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Entries in culture (65)


surveillance 2

The Kooples advertising, France, 2011

The Kooples is a French ready to wear company, one of a number that use mass-marketing and manufacturing techniques (cheap off-shore labour for production, point of sale data collection) in combination with luxury market branding (good stores at good addresses, good design).  The image above is from a The Kooples advertisement.  It promotes couples shopping together, rather than shopping as an individual act.  Well fine, whatever.

What is striking about the photographs in this ad is that they are taken from the vantage point of a CCTV camera. And somehow this is made to seem okay.

Coincidently, I just finished reading The Dying Light by Henry Porter, written in 2009, about a very near future, maybe 2012 or so, in which security systems and the corporations that provide them are so embedded in government that they in fact run the government.  Since 9/11 so many civil liberties in so many western countries have been suspended because of anti-terrorist legislation that the right to privacy has been eroded to the point that there is none.  

This has long been Henry Porter's main theme.  After The Dying Light I quickly re-read Remembrance Day, written in 2000 before all this supposedly started. Cell phone technology was key to a complex plot to destabilise the Northern Ireland peace process.  As a document, this earlier book is very interesting: terrorism was still the purview of the IRA and Eastern Europe; Ireland could be understood in terms of retaliation and revenge, Eastern Europe in terms of greed for power.  Nine years later he writes The Dying LIght where terrorism is industrial, based on total surveillance of one's every action, and at the core of British government.  

My father, who was a great reader of a particularly addictive kind of action thriller where a captain (usually) in the British Army came up against all sorts of nefarious plots involving the abuse of power by the brass and/or the secret services, said that one reads novels to find out what is actually going on in the world, not history books, because novelists have a prescience gene; the act of writing is an act of gathering clues and thinking them into a future that the reader will recognise when they read it.  

So, as a reader, I look at The Kooples ad and see an acceptance of the state of surveillance. London has more CCTV cameras than all of Europe – a great help in the almost instantaneous arrest of 3000 people and the charging of a thousand in the August riots, which echoed similar riots in Paris in 2005.  A facebook group was set up to help the Metropolitan Police identify people caught on CCTV with 900,000 members.  Much was made of the tactics of the police, batons and water cannons, and of the causes of the unrest, little was made of how suspects were identified.

Charging anyone from the Vancouver riots is bogged down in too much surveillance footage, including voluntary surveillance from private cellphones.  The Canadian government has, for the first time, posted a most-wanted list on the web, inviting us as citizens to recognise and turn in these people, one of whom was apprehended almost immediately. We are being turned into informers.  And this role is being eased in to our society by images such as the one above, where being watched is normal, cool even.


Nick Cave's Soundsuits

Nick Cave, Soundsuit 1, socks, paint, dryer lint, wood, wool, 2006

Nick Cave, not the singer, but the artist from Missouri who was with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and is now director of the fashion program at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Above, is a Soundsuit.  Soundsuits' references are wide and deep, they are sculptures, costumes, installations.  They are assemblages, they make sounds, they refer historically to various African ceremonial garments.  They appear in performances and in art museums.

I lived in the middle of Kansas for a year, my first teaching gig, and spent a lot of time driving back country roads and finding installations of what was known as folk art then, outsider art now.  What they all had in common is their obsessive convictions and their marginal relationship to orthodox art and architecture – the Watts Towers in Los Angeles were not unlike Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in their mad-builder concentration.  

More recently, Tyree Guyton's Heidelberg project in Detroit has rejuvenated a despairing neighbourhood by saying, your house is yours, make it into something that is you.  And because this is an economically challenged place, such transformations inevitably are done with discarded and then re-found materials: the essence of folk art: all invention, no money.

What is interesting about this and where it comes back to Nick Cave and Soundsuits is that these projects cannot be included under the patronising rubric of outsider art: Nick Cave is firmly in the centre of American art production, and Heidelberg is a well-documented demonstration project of urban renewal that does not involve mass destruction.

Last week Gloria Steinem in an interview on Q  said it takes about a hundred years for a social change to really become an embedded part of the social fabric. Second wave feminism is about 40 years old and so, no, we are not in a post-feminist era, we still have 60 years of feminist struggle ahead.  The civil rights movement in the USA happened in the 1960s, just 50 years ago.  We are only now starting to find work that is  embedded in the orthodoxy of contemporary art discourse: it is not post-racial, for it is so very African American, an identity that is critical to the work.  But it is allowed to take its place within the discourse, and that is new.


Hal Foster on the Shard

But what does it mean?

Hal Foster, who recently wrote The Art-Architecture Complex, talks about Renzo Piano's Shard, a blindingly tall building next to London Bridge station.  It is a post 9/11 tower, cognisant of the National Institute Standards and Technology report into the collapse of the World Trade Centre towers.

That it might be used as a wayfaring marker to orient one's way through the city is such a weak point: this is the language of marketting and branding. London is so dense and its mega-buildings with nicknames so relatively new, one wonders how anyone found their way to work over the last 500 years.


the Wilton Diptych

The Wilton Diptych (c. 1395–99), tempera on wood, each section 57 cm × 29.2 cm. National Gallery, London

The Wilton Diptych has come up a few times recently, on tv and yesterday as I was reading Alan Bennett's Untold Stories.  It is a fairly mysterious small pair of paintings, just 12 x 11" each, hinged, a personal altarpiece for Richard II, painted near the end of his reign.  He was born in 1367 and became king at ten in 1377, deposed in 1399 and died at 33 in 1400 of starvation, the imprisoned last of the Plantagenets.  

Not sure why it keeps popping up in public view all of a sudden unless it is part of a general reclamation of the past that underpins European's problems with multiculturalism.  'They want to change our culture', or our way of life, or our laws, or whatever it is.  I'm sure the British don't mean the culture of binge drinking and football hooliganism, no, it is glorious culture, safely lodged in places such as the National Gallery.  Genius, the series on British scientists introduced by Stephen Hawking, Downton Abbey, the bloody History of Scotland — Britain is intent on reminding itself, on television, just what it was that made it Great.

The diptych is a lovely thing.  On the left panel, the boy king kneels, flanked by his patron saints Edward the Confessor and Edmund the Martyr, both once kings of England, and John the Baptist carrying the lamb of God.  Richard kneels on stoney ground, not unlike Sudbury.  
On the right panel is a phalanx of angels, all wearing Richard's emblem, a white hart lying on the ground.  They, and Mary, stand on a carpet of flowers, their blue robes are Marian blue, the blue of heaven.  Their crowns are English roses, their powerful wings a fractal of feathers on a wing.

Richard's earthly life is being sanctioned by something on a completely different scale.  This is the power of faith, earthly life may be hell, but there's an end to it, and a field of flowers will be achieved.  This encourages endurance; a lack of faith perhaps encourages impatience with an unsatisfactory life in the here and now.
Our touching faith in technology as a solution to the energy crisis is cast as a kind of achievable heaven, but on such a different scale that there will be many generations whose lives are sacrificed while we plan for a future none of us will see.


the north

Terminology, very confusing.  As a child I learned that the difficulty in laying down the trans-continental Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s was crossing muskeg, which swallowed tracks and even whole trains.  This is what happened in the north, which I assumed was in Northern Canada, somewhere in the Northwest Territories, and as with things you learn in grade 8, I never examined it again until this past week in Sudbury.  

It is not that muskeg isn't a treacherous thing, great wetlands that form where there isn't drainage: bogs, full of decaying plant material, trapped moose and train tracks which eventually form peat and I suppose, ultimately coal.  No, the other treacherous thing is the word north.

The northern imagination written about by Northrop Fry, Margaret Atwood, embodied in the Group of Seven and Georgian Bay is not the north I thought it was, The North, north of the provinces.  It is actually western Ontario.   
This came as something of a surprise, given that Sudbury sits at 46°N and has a growing zone of 4b.  Calgary, which no one would consider north at all, sits almost 600km north at 51°N in zone 2b.

In another instance, the Ring of Fire is generally known as the zone of earthquake and volcanic activity that rings the Pacific Ocean, where the Pacific tectonic plate grinds against the North American plate, the Eurasian, Australian and Nazca plates.  In the west we hear a lot about it, especially in Vancouver where all buildings have been essentially rebuilt to earthquake standards.

But in Ontario, Ring of Fire is a mine in the James Bay region where chromium was recently discovered and for which a smelter is planned, much to the purported benefit of First Nations in the area.  It is seen as a revitalisation of Ontario's mining interest and will be introducing Chinese development interests to Sudbury.   I only know this because I watched Steve Paikin's Agenda last night on TVO where there was a debate on whether industrial development or species protection was more important in the north.  Their north.  The wishy-washy conclusion was that we should have both, which means that mining and forestry will proceed with glee and with a few ameliorative concessions to fish, birds and migrating herds. Who do not vote.

It is a different country, Ontario.

Preparing the ground for flatland housing development. Lonely yellow hydrant awaits.  
Anyway, this train of thought was triggered by a new subdivision (above) on a ridge that looks down on Sudbury.  Downtown Sudbury has a problem with drainage, sitting as it does on the bedrock of the Canadian Shield.  Water sits in lakes or in muskeggy wetlands, (they'd be called sloughs on the prairie, bogs on the coast).  In older districts, streets and the little houses lining them in the bottom of the basin in which downtown Sudbury sits, regularly flood, the streets become culverts and swales, the water hasn't got a lot of options.  Thus, new development perched on ridges above the city has a certain appeal.  

Putting in services for new development requires, by convention, that they be underground.  But there is no underground here, it is solid rock, so ground is created in a cut and fill way.  The rock is blasted into rubble and shifted around to make flat sites for houses with the sewer and water safely installed beneath.  
There are a lot of similarities between Sudbury and Yellowknife, where new development does exactly this, rock blasted into coarse gravel for developer houses on cul-de-sacs one could find anywhere in Canada.  Aleta Fowler wrote about this in On Site 14: does one go to the north to live as if one was in a southern Canadian suburb?

Kenneth Hayes has introduced the term geo-cosmopolitanism to the discussion of urban development which, in its rough outlines means being aware of and taking into account the deep geo-logic of place.  The naming is important, we can put geo-cosmopolitanism in all its complexity onto a different way of looking at cities, more deeply rooted in their history, their industries, their place in the world. 



Musagetes Foundation held a Café in Sudbury last week, part of a series of investigations in how artistic thinking, practices and strategies can inform medium-sized cities whose industrial bases are either shifting or leaving.  Rejka in Croatia, Lecce in Italy, Sudbury in Canada.

The Big Nickel: didn't realise this had been a Centennial project, not authorised by the City, independently funded and built by the mining community and originally placed 36" outside Sudbury's city limits.  

The Big Nickel, 1963-4. 30' high, Sudbury OntarioN E Thing's 1969 photograph of an empty billboard in Sudbury.  This one is like the Stanfield fumble: he caught the football a dozen times in a row for a photo-op, fumbled one and of course that is the one they used.  The empty billboard is of course surreal, the empty frame, but only coincidently was it in Sudbury. 

Ian Baxter, N E Thing Company. Sign. Highway 17 near Sudbury, 1969
Sudbury Saturday Night, the girls at bingo, the boys are stinko, Inco temporarily forgotten.  Well, that bit was prescient.  
The Trans-Canada through Sudbury, a channel blasted out of the Shield, chemically blackened by ore-reduction processes that also produce slag heaps.

Kenneth Hayes has written a most amazing essay about why Sudbury even exists.  It is a history 2 billion years old, giant meteor hits the earth and splashes nickel, which may have been in the meteor but may have been deep in earth's core, into a great ring.  Nickel is what hardens steel for stainless steel.  Confusingly, much of the ore is smelted in Norway.  
There are other minerals, copper - lovely pale green river-run pebbles on gravel roads, and iron staining cliffs red when they aren't already black, all this found accidentally when the CPR was going through in the 1880s.  

However, mining requires less people these days, Inco is now Vale (Brazil), Falconbridge is now Xstrata (Switzerland), at the base of the Creighton Mine is a neutrino observatory, there is a new university, Laurentian, soon to have a new architecture school, there is a medical centre with a cancer research component that serves the Sudbury region, there are lakes, there is a fierce re-greening program and there is a hell of a lot of civic pride that appears to rest mainly on the ability to be in a canoe, on a lake, 10 minutes after leaving home.

The thing about stereotypes is that they can act as a protective shield.  The rest of the country can dismiss Sudbury, lodged as it is somewhere in Stomping Tom's 1970s, meanwhile Sudbury has been extremely busy developing itself for better or for ill, almost without attention.  

The swimming-pool blue of a tailings pond. Sudbury 2011


palm print identification


a handful of drives

Polly Hill. Driving map of Santa Cruz, 1912

There is a nice write up of this hand map on Strange Maps.  It reminds me that there was a time when people got into cars and drove around, looking at things, usually on Sunday afternoons.  Let's go out for a drive!  Who today in their right mind would think this was a treat?  but it used to be.

Driving has become such a chore: too fast, too much road surface, too noisy, an A to B experience, preferrably without incident.  No time to look at scenery, no stopping for gas and finding a courteous attendant, in fact little courtesy on the road itself.  It is all such a struggle. 



Loha Pol, Mehrangarh Fort, Rajasthan

Not sure how sati could operate as a form of colonial resistance. Although sati was banned by the British in 1829, when in 1834 the maharaja of Rajasthan, Man Singh, died his 15 wives left their hand prints at the inner gate to the Mehrangarh Fort before they laid themselves on his funeral pyre.  Many would have been children, unfairly widowed at 10 years old, facing either sati or a solitary life dressed in white, dependent on charity, working as menials.

Roop Kanwar committed sati in 1987, a voluntary act that pointed out a serious clash of values between urban India and traditional village practice and lead to a trail where eleven people were charged with glorification of sati.  

It seems all of a part with purdah, the burkha, child marriage, honour killings– things incomprehensible to me, child of the late 20th century west that I am.  Feminist theory claims that empowerment comes from 'owning' such things, finding power in being scorned and reviled, viz the current furore around the slut walk.  In theory perhaps, but in practice, one needs to live several centuries to see the benefits.


Vivienne Koorland

Vivienne Koorland. Close Your Little Eyes, 2010. Oil on stitched canvas 31" x 27" inches (79 x 68 cm) Collection the artist

Vivienne Koorland works in New York, is currently showing in London at East Central Gallery and grew up in South Africa, leaving it before the end of apartheid.  Her mother was a hidden and smuggled child in Poland during WWII, ending up in a Jewish orphans home in South Africa in 1948.
Koorland's work is characteristically complex where everything from the kind of marks made, the material they are made with, the canvas or burlap or bookcovers they are made upon is heavy with historical memory, from her own conflicted childhood in Africa to her mother's loss of childhood and family to her own exile and homesickness for an impossible childhood that cannot be revisited.  
It is not just Germany, or just the holocaust, or just apartheid, or just the unfairness, or just the loss of material goods, or talents, or love; it is all these things, constantly jostling on the crowded historical surfaces of her work.  Letters, writing, ledgers, sheet music, popular songs, maps – they all lie together.  

Her working method reuses her own rejected drawings and paintings, burlap rice bags are stitched together to make a full canvas, their printed labels worked into the content.  Her work is constantly being remade and re-referenced.  
Although nominally about the past, it is the present that is often discussed: a magnificent gold map of Africa is so simple, yet so complex in reference to gold mining, to a shimmering beautiful potential and a hateful process of extraction.  This is work that sinks in complexity rather than skimming on a too easily grasped surface. 

Vivienne Koorland. Gold Africa, 2010. oil and pigment on stitched burlap. 68.5 x 61 inches (27 x 24 cm) Private Collection, London



The Great Dust heap at Kings Cross. Photograph: Wellcome Images/Wellcome Library, LondonThere is a new exhibition at the Wellcome Library about dirt and our changing views of cleanliness.  A very good write-up by Christopher Turner is on today's Guardian website.

Dirt is also the theme for the upcoming Fall issue of On Site (see the call for articles here). 

The exhibition at the Wellcome, a medical library, is based on Virginia Smith's book, Dirt: the filthy reality of everyday life, a historic survey of our attitudes to dirt and propriety that affects every corner of our dusty lives, our buildings and our cities. 

Living on the prairies is characterised by a fine black dust that blows off the land and settles on windowsills even at the heart of the city.  One is always dusting, sweeping, shaking out mops.  Our streets in Calgary are washed once a year, a great production of fleets of street sweepers, water sprinklers and then another pass by the sweepers.  There isn't a lot of rain here, so the streets and consequently the air are dusty again almost immediately.  Now, on the coast, where it rains all the time and one has to work hard to find dust, even fine dirt in the gravel bed that is the back vegetable garden, these streets are washed 4 or 5 times a year. 

It seems that this is an issue of perception.  On the prairies, dust, gumbo, mud, grey film, clouds of dust off unpaved roads and city alleys – that's okay.  Blowing grit on city streets that gets in your eyes, your hair, your collar – no problem evidently, until you go to a very clean city where the sidewalks are clean, the air is rain-washed, your white dog is actually white, then you realise how slapdash the cleanliness factor can be elsewhere. 


cab calloway and minnie the moocher

Right, it is the beginning of a dreary month, a storm is raging outside, the ferries can't run, the east is blanketed in snow, the international news is truly ghastly and Gillian Findlay's documentary last night on police actions during the G8/G20 in Toronto last summer was altogether too shocking. 

Here is a little diversion:

A rather more adult version of Dorothy and Toto.

Amazing to think this sort of thing was standard children's viewing in the 1950s.  From 4-5 each afternoon was old cartoons, serialised David Niven movies and Gene Autry.

This explains everything about the baby boom lot.


Kaltwasser and Kobberling's Jellyfish Theatre

Kaltwasser and Kobberling. Jellyfish Theatre, 2010. South London
Jonathan Glancy wrote yesterday about this project in the Guardian, with a quick survey of informal building practices from found materials, from the precision of Walter Segal and the eccentricity of handmade houses in the 1970s to more current informal architecture in European cities.

A theatre out of pallets and scrap wood, ephemeral, shaggy; a political and social project.  Kaltwasser and Kobberling's projects appear to be quite loved and propose an alternative to, as Glancy says, 'more public places and shopping malls'.

Here, and I can't see why it would be any different in Europe, building is so regulated and so narrowly conceived, that the thought of alternatives to our increasingly tedious urban environment is both fragile and socially provocative.  It speaks to an intolerance of any kind of alternative ideas for everyday life.  Propriety is a powerful social force, from Mrs Grundyism to repressive community associations that pass visually illiterate judgement on all new buildings proposed for their neighbourhoods. 

We seem to be out of love with things that can be valued for their materials, or their cleverness, or their inherent beauty.  Instead we seem to love brands and all that they represent.  City branding is a particularly hot topic. Calgary is abandoning its previous brand, 'Calgary, the heart of the new west' underlined by a crayon cowboy hat, and has hired Gensler Los Angeles to come up with something better, which is going to be, evidently, 'Canada's most dynamic city'.  As long as we think of a city or a building, or a house or a pair of shoes as a brand, it doesn't really matter what it actually is: the thing becomes invisible behind the brand.  

Will there be room in Canada's most dynamic city for a theatre made out of pallets?  Um. I don't think so, but we do have an enormous new Holt Renfrew, dazzling and white, and just like the Vancouver one. 


structural illiteracy

apartment entrance, southwest CalgaryAnyone, no matter how little formal schooling they have, realises that the equation 2 + 2 = 5.37 does not look right.  Yes, we were taught, but taught so young that simple arithmetic becomes common sense. 

Could we not teach basic visual literacy, also at a young age, so that when anyone sees the picture above (never mind the people who originally drew it up, bought the materials and built it), common sense would tell them that this simply cannot be right?


botswana: the only way to play guitar


iSchoolAfrica: Soccer's offside rule explained


João Luis Carrilho da Graça: Ponte Pedonal, Carpinteira

Fernando Guerro, FG+SG. Ponte Pedonal, Covilha. see reportage 403 when you get to the website.

It is odd which architects in other countries come to our attention and which don't.  João Luis Carrilho da Graça has a huge reputation in Portugal, many awards, a long and stellar career of relentlessly minimal sculptural modernist work.  Websites are full of dramatic photos of shooting white wall planes, hard blue skies.  The work of Alvaro Siza, who has a much larger critical reputation outside Portugal, appears almost hand-made in comparison: shaped and trogdylitic, lots of saudade, absent in Carrilho da Graça.

However, FG+SG sent us this da Graça footbridge over the Carpinteira near Covilha a little while ago: new photographs, the bridge was designed in 2003 and finished in 2009.   It is a 220m pedestrian bridge, centre piece perpendicular to the stream bed and valley, the two end sections determined by anchoring points.   Hard to find much hard information on the engineering, materials or constructions but I did find this news clip which appears to discuss the controversial nature of the project:

As I write this, I'm also listening to a radio program about Louise Bourgeois who died a couple of days ago.  She says 'all my work is suggestive, not explicit.  The explicit is boring'.  This footbridge is very explicit, its engineering is beautifully calculated to just draw a brave line across the valley — and there it sits, nothing ulterior or mysterious about it.  One might wonder if this is the ultimate limitation of the modernists, that in the past 30 years of layered signification in urban environments and in architecture, this kind of minimalism ultimately says too little to sustain a conversation beyond its engineering. 

The question is perhaps why we have asked our architecture to speak eloquently about the human condition, rather than just containing, with some sort of grace, the human condition. 

Fernando Guerro, FG+SG. Ponte Pedonal Covilha, 2010



Everett Baker. Joe Murray Family, 10 July 1954. Shaunavon, Saskatchewan

The Saskatchewan Communications Network (SCN) has been axed by the Saskatchewan's Wall government, saving $5 million a year.  SCN is one of a little clutch of provincial arts networks that comes with the basic package on Canadian satellite tv services: Knowledge Network in BC, TVOntario in Ontario and SCN.  Once there was Access in Alberta, radio and tv, but the Klein government divested themselves of cultural programming in the 1990s.  Access TV now is just a feeder for a lot of American programming via Global.  CKUA the radio part when independent, and survives still as an alternative music station. 

It seems today that with Saskatchewan entering a new era of huge prosperity through its oil revenues that $5 million a year is a very small sum to support such a good station.  I don't live in Saskatchewan, but I watch SCN a lot.  It has the kind of programming one used to hear about in the Netherlands, where little one-minute to five-minute gaps between programs are filled with shorts about poetry, about craft, about native grannies telling stories, about wind blowing across wheat fields. 

One of the first things I saw on it, years ago, was the photographs of Everett Baker, who, in his job with Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, travelled all over the province and took thousands of Kodachrome slides of all the people he came across between 1937 and the 1970s.  They are presented without voice-over, just as the images with music and run once or twice a week, always different, always fresh.  It is the Saskatchewan we knew about where all the older men looked like Tommy Douglas and mothers wore odd glasses.  Today it is all terribly poignant, given the changes Saskatchewan has seen over the last thirty years.  The grain elevators are gone, most of the towns, farms have been consolidated and they have a hard-line government in the Klein/Harper mode. 

SCN isn't all nostalgia and harvest suppers.  It also runs Rabbit Falls, a powerful drama series about contemporary reserve life, quite a bit on the RCMP and how they train, and a lot about Saskatchewan's contribution to Canada's military.  Oh, and it also showcased, for many years, Landscape as Muse, about the relationship between Canadian artists and Canadian land.  This is now running on Knowledge. 

If a subsidised communications network does not exist to show such material, where will it be shown?  Look at the once-vital Access Network in Alberta.  You can watch any amount of American garbage on it, but nothing about the history of Alberta, or cultural producers in Alberta or First Nations life.  Subsidy vs market is an old and tired argument, not worth revisiting one would think.  But it is an argument still current in provincial legislatures where they can give culture the chop with no warning, no foresight and no regret.  

Everett Baker. Gillie Thorarinson's Homes, 7 September 1950. Climax, Saskatchewan,


artists in small towns

Hill Strategies Research sends reports every so often on the status of the arts and artists in Canada: how many are there, where do they live, how much do they make.  Always the results are surprising and seem to confound general expectations. 

The study that came out today is about how many of our artists live in small and rural towns: as many as in Toronto and Montréal combined.  Vancouver, with the highest concentration of artists (2.35%) of the large cities, would rank only 21st among small municipalities.  Previous Hill Strategies studies have pointed out the sub-poverty income levels of Canadian artists, so this might have something to do with where they live.
47% of all Canada's artisans and craftspersons live in small towns, 35% of our visual artists do.  Cape Dorset is the centre of Inuit carving and printmaking.  West Bolton is in the Eastern Townships with 10% of its labour force in arts occupations.  Denman and Hornby Islands off the east coast of Vancouver Island have been intense centres of island crafts, arts and music since the 1960s.

Lou Lynn, of Monday's post, lives in Winlaw, BC in the quite remote Slocan Valley.  The work isn't all rural wood carving and fiddle music, it is as sophisticated as the work seen in urban centres.

Since the Massey Report of 1949-51, the arts have been seen as the way to confirm and support the development of an independent Canadian identity. It is surprising that so much of that identity is still investigated, and developed, in rural Canada.  


small countries

Teemu Kurkela. Finland Pavilion, Shanghai Expo 2010

Expos are strange things.  What are they for?  The Seville Expo was a chance to present post-Franco Spain to the world.   It seems that the Shanghai Expo is an opportunity for the world to present itself to China.  Each pavilion struggles to something about the identity, the ambitions, the intentions of its country.

Finland's pavilion, by Teemu Kurkela of JKMM Architects, is a serene bowl floating in a lake.  Minimal, calm, the sky looms large.

The Netherlands pavilion is an antic figure-eight street of little houses.  It looks much more interesting on site than in the presentation rendering, which looks absolutely mad.  John Körmeling is the architect; on his website is a left hand column of conceptual ideas often for highway treatments -- sections of roads that  float off into the sea, etc.  The right hand side shows the Expo project, called Happy Street.

One does get a sense of the intensity of the Netherlands: it has 16.5 million on 33,900 sq km, the size of Nova Scotia.  The open landscape of Finland has 5.4 million people on 338,000 sq km, half the size of Saskatchewan.  These two countries are small in area and population.  They both seem to have a clear idea of how to do a pavilion that says something significant about themselves. 

Is Canada too big?  I ask this rhetorically, as our pavilion says nothing that I can recognise about this country.  

John Körmeling. The Netherlands Pavilion, Shanghai Expo 2010