Top Ten (Canadian) Exhibitions of 2008


Diana Thorneycroft Group of Seven Awkward Moments – Beavers and Woo at Tanoo 2008

Winnipegger Diana Thorneycroft, whose work was included in Domination and Desire, the exhibition I curated at the Nanaimo Art Gallery this Fall, hits the top ten at number 7:

7. Diana Thorneycroft: The Group of Seven Awkward Moments, Michael Gibson Gallery, London

Winnipeg photographer Diana Thorneycroft reinvented herself with this latest series, “The Group of Seven Awkward Moments.” Using reproductions of artworks by Emily Carr and Group of Seven artists like Tom Thomson as backdrops, Thorneycroft constructs and photographs witty dioramas that plunge viewers into a Canadian purgatory of accidents, disasters and moments of poor judgment. It’s Canadian history with a droll sense of humour and a surprising departure for an artist whose work has sought notably dark themes over the years. With these images, she joins Vancouver’s Myfanwy Macleod as a comedic master. Guy Maddin, watch out; you have hometown competition for remaking history.

Read the rest here.

What’s in a face?

Saving Face: Face transplants for the “socially-crippled”

Don’t look now, but a woman in Ohio has a new face. And the world has a new kind of medicine: socially necessary surgery.

The operation, announced yesterday at the Cleveland Clinic, was a face transplant from a corpse. Similar procedures have been done three times before, but this was the biggest. Doctors replaced 77 square inches of the patient’s face, from her eyelids to her chin. Go look at yourself in the mirror. That’s practically the whole you.

Medically, it’s a triumph. Transplants used to be mortally necessary and relatively simple: kidneys, livers, hearts. Patients got these surgeries because if they didn’t, they’d die. And though the surgeries were risky, the tissues involved were straightforward. The blood vessels that had to be connected were manageable in number and size.

Today, transplantation has advanced to parts that are less vital and sometimes much trickier: ovaries, uteruses, penises, hands, arms, and now faces. As surgeons venture closer to the body’s surface, two things happen. The recipient’s body becomes more likely to reject the transplant, increasing the need for drugs that suppress the immune system, which in turn raises the risk of infection and cancer. By some estimates, the price can be a decade of life. And the muscles, nerves, and blood vessels involved become ever smaller and more intricate. One doctor involved in the Cleveland transplant calls it “the most complex surgical procedure ever performed.”

Then why do it? Why spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and risk a patient’s life to fix a nonlethal defect? The Cleveland doctors give three reasons. First, this patient had facial damage that impaired her physical functions. She couldn’t eat normally, and she could breathe only through a hole in her windpipe. Second, faces, unlike kidneys, have social functions. “They are essential to our communication with the world,” argues Maria Siemionow, the doctor who led the Cleveland team. They convey emotion as well as speech.

Read the rest here.

More Madoff

Ripples Of A Fraud

Bernard Madoff outside his Manhattan apartment

One of the funds that invested almost exclusively in Madoff, Fairfield Greenwich, stands to lose 7.5 billion dollars, no small change. Given that, the Noel family may have to cancel Christmas celebrations.

Read more here and here and here.

And here is the Fairfield Greenwich group investment strategy outlined – note the use of modern art in illustrating their marketing brochure.

The “new” feminism?

By Kate Harding, Salon Broadsheet

You could be forgiven, reading this article by Gemma Soames about “the new feminists,” for thinking you’d woken up in 1994. Hey, you guys, did you know there are self-identified feminists who admit to liking lipstick and high heels and retro dresses? It’s true! And also, there’s this woman named Katie Roiphe, who doesn’t relate to those hairy, stinky old feminists from the ’70s. And oh my god, have you seen that new show, “Friends”? I totally want that Rachel chick’s hair!

Seriously, my first thought when I read this article was “I choose my choice!” — and even that’s a woefully outdated reference. On the upside, when I Googled that phrase to find the article I just linked to, I also ran across a relevant blog post by Lisa Jervis (hey, did you know there’s this new magazine about feminism and pop culture that reclaims the word “bitch”?), in which she discusses the tension between respecting women’s individual choices and trying to preserve a definition of feminism that goes beyond, say, Soames’ cutesy explanation of the “new feminist” agenda: “The right to do what the hell you like, however you like, in heels — if you like.” (Oh, ha, it’s so true! Female empowerment in the 21st century = selfish behavior with zero reflection! It’s like you read my diary, Gemma!) Writes Jervis, “How can we deal with this? Can we find the right place on the continuum between uncritical acceptance of every woman’s ‘I’m doing it for me‘ boob job… and actually writing those Feminist Clubhouse Rules that some people think we have?”

Great question. Except, even asking it is capitulating to a false binary similar to the one created by journalists like Soames nearly two decades ago, not that Soames noticed it. As a “young” feminist (at least by the standards of an article that invokes Courtney Love as a current style icon) who does indeed love lipstick and retro dresses, I can’t tell you how sick I am of reading articles that feature a bunch of self-proclaimed feminists somewhat closer to my age than Gloria Steinem’s going on about how ridiculous second-wavers were for acting as if women were, you know, oppressed or something.

Read the rest here.

Thank a Second Wave old feminist.


Greed has pushed political

credibility and financial trust into


Recent scandals in America reveal a value system that puts the wealth of a few before the welfare of many

by Gary Younge

‘What an ideology is, is a conceptual framework with the way people deal with reality,” Alan Greenspan told the Congressional House oversight and government reform committee on 23 October. “Everyone has one. You have to – to exist, you need an ideology. The question is whether it is accurate or not.” As the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, from 1987 to 2006, Greenspan stood at the helm of US monetary policy during the time conditions for the current meltdown were being created.

“And what I’m saying to you,” he continued, “is, yes, I found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is, but I’ve been very distressed by that fact … [I found a] flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical functioning structure that defines how the world works.”

Greenspan’s ideology was unfettered, free-market capitalism. Its understanding of how the world works was rooted in self-interest. It was a value system that placed the private before the public, the individual before the collective, and the wealth of the few before the welfare of the many.

So pervasive was this worldview that, after a while, it was not even understood to be a view at all. It was just the hard-nosed reality against which only lunatics and leftists raged. “Unlike many economists,” Bob Woodward wrote of Alan Greenspan in his book Maestro (the title speaks volumes), “he has never been rule driven or theory driven. The data drive.” They drove a sleek black limousine over the edge of a steep cliff. And since the invisible hand of the market ostensibly guided everything, there was no one who could really be held accountable or responsible for anything. The buck didn’t stop anywhere. Indeed, for those who were already wealthy, the bucks just kept rolling in.

Read the rest here.

Why not try some of this here?

In Madrid, banking on the art scene


La Casa Encendida

The fall of 2008 will be remembered for the meltdown of the international banking system, but it’s also been a great season for international art in Madrid, thanks to the free-spending ways of some of Spain’s largest banks.

This is not another morality tale about self-aggrandizing corporate honchos trying to put their names on museum wings before pulling the cord on their golden parachutes. Rather, it’s a case of old-fashioned social responsibility that has been codified into a legal obligation.

Because of a peculiarity of Spanish law (with origins that reach back nearly 500 years, when banks were lending societies associated with religious orders), modern Spanish savings banks — commonly known as cajas in Castilian and caixas in Catalan — are strictly nonprofit institutions. While they may make money, they have no shareholders and pay no dividends.

Profits, therefore, are meant to be devoted to the “public good” and the banks are at liberty to define this however they see fit.

Back in the day, it typically meant helping out farmers through lean times and troubled harvests. Today, however, through a vast array of obra social (public work) foundations, the savings banks support medical research and reforestation efforts, grant scholarships, finance historical preservation, sponsor art exhibitions or even establish their own cultural centers.

Read the rest here.

The Bush Shoe

When a pair of black leather oxfords hurled at President George W. Bush in Baghdad produced a gasp heard around the world, a Turkish cobbler had a different reaction: They were his shoes.

“We have been producing that specific style, which I personally designed, for 10 years, so I couldn’t have missed it, no way,” said Ramazan Baydan in Istanbul. “As a shoemaker, you understand.”

Although his assertion has been impossible to verify – cobblers from Lebanon, China and Iraq have also staked claims to what is quickly becoming some of the most famous footwear in the world – orders for Baydan’s shoes, formerly known as Ducati Model 271 and since renamed “The Bush Shoe,” have poured in from around the world.

Read the rest here.

British team discovers lost Eden amid forgotten forest of Africa

It was one of the few places on the planet that remained unmapped and unexplored, but now Mount Mabu has started to yield its secrets to the world.


Olive Sunbird

Until a few years ago this giant forest in the mountainous north of Mozambique was known only to local villagers; it did not feature on maps nor, it is believed, in scientific collections or literature. But after “finding” the forest on a Google Earth internet map, a British-led team of scientists has returned from what is thought to be the first full-scale expedition into the canopy. Below the trees, which rise 45m above the ground, they discovered land filled with astonishingly rich biodiversity.


Pygmy Chameleon

Read more here.

See slide show here.

Money – take two


Just in case you missed it the first time around, here is Margaret Atwood’s response to Stephen Harper’s comments on the arts:

What sort of country do we want to live in? What sort of country do we already live in? What do we like? Who are we?

At present, we are a very creative country. For decades, we’ve been punching above our weight on the world stage – in writing, in popular music and in many other fields. Canada was once a cultural void on the world map, now it’s a force. In addition, the arts are a large segment of our economy: The Conference Board estimates Canada’s cultural sector generated $46-billion, or 3.8 per cent of Canada’s GDP, in 2007. And, according to the Canada Council, in 2003-2004, the sector accounted for an “estimated 600,000 jobs (roughly the same as agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, oil & gas and utilities combined).”

But we’ve just been sent a signal by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that he gives not a toss for these facts. Tuesday, he told us that some group called “ordinary people” didn’t care about something called “the arts.” His idea of “the arts” is a bunch of rich people gathering at galas whining about their grants. Well, I can count the number of moderately rich writers who live in Canada on the fingers of one hand: I’m one of them, and I’m no Warren Buffett. I don’t whine about my grants because I don’t get any grants. I whine about other grants – grants for young people, that may help them to turn into me, and thus pay to the federal and provincial governments the kinds of taxes I pay, and cover off the salaries of such as Mr. Harper. In fact, less than 10 per cent of writers actually make a living by their writing, however modest that living may be. They have other jobs. But people write, and want to write, and pack into creative writing classes, because they love this activity – not because they think they’ll be millionaires.

Every single one of those people is an “ordinary person.” Mr. Harper’s idea of an ordinary person is that of an envious hater without a scrap of artistic talent or creativity or curiosity, and no appreciation for anything that’s attractive or beautiful. My idea of an ordinary person is quite different. Human beings are creative by nature. For millenniums we have been putting our creativity into our cultures – cultures with unique languages, architecture, religious ceremonies, dances, music, furnishings, textiles, clothing and special cuisines. “Ordinary people” pack into the cheap seats at concerts and fill theatres where operas are brought to them live. The total attendance for “the arts” in Canada in fact exceeds that for sports events. “The arts” are not a “niche interest.” They are part of being human.


Money, money, money – it’s a rich man’s world

The revelation that Bernard Madoff — brilliant investor (or so almost everyone thought), philanthropist, pillar of the community — was a phony has shocked the world, and understandably so. The scale of his alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme is hard to comprehend.

Yet surely I’m not the only person to ask the obvious question: How different, really, is Mr. Madoff’s tale from the story of the investment industry as a whole?

The financial services industry has claimed an ever-growing share of the nation’s income over the past generation, making the people who run the industry incredibly rich. Yet, at this point, it looks as if much of the industry has been destroying value, not creating it. And it’s not just a matter of money: the vast riches achieved by those who managed other people’s money have had a corrupting effect on our society as a whole.

Let’s start with those paychecks. Last year, the average salary of employees in “securities, commodity contracts, and investments” was more than four times the average salary in the rest of the economy. Earning a million dollars was nothing special, and even incomes of $20 million or more were fairly common. The incomes of the richest Americans have exploded over the past generation, even as wages of ordinary workers have stagnated; high pay on Wall Street was a major cause of that divergence.

But surely those financial superstars must have been earning their millions, right? No, not necessarily. The pay system on Wall Street lavishly rewards the appearance of profit, even if that appearance later turns out to have been an illusion.

Read the rest here.

Money, money, money