999 Words

Engine of Survival: notes on Nicolas Grenier’s future visions

The future was undoubtedly Leonard Cohen’s purview.

Montreal’s perpetual poet laureate seemed to possess an uncanny ability to diagnose and prognosticate what was to come. His 1992 song entitled “The Future,” from the album of the same name, is a blunt indictment of the tortuous human path Cohen foresaw. “Things are going to slide,” he growls ominously in the chorus; “slide in all directions.” The filmmaker Oliver Stone used this song to superb effect in his 1993 film, Natural Born Killers, a sendup of serial-killer celebrities and the American media’s creed, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Stone’s satire of murder and media was an attempt to hold up a funhouse mirror to the geopolitics and popular culture of the not-too-distant day, as if to say, behold what you shall become. There was a sense at that time that over-the-top satire would be enough, that the public would inevitably decode this cinematic harbinger, this prolonged Saturday Night Live skit, anticipate the dangerous future toward which we were tumbling, and change course. But that didn’t happen. The film instead encouraged the sardonic acceptance of death and destruction as tabloid entertainment. And Cohen was right: the future was murder.

Nicolas Grenier’s outstanding new works of sculpture, drawing, and painting, now on exhibition at Bradley Ertaskiran, echo Cohen’s dire futuristic warnings. Charcoal drawings on paper depict chessboard scenes of toppled deities; abstract op-art paintings pop out into three-dimensional space; two prominent statues placed on pedestals in the gallery’s center fuse famous figures: the Statue of Liberty melds with Vladimir Lenin, and Siddhartha with Jesus Christ in extremis. Surely, some form of Cohen-esque poetry is at work in conventional artistic traditions being deployed in the service of subverting cultural conventions.

There is an undercurrent throughout Grenier’s oeuvre that all bets are off. The old yardsticks of human civilization are being uprooted and the twin columns of ideology and religion — those once-permanent measures of human progress — are irrevocably transitioning into hybrid, mutant forms. They are unrecognizable, and yet still indispensable. A fundamental theme of the show, entitled Esquisses d’un inventaire, is the sense that the winds of change themselves have changed. An alternate title for this collection could have been the Cohen lyric: “The blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold and it’s overturned the order of the soul.”

Although they are technically excellent, even nearing perfection, Grenier’s illusionistic paintings, in particular, hint at a devolutionary impulse in operation in the historical record. Seemingly clean lines upon closer inspection reveal the jagged imperfections of the painting process — and of the media themselves. The canvas’s flat surfaces are enlisted to do more than simply represent images; the two-dimensional plane does triple duty here, transcending its function as a purveyor of paint and jumping valence into the realm of performance. What the paintings mean is a matter of interpretation. What they do is not.

It is noteworthy that Azza El Siddique’s enormous and slowly corroding two-headed cobra is on display in the gallery’s basement bunker space, as if symbolically manipulating the inner workings of the underworld just beneath Grenier’s superficial interface. In its repose, the snake evokes a majestic ferocity, poised just as easily to kill its prey or turn on itself. The opposite of Ouroboros, the fabled serpent devouring its own tail, this creature of revisionist mythology has no tail to devour, and no orifice from which to expel its own venomousness. It is pure appetite, the world serpent now eating for two.

Throughout the twentieth century, and every century before it, there was a broad cultural assumption that the future would be an improvement upon the past, that each generation would be better than its ancestors, that technology would aid humanity, and that the word ‘progress’ possessed some intrinsic, universal consequence. In the twenty-first century, we are witnessing the first iteration of a new, millennial generation in which progress is synonymous with stagnation and retrogression, in which technologies reflect human failures, and in which the monolithic future has shattered into shards of potential futurity.

This new-normal, doomed-future mentality is a result of what the late cultural theorist Mark Fisher described as “consciousness deflation” or: the systematic and deliberate destruction of individual and collective social agency. The ability to imagine better futures has been replaced with the inability to imagine such things, and with the assumption that time is but a slow march towards oblivion. Of course, capitalists are among the first to advance this assumption, because nothing is as profitable as despair. Keeping large populations of people in ignorance, with some hint of remembrance for a time when the future seemed bright, is a tenet of Control.

One of the biggest challenges of foretelling the future is effectively communicating a prophetic vision. And one of the biggest curses of the psychic mind is not having an answer. How to tell the others? Nostradamus predicted the future in cryptic metaphors. Leonard Cohen wrote poetry and recorded them as songs. Oliver Stone set them to ironic, brutal images. And Nicolas Grenier paints, draws, and sculpts complex concepts simultaneously into aesthetically pleasing and thought-provoking works of art. Creation, not destruction, will save our future. And the best modes of communication are also the oldest.

Although Leonard Cohen is championed by today’s wokest, he was hardly of that ilk, decrying the rise of drug use, frivolous sex, and abortion, and pointing to a perversion of more traditional morals as the culprit for humanity’s imminent descent. Yet, there is a crack in Cohen’s crusty façade, and that is how the optimism gets in. If we are to survive as a species, Cohen suggests, we need to love without conditions, without borders, and without prejudice. There is no roadmap for that future. It is unprecedented. It is literally off-the-grid. That is what I see Grenier’s works signalling as well: where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

Verily, the only path to the future is back.◼︎

Esquisses d’un inventaire continues at Bradley Ertaskiran through 22 April 2023.

Play Recent

The Smile’s Returning

Orchestre classique de Montréal, Illuminations, Magali Simard-Galdès, soprano, Pierre-Mercure Hall, 5 March 2023

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Mel Brooks, the 96-year-old comedian, revealed that even at his age, he doesn’t shy away from controversy. Still, in 2023, Brooks isn’t afraid to tell a good Hitler joke.

Laughter can be the best medicine in even the sickest of times. But Brooks prefers to wield humour as a weapon. Being Jewish helps. It gives Brooks, and all Jewish comedians, a pass. Seinfeld did Nazi jokes, and in an episode of The Larry Sanders Show, opposite a young Jon Stewart, Jeffrey Tambor played a satirical game show host, in head-to-toe Hitler regalia, named ‘Adolph Hankler.’ But that was back in the 90’s, and a full fifty years after World War II.

Is it too soon to start making Putin jokes?

In the future, will it be considered politically incorrect to dress up as Putin, to get all oily and shirtless and ride a white horse, to wear Russian army surplus, to crack wise about the invasion of Ukraine? If so, I am glad that I’m Ukrainian. That means I’m covered for the foreseeable future from censure for mounting my long-planned musical, Springtime in Bakhmut.

Jerry Seinfeld believes that comedy is the closest we can come to justice. It’s impossible to fake a laugh. A joke is either funny or it’s not. Comedy is the real battlefield, and the funniest jokes always settle the fight.

The OCM’s 83rd season continues through 20 June 2023.

White Boy Scream + Wapiti/Pauly, La Salla Rossa, 13 March 2023

After the L.A.-based experimental opera singer Micaela Tobin’s outstanding performance as White Boy Scream on Monday night at Sala Rossa, conversation turned to the term “diaspora.” Somebody wondered aloud where the word comes from. I submitted that it refers to the Jewish dispersion across the globe: it stems from the Greek, diasperiō — to scatter, to spread out. And it has come today to refer to any dispersion of a people around the world: there is an Irish diaspora, a Filipino diaspora, a Ukrainian diaspora, even a French diaspora. Though colonization doesn’t technically count.

The way that cultures flow through the world and end up where they do is as fascinating a study as any natural phenomenon. It’s like watching a cloud of milk dissolve into a cup of coffee, tendrils wisping and disappearing and, in doing so, altering its entire texture and flavour. The reasons behind diasporic impulses are just as interesting to consider: war, oppression, and tyranny often drive people away; but hope, opportunity, and freedom are beacons that everyone can recognize, and that everyone seems to understand, even if we can seldom define and communicate these abstract notions adequately.

What diaspora really means is being an outcast. Displacement. Exile. Still, everyone agreed that it is a beautiful and lyrical word. Someone else suggested it sounded like a kind of elaborate garment. A cape of some sort, perhaps. On next year’s red carpet, will every Oscar nominee be draped in a Dior diaspora?

Bakunawa is released via Deathbomb Arc.

Mark Takeshi McGregor, H​ō​rai (Keiko Devaux), Starts and Stops (Redshift Music)

Following a triumphant foray into the experimental opera world — because classical and experimental music can only benefit from this overdue alliance — the Montreal composer Keiko Devaux goes from strength to strength with this contribution to a stellar compilation album by the flautist Mark Takeshi McGregor. These works combine the flute, one of the oldest-known instruments, with some of humankind’s most advanced modes of music-making. The results are profoundly moving and underscore the idea that history is not linear, that technology is not synonymous with progress, and that we can find harmonies in unexpected sonic configurations.

Starts and Stops is released via Redshift Music.

ALL HANDS_MAKE LIGHT, We Live On A Fucking Planet And Baby That’s The Sun, Darling The Dawn (Constellation Records)

The other day, a guy got on the metro, sat down right next to me, and lit a stick of incense. I was incensed. I said to the guy, have some sense and put out that incense, you insensitive bastard!

Darling The Dawn is released 21 April 2023 via Constellation Records.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor, with Moor Mother, MTelus, 9 March 2021

When Montreal’s unofficial house band announced their return in 2010, I vaguely remember that they did so with an apologetic metaphor hand-written on a yellow page torn from a notepad. Something about having left the bicycle outdoors all winter. The bike was meant to stand in for the band getting tuned up after a long, inactive period — locked to a stop sign, gears tarnished, rusty chain hanging loose from a weathered old frame. Or words to that effect.

Montreal’s indie rock scene possesses a characteristically rough, unpolished aesthetic, which Godspeed helped to define — a jangled and raw approach to playing live, to making recordings, and in general to assembling sound. The Emperisti — bands like Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade, as well as electronic acts that Godspeed’s artistic ethos influenced, like Tim Hecker and Marie Davidson — at once reflect and benefit from this image, this archetype of corroded Montreal culture.

If Godspeed was a rusty bike in 2010, they are verily a finely tuned machine in 2023. It sounds as if they might even intentionally fuck up, inserting wrong notes to undermine our expectations, to ruin the audience’s anticipatory gratification. But just when you think that they might have forgotten the song, the band thunder back, composed, in unison, and produce that serrated edge sound for which they are known the globe over, and than which there is nothing heavier.

Late capitalism might have produced Godspeed, but hyper-capitalism refined them. Their anthemic post-rock, tuned, tightened, and road-ready, never fails to lift our skinny fists, and spirits.◼︎

Godspeed You! Black Emperor is on tour through 29 April 2023.

All Dressed

Always Another Medium: in conversation with Nelson Henricks

Undeniably, there is something thrilling about hardware stores. Artists love them. Maybe it’s the sheer volume and variety of objects on display, a microcosm of possible worlds: hammers, hinges, ladders, lightbulbs — everything including the kitchen sink. Maybe it’s the unmistakable hardware store smell, that combination of turpentine and sawdust that awakens the senses.

Whatever it is, the Montreal-based artist and academic Nelson Henricks, whose two multimedia installations, Don’t You Like The Green of A and Heads Will Roll, are currently featured at the Musée d’art contemporain’s auxiliary Place Ville Marie space, finds inspiration there, too.

“There are certain places that I go,” Henricks tells me about locating his creative muse. “There’s also this really great prop shop in the east end of Montreal called Gascon & Krukowski and I just love going there and looking through all their stuff. I think there can be these places, like hardware stores, that really inspire us, and materials that really inspire us.”

Nelson Henricks is one of Montreal’s most interesting contemporary artists. In 2002, he won the coveted Bell Canada Prize in Video Art. He has curated programmes at the Montreal Festival of Cinema and New Media and the Saidye Bronfman Centre. Henricks’s works reside in the permanent collections of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and his writing has been collected in numerous edited volumes and magazines. He teaches supercool courses at Concordia on subjects like “Video History and Theory” and “Art Culture(s) and Technology,” and he will soon begin a collaboration with Ubisoft, the video game company.

Henricks’s works have a prop shop material quality to them. It is not immediately clear to which tradition they belong. Are they video art, or sculpture; are they paintings, or fashion, or wallpaper? Among them, there are key elements of all of these things operating in accord. “It’s really like a series of components that mutually reinforce each other,” Henricks explains of the two shows. “You have the spotlights, you have the video, you have the paintings and the costumes, and they’re working like a network. There’s a series of parts that come together.”

The tongue-in-cheek piece entitled Heads Will Roll prominently features a figure wearing a drum as a helmet, along with other noisemaking elements loosely related to civil disobedience and social protest. For the installation, Henricks collaborated closely with Stuart Jackson, the classically trained percussionist.

“I was really interested in working with [Jackson] because he could play a lot more accurately than I could,” Henricks says, self-deprecatingly.

“My timing was really off, when you get down to the millisecond level. Whereas Stuart had a lot more accuracy because he’s a professional musician. He can play with a metronome and almost match it to the millisecond — which was great. In our conversations, he was telling me about all these different things we could do, and all of these different things he was playing: pieces of metal, glass bottles, or using Styrofoam on drums and getting drums to resonate in different ways. Then the idea became, why not get Stuart to play pots and pans? So, it will kind of be about the Maple Spring.”

But for Henricks, there was also a deeply personal connection: “These are pots and pans that belonged to my grandmother and my mom. So there’s this idea of a call, in a way, like banging on a pot or a pan to call people in from the field at the end of a work day. So they’re about this relationship to family, too, like my grandmother’s voice, and finding a way to put that in the work.”

On an altogether different note, Don’t You Like The Green of A poses synesthesia, the fusion of two or more senses, as its central theme. “It’s been with me for as long as I can remember,” Henricks says of his own grapheme-color variety, the most common synesthetic instance in which subjects associate colours and alphabetical letters, and which Henricks shares with the late American abstract painter Joan Mitchell.

Henricks tells me that his synesthesia even extends to days of the week and months of the year, “like, Thursday begins with ‘T,’” he says, “so it has the same colour as ‘T.’ Or Monday begins with ‘M,’ so it has the same colour as ‘M.’ Part of my doctoral research was really around this question of synesthesia,” Henricks explains, “and the thing that I noticed in my art practice was other artists, and people, had synesthesia. And one of them was Joan Mitchell.”

Researching Mitchell sent Henricks down the proverbial rabbit hole: “The machine driving Don’t You Like The Green of A is this colour chart that Joan Mitchell drew up where she was documenting her colour-letter associations really precisely. I really tried to track down what her colour-letter associations were. This involved contacting the Joan Mitchell Foundation in New York and having a back-and-forth with them about that. I think sometimes things that inspire me are just encountering interesting little historical incidents or factoids that intrigue me.”

Henricks, however, is reticent to spell out the meaning or draw any quick conclusions. “As an artist, your words have a lot of weight,” Henricks suggests. “And they can really quickly shut down any sort of productive ambiguity about the work, and really anchor it in a certain type of context. So I try to be careful about talking about the work in those ways. I find that talking about the two pieces at the museum has been really challenging. On one hand, Don’t You Like The Green Of A is a really research-based piece, and it was coming out of a lot of facts. And Heads Will Roll was really more of a musical, compositional problem. There was this woman over at our house and she’d seen the show and she was saying, one piece really works on your mind, and one piece really works on your body. I found that a really interesting thing to say. Like, Heads Will Roll kind of works more on your body. It works more on the level of sensation.”

It was that sensorial attraction that spurred Henricks to incorporate programmes of Andy Warhol’s films along with his exhibition: a series of six Warhol works, including Kiss and Haircut, were screened on 16mm in January at the Cinémathèque Québécois, and a selection of Screen Tests — Warhol’s renowned single-reel facial studies — are projected in a loop in the MAC’s peripheral screening room. Warhol’s works are a fitting accompaniment to Henricks’s immense mixed media installation — big chunks of colour, big chunks of video, and definitively, big chunks of human experience.

“There were certain other parallels I was seeing between the Screen Tests and the work I was making for the show,” Henricks recalls: “a kind of monumental presentation of the face, and a really sculptural way of presenting time. These big blocks of time are just on display.”

“During the lockdown, I read this catalogue of the Screen Tests,” says Henricks, “And I found it really fascinating reading and I was like, I wish I could see them. And then another catalogue came out last year — this really minute documentation of all the Warhol films from ’63 to ’65 — and I knew some of these works because I had seen them in different contexts over the years. But again, I was kind of like polling people I knew and asking if anybody would be interested in seeing Warhol films in Montreal. Like, am I the only person who would want to see these things? Apparently not.”

The double feature showing of the dual-screen gem Outer and Inner Space paired with a Velvet Underground concert was sold out, and a number of eager cineastes attended all three evenings.

“When I went to the Museum with a proposition of doing a Warhol programme, they were really enthusiastic about it, which was a pleasant surprise,” says Henricks. “I was just thinking about that space at the museum, that kind of black box, and presenting something in there that wasn’t so demanding. They are demanding in a way, but it’s a really modular programme. You could watch one, or two, or three — as many as you want. They’re silent, so they’re contemplative. They’re not really narrating at you.”

On the final night at the Cinémathèque, the post-film discussion, moderated by the McGill professor Ara Osterweil, turned to notions of film’s material significance. Warhol’s works are notoriously difficult to see. Save for some YouTube bootlegs, few digital copies exist. “They’re not expensive,” Henricks says. “You just phone the Warhol Museum and rent them and screen them. But I subscribe to Criterion Channel and why aren’t these on Criterion?”

“I believe in that idea of medium specificity,” Henricks declares, “and I do say to my students, when you get a chance to see a 16mm film version of Warhol, or Stan Brakhage, or Michael Snow, go out and see these works. But then another part of me wonders how much of that doesn’t become a form of censorship, how much it doesn’t become a form of gatekeeping. There’s kind of a snobbery around the work, and I think that, ultimately, these things were meant to be shown. I think that the quality of projection at the MAC — these are digital copies, and they look great. They look amazing! Were there flaws in the Cinémathèque projection that could have been avoided had we been using digital copies? Yes, absolutely.”

The question of analogue or digital, software or hardware, medium or message, elicits genuine ambivalence.

“I wish I could give a rubber stamp of the guy holding his chin. I’m really divided and I feel like, ultimately, the work at the MAC, especially Don’t You Like The Green of A, is a piece that’s completely about refuting the importance of materiality. I’m saying, this work could be wallpaper, or it could be paintings, or it could be projection, or it could be a video — and it doesn’t really matter.”◼︎

Nelson Henricks New Works continues at the Musée d’art contemporain until 10 April 2023.

Remote Reviews

Tim Hecker: No Highs

Bret Easton Ellis careens full throttle down Mulholland Drive at dusk. The sun-bespectacled American author is behind the wheel of a black BMW E30 M3, his foot depressing the accelerator to the floorboard as he shifts up and back between second and third gears, the automobile snarling in sympathy and tightening around the road’s curvaceous contours.

Ellis reaches into the glovebox and produces a sleek glass canister three-quarters full of cocaine. Fingering the steering wheel, he skillfully removes the canister’s cap and measures out a small hill of the fine white powder onto a manicured thumbnail and raises it to his nostril and hastily inhales.

A complex combination of chemically induced endorphins rushes through his bloodstream and his pupils dilate as he adjusts the rear-view mirror, catching in it momentarily a glimpse of his own weathered visage, no worse for the wear, with a mind no less brilliant than ever before. Still got it, he says to himself, winking and discharging a gun-like finger at his reflection.

Ellis slams the steering wheel and emits a loud howl and shakes his head from side to side and sniffs again deeply, wiping the residual dust from his nasal passage with an index finger and rubbing it greedily upon his gums. A guilt-laden euphoria washes over Ellis, a flicker of nostalgia for the days when sniffing cocaine in a black BMW E30 M3 whilst careening down Mulholland might have seemed exciting and new. But time and routine have dulled the pleasures of transgression and Ellis now fumbles under the armrest for a particular CD case.

He locates it and opens it and removes the glistening silver disc housed therein and the disc disappears into the dashboard stereo system. Ellis cranks the volume knob clockwise, numerals scrolling faster than the stereo’s digital screen can display them, and the opening notes of Tim Hecker’s latest recording scorch the Santa Monica airwaves.

Forthwith the car and its captain are bathed in oceans of harmonic distortion and searing melodies that ache and yearn for some unattainable but nonetheless existent perfection, a lament to the heavens that the rapture is not materializing quickly enough, that this superficial plane lacks a more revelatory spiritual significance.

An expanse of twinkling lights stretches out in the distance and Ellis is struck as if for the first time by the inconsequence of his own existence and the magnitude and scale of creation, and of capitalism’s insatiability for its fruits and fields, a genocidal carnage once sweeping the American West where, right there, right then, his BMW’s wheels were busy skimming the asphalt.

Hecker’s score crescendos. The car shudders and its driver is teleported to a transcendent realm and Ellis’s soul fleetingly parts ways with his body and he is suddenly privy to an eagle-eye view of his vehicle as it twists and turns across the road that cuts a narrow swath westward from Cahuenga Pass in Hollywood to Sepulveda Pass and beyond. Soaring high above the valley, Ellis’s disembodied spirit cannot help but be overwhelmed by a sense of love and oneness with all that is gone and all that’s to come.

It is at this precise second that the car hits a bump and the compact disc skips off and out and Ellis’s soul descends like a balloon deflated and he snaps back, belted into the BMW’s driver’s seat. Had he attained nirvana just then while listening to Tim Hecker?

Ellis reaches for his iPhone which rests idly in the passenger seat and, finding it, he takes to Twitter to inform his followers eagerly of this near death, near life, experience. The tweet is immediately liked and retweeted hundreds of times and eventually, algorithmically, finds its way into the Canadian composer Tim Hecker’s feed where he reads it with a bemused self-satisfaction.

Hecker closes the web browser and toggles back to a screen with representations of waveforms and meters and faders and, sipping from a coffee mug, clicks a block of audio into place with a cursor.◼︎

No Highs is released 7 April 2023 via Kranky

How Do You Spell Holiday?

Meet Your Maker: notes on (not) drinking bourbon

There is an old joke about two buddies, Frank and Jim, who go out for after-work libations.

Frank proceeds to get blind drunk and vomits all over his own shirt. He laments that his wife will be infuriated when she sees him in such a state. Jim, being a generous and ingenious pal, tells Frank to tell his wife instead that it was Jim who got bombed and barfed on Frank’s shirt. To corroborate this story, Jim instructs Frank to plant $10 into his shirt pocket, from Jim, to pay for the estimated dry cleaning.

The last drink of alcohol I ever had was Maker’s Mark bourbon. To be pedantic, the last drink of alcohol I ever had was an entire bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon. It all started with one shot. Then another. Then another. I was at home, alone, and you would think that you can’t get into trouble drinking at home alone. But no.

I vaguely remember that the police arrived, then departed. More bourbon shots followed, which I do not recall. Yadda Yadda Yadda, and I found the bottle upside down in the sink the next morning. Of course I’m Yadda-ing over the worst part.

I don’t know why I was drinking. Perhaps it was the extreme loneliness of the pandemic. Perhaps it was the frustration around the extreme loneliness of the pandemic. Somehow the pandemic had something to do with it. But if I’m being honest, the pandemic was just another excuse, an easy target, like the solution to a 1930s social problem film. The real motive was the spirit in the bottle.

The reason they call spirits ‘spirits’ is because there is a powerful spiritual essence in there. It can take any form, any gender, any identity — it is fluid, after all. The spirit can be charming, clever, courageous, affectionate, amorous. But the spirit can also become impetuous, angry, even violent. And there is a point at which the spirit in the bottle can and will completely take over the spirit in the human being. The spirit assumes one hundred percent control, leaving behind nothing resembling that person, and the spirit will do whatever it will. Fundamentally, its will and our will are out of sync. No one ever says, ‘I’m glad I did X while drunk.’

I am not absolving myself of any responsibility here. It was I who invited the spirit into my life in the first place. I’m the one who drank the bourbon. And I drank everything that I ever drank leading up to the bourbon. But once that particular bourbon entered my bloodstream, I knew to whom its mark belonged. It was not the bourbon’s distiller; the “Maker’s Mark” was of the alcohol’s apposite creator. You know, that guy, from south of the border. (Hell, not America.)

I was invited earlier this month to an exclusive event at the brand new Hyatt Centric hotel in Old Montreal. A pre-Christmas tour of the facility was announced, and abruptly cancelled, for media personnel ostensibly covering the travel industry for various publications. I emailed the Hyatt to find out if the tour had been rescheduled and discovered that there was indeed a visit that very night, if I’d hustled to the property, followed by a tasting of a batch of Maker’s Mark bourbon produced especially for The Burgundy Lion’s sister restaurant, Cartier Arms. I was under the impression that journalism was dying. But it’s encouraging to see how many people consider themselves journalists when someone is administering journalists free bourbon shots.

The Hyatt Centric, the majestic, off-kilter, white cube that looms high on the horizon over Montreal’s most historically rich neighbourhood, seemed a fitting venue for the Maker’s Mark unveiling. Because of its architecturally anomalous design, its hallways appear to veer sideways. It is undeniably an admirably built edifice. But there is something Death Star-ish about it. Maybe it’s the fact that it is perpetually under construction. Or maybe it’s the fact that this Hyatt represents another giant corporation planting its flag in the heart of Montreal, thus marking yet another slide down the world’s slippery slope of ultimately toxic inclinations.

Toby Lyle, the restaurateur, and the aptly named Lindsay Wood, Maker’s Mark’s diplomat, were on hand to give their respective spiels describing this niche bourbon blend, called Adrianna, after Lyle’s daughter. They regaled the audience with details about how the bourbon is made, about how Maker’s Mark distillery boasts its own water source, about how bourbon needn’t be manufactured in Kentucky, but has to be blended using a minimum of fifty-one percent corn to be considered bourbon proper. Lyle divulged to the crowd that he’d planned to gift his daughter a bottle of her bourbon on her eighteenth birthday. I hope Adrianna respects the spirit that is now her namesake. I pray she understands the potential curse bottled therein.

A number of recent studies have concluded that, contrary to popular belief, there is no healthy amount of alcohol for humans. Nada. Zero. Zilch. All of the positive effects previously associated with booze — decreased blood pressure, antioxidation — can be better achieved with many other safe and effective methods that do not involve intoxication. We might have normalized alcoholism in modern society, but statistics suggest that young people are consuming far less alcohol than previous generations, and soft drink industry efforts to entice young consumers back to habitual boozing by introducing alcohol are both indicative of those trends, as well as proof of capitalism’s pure evil.

So, what was the worst part of my last drink?

When Frank arrives home, his wife is predictably enraged and immediately rebukes him. Frank, though, proceeds to unravel the alibi concocted earlier — that it was really Jim who had drunkenly vomited on Frank’s shirt. Frank implores his wife to check inside his pocket in which she will find $10, from Jim, for the dry cleaning. She inspects his pockets, but instead finds $20. To which Frank replies, “Well, he took a shit in my pants, too.”◼︎

Help is available if you or anyone you know is suffering from addictions.

Imbibe Adrianna exclusively at Cartier Arms, where there is also a selection of delicious virgin cocktails.

999 Words

And All Things Nice: notes on Parall(elles): a history of women and design

Men like me love women.

There is a group of people, however, who love women even more than men like me, and that group is women. Women love women, man. Women love to celebrate all things by and for and about women. And why not? To me, at least, there is nothing lovelier in this world than that indefinable yet unmistakable assemblage of characteristics that constitutes essential femininity.

These days, asserting the existence of such a monolithic thing — womanhood — is a controversial pursuit; when even the word “women” is contested terrain, it is an implicitly political statement to drop it right into the title of a museum exhibition. Nonetheless, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts saw fit to go there, and for one of the stuffier of the city’s artistic institutions, it is a radically feminist rhetorical move.

Parall(elles): a history of women and design, which runs February 18th through May 28th in the museum’s Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion, collects 250 objects that (genetic) women either created or contributed to significantly, focussing a spotlight specifically on achievements hitherto attributed to men — Denise Scott Brown, for example, the partner of the Pritzker Prize-winning American architect Robert Venturi, and the General Motors designer Ruth Glennie, whose reinvention of the ‘Fancy Free’ Corvette functions as the exhibition’s centrepiece.

The assumption in art history has always been that men created capital ‘A’ art, probably, when we started painting the Lascaux caves. But a 2013 scholarly study published in the journal American Antiquity suggests that more women than men might have been responsible for producing parietal art. The anatomical difference in men’s and women’s hands serves as the basis for these claims which, if true, indicate that women may have in fact made between 75 and 90 percent of Euro-American Upper Paleolithic hand stencils, widely considered to be humankind’s first acts of artistic creation.

Ironically, many of the pieces in this collection gesture towards more traditional notions of the economy of femininity and domesticity. Clara Driscoll’s Tiffany stained glass lamp, for instance, or Ray Eames’s iconic pieces of office furniture reveal the discursive sites that historically served as women’s points of entry into the arts. Eva Zeisel’s Museum Coffee Service, a minimal set of elegant ceramic carafes, cups, and saucers, and Molly Hatch’s monumental terracotta installation, which the MMFA commissioned especially for this exhibition, discreetly signal towards interiors as women’s purview. The home, the office, the kitchen, the bedroom, the passenger seat of a sports car — these were women’s places, spaces created by women’s work.

Parall(elles) cleverly sidesteps gender trouble to focus instead upon design trouble, calling into question the circumscriptions around craft, fine art, and industry, while leaving the notion of what represents womanhood to the spectator. In doing so, this collection also suggests a sort of Montréalaise coda to a centuries-old dance between two complementary and corresponding partners, XX and XY. It is almost as if the 251st piece in this collection is woman herself.

As recently as the 1990s, it was still radical to be a woman. From the Spice Girls to Ellen DeGeneres, from Girl Power to the Riot Grrrls Manifesto, from Anna Nicole Smith to Kim Campbell, women were leaning into traditionally masculine pursuits. The future seemed decidedly female. In the 90s, the theorist Judith Butler critiqued the notion of womanhood as a socially constructed and economically reinforced category that ultimately served a patriarchal power structure. Women were the negative space that shaped masculinity, a binary dialectic allowing men to rule the world. The parallel nature of this dichotomy has disintegrated as gender identities proliferate and their acknowledgment becomes evermore contentious. Will there be an exhibition in twenty or thirty or forty years celebrating the underrepresented contributions of trans people to the design world? Is all this inclusivity necessarily exclusionary?

To the spectators of this exhibition, and me, it should simply be a question of aesthetics. Identity is an extension of intention, and every good art historian knows that intention is a fallacy. It may be interesting at best to know what an artist intended by this work or that, just as it may be interesting to know the gender or sexuality or politics of the artist. But it is only paratextual evidence, one rung above gossip. There is a kind of windmill-tilting, anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better notion to a show that makes women’s design its focus — a Rosie the Riveter rolled-up sleeves we can do it sense of spirit. But is that really necessary? Would this exhibition be any less spectacular if women’s work — so to speak — wasn’t brought to the fore? Can the works themselves stand on their own? I believe the answer is yes. Nonetheless, it is their assembly under the aegis of underrepresentation that makes Parall(elles) at once nostalgic and radical.

The Cleveland-born comedian and misogynist Drew Carey once had a joke in his routine about the common axiom that if the fairer sex ruled the world, there would have never been a war. Punctuated by Carey’s sarcastic Coke bottle-magnified eye roll, he retorts, “yeah right, like no woman has ever started a fight for no reason.” In this joke lies men’s fundamental ambivalence toward women. Men tend to attend women’s proud roar as vaguely hostile, somewhat hypocritical, tinged with a smug sense of self-superiority, but also paradoxically attractive. Conflict is sexy. It drives the story.

Parall(elles) seems anachronistic in this era when personal pronouns are beginning to outnumber the people they designate, when even abortion rights groups are banning the term “woman,” and when digital technology has curiously cultivated a less binary world. But to men like me, and to women like those represented in this exhibition, there is a certain strength in reasserting traditions and recognizing historical struggles that should be amplified, not muted, by the allied marginalia.

If there exists an implicit argument about womanhood in Parall(elles), it is a characteristically female one: make the fight about something else.◼︎

Parall(elles): a history of women and design runs February 18th through May 28th at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

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A Sweet Little Bullet From a Pretty Blue Gun

Tim Hecker, Lotus Light, No Highs (Kranky)

Rejection is the saddest sensation you will ever know. Yes, it’s the saddest sensation that you’ll ever know. And unless you’re Brad Fucking Pitt — or hot enough to get fucked by Brad Fucking Pitt — you have felt rejected.

If I had to give feelings colours, I’d say that rejection is a brown feeling. Usually we call it the blues. But to me, it’s brown. Like a Corinthian leather steering wheel, like the bottom of an ashtray in a 1980s taxicab, like carpet in a motel kitchenette. Rejection starts in the gut and radiates as a punch does, like that slow motion footage of a fat man shot in the stomach with a cannonball. It ripples out like a toothache. It’s a constant, nagging pain aggravated when you exercise it. Rejection is like a bad polyester pantsuit that you’re forced to wear in public that everyone can see looks hideously ugly but that you cannot cover up or doff. Rejection always comes when you need it least, too, when the opposite of rejection is what you sought. Nobody ever gets rejected by accident; we get rejected when at first we shoot for acceptance and miss.

Perhaps the worst part of rejection is that, in the end, there is nothing you can do. You can’t make a sound and logical argument for why you should not have been rejected, why the rejecter is the mistaken one and should reconsider their miscalculations. You have to move on. All you can do is put on that brown polyester pantsuit and get back out there.

Warhol x 6, La Cinémathèque Québécois, 26, 27, & 28 January 2023

We are lucky in Montreal to have the Cinémathèque and a cinema culture that brings things like Andy Warhol movies on 16mm. We are lucky in Montreal to have projectionists technically proficient enough to execute a dual screen film as seamlessly as a pair of Ibiza DJs. And we are lucky to have smart people here to talk with about these experiences, to elucidate the light.

Warhol’s films aren’t easy viewing. They force spectators to look at the medium as much as the message; they’re distant as much as they are intimate. And there is a special kind of intimacy watching reels of couples kissing whilst sat alone in the dark surrounded by Concordia students reeking of cigarette smoke. It’s a reminder that we will all one day just disappear in a puff of dust.

Leon Louder, Autocorrecting, You’re Killing Me, Bro (Unfulfillment + Stranger Ways Recordings)

Machines that think for us are often not that smart. We might call them smartphones, smart watches, smart TVs, but they do not demonstrate intelligence. At best, they’re kind of clever.

For a brief period in the 1990s there was a moment when we thought that technology was going to save humanity. Those of us who came of age in that decade are used to a soured technotopian worldview, as if some ideal intelligence had been robbed of us. But we must remember that automation had forever been widely considered a nightmare — from Modern Times to Westworld, twentieth century culture reflected a deep-seated mistrust of machines.

Quatuor Bozzini, Du nord, Espace Orange Édifice Wilder, 29 January 2023

We believe that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, making it sound as if its a priori, always-already existence is a forgone conclusion. However, it is only as old as professions themselves, meaning that it is only as old as capitalism, as old as exploitation, patriarchy, domination. Prostitution will fall away along with these antiquated socioeconomic orders. Prostitution is not a fact of life that we must deal with, but rather a symptom along with a number of other symptoms of a sick society.

The problem is neither an economic nor an ethical one but, as Jean Francois Lyotard argued, libidinal. As long as there is sexual jealousy, there will be capitalism. Communism is laced with the whiff of free love, a terrifying notion to property owners. But in practice, communistic sexuality was only ever a blunt hierarchy in which, inevitably, a local totalitarianism more political than the explicitly political form of global totalitarianism arose. Property is not the lowest common denominator of capital; sex is. There is no need for private property or even for privacy if sex is free — if sex and sexuality are freely liberated. We will never be free as long as bodies are valued along with abstract concepts like time and money and a sense of free will. That is why sexual violence is so effective in military aggression. It is colonization to the corps.

Laure Briard, Ne pas trop rester bleue, Ne pas trop rester bleue (Midnight Special Records)

Women, man. I have been blessed with lovely ones. They liked me. Some of them might have even loved me. Some of them cheated on their boyfriends with me. I didn’t object. God gave us crack and anal sex because there is a crack in everything, especially asses. Sorry, did I say blessed? I meant cursed. Cursed by beautiful women and their accumulated history. And asses.

Women when the bloom is off a man’s corsage are the coldest creatures known to man. An unambiguous chill moves in to replace that youthful warmth and softness when you’ve felt it, when you’ve had it to the point of possession, comprehended it so comprehensively that the memory of a feminine embrace returns like an acid flashback, recalled like a faulty Volkswagen, brakes disabled, in flames. In those moments there is only imagination and remembrance.

They say it is better to have loved and lost. This city is love’s lost and found box, and it seems there’s more loss out there than there is love.◼︎