Monday, October 22, 2012

Radical Pedagogies

I've been thinking a fair bit, for a number of reasons, about radical pedagogies. How we teach, what we teach, and what it all means to be a learner in an increasingly corporate and capital-centred economy. It seems that the attempts of the past few decades, if not failing, are flailing, and I wonder how we can create critical learning potentials in this environment. It is with this in mind, that I came across the work of Norman Cornett, a lecturer at McGill University until 2007 when, for no apparent reason, his contract as religious studies prof was not renewed. Known for his unconventional, and radical, pedagogy, he became the subject of a film by renowned Aboriginal filmmaker Alanis Obamsawin, a feature entitled  Professor Norman Cornett: "Since when do we divorce the right answer from an honest answer?" , viewable at the NFB site in its entirety for no charge. I've invited Professor Cornett to come to Kamloops and speak at CiCAC alongside another radical pedagogue, Aruna Srivastava, from the University of Calgary. This event will take place on Oct 31 (yes, Halloween!) at 1 pm, in the new CiCAC space, located at Old Main 1496, Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops campus. We're asking attendees to view the film before the event, hoping to stimulate dialogue on a number of issues. If you're in the Kamloops area, please join us!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Aesthetics of Reconciliation, re-post

Composed this for a private blog, a working group on the Aesthetics of Reconciliation, so some of the references are directly about that process and might seem a bit unclear. However, thought the general gist of it would come through and since I've been mulling over these questions for some time, thought I'd share them more widely through the cicac space. 

(Originally posted to the Aesthetics of Reconciliation blog, June 28/2012)
Hello all, and thank you so much for opening the virtual doors to this blog to our small group so we might be able to share and contribute as best we can to your very engaged and engaging project.

As some of you know, we have been working on a couple of fronts -- a TRC research grant and an upcoming SSHRC-supported innovation forum -- to reflect on the intersections of art and reconciliation. The notion of how 'art' can be an expressive language, perhaps potentially more useful and bridging than critical and/or policy discourses, is one we hope to pursue during our own 'research trajectory,' which, to be frank, I see more as a series of opportunities to meet/think/create than of traditionally-produced published outcomes (or, to use the language of the day, 'deliverables').

My first incursion into this terrain was perhaps prompted by the invitation from the Aboriginal Healing Foundation to edit the third of three volumes investigating reconciliation in all its manifestations. The expressed desire was for this volume to contain the thoughts and reflections of non-Aboriginal, non-white settlers/immigrants, but through a series of necessary discussions, this quickly transcended into a book that also took on the question of artistic sensibility when negotiating the tricky arena of reconciliation. Much of my work as a research chair has focussed on creative practice within the milieu of social justice, as might be recalled by folks on this blog such as Sam, Pauline, and Jonathan who all attended a think-tank session at my centre in Kamloops on this a few years back now. More recently, and thanks to some of our external funding support, we were able to meet with others who are also on this blog, such as Sophie and Peter, in a more focussed discussion on the necessary blueprint for melding art+reconciliation. This latter meeting developed ideas that ladder directly into our Algoma symposium and artistic 'incubation', an event we are excited will now include a fair number of you who have worked so hard at the SSHRC Insight Dev't grant. More on the Algoma event later (perhaps from Jonathan, who is newly situated there, or from Sophie, whose diligence brought us the SSHRC funding to produce this get-together).

But first, in following what several of you have referenced re recent TRC gatherings, a few reflections that, I hope, make some meaning of the somewhat grandiose title of this post. I've been an attending witness (more so than a participant, I would say) at regional gatherings in Kamloops, Victoria, and the similarly-mandated Vancouver setup that addressed the potential for a National Research Centre on Reconciliation (this, not without its problems, but will leave that for now), as well as national gatherings in Winnipeg and Halifax (but not Inuvik for its prohibitive travel costs, and not Saskatoon, though I had planned on such, for what I would coin as a type of trc-fatigue). The very first event I attended was in Kamloops, held a the Arbour on the Secwepemc Nation, interestingly enough the regular site of the annual powwow. It was there I began to question the relevance of reconciliation discourse to non-Aboriginals, or, indeed, those outside the subset of survivors of IRS. Certainly, an interest was not reflected in attendance where, I would estimate, a majority of the non-Aboriginal attendees were in some fashion attached to clergy or TRC apparatus. (This demographic was quite different in Victoria, however, and I wonder if this is the result of a lapse of time that has allowed the concept to be absorbed in a national imaginary or just a regional quirk specific to the politic of Vancouver Island, though neither can I attest to with any certainty.) It was in Kamloops that a colleague -- who had been working administrative sides associated with the TRC -- and I took a break from the events and wandered to the Secwepemc museum grounds (an exceptional space, built on the grounds and structures of the former residential school in Kamloops, that explores pre- and post-contact conditions). It was a blistering hot and sunny day typical of the BC interior in July, and we found ourselves at the low door opening of a rebuilt traditional pithouse/C7istkteñ.  A good 15 degrees cooler inside, deep dark mud walls illuminated only through the top chimney that, once eyes were adjusted from the desert sun, was enough to create a soft and even light throughout, my friend told me of the the not infrequent and quite-literal physical illnesses that followed statement-gathereres after they had performed their duties at TRC events. How can one record these stories on tape, I realized, without recording their effects on the body? If I had even a passing interest up to that point on critical analyses on TRCs (in Canada and abroad, having met artists in both Northern Ireland and South Africa in prior years), I think I sloughed it off at that moment. Not, I should emphasize, a loss of interest in critical attention to this critical subject, and I appreciate hugely the contributions other have made and continue to make in the face of this difficulty, but my own contemplative realization, echoing Adorno here perhaps, that after such practiced and calculated genocidal plans that created residential schools (now, there's a 'deliverable'), how can we re-enter this space without reinscribing that colonial template? Others have named this in different ways on this blog, a desire not to be caught up in the hype and, for lack of a better term, professionalizing ourselves as reconciliation specialists. I saw this impulse in Winnipeg where an assortment of tents scattered the Forks area, some as gathering places for statements, others as facilities for creative or spiritual expression, and one as an ad hoc conference tent, replete with program and scheduled papers, and not without surprise, in that post-3-paper discussion period that we are so familiar with as academics, a survivor angrily demanded to know what any of the delivered material had to do with real lives, with his life, and wasn't that what the entire gathering was supposed to be about?

So, how are we to perform if we are to engage at all? Art may seem a logical step, but witness the TRC's own call for creative expression, both unpaid and highly mediated, such that some of the more provocative and invested artists of our time have been denied an opportunity to share their work because of a (legal? moral? practical?) fear that their art will deepen the psychological and emotional wounds that already seem beyond repair. That very question led us to recent gatherings, in Vancouver and Kamloops, to explore how best (or how, if at all) to reconcile the art of reconciliation, as it were. We can't forget that for many artists, Indigenous and non-Indigneous, the pressing questions are often about resistance, decolonization, counter-storytelling as a much more effective avenue toward the putative goals of reconciliation -- that is, a fair and balanced contemporary reality, if such a thing is imaginable at all. Still, if attempts are worth anything, how do we proceed? One powerful emerging concept that came from our Kamloops think-tank (including artists Alex Janvier, Peter Morin, Tania Willard, Jaimie Issac, Kevin Loring, Jaime Black, and a few others plus our TRC-funded team) was the idea that such artistic practice required nourishment and collective development. The term "incubation" was raised, a way of bringing artists into a space, bringing their histories and ongoing projects, to negotiate such a pathway. This, and mercifully, where I will stop, is the intention of Algoma. Working with team member and exceptional curator Steve Loft, we hope to explore methods and modes of taking art into this field of reconciliation, posing a series of projects that will result in an exhibition, touring or not, aiming for 2014, but with a preview of sorts in Vancouver to coincide with the TRC national gathering. Discussion so far with Glenn Alteen at Grunt Gallery and an initial reach out to Sabine Bitter at the Audain, which would be a likely space for such work. This may be a nice tandem with what the 'insight-development' cohort is looking at for artistic interventions at the remaining national gatherings, and certainly gives us fodder for consideration.

So that's it for me, but with one sincere caveat. The TRC has given us an opportunity to forefront the idea of reconciliation, perhaps with good results and not just good intentions. But, and here I side with the likes of Glen Coulthard and others, I have to see the entire discourse of reconciliation as a project with a definitive 'best-before' date. While useful to investigate at this stage, I think the somewhat conciliatory notion of reconciliation will give way (and, in certain quarters, already has) to more vibrant attitudes of decolonization, resistance, rebellion, and not a small amount of good old bloody-mindedness -- a way not just to enter into a consciousness of a nation-state and its people, but to radically alter that state of being.

That is all for me for this moment, with due appreciation for indulgences and a true desire to see how we can work on the next stages with an amazing group of minds.


Saturday, June 02, 2012

New York City, pedestrian reflections

1. New jersey, EWR, I pass through customs first, waiting for the two Davids, notice the foreshortened replica of the statue of liberty once an icon of welcome give us your tired, and can't resist, pull out my iPhone and flip on a flashlight app that screen displays a burning candle, stand shoulder to shoulder with lady lib both of us holding a flame skyward the simulacra of verisimilitude. First david notices. Second david notices. Wandering and ever vigilant security guard notices. The first two come to stand beside so we can find passage to new york, the third brushes up close demanding to know what I was photographing. Nothing I say. Show me your phone he says. Turn it on he says. I didn't take photos I tell him but was using an app -- what the hey I show him. Mr guard squints at me and demands to know the cost of this cool app. Seriously. I told him it was a free download and he is satisfied and reminds me there are no photos allowed in customs secure area and sends us on our way. 

Why the prohibition of photos in border areas I wonder. It seems the more guarded, often the more fascist the state, the greater the prohibitions. What can possibly be gleaned from photographs of the bordered state? Give us your huddled masses I suppose but within a limited lexicon. 

2. New York is a city of states of liberty. Arms alight. There are two unique pedestrian postures in the city.  For urbanites globally, crossing against the lights is a traditional rite of passage. In cities where orderliness is the order of the day, pedestrians look carefully up and down the street first, then furtively search for bylaw officers enforcing jaywalking legislation. In more chaotic urban morasses, those on foot take flight, adopting winged approaches to avoid homicidal drivers, each curb another temporary sanctuary. But in NYC, it's both an affront and challenge: pedestrians seem perplexed and royally not amused that lorries, motorbikes, cars, impede their attempts to cross against the lights, and brashly step lively into or as close as possible without being struck by protruding side mirrors. They are all pinch runners taking daring leads off of first, begging the pitcher-drivers to try to pick them off. And small breaks in the vehicular action enough for all but the frailest to steal second which exists as that visual point across the street that the pedestrian must absolutely reach in the approaching seconds. All important in this quest is the casual, not too insistent, certainly not impertinent, step into traffic if only to make a physical presence known. Never be seen as too haughty or disgusted, just as an entitlement to that crosswalk as soon as is bearable. 

3. The second pedestrian posture is equally unique and similarly struck as a vogue moment that parallels the emotionless bulimic runway model. An arm up, outstretched, give us your huddled masses come hither stretch, but with the wrist necessarily crooked and flexed downward, a pupil's request to be excused to the toilet but with a lack of any urgency, more a bored point of order to the teacher should she deign to look that way. This is the taxi hail that looks not to individual drivers but to the taxi universe, come serve me all you once huddled masses of yellow cab drivers. The hand statue-liberties until and sometimes past until a car has pulled aside, lest a fallen arm releases the invisible tether and the driver escapes to streets unknown. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Announcing: CiCAC Press

Working out the kinks, but now all set and ready for the launch of CiCAC Press, an alternative publishing house based out of the Centre for innovation in Culture and the Arts in Canada. A bit about the press from the site:
CiCAC Press is an innovative, progressive, and author-driven publishing company set up and designed to deliver high-quality books at a reasonable cost to readers while providing creators with a maximum royalty share.
Our publishing aesthetic is to provide exceptional literature and radical critical work to targetted audiences in both print and electronic formats. We believe that there is a large and growing readership for this type of material and we intend to provide this demographic with the material they seek.
Traditionally, publishers contend with a high overhead – salaries for editors and staff, promotional costs, distributor and bookseller fees, and printing/storage charges – by keeping author royalties low and list prices high, and still often requiring grants and subsidies to break even, particularly on niche literary titles that don’t offer high returns.
At CiCAC, we are re-imagining and inverting this paradigm. By using low-cost print-on-demand services, we reduce printing bills and eliminate storage costs. By operating through existing infrastructural supports such as the Canada Research Chairs program and Thompson Rivers University, we keep our overhead costs to a minimum. This allows us, first, to keep the list price down to approximately half a normal retail cost, and second, to turn over nearly half of those revenues to authors and creators. Put simply, instead of a standard 10 per cent of list or less, our authors receive an average of 50 per cent. We also minimize promotion and distribution costs using a direct delivery system and, more importantly, providing opportunities for our authors to acquire larger numbers of books to distribute through their own networks.
We have three titles, all of them produced by TRU community members (researcher, faculty, student) and all three are works of fiction, two of them exploring the genre of young adult work. But the intention at CiCAC Press is to produce books of fiction, alternative criticism and theory, and other genres that are conducive this format. We also intend to publish from a board spectrum, so while this initial foray is with university members, subsequent runs will be from other regions, both within Canada and outside.

Please check out our titles and forward this information to those interested in alt publishing models.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Contemplating Maraya

I’m thinking about a few things, all fittingly reflective, as I ponder the Maraya project. First, I want to keep front and centre Rita’s reminder to consider the absences all too often made invisible by a material present – when we look at a landscape, urban or architectural, how do we keep in sight what is no longer or differently ‘there’? Second, I want to remain mindful of Glen’s warning about the dangers of simply recirculating images that conform to what he calls a ‘knee-jerk’ criticality that sanctifies the position of the artist-as-social-critic. Both these positions are integral to an understanding of what the Maraya project is, and also to the portals it can open for us. The position of the artist/creator as a social conscience is one that haunts us, even as we recognize the value of a gaze that is (apparently) without economical or political investment. Of course, this is rarely the case, as within any socio-political ideology, we stake claims, stick by them, or move through choppy waters as these positions change (or change us). But the artist-as-voyeur, objective observer, presents a journalistic fallacy, and worse, suggests the possibility of a disinterested notetaker who records and then spells back the simple truths of this act. It seems inescapable that we are, to considerable extent, our own stories, if not the centrepieces then significant waystations along the narrative.

What I am trying to point to here is that Maraya – let’s call it the activity of the project rather than the creative process as the former does not ascribe any intentionality, which is important in this case – can work on multiple levels. Just, as Rita points to, it can record an absence almost palimpsestically by recording the ‘newness’ afforded by a space-once-something-else. In such a case, this activity does not necessarily exceed the documentary, attempting to encapsulate a moment in history through image-making. It is left to the critical viewer to understand – to add to – the project by seeing downward-focussed photographs as a sign of progress, inhabitation, degradation, capitalism gone wild, etcetera. But the relative lack of agency imposed by the documentary style can also do something else – like the journalist who insists on recording the present moment without implicating the journalistic gaze, replete with binary perspectives and value-laden ideologies, the ‘straight up’ photograph can also lend itself to and blend itself into an existing status quo.

In circuitous fashion, this brings us to an old thorn, the notion of the social responsibility of the cultural producer. That is where Maraya becomes so interesting. Does the project present a tableau and gaze upon it with marvel? Clearly not. But nor does it emulate One Ride with Yankee Papa 13, an undeniable surface of inquisition and evident criticality.

Certainly we have shifted from the almost pornographic photojournalist revelation of the Vietnam war to a space and time that is ultimately more complicated, infused with exponentially greater amounts of information, and nuanced by such radically different and competing forces that even trying to understand the idea about a place is a challenging political act. Perhaps there is where we must begin to engage with what Maraya suggests to us. Far from Tolstoy, what we are presented with are the disturbing and yet enticing possibilities that the familial is not easily blocked off into categories of satisfaction and difference, but rather is a stack of undulating options that progress and recede from our line of sight in patterns, insisting that we explore the absences and presences that we already envision, and those we do not yet see.

Entry written for the Centre-A blog site for the Maraya Project

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Reconciliation Summer Institute

In the latter planning stages for a summer institute on Reconciliation to be held at TRU in July of 2012. Still working out the general issues, but the idea will be to have a two-week intensive face-to-face with a cohort of students enrolled in three undergraduate courses (upper levels in Philosophy, Anthropology, Communication) either for credit or a non-credit certificate. This will be a dynamic pedagogical experiment with a series of guest faculty in live and virtual formats and an interactive base for students to engage with the issues of reconciliation in multiple contexts. We hope to enrol 20 students (for a total of 60 seats) and foster future developments in the field, regionally, nationally, and internationally.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Janvier, Week One

Extremely successful and productive week one for Alex Janvier's artist residency at TRU. He has stapled severak canvasses to gallery walls and has begun work on three of them, pictured above. Every day, every hour, the studio/gallery changes as this amazing artist adds brushstrokes and intensity. Volunteers have dropped in to help him gesso the canvasses and take him out to lunch or just plain chat, and the work grows within that spirit. Only five days into the residency, and the gallery has already taken on a whole new aura.

Today, Alex went to collect lava rocks for a sweat lodge back in Cold Lake, but will be back at work in the studio tomorrow.

And yesterday, the Edmonton Journal ran a substantial two-page spread on Alex Janvier and his work, focussing on the construction of his new gallery in Cold Lake, designed by Douglas Cardinal.

To see how work has progressed in the first week, take a look at this video walkthrough of Alex's studio/gallery here at TRU.

Thursday, October 06, 2011


As part of an ongoing discussion regarding art+reconciliation, a number of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal artists, writers, curators, and researchers are gathering this week in Kamloops to investigate possibilities. Those attending include Jonathan Dewar, Peter Morin, Tania Willard, Richard Wagamese, Sophie McCall, Dave Gaertner, Ashok Mathur, Kevin Loring, Jaime Black, Jaimie Isaac, Alex Janvier, Gabe Archie, Gabe Hill, and a few others who will participate in various ways. This is functioning more as a think-tank than as a rehearsed public presentation, so the agenda is unfixed, other than to explore ways of looking at the intersections of the notions of art and reconciliation in their myriad identities. As part of this project, however, and in sync with the connectivity of art and research, there are several creative projects at play during the same time: Alex Janvier, renowned for his painting and founding member of the Aboriginal Group of Seven, will be converting the Thompson Rivers University art gallery into a studio for the next three weeks; Jaime Black is producing the site-specific REDdress project that acknowledges the 600 missing and murdered Aboriginal women; and curator Jaimie Isaac in conjunction with artist Leah Decter is hosting a two-day interactive work (at TRU and the Kamloops Art Gallery) "official denial" which uses Hudson's Bay blankets and the suturing/stitching of words to address a lack of awareness of colonization in Canada.

During this time, our collected group will be thinking through future possibilities for exhibition, publication, and activity/activism to both complicate and articulate the difficult intersections proposed. The ongoing thoughts and reflections will be posted and compiled as we determine the most useful ways to proceed.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Alex Janvier, artist in residence

Alex Janvier, one of the most renowned painters in contemporary Canadian art, officially started his three-week residency at Thompson Rivers University today. Hosted by CiCAC, Janvier will be converting the TRU Art Gallery in Old Main into a visiting studio. The video above shows Janvier working beside research assistant Gabe Archie in preparing the site for his painting activity. The white walls of the gallery will soon be converted into an amazing array of colour, thanks to this senior artist and one of the founding members of the Aboriginal Group of Seven. Check back to see the transformations as they occur. Janvier was welcomed to the space by visual arts students and the Dean of Arts, Michael Mehta (welcoming address), and will be participating in numerous activities over the course of the next three weeks. Here is more information on Alex Janvier's painting and history as an artist.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Inversions: Hyung Min Yoon's "Heaven and Earth" installation

Photo by Chris Jones

Optically, philosophically, aesthetically, we are drawn to the questions and confusions of reflection. It quite literally turns our worlds upside-down and inside-out, and in so doing, captivates our imagination. In "Heaven and Earth," inter- and multi-disciplinary artist Hyung-Min Yoon’s has designed a critically engaging and site-specific installation, currently floating in a pond at the Sun Yat Sen garden in Vancouver. Constructed of three-dimensional words form-cut from styrofoam, the installation floats on the surface of the water but also casts reflections on the viewers' perceptions, enticing as well as discombobulating. At first, the blocky letters look out of place, appearing to free-float but continuously jerked back into place by underwater tethers, and we have to perform some mental acrobatics to re-view the mirrored and inverted words. Four of them: a definite article, a pair of nouns, and a verb, encouraging interchangeability as would a child's set of wooden blocks. Is it "the earth reflects heavens" or "the heavens reflects earth" or something more disjunctive? Perhaps the article can come at the end or the middle, the verb at the beginning or end. But this perception only once the mind as been able to turn the blocks around so they make sense to our cognitive capacities. And only then does our gaze drift down to the subtle, always-there but somehow unseen reflection of those same words, displayed perfectly in the reflective surface of the pond.

Yoon draws inspiration for this piece from a Taoist adage from the 6th century B.C., a simple question of what begets what, and yet her re- and displacement of this poetic and philosophical concept is what so intrigues. Amidst the gardens, themselves a simulacrum of untouched nature but in actual fact a highly constructed re-creation, this installation carries with it both a zen peacefulness and a radical contemplation of contemporaneous culture. Just as the stone structures that grace the gardens are artifice, so too the styrofoam blocks are less and more than they seem. Undoubtedly, they reflect the tranquil nature of the pond, but they are the product of a highly industrialized process and product derived from the mixture of raw ethylene, benzene, and aluminum chloride in a highly-controlled laboratory environment. Indeed, the generic product we know now as styrofoam was first produced by Dow Chemicals around the time as WWII, feeding into and from a growing militarized and resource-driven economy. So, like many forms of illusion that surround us in new and old media, Yoon's contemplative and harmonious installation also reflects a much deeper and insidious history, much more than that which floats on the surface.

Nonetheless, the beauty of this work is profound and affective, particularly as a full moon rises above the horizon and complements the artificial pools of light thrown and diffused from corner spots. Over the course of the evening, the natural daylight casting a certain type and quality of reflection gives way to a deeper, richer, and more poignant quality of light that allows viewers to see the reflection in transition, as it were. Seen as single objects or grouped together as a four-word sentence or phrase, the inverted text changes shape and form, and in so doing, causes us to reflect on the nature of our own reflections, cultures, and communities.

Yoon's work possesses that ineffable quality of layered mulitiplicity, not so much meaning different things to different people as it allows for a transient understanding of the surrounding world through our cognition of words. Indeed, in earlier works, Yoon has played with this sensibility, as with her 2009 website "Reverser," which interactively runs backwards any text entered into the site, or her 2008 "Backwards Metamorphosis," that runs the entire text of Kafka's renowned text from finish to start along a wall and as a book project. But as those earlier pieces touched on the linearity of text, "Heaven and Earth" further addresses the tactility and nuanced texture of language, creating a frame and forum well worth consideration.

Heaven and Earth is installed at the Sun Yat Sen garden pond (578 Carrall St, Vancouver) from Sept 2-25, 2011

Hyung-Min Yoon was born in Seoul, Korea and studied Fine Art at Korean National University of Arts in Seoul (BFA) and Chelsea College of Art in London (MFA). Yoon's works have been shown internationally in exhibitions such as à ses parents – Variations autour de Le Corbusier (Switzerland, 2006) and The truth of Contradictions and exceptions (South Korea, 2009). She has recently participated in art residency program at The Banff Centre in Canada (2009) and at The Association of Icelandic Visual Artists (SÍM) in Iceland (2009).

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

A different form of construction and architecture

Unsteady iphone video and an attempt to gaze through and over a Mungo Martin totem pole outside the Maritime Museum in Vancouver. Sea to sky.

Vancouver Powaqqatsi

Always overwhelmed when I see the foundations laid, the amount of displacement and labour involved. This, a new construction site along 7th avenue in Vancouver, a hole dug to contain a concrete structure in the not too distant future.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

playing with barcodes

Summer beaming down and lots of paperwork to catch up on, easier to engage in new activities that don't have a history or a responsibility attached. To that useful end, have been playing around with generating barcodes for various sites. The ways tech allow us to use less words to give out more info, or something like that. Attached, two attractive images of barcodes that represent this blog (howzat for meta-circles) and the little distillery website and installation.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

A response to Len Findlay's blog on Indigenous Humanities

The following is in response to a blog posting entitled “Soft Sovereignties and Strokes of Genius: Situating the Indigenous Humanities within Canada” by Len Findlay (UofSask). In it he looks at numerous elements that both inhibit progressive action, and strategic formations to resist and change....

Thank you, Len, ascerbic and adroit as always. Your formulations of strategy are both straight-forward and entirely radical in their simplicity -- if those of us inhabiting academic posts could mix and match these in our daily interactions (or if we could even intertwine any two!), we could start the difficult yet important task of unravelling the cords of colonialism that currently bind our system.

Recently, I've been following the machinations of a process in Vancouver called the Dialogues Project, its intent apparently to bring Aboriginal and new/immigrant communities together to create some form of understanding. On the surface, and, I have no doubt, within the particular working groups, this is doing that task admirably, but it also reminds me of how those of us engaged in serious anti-racist activism in past decades were so mindfully wary of the term 'dialogue.' On whose terms was this writ, we would ask, and to what ends (and whose gains)? Dialogue seemed to be the desired start point for those who exercised considerable privilege, not totally unlike oppressive regimes proffering apology and then demanding said apology be duly accepted (sounds familiar, i know). Don't get me wrong: I'm not against dialogue, unless you think of how any of us must necessarily be 'against,' as in pressed-up-beside-and-forced-to-look-at-critically any 'thing' that is placed forward as either a panacea or an instant step in the right direction. Rather, I want to take that aforementioned criticality into the dialogues or apologies or otherwise positively-constructed actions and ask the difficult questions that can only come from, well, from the featured strategic formations you mention in your conclusion. It's a difficult path to follow, certainly not the one of least resistance, but to change our worlds, it's a must-follow path. Thanks for the words, the analysis, and the commitment.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Shirley Bear, Order of Canada

Announced today, Shirley Bear is one of 50 new recipients of the Order of Canada. Her educational, artistic, and activist work has been instrumental in progressive arts circles in the country, so this is well-deserved and a long time coming.

Here's the cbc story on her award. And more info republished below.

Shirley Bear is an artist, writer and First Nation elder. Born on the Tobique First Nation, she has exhibited extensively in solo and group exhibitions throughout Canada, the United States and in Europe.

She has curated numerous exhibitions related to First Nations issues and was the recipient of the Excellence in the Arts Award from the New Brunswick Arts Board in 2002.

While living in British Columbia for 10 years, she served as cultural advisor to the British Columbia Institute of Technology, First Nations education advisor at Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design and resident elder for First Nations House of Learning at the University of British Columbia.

Bio: Shirley Bear is a multimedia artist, writer, traditional First Nation herbalist and Elder. Born on the Tobique First Nation, she is an original member of the Wabnaki language group of New Brunswick. As an artist, poet, and activist, she has played a crucial role in First Nation women’s creative and cultural communities. In 1989, she curated Changers: A Spiritual Renaissance, a national show of work by Aboriginal women artists, which toured all major galleries across Canada. The 2002 recipient of the New Brunswick Arts Board’s Excellence in the Arts Award, Bear studied art in New Brunswick, New Hampshire, Boston, and Vancouver. She has worked extensively as a lecturer, performer, activist and curator including serving as Cultural Advisor to the British Columbia Institute of Technology, First Nations Education Advisor at Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design, and Resident Elder for First Nations House of Learning at UBC. Bear has exhibited internationally and her work has been purchased by collections across Canada including the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the National Arts Centre, the New Brunswick Art Bank and First Nations House of Learning at the University of British Columbia. Bear’s writing has been included in several anthologies including Kelusultiek published by Mount St. Vincent University and The Colour of Resistance from Sister Vision Press, as well as the catalogues for the exhibits Kospenay and Changers—A Spiritual Renaissance. She has been profiled for film and television, by CBC, the National Film Board and independent producers in such films as Minqwon Minqwon and Kwa’Nu’Te by Cathy Martin, Keepers of the Fire by Christine Welsh and The Sacred Feminine. She has published a book of poetry, Virgin Bones (McGilligan Books, 2006).

The Order of Canada, one of the country's highest civilian honours, was established in Canada's centennial year of 1967 to recognize a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to community and service to the nation.

In the last 40 years, more than 5,000 people from all sectors of society have been invested into the order.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Toronto launch of Cultivating Canada

Tonight, launch of Cultivating Canada in Toronto. Event starts at 7 pm at the Lambert Room, OCAD University. with editors and contributors speaking a little bit later on. We'll begin with an official opening by Duke Redbird and then go into intros from co-editors including Executive Director of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, Mike DeGagné, and AHF Research Director, Jonathan Dewar. I'll say a few words by way of contextualizing the volume, and then contributors will say a few words-- hoping to hear from Ravi de Costa, Cheryl L'Hirondelle, Srimoyee Mitra, Meera Singh, and others. The event will close with a few words from OCAD President Sara Diamond. Be sure to come by and pick up a complimentary copy of the book or order it from

Sunday, May 22, 2011

From Hiphop to Haydn

Easy flow from Swisslizz at cicac to the VSO at the Chan Centre, moving through musical modes. A short youtube clip from the concert, shot from the choral loft behind the stage.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Swisslizz, recorded at CiCAC

Check this out, Swizzlizz's new work, Stop the party Freestyle... a careful eye and you'll see the video recorded in its entirely at cicac. We're a producing label.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Equity in the arts

The question of equity in the arts, what it means, how to make it matter, is a constant and evolving question. There was considerable work done on this issue in Canada in the early 1990s and for a few years after that, but since then the issue was put on a backburner, at least in terms of mainstream address. But now, it seems to be gaining currency in a number of quarters. Most recently, the Canadian Public Arts Funders (CPAF) has commissioned a couple of consultations and reports to bring equity issues to the forefront. To that end, a small team assembled through the auspices of CICAC is doing some intensive research into the field. We have team members from Calgary, Vancouver, and Germany, working at a bank of resources to try to create a snapshot of what equity means today, and how that might inflect the policies and trends of tomorrow. The report will be delivered to CPAF at its meeting in Edmonton in mid-June, and we hope to make it available to the public soon after, at least in some version. There are plans afoot to release this as a CiCAC publication later in the summer, part of a new series of books that will address a range of topics, from policy to art to creative production. Current team members of the consultation report, Equity Within the Arts Ecology – Traditions and Trends include: Aruna Srivastava, Tracy Wong, Ayaka Yoshimizu, and Kit Heinzmann, co-ordinated through my desk as director of CiCAC. If folks want a copy of this report (or a version that we can release to the public), do let me know. It will be comprised of a fairly decent bibliography and an analysis of equity in Canadian arts as it stands today.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cultivating Canada at Congress

Thanks to the hard work by Mara Juneau, logistics coordinator, and many others at the Canadian Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences, we will be holding multiple launches and events at Congress 2011 this May/June in Fredericton.
I'll be there with Jonathan Dewar, research director of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation and co-editor of CC, to present on the book and to distribute copies. Our 'main event' will be on Tuesday morning, May 31, when we launch the book officially at the Book Fair, 10:30 a.m and where the third co-editor and Executive Director of the AHF, Mike DeGagné, will also speak. But we will also either speak briefly, distribute books, or distribute bookmarks (see image on the left) informing delegates on where to get a copy during or after Congress.

Here is where we'll be. Please consult the Congress 2011 program for venue details:

1030 a.m. Sunday, May 29
Aboriginal Roundtable

315 p.m. Monday, May 30
Celebrations of Canadian Literature

Featured Launch
1030 a.m. Tuesday, May 31
Reception Area, Book Fair
with editors Ashok Mathur,
Jonathan Dewar, Mike DeGagné

5 p.m. Tuesday, May 31
Equity Session: Indigenizing the Academy

All Day Thursday, June 2
Workshop: Being and Becoming Aboriginal Youth in the City

Complimentary copies of the book will also be available at the Arsenal Pulp Press bookfair booth from May 27–31 and at the UNB booth from June 1-3.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Cultivating Canada, Toronto launch

Join us for the Toronto and area launch of this new publication. Regional contributors include Cheryl L'Hirondelle, b.h. Yael, Meera Margaret Singh, Jamelie Hassan, Miriam Jordan, Ronald Lee, Bonita Lawrence, Enakshi Dua, Srimoyee Mitra, Malissa Phung, Ravi de Costa, and George Elliott Clarke.

Cultivating Canada: Reconciliation through the Lens of Cultural Diversity is the third in a three-volume series addressing the complex notion of reconciliation in a national landscape. The Aboriginal Healing Foundation brings together disparate voices to address how communities—immigrant, racialized, ‘new’ Canadians, and other minoritized groups—relate to the intricacies of reconciliation as a concept. Many of the contributors included address questions of land, Aboriginal histories, and different trajectories that have led to the current configuration and conglomeration of peoples in this geographic space. And, a central organizing principle of this collection is artistic practice, specifically in how embedding creative acts within critical responses helps to create a relevant framework of possibilities as we move inexorably into uncertain futures.

Featured within are perspectives from Ashok Mathur, Shirley Bear, Henry Tsang, Glen Lowry, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Joseph Naytowhow, b.h. Yael, Sandra Semchuk, Elwood Jimmy, Dorothy Christian, Rita Wong, Sylvia Hamilton, Meera Margaret Singh, Jamelie Hassan, Miriam Jordan, Renisa Mawani, Rhose Harris-Galia, Sid Chow Tan, Ronald Lee, Bonita Lawrence, Enakshi Dua, Robinder Kaur Sehdev, Srimoyee Mitra, Malissa Phung, Henry Yu, Roy Miki, Ravi de Costa, Tom Clark, Rinaldo Walcott, Mitch Miyagawa, Jen Budney, Jayce Salloum, Rita Shelton Deverell, George Elliott Clarke, Diyan Achjadi, and Kirsten Emiko McAllister.

Facebook announcement
Ordering information from the Aboriginal Healing Foundation

Monday, April 04, 2011

Moving 600 books of Cultivating Canada

Yes, that's the plan. We have six CC events in six days, taking us from kelowna to Kamloops to Vancouver to Regina with a couple of those double-headers. We hope to be moving 600 or more copies of the book in those days, chockfull of official launches, research cabarets, symposia, and special cultural events. For anyone who's interested, that's just under one imperial ton of books:)
And for those who can't grace our events with their presence but want their own copy, ask for your gratis copy at the Aboriginal Healing Foundation website at

Ashok Mathur
Canada Research Chair in Cultural & Artistic Inquiry
Thompson Rivers University
Kamloops, BC

Monday, March 28, 2011

and this is the cultivating canada tour schedule

Hope folks can meet us in Kelowna or Kamloops or Vancouver or Regina! Free books for all, and should be an interesting time all around.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cultivating Canada, Kamloops book launch

Book launch of
Cultivating Canada: Reconciliation through the Lens of Cultural Diversity
(published by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2011)

5 pm, Tuesday, April 6
the art we are cafe, 246 Victoria St

Editors will be on hand to discuss the context and contents of this, the third in a three-book series published by the AHF to address the questions of residential schools, apology, truth and reconciliation, and cultural difference. This third volume looks at the issue of reconciliation largely from the perspective of non-Indigenous, non-white Canadians. This book features extensive colour artwork and creative projects and will be available AT NO COST to everyone attending the launch. Those who cannot attend may still receive a free copy from the website.
Canada Council-sponsored reading by poet and critic George Elliott Clarke. Free and open to the public.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

YOW-YUL, from bureau to art

Whirlwindish tour through Ottawa and Montreal. Arrived at the former to have an update meeting on The Land We Are editing project for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, and this aft off to see the Sobey awards in Mont, with kamloops hopeful Brendan Tang a strong contender for the $50k prize for young visual artists in the country. Had hoped to meet with sshrc officials about a partnership grant proposal but scheduling didn't work out, so that meetup now deferred to a teleconference sometime next week.
On VIA in an hour for the sobey/mont visit, then back to bc on Friday to connect more on the p'ship grant options, pre-Australia, which is where much of the planning will occur.

Ashok Mathur
Canada Research Chair in Cultural & Artistic Inquiry
Thompson Rivers University
Kamloops, BC

Thursday, September 09, 2010

A letter re the current arts funding debacle in B.C.

Reinstatement of arts funding only first step

Now that Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Kevin Krueger has reversed his government’s controversial and wrong-headed decision to decimate arts funding in B.C., it is critical for all members of the provincial arts and cultural communities to reflect upon this not as a victory, but an important possibility for our collective future.

Mr. Krueger has shown his utter disregard for British Columbians, first when his office initiated the significant cuts to the B.C. Arts Council, then when he refused to attend to the will of the people expressed through an impressive and widespread protest movement, and finally when he petulantly reinstated funds with the accusation that he felt both threatened and extorted. It is clear that the minister should follow the lead of chair of the B.C. Arts Council and resign his cabinet post immediately. But while Jane Danzo strategically and graciously stepped down from the Arts Council in order to speak honestly and critically about the current intransigence of the B.C. Liberal government, Mr. Krueger must exit in order to allow a fresh and consultative voice into that office.

As Ms Danzo and others have so correctly noted, the current arts funding crisis is not soley resultant of a government whose failure of imagination treats arts and culture as unnecessary frivolity, but also precipitated by an inability by the provincial government to maintain an arms-length policy of non-interference in the arts. Our federal and most of our provincial arts councils adhere to such a principle, which encourages funding governments to trust these councils with their assigned tasks – namely, to promote and advocate for the arts from an informed and stable base. Without such arms-length distance, it is all too easy for a government to step in to expedite a political agenda, such as we saw recently with the government’s non-consultative institution of the so-called “spirit festival” initiative that was announced as a surprise not only to artists and cultural workers, but to the B.C. Arts Council itself.

In general, the arts function not as a form of entertaining excess, but as a model to understand, interpret, and yes, even critique, our contemporary culture, including our various pillars of power. Not unlike the fourth estate, the arts effectively work by providing a commentary and reflection of our realities, and for this to exist in a democratic society, it must not be subject to the whims or fears of political leaders.

The possibility that exists for us now is a reconsideration and restructuring of the B.C. Arts Council such that it may operate unimpeded by political interference. To nurture a flourishing arts scene in British Columbia is the task at hand for the Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, and the people of this province deserve a successor to Mr. Krueger’s portfolio who brings in a far more progressive and visionary understanding of what art can be to serve the people rather than an assumption of what it should be to serve the state.

Ashok Mathur
Canada Research Chair in Cultural and Artistic Inquiry
Thompson Rivers University
Kamloops, B.C.

Dean's blog

Thanks to Dr. Michael Mehta, new dean of arts at TRU for his generous blog entry referring to my 3-day novel process. FYI, Dr. Mehta comes to Kamloops by way of Winnipeg, and takes on the challenging new post as TRU starts its new year and celebrates its 40th as an institution of higher learning.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Video clip, prior to the 3day

Didn't get around to uploading this before the writing took place, but here, for archival purp's if nothing else, the video I recorded just minutes before starting the 3day novel contest.

Trying to keep my 88s straight

Done, and now emerging from the strangeness of a 72hr seclusion... In the end, produced an 88-page long poem, parts of which I think work and that I quite like, parts of which, well, not so much. But as a graduate supervisor once told his Ph.D. student as she struggled with her dissertation, "sometimes it's more important to be finished than to be perfect."

It was a great experience, though, inhabiting the freemont block and attempting to inhabit a history as well. Much movement freely flowing back and forth from history to fiction, parts that are imaginary, and parts that are verbatim from a variety of texts, blurred together so to tell the truth, not sure what represents what.

The process now is to print out (have done so) and post it to the 3day contest office, which I shall do later today. Have had a good time, too, talking to Kamloops media -- print, radio, and tv -- trying to explicate the project and the process. Next step will be to broach this subject with the City to see if we can create some sort of event next year, the centenary of the freemont block. Hoping a Dept of Canadian Heritage grant I put in for, to create an educational video, will come through to complement, and away we go.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Less than 3 hours to go

It's been a journey to say the least... find myself moved through this long poem in and out of kamloops and through historical mists. JF Smith, who was an Indian agent for a number of years, and a strong supporter of the Conservative gov't, found himself at odds, I'm sure, with his own history as he enacted his own life. The third and final section that I'm wrapping now uses a line from a long poem by Daphne Marlatt to review how the body remembers and what that means. Drawing fragments to the present to consume and then let them go to filter into the steps that lead us here.

Will post some final thoughts when final keystrokes struck at midnight....

Sunday, September 05, 2010

closing day 2

Papers flow and abound, every possible surface covered with yet more documentation... books on St Croix in the early days of the slave trade, west indian folklore, letters from and to JFS and family, histories poring out of pores, newspaper articles, memos, and moments, all sliding into this poem that is less long than gangley...

And conflated histories, too, for instance, this on fires back in St Croix and in Kamloops...

Fireburn: St Croix, June, 1878, thirty years after freedom bells rang but when slaves move to labourers there’s an economic shift and a paradigm collapse and what is there left of then, and how to make all of this ordinary? Collapse. A generation born into freedom and into poverty. The power to create is the power to destroy and the fireburn that did not happen when Buddho marched into town waited for a trio of decades and then, then it came on a prayer for change. How many fires have started when the people speak of enough? How many fires are stoked by the rule that changes language but does not change attitude? The time to burn always comes when it does, when there is nothing left but fuel and desire.

Fireburn, kamloops. June 29, 1892, the house of Chung Lee, the house of Ah Mi, the house and store of Kwong Hi, two houses of Gin Lee, the house of Uh Gum, the boarding house and store run by Kwong Fat, haberdashery owned by Kwong Lung, a boarding home run by Hang Lee (known as Sam and the manager of the Cosmopolitan Hotel dining room), the wash house operated by Kwong Joern, and lastly, the bootshop and residence of J. F. Smith, all burned to the ground. Within a year, the timber and row housing was rebuilt. But the following fall, a failed robbery attempt to blow up a safe, turned the town to fire again, and Chinatown was not rebuilt again.

or this reflection on how JFS was perceived by certain of the military elite and how history of sugar and slavery helps constitute this story:

if it could be avoided that nigger Smith not be employed as the officers of my regiment consider that white men should fill these official billets and decline to meet anything in the way of colour. We have none of us any personal object to Smith only he is in a position which makes intercourse with whites often necessary and when national defense in under consideration we would confer with men of our own race if possible.
– Lieutenant-Colonel Chares Flick, commanding 31st regiment, March 13, 1913, to T.J. Cumminskey, Inspector if Indian Agencies

that noble art that reptiles own
of shedding skin that has become tiresome

the default epiderm is always what the viewer has in mind and when the viewer occupies the observation deck then all is set

nothing personal
but personnel cannot be expected to comply
a wry turn of phrase and a door clicks shut
ballast is what they call it
the balance of what is taken in and taken out
the optimum of trade to ship in something and take a different something out

in christiansted the product leaving crusian shores is sugar pure and simple worth its weight to sweeten palates and circle plates around the tables of the civilized

in christiansted the product coming in are bodies chockablock like sacks of sugar, and like the same, some do go bad on voyages over and needs be tossed aside

the bow of the ship rises up in the water, lets go its grind of weighty bodies, then submerges once again when much more valued sugar comes aboard and those departing, brave new world that hath

At any rate, another 24 hours from now, will all be done, if not done well....

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Tentative first steps

First two hours behind me, tried to put a dent into the 3day manuscript, not too displeased to be a thousand words in. But now will call it a night and return to see what directions this will go in as a long poem and narrative.

The First White Black Man

ashok mathur
saturday, sept 4, 2010


Far from ordinary

all this becomes ordinary far from where it happened

—Dionne Brand

the prologue

an ordinary building on an ordinary street
like any other in a town grown up around rushing for rail and gold
it does not speak back to voices from the street, volumes elevated by inebriation
it does not even echo but stands
an obelisk of quarried brick
absorbing sound as if it were a fluid poured directly into cracking grout
letting loose occasional whispers of where here happened to be

this is where language retires
behind a mask of weary words that make no sense of nothing
no, these walls do not have ears and
no, these walls do not have capacity for speech
(that would be far too far from ordinary)
but trapped inside somewhere deep maybe behind a loose brick hovering amontillado-like to suffocate lurking sounds is
a building’s soul if buildings can have souls
and even voiceless it gesticulates, a prairie preacher listen here listen up for here there is a story to tell, and to tell it well, unleash a cast of characters from here and here and mostly here with resonance and dissonance from there

the problem with history is that there’s too damn much of it and the little we do remember, well, that has a way of interfering with the best of stories, pitching truth against a brick wall until it splatters a sputtering version that suits the palate even if it rails against the stoney obtrusiveness of fact
we peek into our pack of characters to travel into acres of possibility, to unearth the stench and pleasure that is mixed into the mortar and sealed into an ordinary building

Sir: it has long since been my eyes grew foggy patches across their line, and teeth that once could address the most indelicate of morsels ended falling one by one to leave a head empty of all but the ideas of youth. But death is nothing but another ferry ride and I have done my share of those. Crossing water, that’s the thing, it has always been this way for me, the answers come from crossing water, questions too, and most of all, the memories and memoranda from those heady days. I once told my friends that having explored portions of the North Thompson uninvestigated by any man not native to this land, I must thereby be the first white man to pass that way, if, of course, by white you mean not one of the Secwepemc or their relatives east and north and west. That always got a rise and a laugh, me of Crucian blood, naming myself as White, a last laugh in a muddled type of way. My name? Smith, easy enough to write down in census books, though that name was passed down not so much through bloodlines as through the lineages of property. Which is why born two years after emancipation, my parents middlenamed me Freemont, a free man of colour, note the two e’s, and this I carried with me proudly all my livelong days. John. Freemont. Smith.

he came to me as if in a dream he did and i was shy and turned away. Mary i whispered when he asked me my name, Mary, and that was it and nothing more. He leaned into me then and whispered back some words i have long since misrecalled but i know or think i know they had something to do with how he would take me away as his bride and that was the truth of it. My parents, well, my parents, they were dark as he was, but of a different sheen for where we came from in the dark clear coastal nights there was considerable passage between the indians and the blacks and while i do not know for certain, i feel my people did not come exclusive and uncut from africa.

...a bit more written, but needs some morning revisiting before it posts...

Friday, September 03, 2010

Press and practice, 3day...

I'm wandering around the loft after a trip to the health food and office supply stores. Where to put the various bits and pieces so the various bits and pieces are within easy reach as i prepare to get this writing started? The PR folks at the university have been busy, with a release just put out, and I've done an interview just now with Radio NL (streaming link) though no saying when that will run, and they threaten to call back monday to see how i've fared. They asked how much I'd write and I made up a figure -- 100 to 120 pages, i said, which seems a bit impractical, but it's something to shoot for. And so now back to prepping and primping and getting the room set for the writing. Resurrected an old G3 with a 23inch monitor to let myself have some more real estate to type onto. Will try to upload a video link later.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The First Black White Man: a 3 Day novel

Many of you will be familiar with one of Kamloops' founding leaders John Freemont Smith, a three-time city councillor in the early 1900s and multi-talented entrepreneur who prospected, cobbled, and even served as an Indian agent in those early days of the community. Further, in June of this year, we were fortunate enough to host the great-granddaughter and grandson of Smith as they came from California to Kamloops to visit archives and explore the landscape of the site where their ancestor once lived.

Now, with the new term upon us, we are investigating a few ways to celebrate this history through a variety of creative practices. Andrea Baines, JFS's great-granddaughter, is in the process of writing about her experiences on her trip 'home,' and we are also planning ways to recognize the centenary of the Freemont Block, which was built in 1911.

Most immediately, through the support of the Canada Council and the auspices of the 3-Day Novel Contest (, I will be spending the 72 hours of the Labour Day weekend writing a new novel -- actually, the genre I'm using will be the long poem -- entitled "The First White Black Man." (This title comes from a quotation attributed to JFS who, as one of the few Black men living in the interior, playfully referred to himself this way when talking of prospecting in an area where no non-Native people had lived before.)

The tenets of the 3-Day Novel are fairly simple -- on the honour system, writers from across the world begin a new novel project at midnight of Friday, Sept 3, finishing off 72 hours later at midnight, Monday, Sept 6. Finished manuscripts can then be edited for minor revisions and submitted to the contest judges. It's less a competition than a way of challenging oneself into starting and finishing a project over the course of a long weekend, and its 30-year legacy has been one of some celebration.

I will be undertaking this task from one of the beautiful loft residences of the Freemont Block, since much of the novel is placed near or around that building -- no, I won't be going sleepless for the entire time, but I will spend all my waking hours in the writing process. I will also try to place a few updates, text and video, including fresh-off-the-press excerpts.

More updates from the middle of the journey! (And for those interested in some of the recent experiences, check out the Hogan's Alley Memorial Project:


Ashok Mathur’s Canada Research Chair in Cultural and Artistic Inquiry at TRU began in 2005. His books include _Loveruage: a dance in three parts_, _Once Upon an Elephant_, _The Short, Happy Life of Harry Kumar_, and, most recently, _A Little Distillery in Nowgong_, currently in hardcover and available in paper in 2011. He is cross-posted to the departments of Journalism, Communication, and New Media and Visual and Peforming Arts, and he also directs the Centre for innovation in Culture and the Arts in Canada (CiCAC)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

More photos from the religion show

Founding my religion

Five days of sourcing and sauntering around Kelowna, finding artifacts and art facts that would contribute to this new religion. A lot of play with sound and sight, which all led to narrative tricks and tales to relate to this religious project. The text(s) below are hardly sacred, but they do reflect something of the faith...These were the didactics place next to the various objects and photographs inhabiting the corner of the Alternator Gallery....

The consonants “S” and “X” from the Roman alphabet are of absolute significance in this religion, which, of course, derives its very name from these symbols. Adherents of the faith will see these letters – on their own and together – in numerous combinations every single day. These symbols first came to the First Prophet in a dream where he saw the figures flying through the air on wings. He was perturbed to see hundreds of disciples, fully clothed but for inexplicable reasons, shoeless. This element of the prophecy was not fully understood until the first Disciple entered the faith. When the First Prophet visited a display outlet store on the western coast, he was drawn to a bin containing symbols purporting to designate clothing sizes, and he immediately purchased a case of the “extra small” denominators – XS. The Prophet was struck by the interdimensionality of this Gift: the XS clips, inverted, read perfectly as SX. Thus began the first of the Relics, the encasement of what were once garment clips inside what were once jewellry boxes. True adherents of the faith always carry a copy of this Relic wherever they go.

Sally Xaiver, originally from Essex County, was visiting Kelowna for a distant cousin’s wedding when she chanced upon the First Prophet in a beer hall named after a great fish. They had a stimulating, but otherwise not memorable, conversation, and at closing time they bid each other well and Sally made her way back to her residence. As she walked along a street that was named after a head of a monastery, she was drawn as if by magnetic force down a dark street toward the water. As she got closer, she began to quicken her pace, first to a brisk walk, then to a jog, and finally to a full-out sprint. She began uttering incantations from an ancient language that no one has yet deciphered and, in her desire to be fleet of foot, discarded her shoes in ecstasty. It was at this moment she became the First Disciple, moments before she dove headlong in the lake, never to re-emerge. This is now referred to as the Divine Podiatral Ascension, and all subsequent disciples have experienced similar episodes of incomprehensible jabbering concomitant with the ecstatic discarding of all footwear.

While other faiths express dualities and trinities, it is not surprising that our faith is attentive to the number 6 (SiX) and has acquired a Holy Sextenary. These are: 1) sandalwood incense and myrrh which, when lit, enter the Disciples’ bodies through scent and breath; 2) the holy bag of sand, discovered by the First Prophet along a Kelowna beach – note the uncanny nature of the bag in which the sand was discovered, emblazoned with the Sacred Letters hidden within the word, “SoeX”; 3) the Sign, originally discovered by the First Prophet and later mounted by the Original Disciples on a fragment of Sacred Beach Wood. It is still used as a seal for ceremonial purposes; 4) the Elements – tobacco flakes, rock salt, and pine cone – are inherent to the belief system and were collated by First Minister Heather Martin, aka Sister SX; 5) as all living entities are close to the heart of this faith, adherents of SX lopped off these berries to display them because they were in the shape of the Sign; 6) in death there is life, and so this display of fallen leaves collected from the House of Jefferess, Johnstone and Johnstone (HJ3)is a significant part of the Holy Sextenary.

Adherents of the faith will see a surfeit of feathers everywhere and at all times. Sometimes they are attached to the bird who grew them; sometimes they are floating through the air; and sometimes they are found along the footpath. Ministers are required by doctrinal law to bend and retrieve any such feathers, while adherents may gather these artifacts but are also permitted to simply observe with requisite obeisance.

Because the godhead in this faith is ephemeral, ethereal, and disembodied, it is often represented as a transparent female head. This should not be mistakenly thought of as an idol or an actual representation of a specific deity, but as a meditative practice to focus the disciple’s thoughts on the true meaning of the religion. It is said that only the Final Prophet will be able to lift the Sacred Head without scattering the enclosed SX/XS relics across the Holy Table and over the secular gallery floor. It is not known when the Final Prophet will appear, but according to the Book of Signs, it will probably be a late Thursday afternoon or perhaps an early Friday morning.

When the First Prophet was touched by the faith, he immediately wrote down all the tenets and laws of the religion in the Book of Signs. As this was divine language, it is not accessible to non-believers, and although scores of linguists and computer technicians have exhausted countless probability equations, they are still no closer to translating the text. Disciples of the faith are often surprised that others are unable to decipher what to them is the simplest of sacred texts, which has led to friction in communities where the religion has taken hold. The greatest epiphany to behold is where a non-believer pores over the book with furrowed brow, then in a brilliant instant doffs all footwear and begins to preach in languages unknown.

This interview was recorded by satellite link between a journalist reporting from Essex, U.K, with the First Prophet in Kelowna, during the First Holy Installation. There is some speculation that upon completing the interview, the reporter shook off his Birkenstocks and leapt feet first into the Thames to join the First Prophet, but this is unsubstantiated.

The First Three Ministers, the initial half of the Holy Sextet that adjudicates over all religious matters and has the power to initiate and discipline all disciples, celebrate their conjoined nature. First Ministers Younging, Pickering, Martin perform the Dance of the Us Not Them, which acknowledges adherents and non-believers alike.

The First Three Ministers prepare the Dance of the Unclad Feet. Note that they begin the ceremony wearing footgarb since upon discarding sandals and shoes they immediately begin talking in gibberish and so can no longer understand each other until someone once again dons shoes (called re-soleing) and adjourns the ceremony in a language the others can understand.

This polaroid photograph of the Lake was taken several decades before the Polaroid camera was invented, a sign to believers of the forward-thinking nature of their faith.

The inverted tree is a symbol of life and culture, known as the Tree of Rodney, and much discussed by scholars of the faith.

Shadows in the XS culture are as real and true as the bodies that form them. It is probably the only global religion that acknowledges it truly makes sense to be afraid of your own shadow. Also to get out of the way in case it hits you.

This photograph looks remarkably like the Kasugai Gardens in Kelowna, but is actually a re-creation formed by pure mental energy pouring forth from the First Prophet. He also does still lifes of fruit bowls, but mostly gardens.

The Shroud of XS is another result of pure mental energy flowing from the First Prophet, formed after a night of restless dreams. The first time it happened, an angry hotelier demanded reparations for soiled sheets, but since then the First Prophet travels with a rubber sheet and extra linens. Unlike other religious shrouds that are either one-ofs, or knock-offs, the Shroud of XS is eminently replicable, limited only by the number of times the First Prophet naps.

Two of the first adherents of the faith, Mr. and Mrs. Smith later went on to successful modeling careers in the photographic frame business.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

kelowna sand and water

Triathlon, sweetgrass, incense

Out in the public, downtown Kelowna, searching for the Truth and finding a triathlon sweeping the pathways of the city. I am still searching. I find an arts store and the clerk asks me if she can help. I say I'm just looking. But she still stands there and then addresses me by name. Does she know something about me? What does she see? It turns out she does know me, or knew me, back from an earlier time when I was teaching at a school where she was studying. We talk about Art. And Religion. I walk out with some ideas for creating this new religion.

I remain unimpressed by the online templates for starting a new religion. They are too dismissive or too arrogant or purporting to be something they're not It seems like a lot of people have it in them to talk about starting new religions, but not a lot of effort is put into practicing this act.

I burned sweetgrass and incense together, lighting one from the other, to see if the smoke would swirl into an answer. It did not, but the scent was wonderful.

Finding my religion

Day one, mid morning, wandering from beach to beach on a windy cloudy
summer fall kelowna day. Thinking of religion, partic the one I'm
trying to found right here right now. It has to do with... I know it
has to do with land and water. So my first Polaroid looks over sand to
waves to mountains, wooden pier inflecting a corner. Dionne Brand
writes: "the physical world is not interested in us, / it does what it
does, / its own inventory of time, of light and dark" (Inventory 46).

Ashok Mathur
Canada Research Chair in Cultural & Artistic Inquiry
Thompson Rivers University
Kamloops, BC

How to Found a New Religion in Less Than a Week Through Detritus, Ephemera, and Homespun Artifacts

Today marks a rebirth, in a manner of speaking. I've been thinking for a while about religious identity and how this comes into being. When the Alternator Gallery in Kelowna invited me down to work on a project and follow-up with some administrative consulting, I figured this would be a chance to explore religion in a roundabout sort of way.

From today until Wednesday, Aug. 25, I'll be founding a new religion, using whatever comes to hand and mind.

The work will be part performance and part installation-assembly, beginning with an empty space (a portion of the gallery) and ending with all the elements that normally constitute the foundations of a religious formation. This will include Polaroid images, video clips, found objects, poetry, and other forms of expression that will be housed in the constantly mutating space. Visitors will have the opportunity to contribute and create their own tenets to this religion. No contribution will be refused, but may be altered to fit particular parameters.

There are numerous sites online about how to start a religion -- most of them are tongue-in-cheek, if not dismissive, of the origins of various religious structures, comprised of multi-point primers or tenets that take a parodic run at well-known religions. I don't want to be cavalier about this, which of course runs the problem of taking it too seriously... so, to start, I have to think of where to start. Ideas and suggestions are more than welcome. But in a hurry -- I only have a few days for a new religious order....