Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Russia in four years?

The Russians were everywhere in Vancouver.  Not just because they're a big Olympic team and had lots of athletes and their fans wandering the streets.  But also because the next Winter Olympic City is Sochi, Russia

The Sochi Organizing Committee was out in full force.  They took over the entire Telus World of Science building to get the whole planet excited about visiting Russia.  And I have to say, it worked.  Suddenly I'm wondering if I couldn't make the trip to Sochi in four years.  Here's a photo of the transformed World of Science building.

There are several reasons to go. First of all, the weather looks amazing.  It might even be warmer than Vancouver, with average highs well into the 50s and lows in the 40s.  (One day last week it was 73 degrees.) And Sochi looks set to build some amazing facilities for the games, complete with a rail system to carry visitors to the snowy mountains above the city.  Here are a couple of views of the model on view at Sochi House in Vancouver.

Let's hope the Gods of the Olympics smile on me in four years and I find myself on another Olympic adventure.

Monday, February 22, 2010

More from the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Yes, the Vancouver Art Gallery is home to several events of the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad.  But it's also one of Vancouver's premiere art centers.  And while we went to the gallery for the Olympiad exhibits, we also spent time in the galleries that house works from the museum's permanent collection.

I love museums that have a strong point of view.  It's obvious that the Vancouver Art Gallery focuses on photography and video installations.  They have impressive collections in both categories. I've never been to a museum that presents video installations in such an elegant way.  I'm not always a fan of video, but it's hard not to like art that is so lovingly curated. Unfortunately video doesn't make for good blog posts.  So I'll focus on other works in the Vancouver Art Gallery permanent collection.

I'm guessing that Every Building on 100 West Hastings Street (2001, chromogenic print) by Vancouver artist Stan Douglas is an homage to Ed Ruscha's 1996 work, Every Building on the Sunset Strip. Whatever it is, it's a stunning photograph.  The perspective is nearly perfect even though it's the result of photo foolery, taking pictures of individual buildings and bringing them together in a single, massive image.  

Another brilliant photographic work is Selected Works from Vancouver Apartments (1997-1998, chromogenic prints) by Vancouver-based artist Chris Gergley.  This work present image after nearly-identical image of the entrances to mid-century apartments.  I'd love to see all the images from this work. This is a photographer that appeals to my love of repetition, particularly when the repeated items are so different.

I didn't realize that Jeff Wall is a Vancouver native.  But now that I know that, it makes sense that the Vancouver Art Gallery has a nice trio of Wall photographs.  I loved this oversized image that felt almost like a window cut into the gallery and opening onto Vancouver.

I can't leave this post without showing two works by Vancouver artist Ken Lum.  First is Panda (2007, lacquer sheet, acrylic paint, and aluminum). 

And then there is this magical work, Cetology (2002, plastic chairs).  Yes, it's made with plastic lawn chairs. How can you not love this?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Secret Code: Part II.

I've already mentioned several works at Code 1, part of the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad.  But there were a few other installations I wanted to note.

First is  Wang Yuyang's Artificial Moon. This giant globe is constructed of over 4,000 industrial light bulbs greeted visitors as they entered this warehouse turned art space.  And it was a dramatic greeting.  I particularly liked the way the light bulbs seemed to mimic the mottled surface of the moon. (Thanks for the photo Felix.)

For sheer art installation fun, it's tough to beat Ken Rinaldo's Paparazzi Bots.  These robots are wired to identify a person then work tirelessly to follow that person and take as many pictures as possible.  It's pretty dang fun to be stalked by a robotic camera.  Here's one robot that took a liking to me.

No I'm not dancing the Flamenco, I'm just trying to take a picture of me as seen by one of the Paparazzi Bots.

Supposedly these photos get posted to the Web.  But I've been following the photo stream on Flickr and I haven't been able to figure out how they are posted.  But I'll keep watching.

If you long for the boom box culture of the 1980s, then Foreign Voices, Common Stories (Ghettoblaster) by Canadian artist James Phillips might be for you.  This installation celebrates a design sensibility that seems to have no place in our modern, smaller-is-always-better world.  These machines make modern music lovers look like a bunch of wimps, with our namby-pamby iPods and itty-bitty ear buds.  (Although I did notice that the actual sound coming from the boom boxes was powered by iPods attached to the ghetto blasters.)  Each boom box was equipped with a motion detector so as you walked through the installation, the whole thing came to life with a variety of voices telling stories from around the world about the cultural significance of the ghetto blaster. We take portable music for granted because it's just so easy.  But there was a time, when you had to commit to taking your music with you.  And this installation perfectly captured that sentiment.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Olympic bodies.

The Olympics don't just bring sport to a city, they bring an array of other exciting activities including those that are part of the Cultural Olympiad.  And the Vancouver Art Gallery located at Robson Square (a major downtown Olympic space) offered several presentations that were part of the celebration.  I already mentioned Michael Lin's spectacular Modest Vail that adorned the outside of the building. Inside, the gallery hosted a temporary exhibition that was part of the Cultural Olympiad called Visceral Bodies.  (Interestingly, there was another temporary exhibit called Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Man that wasn't part of the Cultural Olympiad.  It featured anatomical drawings from da Vinci's journals and was a perfect intro to the more abstract nature of Visceral Bodies.)

Visceral Bodies was a first rate show with some first rate artists who explored the changing perceptions of the human body, often contemplating how science has changed our ideas about ourselves.  Many of the works were surprisingly powerful and I was caught off guard by how much emotion they inspired.  The exhibit lived up to its name by forcing some truly visceral reactions.

Here are just a few of the many stand out works.  (Note: Photography was not allowed.  So these photos are taken from the Internet and do not represent installation views.)

The show featured two works by one of my favorite artists, Marc Quinn.  Both were spectacular.  First up, Carl Whittaker - Amiodarone, Aspirin, Ciclosporin (Heart Transplant) (2005, polimer wax, drugs).  As is frequently the case with Quinn's work, this cast of an actual heart transplant patient asks lots of questions about the thin line between life and death.  The sculpture is cast with a mixture of wax and the drugs that help to keep the patient alive.  And while the cast was made from a living person, the final scultpture evokes death.

Also on display was Quinn's Early Self Portrait (2007, rose marble).  There were lots of things that make this work interesting.  Quinn is known for making self portraits including a work cast from his own blood and maintained in a frozen state.  The marble sculpture at the Vancouver Art Gallery responds to some of the artist's earlier work.  Several years ago Quinn created a series of marble portraits of athletes with missing limbs.  The works elicited a fair amount of outrage and disgust.  As a response, Quinn created this sculpture created from actual MRI images of a developing fetus.  The strange creature has yet to develop arms and legs. I was surprised at how much this looked like a Cubist sculpture.

Another artist known for making casts of his own body is Antony Gormley. His large installation works can feature hundreds of casts of himself.  Other works use the artist's body as a starting point but then abstract the information to the point of non-recognition.  Drift II (2007, 2mm square section stainless steel bar) is one such work.

One of my favorite works in the show was Memoria I, 24.10.07 (2007, calcium sulfate with cianacrilate application, resin base, and stainless still supports) by Mexican artist Gabriel de la Mora.  I knew nothing about Mora before this show but I'll definitely be on the look out for more of his work in the future.  This family portrait consists of exact replicas of the family members' skulls.  The skulls are made by rendering in three dimensions the MRI images taken of each family members' skull. Mora even got permission to exhume the bodies of his dead grandfather and still born sister to complete the portrait.  It was hauntingly beautiful.

I'll mention one last work that was so disturbing I couldn't experience it as intended by the artist. Teresa Margolles is another Mexican artists whose work I didn't know.  Her art explores the unnecessary and rampant violence that has overtaken her country.  Vaho (No. 1 - 3) (2006, acrylic, organic material) is a work that begins with the autoposy of a Mexican murder victim.  The art on display in Vancouver consisted of acrylic boxes splattered with organic material released during the autopsy.  Near these boxes was a pair of headphones where visitors could listen to the sounds of the autopsy victim being cut open.  I couldn't bring myself to put on the headphones. I suppose some might find this work gratuitous.  But sometimes, the only way to break through the noise of modern life and get people to pay attention to the attrocities that surround us, is to shock. And few things are better suited to accomplish that than art.

Big laughs in Vancouver.

Sometimes, my travelling companions get sick of me dragging them to art works.  But I couldn't leave Vancouver without a visit to Yue Minjun's recently installed public sculpture, A-mazing Laughter found in the West End on English Bay.  Minjun is famous for paintings and sculptures that are repeating self portraits of the artist laughing.  And Vancouver's version  is a maze of giant bronze Minjun's in spectacular laughing poses.

The sculpture is a hit with locals and tourists alike.  And you can see why.  It's tough to be sad when you're surrounded by so much funniness.  But I'm not sure humor is the sole intent of Minjun's work.  For me, the artist's imagery offers a more sinister statement.  The frozen smiles seem like masks, hiding all of the things we choose not to reveal.  And usually those things are a lot less pleasant than this brilliant bit of public sculpture.

Here are a few photos:

And here's a video walk through the maze:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Meet the Inukshuk.

The inspiration for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic logo is more than just a friendly figure.  It's an homage to an ancient symbol of the Inuit culture, the Inukshuk.  These stacked stones were traditionally used as landmarks and navigational aids.  They also represent northern hospitality and friendship.  Giant versions of these were created just for the olympics.  But others have been around for a long time.  And they seemed to show up everywhere.  I fell in love with their quirky charm.  So here are a few photographs in tribute to the smile-inducing Inukshuk.

This was created for Expo 86 and was moved to English Bay in Vancouver's West End in 1987.  

This is the creature that greets visitors as they enter Whistler village.

Here are some impromptu Inukshuk stacks we found near BC Stadium, location of the opening ceremonies.

I bought this mini Inukshuk in Whistler.  Sure it's a cheap tourist souvenir but every time I see it, it makes me smile.

And I found this stone stacking game at the Vancouver Art Gallery's gift shop.  I can hardly wait to have friends over for an Inukshuk game night.

Here's a bad idea.

There was a lot to love at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. But there were a few things that were a lot less likable.  Like who came up with the idea to put the olympic cauldron behind an unattractive chain link fence.  Yes, that's right, the Vancouver Olympic Cauldron was behind a blockade of concrete barriers and chain link.  Don't believe me?  Here are a few photos:

See what I mean.  That really makes for a nice photo op, eh? I saw a news story that said VANOC had worked all night to move the chain link fence closer to the flame because they'd gotten so many complaints.  But, IT'S STILL BEHIND A CHAIN LINK FENCE!  That's just a little too ghetto for my taste.

Of course, if you very carefully positioned your lens through the holes in the fence, you could get an unobstructed view of the cauldron.

I get that maybe you need to worry about people getting too close to the flames.  But when you're spending billions of dollars on the games, surely you can come up with a more elegant solution than concrete and chain link.  Combine this with the fact that the indoor cauldron at the opening ceremonies didn't work and I'm giving Vancouver a solid D- in Olympic Cauldrons.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book five: The Unnamed.

One of my favorite debut novels in recent years is And Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. It was a book that surprised with its ingenious writing style and modern-day tale that spoke directly to the realities of office life in the twenty-first century.

So you can imagine how excited I was to read Ferris's new book, The Unnamed. This book tells the story of a wealthy lawyer (Tim) who suffers from an undiagnosable condition that sometimes forces him to walk eldlessly, unable to stop until finally his body gives out and he falls into a deep sleep wherever he is at the end of his days-long walk. Dealing with the ramifications of his condition are his wife and daughter. They struggle to maintain their relationships as Tim leaves for days, weeks, even years on his uncontrollable walking excursions.

While this book is beautifully written, it certainly doesn't have the literary interest of And Then We Came to the End. And neither does The Unnamed  have the mundane yet thoroughly engaging story; instead, it seems stuck in the mundane. I've heard some suggest that Tim is not a redeeming character but I thought he was quite honorable when he needed to be. I just thought he was boring.

And speaking of boring, the endless walking scenes grew monotonous fast. This is a short book that reads long, mainly due to the constant descriptions of unstoppable walking and the horrific effects it has on the body.

I had a hard time believing this book.  It's hard to buy the medical condition. At one point Tim's daughter suggests that maybe her dad is crazy.  And by the end of the book, I'm in her camp.  Maybe Tim and the main character from Cormack McCarthy's book The Road should get together. They could take endless, painful, depressing walks together. I just hope they don't expect me to read about it. (No, I wasn't a big fan of The Road either, sorry Oprah.)

Here's where my book rating system gets a little difficult.  Eventhough the writing is topnotch, (and I will absolutely read the next book from Joshua Ferris) I just can't recommend this book to friends.  So I'm giving it my first ever Burn It rating.  Sorry Joshua.

Ladies and gentlemen, the world's cutest accordion player.

I hesitate to make this post because in doing so, I admit that I like accordion music.  Yes, I often watch the Lawrence Welk show on PBS.  The very first TV shows that my Tivo recommended for me were some totally obscure, public-access cable shows that featured nothing but local polka bands filled with accordions.  And is there anything better than an Argentinian Tango played on a melancholy accordion? So it was with some delight that I ran into this band (I wish I knew their name) while I was at Whistler.

Sure the front man thought he was the star.  But he couldn't hold a candle to the sparkling charm, the devastating smile, the chic style, the casual good looks, and the musical perfection of the accordion player. And that's why I can say with some confidence, that whoever he is, he's the world's cutest accordion player.

Here's a video that can't possibly do him justice.

Of course, just to remind me that accordion players have a long way to go to get to cool, this was the entertainment at the Portland airport on the way home.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Secret Code.

As part of the Cultural Olympiad, Vancouver offers it's Code series of art.  The series takes place in four locations, three in the real world and one in the cyber world.  I have several posts planned from this series starting with these three videos.  A lot of the Code works involve the viewer and that was certainly the case at Code 1. (By the way, you have to wait in line for everything at the Olympics, except for Code1.  This was held in a warehouse well outside the main olympic areas.  There was almost no one there which made for a great break from all the crowds. Or it just may be a sign that I like the stuff that's really boring.)  So here are a few video reviews of the Code 1 artists.

Video one: Condemned Bulbes by Artificiel.
This Canadian group of artists works in new mediums.  In Vancouver, they filled a black room with low hanging, large light bulbs that glowed and buzzed at random times.  Or at least it seemed random at first.  The sound for this show was amazing.  When I first entered the room I was sure the buzzing was a result of the light bulbs lighting.  But as the sounds slowly became more musical, I realized that this was some very careful planning on the part of the artists.

Video two: Akousmaflore by Scenocosme
This French artist group presented an indoor garden of living, sonic plants.  I loved this.  It was really fun and somehow made me feel more connected to the plant world. Maybe the Swiss are right a plants do have rights.  I don't know how they did this, but when you gently touched the leaves of hanging house plants, you heard various jungle-like sounds.  I want my house plants to do this.

Video three: Dune 4.0 by Daan Roosegaarde
This work was shown inside a pitch black, recycled shipping container.  You walked along a path and brushed against things that were like reeds with LEDs on the ends.  The more interaction with the reeds, the more light and sound that were generated.  It was so much fun I did it twice.  And I love this video.  If you listen closely, you can hear Felix run into the wall.

Only in Vancouver.

Sometimes, a city like Vancouver can feel a little too much like home.  There are the Home Depots and the Walmarts.  The Gaps and the McDonalds.  There just doesn't seem to be anything different.  And then you discover the Japadog.  What's a Japadog?  It's a Japanese style hot dog that you can only get in Vancouver.  And they are wildly popular with locals and celebrities alike, which means you have wait in a long line to get one.  (I've been told the lines are just as long even when the olympics aren't in town.  The hots dogs are sold from a street cart.  Oh, forget it, it's easier if I explain it with photographs.

You gotta wait if you want a Japadog because the lines are long:

Even after you wait in line to order, you still have to wait in another line to get your food.

And here's the food.  We ordered an Okonomi (a bratwurst with fried cabbage and bonito flakes), an edamame Oroshi (a hotdog filled with meat and Edamame garnished with with daikon), and an Ume (a bratwurst with onions and some sort of magic Japanese sauce). 

I love a great travel adventure, especially when it involves street food.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A floral print big enough for the olympics.

Every olympic city wants to put its best foot forward and that means showcasing more than sport.  So there are plenty of artistic endeavors going on here in Vancouver.  Many of them are part of the Cultural Olympiad.  Take Michael Lin's A Modest Vail which is anything but modest. Lin takes his inspiration from Taiwanese textiles, only he makes them larger than life in beautifully painted murals.  For Vancouver, he created three huge murals that cover one entire side of the Vancouver Art Gallery (which hosted other Cultural Olympiad events that I'll post about later).  I don't generally go for floral paintings.  But Lin proved that paintings of flowers can be something completely unexpected.  I'll stop talking about it and just show a couple of photos.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Speaking Canadian

Who knew? In the States, one drinks a bloody Mary. In Canada, one orders a classic Caesar.

Inside the OC.

I can now say two things about opening ceremonies; I've performed in one (as a tree in the 2002 games in Salt Lake City) and I've seen one live right here in Vancouver for the 2010 games.

Maybe the most interesting thing about experiencing the ceremonies live is all the stuff you don't see on the TV broadcasts.  That includes good and bad.  Some of the bad? The ordeal of just getting there--starting with figuring out how to get tickets and planning a trip to the host city.  But also getting there the day of the event.  We left our hotel more than three hours before the ceremonies started just to make sure we could manage all the crowds, get through security, and be in our seats for the audience rehearsal.

But that's where the good starts; the audience rehearsal.  That's when you start to realize that this is going to be one great big party.  I will say that the Vancouver audience didn't pay close enough attention and kind of screwed up several of the planned visual effects, particularly the candles during K. D. Lange's brilliant performance.  It's too bad because I think the planned effect would have been really cool.

I gotta give Vancouver props for being the first city to have to perform an opening ceremonies after Beijing.  And if you can't dazzle them with a cast of perfectly-synced millions (maybe not literally but it seemed like it), then dazzle them with your technology.  And I have to say the projection technologies used for this show were amazing.  I watched the rebroadcast later and the projections looked cool on TV, but nothing like they did in person.  The whales were amazing. And I loved the kid running on the wheat fields; it was like something from the mind of Salvador Dali or a Magritte painting.

I could go on but instead I'll share a few photos and very short videos from the event.

The entire audience wore these uncomfortable ponchos.  But the end result was cool since we served as another projection surface.  (Side note:  This really doesn't feel like a winter olympics.  The weather is so spring-like that I might call them the Vancouver Spring Games.  But inside a covered stadium and under these hot ponchos we could have been at a summer olympics.)

K.D. Lange was amazing live.  And since we seemed to be seated in the lesbian section of the opening ceremonies, there was some extra enthusiasm for the performer.  The way the candles were supposed to work? The projection on the floor was supposed to slowly creep out from K.D.'s stage and then turn into our lit candles when it hit the audience and then slowly spread up the sides of the entire stadium.  But people just couldn't wait to turn on their candles.  Too bad.

And now a couple of videos.  And you'll have to excuse my bad video quality but it was really hard to film when there is so much going on.  Maybe the best part of being at the OC live is how crazy it is in the crowd.  TV doesn't even come close to capturing how great the live sound is (it almost sounded fake on the rebroadcast) and the crowd sound is totally overwhelming.  Particularly when we were all beating our cardboard drums as directed by the audience leaders:

And give a crowd of some 60,000 people LED flashlights with different covered filters and the effects are absolutely mesmerizing.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Die snow mommy, die.

I just saw someone rip the guts out of a snowman.

I went to a Vancouver Cultural Olympiad performance called Nix. It was held in a snow theater by Lost Lake near Whistler. During the performance, the girl character thrusts her hand into the guts of a snow woman and literally rips out her frozen entrails. Later the girl pulls out the snowy creature's blue and frozen heart. All because the girl has issues with her mom.

There was also a tuba that belched flames as it was played. Oh, and a woman who was 10.5 months pregnant. And an arsonist who can't start fires anymore because in a post apocalyptic world it's just too cold.

And it was cold. But I guess it has to be when your entire set is built from ice and snow. At least there were sheepskin seat covers and white fleece blankets to help fight the chill.

Too bad they didn't allow photography. I guess we can't have such violent images of snow-person mutilation getting out in the world. Who knows what might happen?

On the road to Whistler.

Today I'm headed to Whistler to check out the sights. The drive is spectacular even with the rainy, misty weather. I do wish the Vancouver Olympic committee could catch a break with the weather. Because the rain and the warmer-than-normal temperatures aren't helping anyone.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Here's a sneak peek of the audience kit that will feature in the opening ceremonies.

Just another prop

Here I am wearing my sexy olympic poncho. But that's what makes all those cool audience projections work.

Making friends in Vancouver

I decided to dust off some old SLC2002 olympic pins and wear them. They're already helping to break the ice. A charming Chinese woman at will call saw them and asked to trade. So in exchange for a saddle pin, I got a cool pin with the Chinese and Canadian flags and the Vancouver logo.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

That was close.

I just tried to screw up my entire olympic trip by bringing my expired passport to the airport. I had to run home and get my current passport. But I'm on the plane to Portland. Let's hope I'm more aware the rest of the trip.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Vancouver here I come.

That's right. I'm on my way to Vancouver for the 2010 winter olympics. And I'm hoping to make blog posts on the go. So this is my test e-mail post from my phone. I thought it might also be good to test-post a photo. I chose a quick snapshot of a remnant from the 2002 winter olympics right here in Salt Lake City. Stay tuned for more from Vancouver.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Book four: 36 Arguments for the Existence of God

My friend Kara often wonders, "Why can't the believers and the non-believers all just get along?"  Rebecca Goldstein's new novel 36 Arguments for the Existence of God seems to ask similar questions.  Although the title is a bit misleading since the book features an appendix where each of the 36 arguments is laid out and then immediately refuted.

The novel is set around the life of Cass Seltzer, a university professor who's first book, The Varieties of Religious Illusion is a hit.  Now Seltzer is being courted by Harvard and he appears  on a variety of media shows where he's been dubbed "the atheist with a soul."  Cass is a likable character whose personality unfolds over the course of the book, and you eventually realize that nice guys can make it big.  He's sentimental about love and relationships. He maps out the paradoxical problems associated with saying "I love you" first. And one of his girlfriends notes that he likes to cuddle so much, he even cuddles in his sleep, spawning one of my new favorite terms, "sleep cuddling."

Cass is a perfectly written character.  In fact Goldstein is surprisingly adept at writing believable characters who speak with equally believable dialogue.  Take Jonas Elijah Klapper, the blowhard of an academic whose religious ideologies are respected the world over. His outrageous lectures packed with alliterations are worth reading twice. And Cass's friend Roz is a loud and outrageous free spirit that I'd love to have as a friend.  Goldstein also introduces us to an insulated community of orthodox Jews. And for a book largely about atheism, this group somehow makes you want to believe.

Goldstein is an academic with some impressive educational credentials in everything from philosophy to science. Maybe that's  why this book is so believable.  It's also a book made to be read on the Kindle. It's packed with obscure words.  Goldstein has a vocabulary that spans literary, scientific, and philosophical realms.  So my Kindle dictionary got a big workout.

This may be my favorite book I've read so far this year.  Great characters, telling great stories, about issues that seem relevant to the time in which I live. I'm giving this book a great, big Read It! rating.