-50s Pontiac, but people kept cars longer then.
Tornado in Denver last week, travelled up the eastern slopes of the Rockies and parked: much rain. Mandatory evacuation order issued in Calgary's river valleys Thursday, but not my block, the last before the railway tracks. Curious. Voluntary evacuation on the street left just four houses occupied. Very quiet; dystopian moment Friday morning in the back alley – bottle picker cutting the lock off a mountain bike, cycled away whistling. Kept walking every few hours down to the river, three blocks away, empty streets, very eerie, reminded me of the end of On the Beach.
By Saturday I'd had enough of flood, however at the eastern end of the neighbourhood a great chunk of bank was swept away putting a long block of new houses right at the edge of a cliff. In comes the army and lots of heavy lifting equipment and bolsters the cliff with large concrete blocks.
Sunday, water in the Bow about 6' down, neighbourhood still evacuated, now not even any gawkers – boring now that the water isn't bashing at the bridge deck, usually about 12' above water level.
Spent Friday moving the contents of the basement up to the ground floor: the archive of my life – much too much stuff. The fear is always of reverse sewer action filling one's basement with toxic glurk. This flooding thing will happen again, so vow that what goes back to the basement will be very thinned out.
Saturday, doing some thinning: acres of paper, photocopies of articles and essays – Barthes on the Eiffel Tower – never seen it before but the margins are full of my notes. I appear to have been quite smart once.
A beautiful essay by Aijaz Ahmad of which there were several copies so I must have given it out in a course. How to take all the excitement out of a favourite essay: assign it. Half the students don't read it and try to wing it in the discussion. A quarter don't read it and tell you it was irrelevant, the rest read it but don't know what to think about it, one person quotes it appropriately in their term paper and you give him an A.
Sunday, looked at the river, evacuation order still on, but so is the power and the gas, so I'm lucky. Downtown last night inky dark as the power is off protecting the transformers. Mowed the lawn, listened to Gardener's Question Time – guaranteed to restore equilibrium in times of unease.
Too much rainfall filled the Elbow River at its source in the mountains, it over-filled the Glenmore Reservoir and then joined the already flooded Bow River at the western corner of my neighbourhood: it crested here Saturday morning, and that crest is travelling at high speed down the Bow where it will meet the South Saskatchewan River and Medicine Hat later today. Then it will continue east, through Saskatchewan and all its river towns, on to Manitoba where it will eventually enter Lake Winnipeg, not unknown to flood. every year.
It has been very odd living in an empty neighbourhood, just us and the birds, no cars, no neighbours, no roar of traffic on the nearby Deerfoot Trail but a more local sound of a sump pump bailing out the basement of an old apartment building on 9th Avenue, the main street. The water coming out of the hoses is clear and sweet, not the milk chocolate colour of the river water. It feels like a much earlier time.
On yesterday's photo of the landings at Juno Beach soldiers appear to be landing with bicycles. I thought when I saw it how far we have come from bicycles to drones in the conduct of war, given that some of those fellows in the photograph are probably still alive: many of them died that day however.
The bicycles: BSA [British Small Arms, a Birmingham manufacturing conglomerate that made everything from rifles to London taxis] made 70,000 Airborne Folding Paratrooper Bicycles between 1939 and 1945. As with all things military there are many sites devoted to the most arcane details of this bike, its rifle holder, its pedals, its colour (green). This one is very complete: Bcoy1CPB which will mean something to anyone connected with the Canadian Forces: B Company, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion I think.
BSA was famous after the war for its motorcycles; our geography teacher, Mr Knight used it as a mnemonic for the names and order of the great northern lakes: Bear, Slave and Athabasca — good, eh?
In the D-Day landings, the bicycles were to be used by the second wave regiments to speed their way to the front, but the troops found the roads so congested that they couldn't ride and most were discarded. B coy reports that they were intensely disliked: probably weighed a ton, and after the war many were sold as surplus: $10 though the Hudson's Bay Company, $3.95 at Capital Iron in Victoria, BC.
Oh, Capital Iron, a most wonderful weekend tradition of my childhood: huge, dark and gloomy, smelled like metal, oil and canvas, aisles of barrels of nails and tools and incomprehensible metal doodads. The ceiling was dense with hanging flags. I suppose it also operated as a reality check, all that metal and machinery, for the men who miraculously found themselves in clean safe jobs with little families and houses with back yards just ten years after the end of the war.
Jeremy Deller, passionate chronicler of the tangents of war. The reviews have called his installation at the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale aggressive. Angry, yes; resigned perhaps; this video captures something else. Deller's 2008 piece at the Imperial War Museum, It Is What It Is, was made from a bombed Baghdad car: there is something about the gratuitous destruction of cars in this film that with that earlier car in mind seems obscene. As does the aftermath of the inflatable Stonehenge: heritage as entertainment, the critique levelled at Danny Boyle's orchestration of the positive side of Britain for the opening of the 2010 Olympics. There is a place and time for critique and the London Olympics was not one of them. Deller has no such restrictions.
He isolates contradictions in Britain – the gap between pride and insignificance, between a blithe skipping along and a still, red in tooth and claw, countryside; between an imperial history and its modern incarnation as entertainment and celebrity. Perhaps not contradictions, rather they are complex, near-inexplicable realities which artists and critical theorists keep trying to explain, reframe, re-present. Adrian Searle calls Deller's Biennale installation a war on wealth — maybe, obviously I haven't seen it, I'm not British and I receive such works through a different lens, however, it seems that at the heart of Deller's work is a critique of war that uses a panoply of images used to disguise the project of war as a series of successes, heroisms and parades.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Will Gompertz on BBC World last night reported on Jeremy Deller's Venice project: the language a classic put-down. 'Aggressive' figures as the first word in every review, every report. If someone is angry, and as Deller said, these things had been in his mind for a long time, they can be dismissed as being aggressive, much as how angry women are written off as strident.
And then, and this is unforgivable, Gompertz called Deller's angry, close to the bone murals that show just how socially conflicted England is today, 'the heir' to Danny Boyle's Olympic extravaganza. This trivialises Deller by giving him a critical biography not from art but from the world of entertainment. Controversy safely contained.
This is a really interesting interview with Kelly and Christopher Grunenberg, about colour, originally posted on one of the Tate online magazines but no longer available. It was re-posted on fARTiculate here.
Must pull out of the long weekend, now that it is past. Although the 24th of May is this Friday and our Victorian holiday usually moves to synchronise with the USA's Memorial Day, which lessens its meaning somewhat, this year it didn't. Inexplicably, we had the 24th of May on May 20.
Yesterday another visit to the NC 139s .
Ellsworth Kelly, he of the huge colour block paintings in primary colours, drew flowers and leaves in pencil on paper for most of his career. Many are collected in a book, Plant Drawings 1948-2010 (Munich: Schirmer/Mosel, 2011) with an essay by Michael Semff and an interview with Kelly by Marla Prather.
Kelly is quoted: 'They are not an approximation of the thing seen nor are they a personal expression or an abstraction. Nothing is changed or added: no shading, no surface marking. They are an impersonal observation of the form.'
This is how we, as young architects in the conceptual 1970s, were taught to draw, and I suppose by extension, to think. The mind was put into a kind of zen-like suspension as the shape of the leaf went through the eyes directly to the hand; the hand was holding a pencil and a drawing was made. The line was all. Although there was a bit of Matisse knocking around in the brain, Kelly's strictures on making the drawing were tight: a pencil, a large sheet of paper, all line, or all shadow, or all shape. The leaf above is the essence of leafness as held in this particular leaf, and all other leaves.
Flowers are just very beautiful things, however Kelly isn't drawing their beauty, he is drawing the lines of the plant, which we perhaps, or not, find lovely. Remove the colour, the sunlight, the garden, the season, the history and one is left with the line, and a tremendous affection for the flower. It is wholly itself.
This for Canada's Victoria Day weekend, probably the last place in the world that still celebrates Queen Victoria's birthday.
From another time, that other country: 'The twenty-fourth of May, is the Queen's birthday. If you don't give us a holiday, we'll all run away.'
Or, if you were Edward Oxford, try to shoot the Queen, be declared insane, and then be sent to Australia.
It was always explained to me that the US Interstate system was primarily a Department of Defense project, meant to extend to all corners of the country with a military-specification super-highway connecting dispersed military bases, plants, installations and depots, rather than concentrating such facilities in one or two key sites in the country. This was a response to the fear that Chicago during the Second World War constituted a key target as the nation's railways all converged there: take out the Chicago railyards and transportation would be frozen. Chicago wasn't bombed, but the cold war and the threat of larger weapons with greater reach kept the threat alive.
Above is an image from 1939: oil transported by rail. Oil is essential to the prosecution of war. And as Al Gore said in an interview yesterday on CBC oil is oil, once it is on its way, as a commodity, it doesn't matter where it goes (I paraphrase). He pointed out that when Alberta bitumen gets to the Texas coast, it will be sold on, and that is the critical factor for approval of the Keystone pipeline. This isn't a great fit with the desire for energy security, which is how pipeline projects are sold to us – no more reliance on dodgy sources in the middle east or the Gulf of Mexico, North America can find and refine and consume its own product. Gore was suggesting that the raw bitumen is extracted in Canada, refined in Texas and then exported, a different proposition entirely.
On the map the Keystone pipeline appears to go right down I-29 to Kansas and then I-35 to the coast. I remember this route, there is a little jog on I-70 through Topeka to get from I-29 to I-35. So not as straight as the proposed pipeline route. Whatever. Perhaps rather than going through farmers' fields and disrupting their herds, woodlots and endangered species, the pipelines should go down the already disturbed landscape that is the Inter-state highway system. Those freeways are like culverts with huge gravel verges, surely a pipeline could fit alongside them. We might start to think of the interstate system not as a transportation network but an industrial-military network of channels carrying vital resources for the defence of the country. This actually seems more likely than the Interstate as a traveller's joy.