artists

Elevating the Ordinary

Creative Commons photo

One of my intentions this year is to do something that lifts the day out of the ordinary every single day. It doesn’t have to be anything big and let’s face it, most of what I find interesting doesn’t typically cost a lot of money. It’s usually related to the Arts or being in a natural environment or dredging up questions and memories, if not stuff, at thrift shops.

It might be as simple as going to a different library. It could be cooking a new type of soup. Maybe I’ll visit a natural space in the Lower Mainland that I haven’t yet been to, or have been to and would like to visit again. I merely have to find enjoyment in the thought of doing it and then, here’s the tricky part, I actually have to follow through on those original intentions.

So yesterday on CBC Radio when I heard that it was PWYC (PayWhatYouCan) Wednesday at The Firehall Arts Centre and that there was a play there called And Bella Sang with Us by Sally Stubbs, I walked to the train for the requisite 35 minute sit into Vancouver and got off at the Chinatown station.

I walked down past T&T, past the Sun Yat Sen Garden, up past the Chinese grocers and herbalists and turned left at Gore Ave crossing Main Street, then walking back across the street to The Firehall.

The play is a glimpse into the lives of two female constables showcasing a part of Vancouver’s early history that I knew nothing about. That alone made it interesting. The cast was really good and the script was interesting.

I sat down and a woman sat down beside me in a small audience of mainly retired folk. It was 1pm. We chatted a bit, enough for me to learn that she’d recently graduated from Photography at Emily Carr. That little bit of info was enough for me to know I wanted to chat more with her.

After the play was over, we talked briefly before she asked if I’d like to go for a walk if we picked up her dog in her nearby co-op. So, we walked a little deeper into Strathcona and she returned with a curly-haired poodle named Bodhi. He was more than ready to get some fresh air.

We walked into Strathcona Park, passed a professional dog walker, watched as some other millennial dog walkers chased Bodhi around. “He loves to be chased,” she said, as we watched him scurry the way happy, fast moving dogs run, back slightly arched as his little legs took him on a big excited swath of a circle, the smile on his small black lips almost discernable.

We continued down a street near Union Market and then back up a street past Strathcona Elementary. Another woman walking a small cream-coloured poodle stopped to let the dogs interact before continuing on her way.

“Do you know who that is?” asked my new acquaintance.”

“No, but she looks familiar,” I said.

“That’s Daphne Marlatt. She lives around here.”

“Oh, I love Daphne Marlatt’s long poem on Steveston,” I said, a poem I’d read years ago and I’ve never forgotten its effect on me at the time, way back in the early 1980s. Long poems still amaze me in their complexity.

We talked about the challenge of being the age we are and finding work. We talked about art and photography and we made a plan to meet again, to revisit the Walker Evans exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery before it ends on January 22nd.

And there you have it, a fine example of elevating an ordinary day.

Travel blogging the humanity of connection

Miniature felted yurts

For quite a few years now, I’ve been following the blog of this wonderful young artist and writer named Candace Rose Rardon. She is an all-round creative entrepreneur who travels the world sketching and writing. By birth, she is an American and by choice she is a citizen of the world.

Some time in 2012 or later, she lived in a yurt on Salt Spring Island for a while and I too love yurts arising from the first time I experienced a yurt in Northern New Mexico. I was out with two other women who were staying at Ghost Ranch at the same time as I was. We were driving around sightseeing and we stumbled upon this yurt on the side of the road. Intrigued, we hopped out and descended upon it only to be met at the door by a guy who was inside.  I don’t actually recall much about him but you can see him in the photo below.

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A yurt in Northern New Mexico near the Chama River.

Following her experience of living in a yurt on Salt Spring, Candace wrote a fantastic post about yurts the world over.

Her dreams have unfolded as she’s utilized her double whammy talents of writing and sketching to make connections in very organic, free flowing and serendipitous ways.

Recently she was doing a giveaway on her blog that got an overwhelming response from readers who shared their travel tales with her as a way to entice her into picking them as the recipient of a newly published anthology.

Here’s her original post for that giveaway of the Lonely Planet Travel Anthology.

She was overwhelmed by responses. In a follow up post, she decided to draw a map and put the names of all who contributed onto the map that she sketched so inspired she was by readers’ responses.

It’s such a great idea. You can see the map in her follow up post, The Geography of Connection. Readers’ comments were associated with 36 countries across five continents.

I submitted something related to my half day cycling trip to the Silk Islands off Phnom Penh.

Congratulations on your exciting news of being published in Lonely Planet’s literary edition for 2016. In 2013, on a trip through Thailand and Cambodia, I ended it in Phnom Penh and decided to go on a 1/2 day cycling excursion with Grasshopper Adventures. It meant arriving at the bike shop and gathering with a small group, getting a designated bike and helmet before heading off on a busy street right in the middle of the city which, at first, seemed very dangerous. Our guide was a young Cambodian woman who was really enthusiastic and we took off, traffic all around, which was a little scary and quite exhilarating. Luckily the ride to the ferry was very short (no more than 15 minutes) and once on the ferry we made our way across the Mekong to what are known as the Silk Islands.

It was so great to be on a bike, and to learn that a very rural existence was a mere ferry ride (10-15 minutes) away from the bustle of Phnom Penh. I loved the feeling of riding down an empty dirt lane way and as I passed by, little children would run out from their huts and yell “Hi” or “Hello” to us in English and we’d yell back. It was such a happy experience. Afterwards, we went to a silk farm, had a delicious fruit feast, and then on to another place with a temple and really unique wooden carvings that were quite ancient.

I felt like it was the S.E. Asian version of cycling a Southern Gulf Island in B.C., a place near and dear to my heart. We rounded it off with a feast at a local spot that, of course, our Cambodian guide knew would be really decent. A great day. A lasting memory.

Candace ends the blog post by saying, “There’s a lot happening in the world right now that would lead us to believe how disconnected we are from each other—but if this map says anything, I believe it’s that connection is real, alive, and important to us all.”

And that’s how you actually make blogs interactive. Something that I’m sorry to admit I’ve failed at miserably.

Monday, however, is a good day for dreaming about the next getaway, and for me, that’s as close as a visit to Candace’s blog. Check it out!

Osprey Village a delight of a day trip

You’ve probably all seen that gorgeous little magazine published in Vancouver with the great photography called Edible. I was flipping through the summer 2016 issue on Sunday morning when I came across the pull-out of the Self-Guided Circle Farm Tour 2016. It’s a guide that lists all the areas of interest related to food and alcohol in locales up the Fraser Valley to Chilliwack and Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows; a great little day-tripping guide.

As I was skimming it, my eyes landed on the words Osprey Village, a place about 20 minutes from where I live, nestled along the Fraser River in Pitt Meadows. It always amazes me that I could have lived in the Lower Mainland most of my life and see names of places that I’ve never heard of, often because like this place, they’ve sprung up as a result of development.

I’ve always been both excited and forlorn that there are so many pockets of life in the world where people live their entire lives that I’ll never know about and never get to see. Beautiful places with Tuscan-coloured walls and grapevines or hand painted ceramic tiles of sunny yellows and cerulean blues, dusty roads and market stalls crammed in beside humanity, hips to elbows to shopping bags, in walkways or places on sidewalks where people eke out a living selling local food that you might be a little wary to try. Do you know what I mean? Places you and I would love so much but don’t even know exist and never will. That’s what makes travel so fantastic. It delivers those types of places. And it leaves me wanting more, more, more.

I’m long overdue for another trip it would seem and as usual, I digress.

In trying to satisfy the adventure dragon and slipping it mere morsels, I do the occasional day trip as I did on Sunday and I was captivated by this Osprey Village. Where art thou?

Freeway from New West.  The 7 out to Mary Hill Bypass (Maple Ridge) across the Pitt River Bridge and then a right on Harris road, drive to the very end, marvel at how much Pitt Meadows has changed. A short walk on a leafy trail parallel to the Fraser River and suddenly beautiful townhomes, meticulously manicured with hanging baskets, patios and balconies, and tranquility pushed back from a grassy knoll and there it is.

At first glance, like something out of a 1950s movie. Both off-putting in the uniformity of its newness and yet desirable (to me) at the same time. Yes, you can like both Finn Slough and Osprey Village. There’s room for both as long as the latter doesn’t completely destroy the former which, as we know, it not only tends to, but it too often has and continues to.

A Bistro. A community centre. Salons. An ice cream parlour. A doggy daycare. Little businesses lined up awaiting customers. At first glance it’s a real chick flick of a place if you know what I mean. A girl’s getaway.  I walked down the white street perusing the services on offer and was greeted as I walked by, by a woman inside the Blue Heron Gallery. I was talking to the very warm Soledad Avaria and I’m not exaggerating when I say that her name has to be one of the most beautiful names I’ve ever heard. Her mother was German and her father was Spanish or vice versa, I can’t really recall. She now lives in Ruskin, B.C. and she paints these wonderful acrylic paintings. If you’re out in Maple Ridge on July 16/17, she’s exhibiting at a show called Two Painters and a Potter at the Red Roof Art Studio, 9702-284th street in Maple Ridge from 9-5 pm.

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Artist Soledad Avaria at Blue Heron Gallery

I also met artist Roberta Combs who was dropping off a tulip painting that had been sold. Here’s some of her work on display.   RobertaCombsforweb

Of course, being me, I couldn’t resist the Sweet Tooth Creamery. Dropped in for a gelato and to get some cool on the 30 degree day. sweettooth

Sat down out front and took in this scene and was eyeing the woman out front of a flower shop across the street called Ode to a Bloom.

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Joanne at Ode to a Bloom

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Ice cream devoured, I walked over, and went inside and stepped over sweet Cappy, a wire-haired terrier and I met Joanne.

After some conversation, I asked her whether she’d be open to a photo for my blog and we started chatting about this and that and she told me how often synchronicity is a part of her life. I handed her my card and when she read a quote I have on it, “Creativity takes Courage,” she said, “That’s the saying that’s on my journal that I write in every day.” It’s not that I’m a stranger to synchronicity, no sirree, but it was just odd and struck me as significant given that I’d just finished reading Betsy Warland’s new book, Oscar of Between, and she makes a lot of references to various events of synchronicity, or I’d actually call them pre-cognitions, that I found really interesting.

It was a nice relaxing interlude on a slow-poke of a Sunday.

Have you been anywhere new on your walkabouts lately?

Michiko Suzuki packages dreams and secrets into Hope Chests exhibit

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Fabric tents with image of girl by Michiko Suzuki seen here explaining about her art.

When I was a kid, my childhood friend Phyllis gave me a Japanese doll in a tiny glass case. It was a small plastic woman with a white plastic face, not even brown skinned, wearing a typical silk kimono. I can’t recall now what colour the kimono was. I think it was red. It was probably made in China even though the gift was given in the 1960s. The case stood about six inches tall. A mirror on the inside back of the display case highlighted the back of the kimono. And there was that little knapsack-styled bulge on the back of the kimono, the name of which I had to look up and have now discovered is divided into many segments: Senui. Obiyama. Otaiko. Tare.

I kept that case on my dresser for years. It sat in an esteemed place where I could look inside it every day. And there was something symbolic about part of my white face, looming in comparison to the doll’s, reflecting back at me from behind the little figurine.

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The top of the flat, wooden hope chest with the girl’s name, the artist’s name on top.

Finally, and I don’t even recall when, after so many moves, I finally let it go. It might have been in my 30s or 40s.  I do recall the outside plastic was beginning to peel away and brown stains were forming on the back of the little silver box and that contributed to my decision. When it comes to stuff, I’m pretty good at letting go, too good in fact, inevitably as an afterthought years later wishing I could examine specific things long gone just one more time.

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The collage of photography and fabric and printmaking that folds into the bottom of the box.

Phyllis used to tell me that I was more Japanese than she was, my interest in all things Japanese greater than hers at the time. I’m not sure what it was exactly that appealed to me so much. Was it just viva la difference? Was it how everything in Japanese culture seems to be done with such pristine consideration and exactness and that way of being is so opposite to my somewhat fractured, spontaneous dabbling? Was it that secrets and privacy dot Japanese culture and who doesn’t love a secret, not in the form of gossip, but in the form of hiding places? Spaces that beckons us with the promise of mystery across a divide. The folds in origami. The aromatic and culinary delights lying in wait inside bento boxes? The fine manipulations of rolls to create sushi with the delectable tastes snugly molded into seaweed rugs.

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Peering inside, the image of a girl on the fabric tent and the bottom of the hope chest with the art inside.

So when I heard about this exhibit called Hope Chests at the Burnaby Art Gallery, I knew I wanted to go. Saturday afternoon, the artist Michiko Suzuki was there. A small group gathered round and she spoke in Japanese dropping in English phrases  doing her best to explain through an interpreter about this unique work.  We followed her from one fabric tent to the next as she explained a little about each girl she had chosen and the rationale for the colours of the girls’ hope chests and their interests.

There was something so delightful in the gentle pulling back of the panels on the white fabric tents, each girl’s image on the front, and peering inside to where the bottom part of the hope chests lay. A collage of images and fabric represented what the artist had learned about each adolescent girl, eight girls in total.

The project began from a much sadder place. The artist was thinking of young girls in the sex trade in S.E. Asia (Cambodia specifically) whose hopes for their futures have been so darkened and dashed and of the girls in Fukushima whose exposure to radiation has impacted their futures through others’ perceptions of them, almost as if they may be Japan’s untouchables.

If you live nearby, it’s definitely worth a visit to June 12th, 2016.  Michiko Suzuki is a well known print maker in Japan. Her husband,  Wayne Eastcott, also a printmaker, is originally from Trail, B.C. They split their time between Vancouver and Tokyo where the exhibit will go next.

Diverse/City exhibit at Anvil Centre

DiverseCity posterThis is the poster for the community art exhibit I’m involved in with the opening night set for April 15th, 5-7pm, at Anvil Centre in New Westminster.

From a 200 word excerpt (185 words in my case) taken from a much longer story that I wrote,  visual artist Eryne Bea Donahue dove into the project, interpreting and conceptualizing my words through visual art.

I was allowed a preview, not the completed piece, and Eryne has created a very interesting interpretation that in the process of her conceptualizing, creating, and producing the art, touches upon the diversity of spaces – geographical, physical, psychological – that run through my longer story, a 2,500 word piece of narrative non fiction.

Looks like there are nine written pieces accompanied by nine visual art conceptualizations.

Consider this your invitation: Anvil Centre. April 15th, 2016. Everyone welcome! 5-7 pm. And afterwards, there’s always that fabulous new Mexican place down the street, El Santo, to go for a drink.

Check out the blog post I wrote after I first met Eryne.

Energizing writing into art via collaboration

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Reece’s peanut butter cups – The ultimate collaboration?

I met up with the artist Eryne Donahue who is going to visually bring to life her representation of my words for the community exhibit space in the Anvil Centre in the not too distant future.

I met her at the Waves Coffee shop on Columbia in New West and when we met you would think we were mother and daughter or old friends, but not two strangers who had never met before. We even had the same hair colour, relatively speaking.

We slipped into conversation without delay. I feel like Eryne and her newly emerging family represent the best of the evolving New West. People who have come from elsewhere. Young, dynamic, engaged and wanting to shape their lives in a community that they can raise their new families in. She is originally from Ottawa and moved to New West with her husband a couple years ago after being renovicted (“get out, we’re renovating and raising the rent”) from East Van where they’d lived for 9 years.

She has a little two year old daughter whose name, Ourigan, is spelled after a Chinook place name that she and her husband picked after they were reading a book together about the explorer David Thompson, “the greatest explorer who ever lived.” According to Google, Thompson mapped 3.9 million sq. kilometres and who, not so cool nowadays, married a 13 year old Metis child who remained married to him for 58 years

Eryne and her husband decided to follow some of Thompson’s route through Oregon, Washington State and B.C., camping as they went.Her husband works for an environmental consulting firm and travels around the province doing work related to water conservation and community education.

They have another baby, also a girl, on the way, due in May and they have chosen a wonderful name that begins with a Q. I’m not sure I should share it here so I won’t. Both names are gender neutral.

Eryne also works for herself as a graphic artist and arts educator with aspirations to do something related to community engagement and art, something she’s already been quite active in. At the moment, motherhood is kind of at the top of the priority ladder.

It was exciting to hear another person’s take on a piece of writing and to hear what she, as an artist, was drawn to in the piece in terms of how she was conceptualizing her representation of it.

It was surprising for me to recognize that her take on the term “diversity” was not as literal as I thought it might be, but instead, what stood out for her was the diversity of the spaces I describe within it, and then, as we met, the psychological space some of which was represented on the page but some only picked up via additional information I shared during our face to face meeting.

She is thinking of focusing on that aspect of diversity, an aspect I had not thought of at all, and that may help me improve the story’s ending. Therein lies the beauty of collaboration. How words on a page can engage another imagination, expanding upon the original creativity to present a completely new direction.

I’m excited to see what the final piece looks like and really happy to have made her acquaintance.

Visit Eryne’s website to learn more about her art and community engagement projects.

Sound like you’ve never experienced it

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I went to a talk last night by a young guy from Montreal named Adam Basanta. He describes himself as a sound artist, composer and performer of experimental music and he has an installation in New West’s New Media Gallery on the third floor of Anvil Centre.

I read the other day in the local community newspaper, The Royal City Record, that the curators of this new space in Anvil Centre actually used to work at the Tate Modern. Wow! Talk about having the crème de la crème of experience.

It was a small turnout, maybe 35 people, and Basanta, who is one of four sound artists in the exhibit, began to speak about his work related to experimental sound with a particular emphasis in his piece on feedback, but not in the way we’re all used to; not that unexpected siren from a microphone that rises like a banshee in a deafening way.

BasantaexhibitHis installation is part of OTIC: Systems of Sound. His emphasis on feedback had to do with space and tones and how humans’ presence in a space can change feedback and how he played with feedback to bring to our attention our experience in the world and of the sounds around us.

He had this really cool project, Positive Vibes, in Finland where he used a recorded voice of women saying “I love you all very, very much.” He tied that to a bunch of helium balloons and then floated it near people in public spaces and watched as they reacted to this disembodied recording telling them they were loved. I love weird projects like that.

As he spoke I was both challenged by the topic in terms of its weirdness and a foreign way of thinking about sound, and then I was really heartened that in Canada, there’s still some money, apparently, to be found to encourage those who are approaching the arts in a way that calls on all their courage and expertise to interpret and reinterpret and challenge their own boundaries in order to challenge that of any audience.

It’s worth the exercise to be open enough to expose yourselves to others’ far out ways of approaching their passions.

I realized as I was listening to him,  my own personal resistance to weirdness, to foreign and difficult approaches, was rising. Being able to be aware of that, acknowledge it, and then let it wash over me and feel it lessen, is perhaps really getting closer to the essence of the kind of curiosity required to accept others’ interpretation of all the shared worlds that exist on the planet.

The exhibit, which will undoubtedly be richer if you have someone to interpret it as we did last night, runs at Anvil Centre to March 20, 2016.