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Until Tomorrow

On Monday, February 13th our Issues in Critical Theory class sojourned to Olga Korper’s Gallery on the west end of Toronto. We (re)viewed an exhibit that was on by artist Stan Denniston. It prompted many thoughts, discussions, and reactions by most.

Considering the context of the class and the relationship to things like remix, appropriation, copy and reinvention, I can see how it was a relevant and timely exhibit to attend.

From an artist-aesthetic perspective I’m not much of a Duchampian or one who is drawn to the use of found objects in general. I think it would be really interesting to see how he could work with the material and recontextualize the object(s).

For instance, I’m drawn to some of Ai Wei Wei’s work, like the Surveillance Camera, 2010. Marble, 39.2 x 39.8 x 19 cm.

Or perhaps, closer to home, an OCADU professor’s work, Laura Moore-

And even Clint Neufeld’s work can sit comfortably in this comparative analysis-×773.jpg

In short, from an aesthetic-object-visual perspective, I think there is room to explore with the material and Denniston’s work did do that to some extent, but for my personal taste, it could have been more fully integrated.

I found his discussion to be frank, open, and transparent. As Morgan pointed out in her blog, Denniston did finish the discussion by noting that his work was unlikely to change the world. It seems like it’s a starting point, and less of an arrival when it comes to cosmic change through art or otherwise.

One comment that Denniston made that I found interesting was how the work related to ‘Climate Change’. He started saying ‘global warmi-‘ and quickly change to ‘climate change’. I find it interesting because it’s two words that are spoken so frequently and commonly that it really doesn’t define anything. It’s like watching a news briefing from a political figure who says ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’, ‘globalism’, ‘capitalism’. They are words that are drummed into the public’s mind so frequently that they lack meaning and identification in some respect. So when I hear them, I really question what does that mean? The public is repeatedly conditioned to believe a certain viewpoint. ‘Climate Change’ = bad. Well, what does that mean and what goes into making that up?

If anyone would like an understanding into propaganda and how we’re programmed to react, I would highly recommend anyone with 28 minutes and 18 seconds and access to a computer and audio, to watch a video on Youtube called “The Art of Deception”:

It will, hopefully, alter your understanding of how we are in a constant battle over the landscape of our minds. How films like “An Inconvenient Truth” can be set up to manipulate the public opinion and are called a ‘documentary’, which implies neutrality, but which anyone with any exposure to the film world knows they are as subjective as any other.

Back to ‘climate change’.. Yes, there is definitely climate change, but there always has been. So, what does that mean and what are the many, many factors that go into manipulating weather, manipulating perspectives, and ultimately manipulating our lifestyles and livelihood.

Take for instance cows. Cows are responsible for about half of the emissions of greenhouse gases that transportation is. Cows contribute methane gas. Transportation CO2. –

“Agriculture is responsible for an estimated 14 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. A significant portion of these emissions come from methane, which, in terms of its contribution to global warming, is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.”-

Why do we need HeroBurgers every 1500meters along Queen Street? Has anyone noticed how many burger selling restaurants have opened in Toronto over the last half-decade? A lot. Maybe a switch to a plant based diet would be beneficial for all? Perhaps an exploration into Vitamin B-17 and its anti-cancer effects would be useful in comparing the effects of meat consumption and cancer creation.

And what about weather manipulation? Has anyone heard of HAARP? Or more specifically, geo-engineering? It’s something that is alive and well, particularly in the USA although the official line is that it is not. In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the Central Intelligence Agency Director John O. Brennan, said “One that has gained my personal attention is stratospheric aerosol injection, or SAI, a method of seeding the stratosphere with particles that can help reflect the sun’s heat, in much the same way that volcanic eruptions do.” And  he goes on to explain the impacts on the environment and geo-political relations.

However, much of what really impacts our lives and situates us in situates that are not optimal and are in conflict with what the majority of humanity would want, are not disclosed or commonly discussed.

We’ve been using oil and gasoline for over 100+years when Nikolai Tesla demonstrated how the earth’s energy could be harnessed and energy would (could) be free for all. But that wouldn’t be profitable would it? So, here we are chugging along in our cars watching films that are meant to make us feel guilty for existing and those that are in influential positions in government, etc. are acting antithetical to the best interests of humanity.

Do we hear about how 30,000+ scientists are suing Al Gore for misrepresenting facts?-

9,000 of those are PhD’s. That’s 9,000! And one of them includes the former president and creator of the Weather Network.

I’m by no means denying that the climate is changing it’s not even the point, it’s that we are so easily manipulated by buzz words that unless we make an effort to explore topics, we just become programmed people. I think we have a responsibility to attempt to fully unpack the myriad factors that go into issues (climate change, democracy, etc.) before we easily buy into whatever the media/corporatocracy is selling.

As George Carlin once pointed out, the earth has been around for 4 billion years. The earth is fine. It’s seen ice ages, warm ages, hot ages and everything in between. It’s humanity. We’re fucked.

The Pipe Strip

So Garfield comics are pretty stupid. 2016-04-29

In my first year of undergrad, I heard that Jim Davis created Garfield after doing some market research and realizing people like stupid animals and boring shit in their newspapers. So for a brief period I had a reaction of, fuck these stupid capitalist comic strip for idiots. But now I sort of love how terrible Garfield comics are. For one thing, I hate mondays and I love lasagna, so Garfield and I are kindred spirits.

Over the last 10 years i’ve seen a lot of amazing internet art about Garfield that i find deeply satisfying to the inner child that grew up with Garfield & Friends cartoon and the Fatcat anthology books. Primary example of internet appropriation is Fatal Farm’s Lasagna Cat video series from 2008. Billed as tributes to Jim Davis, Lasagna Cat serves to highlight the awkward non-joke qualities of Garfield comics.

The format of the video is simple. Actors in cheap mascot costumes and a John Arbuckle wig re-enact a garfield comic strip. After they reach what is apparently the punch line a rimshot and laugh track are played, then the original comic strip is shown to prove that Fatal Farm really didn’t make up the terrible joke themselves. The comic fades out and a music video begins. The song will be chosen due to some lyrical connection to the strip, the video remixes elements from the re-enactment, new elements and text. The video showed a pretty sophisticated use of green screen and creative after-effects editing for an early youtube audience. (See examples in playlist below.)

Surprisingly, after a nine years of lying dormant the Lasagna Cat youtube channel started posting new videos. First, a few teasers for new videos and a call for a sex survey. Then, a few days ago they poster 12 new Lasagna Cat videos. Most of the videos follow the standard format of their previous videos, but now the music videos are exceptionally high quality, employing extra actors, shot on locations and just looking real damn polished.

The exceptions to the lasagna cat format are the sex survey results video and 07/27/1978. There is a whole other blog post the write aboutsex survey results, an ambitious and bizarre looping knock knock joke that decays in real time over 4 and a half hours.

The 07/27/1978 video follows the lasagna cat format, (re-enactment, comic strip still, music video remix) but the music video portion is stretched wildly beyond expectations. Instead of a pop song, Philip Glass’ epic score of “Kundun” is used. The entire 60 minute score acts as a dramatic backdrop for a spoken word piece performed by John Blyth Barrymore. Barrymore performs as a man philosophically transformed by a three panel Garfield comic strip. In one continuous take Barrymore explains his ongoing struggles to analyze and understand the perfection of the pipe strip.


I think this is relevant to master’s students in the arts who aren’t afraid to embrace the absurd. When writing about your own work you might think, shit there is nothing i have to say about this, but maybe you are being filtered by your own expectations of what is serious and good art? This movie is a pataphysical parody between Spalding Gray’s Gray’s Anatomy and Room 237 ‘s crackpotier monologists. This hour long performance runs a 3 panel comic strip through a creative gauntlet of bizarre thoughts that I honestly find inspiring.

Re-new it! and the artist who created the works, Stan Denniston.

Artwork is best when it creates dialogue and this show definitely has done that.  Stan, a Canadian man, born in Victoria BC in 1953, has created this series of works that are made out of broken and discarded Inuit sculptures, mixed with modern discarded computer parts. There is real sense of dynamism and play in the works. His intention seems to be simply to give new life to discarded objects portraying whimsical scenes that juxtapose traditional Inuit carvings with modern day technologies. In doing so, he says, “I’m cognisant of the serious issues of cultural appropriation and copyright and have tried to remix in a way that reflects and honours the art form and artists. This is art as trade goods – these are not sacred objects – yet I’ve been careful even with mythological representations.”.

There were parties in the audience who were clearly put off by the answers Stan gave to several of the questions posed. One asking about the fact that apple computers uses slave labour to create their products and so is he drawing a comparison to the workers that are creating the Inuit art in the factories? To this he was quite floored and had really, never thought of that before.  He said that is ‘definitely, something he will consider’.  He followed by saying that he is really just hoping to create dialogue, but does not plan to change the world, these are complicated issues and he is really just concerned with giving new life to the things we discard.

All work, is open work. It is open to how we see the objects we are looking at. Do we see their current state or do we see the life they had before they landed in the studio?  When does the agential cut (Barad) form, to separate the ontology of an objects past from its future? Perhaps for Stan it is when the object has been broken and disposed of by someone else and given to him as material to work with. This can’t be true thou, because each object carries with it a personality, that personality speaks to Stan and helps him find the new life for it, and so, I suspect that Stan retains the pure personality of the object itself but releases it of all other ontologies that object has possessed.

The offense taken to works happens when there is no agential cut for an object.  That object carries with it, all that it once was, all of the circumstances surrounding the objects creation and distribution. When Stan was questioned about the coops where the broken works come from, he didn’t seem to have a clear idea of what the coops are like or how the workers are treated or paid, and only knew a couple of the artists whose work he had used.  This sheds light on the importance of critical theory, research and being able to speak to your work.

I do not believe that Stan has any ill intentions. It may do him some good to go spend some time in the coop where his broken pieces come from, and perhaps spend some time in a Mac factory in China.  If he did that though, I imagine his works would lose their whimsy, or perhaps he might have a breakthrough. Is there not a place for whimsical works that inspire dialogues, and unintentionally shine a spot light on important issues?

Women by the Numbers

It came up in class that Marcus Boon quotes a lot of men and their theories in In Praise of Copying but then says off-handedly on page 85,

“The word ‘copying’ evokes images of gadgets, technologies of mechanical reproduction, or the masterly hand of the artist who is particularly skilled at producing reproductions. It is a stereotypically masculine activity. Is copying, defined thus, a specifically male attempt to imitate, appropriate, fix and control the knowledge of becoming and transformation that is a part of women’s experience of their bodies…?”

He does not turn to a female theorist to resolve this query. He turns to the fictional female characters written by Charlie Kaufman in Being John Malkovich.

I left class wondering why exactly I was so angry. It’s 2017 and we attend a forward thinking art school in one of the more egalitarian cities in the world. So why do I feel so overwhelmed by male thought in every class almost all the time?

Maybe it’s not about stereotypically female feelings. Maybe I could rely on more stereotypically male rationality to resolve my query.

So I crunched some numbers.

In this class we will read a total of 733 page this term.

622 by men.

111 by women.

That means that 15% of the readings are by women. The numbers may be slightly off because the Hito Steyerl and Jan Verwoort pieces do not have page counts, but one is a man and one a woman so I let it slide.

This issue came up yesterday in a different class as well. I have yet to do the math on that one.

A lot of these pieces are from the 1970s or later. We are no longer studying points in history where only men were encouraged to publish. So why is it like this? Is it because this is who/what our teachers were taught? Are men the only writers? Better writers?

There are 16 of us in the class, including our professor. Eleven of us are female, five of us are male.  I’m sure together we can resolve this query.


Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi

-Laura Dawe

Susan Sontag, Suze

I don’t know if this counts as blog post since it’s unrelated to discussions from class, but we did read the Sontag bit, and I wrote an introduction (biased) instead of give a presentation, so I thought I’d just post it here in case anyone was interested in reading it.


Susan Sontag was born in 1933. In 1973 her seminal collection of essays, On Photography, began to appear in the The New York Review of Books, She was forty years old.

In those essays, Sontag displays an astonishing prescience about the effect of the still image. In the 2008 film 9 to 5: Days in Porn ,  pornographic film performer Belladonna, when discussing the sex acts performed by her putative replacement Sasha Grey, remarks that “I didn’t realize there were any more boundaries to push, I thought I’d taken things as far as they could be taken. I was wrong”. Sontag discusses image fatigue in her writing on photography, how over time war photography for example loses its power to shock the public and therefore effect change. Although Sontag only touches on pornography briefly, her insights are important to me, as someone who has recently published essays that are anti-pornography. Feminism welcomes and rejects pornography cyclically, while I hold the position that all pornography (commercial pornography, anything other than private documentation) is only ever the recorded abuse of traumatized human beings, the recording of which establishes the requisites for concomitant abuse and trauma. In having researched pornography for my articles, I realized that it’s an industry which has reached its nadir and is intent only on digging new holes within which to sink. What once was sufficiently arousing enough to provide the orgasm that is pornography’s sole function is no longer so. People (men) were fatigued (bored) by ‘regular’ images of female objectification, so that contemporary pornography now carefully toes the line between being either documentation of (simulated) rape and/or snuff (soul-death) films. The state of contemporary pornography is a perfect case study for an idea Sontag spelled out forty-plus years ago.

That Susan Sontag could see this in 1974 while it was an industry in which the now extinct act of oral sex performed on a female was still a part of any X-rated film is astonishing to the point of bewilderment.  This is simply one example, one that stunned me in recently rereading her work, of a mind that understood the power and effects of imagery as well as both the most debased and  most altruistic capacities of human nature.

Her first proper work, Notes on Camp, published when she was only thirty-one years old was seminal in carving out an entire cultural milieu for marginalized people, documenting and defining what is sometimes now called a ‘safe-space’ within the confines of art and media, forever marking her an icon within queer culture.

Against Interpretation, Ilness as Metaphor, and Regarding the Pain of Others, remain, at least for me, her most valuable contributions to culture.

Sontag was a contrarian, quite often arrogant, once accused of plagiarism, occasionally a diva, self-aggrandizing, a provocateur, and sometimes insufferably pretentious. All of this however is okay. That Sontag seemed to be such a divisive figure, sometimes attacked by other academics to a disproportionate extent is, in my opinion, attributable solely to the fact that she was a female.

It’s important to remember that Norman Mailer had many of the same qualities, and also stabbed his second wife Adele Morales in the heart with penknife, yet still seemed to get by with less scorn from his colleagues than Sontag did, who as far as I know stabbed no one.

I have mixed feelings about Sontag, which for me is often indicative of someone being talented. In some ways she reminds one of the white liberal that Joan Didion speaks of in The White Album who, when travelling to some third-world country, would rather sample the local carbonated soda instead of the equally available Coca-Cola, to the bewilderment of the natives, who themselves prefer to drink Coke.

Some of her more provocative statements, ones that drew her criticism from her colleagues, nevertheless in 2017 appear to be blatantly self-evident. That ‘white people are the cancer of human history’ (a statement Sontag only partially retracted due to the fact that it was an insult to cancer patients) is to some extent undeniable. She challenged the typically thoughtless posture of romanticizing Communism which is worn like a scarf by most left-leaning intellectuals by stating that it was merely successful fascism, ‘fascism with a face if you like.’ – a statement that history demonstrates to be accurate. After what is commonly known as 9/11 but was simply an attack on American soil in mid September of 2001, Sontag rejected the idea that the ‘terrorists’ were cowards,  attacking ‘liberty’ and ‘humanity’ but simply people launching an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, implying that America was getting a taste of  its own medicine. It takes only a cursory knowledge of the history of the 20th century and American foreign policy to see the rational truth in this statement. Sontag was willing to do that most American thing, state an unpopular opinion, and often suffered rebukes from her community as if she were a snitch or a traitor. That she didn’t back down or apologize is a testament to her integrity.

Where her failures and also the source of her pretentiousness generates I believe was in Sontag’s assertion that she was first and foremost a novelist. In any cultural field nothing creates entitled bitterness more than not being acknowledged for what one feels is their strength, while nonetheless being celebrated for something different. Sontag may have felt in her heart that she was first and foremost a novelist, but if she was, she was a middling novelist at best. The Volcano Lover is the most successful of her attempts at fiction, yet still cannot hold a candle to even the shortest short story of another sexually secretive, American ex-pat – Patricia Highsmith.

Sontag also demonstrates symptoms of White Saviour Syndrome in her obsession with Sarajevo, and the time she spent there. It’s very difficult to find an interview or read an essay or lecture transcription during or after those years where Sontag doesn’t quietly congratulate herself for the good works she did for the people of Sarajevo. Yet it’s also been noted that she acted as an entitled and pretentious American during the time she spent there, holding court in hotel lobbies while bombs rained down on the city, only to later write essays about her experience trying to mount a play in a city where bombs were raining down;  how very horrific that was,  how the poor people of Sarajevo were so strong in the face of such suffering. However numerous people have remarked that she treated her hosts and the cast and crew of Waiting for Godot somewhat tyrannically. Sontag loved to speak of the award she was given, ‘Friend of Sarajevo’, yet one gets the impression that it was an award offered the same way the tired host of a house party packs up leftovers and reminds you of the number of the taxi company when they’re anxious to see you leave so they can get to bed.

In the posthumously published book, At The Same Time: Essays and Speeches, her son David Rieff writes a foreword discussing his mother’s humility. The book is mostly a collection of speeches Sontag gave after receiving numerous political and literary awards towards the end of her life. In these transcriptions, it’s hard not to cringe at the self-congratulatory, self-important undertone of all that she says. There’s a feeling of her constantly exaggerating the hardships she suffered, when in fact she had quite a privileged life, was only ever in romantic relationship with people of not insignificant wealth. You would think she crossed the border into Bosnia at night barefoot in the mud, when in fact she was always treated like a dignitary. In the end however, Sontag’s contributions to philosophy and cultural studies are undeniable. Nowhere does it say one must except each award with head-bowed humility. That Sontag endured much abuse from other feminists as well as a range of leftist intellectuals yet pressed on unapologetically for me justifies a verbose pat on her own back. Were Sontag a man very few of the critiques aimed at her would have been aimed at all. That she did what she wanted how she wanted, even if that included writing mediocre literature, without ever appearing submissive or timid,  for me allows her that quality typically reserved for men of letters late in their lives; self-satisfaction.


1:30 – 2:10

{Ir}Relevant Superbowl Commercial

This doesn’t count as a blog post. I just wanted to share this John Malkovich commercial from Sunday’s SuperBowl since there was a whole section in the last reading. 🙂


Translation and Reinvention – January 30th

Michael (Simon’s) presentation and topic provided a beneficial overview of Benjamin’s text and prompted a fruitful discussion about originality. Similar themes and touch points arose from the previous class.

With respect to translation, there is a great webcast about translating Derrida and how challenging and fulfilling it was for the translators:

It appears that when we’re discussing the process or notion “translating”, perhaps at its core, it’s a conversation about context and meaning. For example, Google can translate a single word, or series of words, but it will produce a literal translation that is void of on overarching context. And presumably, the ‘original’ author has contextualized the words and structured the sentences in a way to underscore and convey a type of meaning. As Michael illustrated, Benjamin suggested we need a “deep understanding of the original”. With that deep understanding comes an investment of time and effort in understanding the meaning and context that’s been formed, which is why applications like Google Translate (technology) can fail us and we rely on experts for their contextual understanding of human diction.

Perhaps Michael’s most prescient and provoking question- “Is writing about art equivalent to translation from one language to another?” afforded an open-ended question that regularly comes up and has been a question for a considerably long time. Like Gerhard Richter once said:

Talk about painting: there’s no point. By conveying a thing through the medium of language, you change it. You construct qualities that can be said, and you leave out the ones that can’t be said but are always the most important.”.
Gerhard Richter: Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, Thames & Hudson, London, 2009, p. 35

If I were to re-phrase it, I think that what Michael was asking is “How do you translate a visual/emotional/visceral/ auditory/sensory/etc. experience into text (through writing)?”. This is something that we all wrestle and grapple with, particularly for our own work.

Thinking about the discussion of gestures and how those can be potentially misinterpreted, it reminded me of when I was living in Ireland and someone once told me that you can go anywhere in Russia and the accent is different, whereas Ireland is flush with accents that can almost be indecipherable by people living in the same country, which, land-wise, is considerably smaller. It then makes me consider whether an ‘accent’ can be considered a form that can be interpreted or translated. It’s not necessarily the spoken words that require translation, but the phonetic delivery that can require translation or a translator or interpreter. Is that possible? Can an accent be translated?

In (Critique?) of Copying



As I read Marcus Boon’s In Praise of Copying, I kept thinking back to Richard Prince’s London Gagosian exhibition New Portraits that I’ll bet some of you have heard about.

The show consisted of enlarged copies of other peoples’ Instagram photos, under which Prince made cryptic comments. The project caused a huge ruckus directed at whether or not this was ethical (especially since he was selling these puppies for up to $100,000 each). Many of the people who’s photos he used were pretty miffed.

I also thought it was interesting to note that the image that Gagosian chose to feature in their profile for this exhibition (an Instagram photo appropriated by Prince), is credited to Rob McKeever as the photographer of that image, adding an additional layer to the trifle of appropriation.

Whaddya think about this?



Quixote, Cervantes, Borges & Menard – Translation, Adaptation & Thievery in Modernist Literature


Picasso’s Quixote, 1947


Following our (very brief) discussion in class about Don Quixote as explored in Jorge Luis Borges’ short story / fictionalized criticism of a fictionalized translation project, “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”, I was reminded of an episode of Radiolab exploring the history of the Don Quixote narrative.

Take a listen if you have the time:

Radiolab Podcast: “The Real Don Quixote”

Is our obsession with blurring the boundaries of reality a new thing? Or has it always been there? Everybody’s heard of the book Don Quixote, but we had no idea how totally insane, and how stirringly modern, Miguel Cervante’s masterpiece really was. It’s a story within a story within a story that beat Seinfeld to the punch by more than 400 years.

To be brief, the podcast discusses the writing of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and the unofficial second book (a sort of fan fiction) that came out shortly thereafter. Cervantes goes on to write an official second book, using characters and narrative techniques scooped from the unofficial sequel. Writers and characters and fiction and reality – mixing together – oh my! It’s fascinating history, and excellent radio.

In listening again I was reminded that adaptation is in its way a form of translation, and also a form of theft. I began thinking that even the short story about a translator (though a translator who is attempting to translate without changing languages – so it’s more of a spiritual act?) has been translated from its original Spanish to English.

If is often said that language structures the way we think, and certainly our relationship to literature(s) and other textual traditions provides provide inspiration for many of the thoughts we will think.

Besides that we each have unique experiences – we have in us the collection of what we have read before and how we interpreted those texts based on our experiences. Even if we read the same thing in the same language – are any of us really experiencing the text, any text, in the same way?  Where does the author end, and the story begin?  Where does the story end, and the reader begin?


Welles and War of the Worlds

In our class discussion last week about F for Fake, someone stated that Orson Welles’s 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast was a hoax. I didn’t get back to it at the time, but take note: it was not intended as a hoax. It was a radio play, adapted for broadcast from the H.G. Wells original, but Welles (and the Mercury Theater) did not intend or expect that it would create the stir that it did. For more information, and a great listen, check out Radiolab’s podcast episode from some years ago on War of the Worlds (and its repetitions/subsequent adaptations):


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