Monday, August 25, 2008

Interview - Pt 2

The following is a transcription of an interview we did with a friend who was taking a Human Geography class at UBC and asked us some questions about cultural infrastructure, et al. Apologies for the frankness of it all!

Credit: Zuzia Juszkiewicz, Undergrad.
Under the Direction of Prof. Kathrine Richardson, UBC
Class: Off Campus Research in Human Geography

Interview with Jesse Scott Former Butchershop Member

Z: To frame: Can you tell me about the Butchershop and its gallery mandate?

J: Sure, it was a preexisting space that I was involved in taking over. It had operated for almost two years when Forbes Lattimer (the proprietor) had a number of opportunities outside of Vancouver and was not going to be able to further dedicate the time for the space. Basically, he created a list of people that he knew would be possible substitutes and sent out an invitation. We had a big meeting and some of us knew each other already and some of us didn’t. There was probably 40 people that first showed up and 20 of us found a common cause and decided to go for it. There were so many people involved with so many different backgrounds and levels of experience, aptitudes, genres and subcultures that we were involved in. That was all brought to the table – so it was a melting pot of ideas and artistic disciplines.

The Butchershop was an essentially a multidisciplinary art space. We were looking at the ideas of art run culture, closely examining the road map of what a space like us could turn into. We only really saw one model within Vancouver which was the Artist-Run Center, a model we had some reservations about. In the end we decided not to go that way, although the debate resurfaced a dozen times over the two operating years. The mandate was to be a creative space, to show work local and from out of town communities that didn’t have the same kind of space. We did a huge variety of events, workshops, screenings, art, and music event – all across the board. Eventually it became a victim of its own success.

Z: What did you get out of your participation in the Butchershop?

J: It was interesting for me. It was at a point where I had not been involved in…well, my history throughout the couple years before the Butchershop that had been focused within media art, sound art, and electronic music; as well as in radical politics in Vancouver and coalitions. It was interesting to come back to the Butchershop because it was resurfacing those small politics of groups. I definitely knew maybe 3 people over the collective before hand, I think I knew the most. Later the larger group [in the collective] distilled to 12 people for the bulk of the time frame. It was great for meeting new people, finding common friends and talking about how to expand our national network over Vancouver art scene. Being able to work in a group like that and having the possibility was great. It really connected me to a grassroots scene in Vancouver and beyond. Definitely made some good connections with Seattle and Portland and Montreal and New York. It broadened my scope. It was a good time…and lots of free beers.

Z: Oh yea lots of good times. Mirae I think that is where we first met.

M: Oh yea we must have.

Z: I saw you dance there! So many memories, seems like such long time ago. Ok, Jesse can you describe the social formation among Butchershop members: how did you organize yourselves, delegate tasks…?

J: That’s an interesting thing. We quasi-adopted a structure that Forbes recommended, just because he was in position of power and influence in terms, he was logistically minded. Some of the rest of us weren’t and some of use were, but no one was really willing to step up and make policy directive. So we rolled with his ideas. We formed three major sub committees of programming: exhibitions, music and events. We had a ‘developments committee’ that was working on possibility of grants, we had a treasurer who was keeping track of the books making sure they were ok. We communicated over a group mailing list and we had meetings every week, every Tuesday at 7 – which involved a lot of hawkers and lot of booze. And, ya know, we were essentially pretty unproductive. Yea, haha, I took minutes almost all the time and I have back logs of minutes. I look through them sometimes and find jokes that I had put into them.

[Jesse sits back comfortably, takes a sip of scotch and snickers]

Z: Can you please share?

J: Yea, totally. It was interesting relationship too because at our peak there were 21 people and at our lowest 8 people. There was 12 -15 generally but people opted in and out. The great thing was by having many people you were kind of allowed that space. What I mean is that sometimes I would be overwhelmed with another project when New Forms came up in September or if had a lot of work. Most of us were working at the same time as well, so you could step back a little bit like up to a month or 2 months at time. So other people could take the reigns - other people could take minutes or do press promo which I, say, had started with but had no time to finish. And then when I came back, I would jump back on something and somebody else could take some time off. It was great, self regulated mechanism that was really unspoken and kind of like an unwritten law. But it was pretty effective, even if it was frustrating sometimes, because sometimes we all could have benefited from some people being there, from someone else’s experience. So I could say that some members took liberties with that in terms of being “you know 12 other people are there, therefore I can skip out on this tonight.” But there was almost healthy discrepancies in terms of give and take, in general a pretty effective and fair experiment. I kind of thought of it in social and political terms: if we were some type Marxist experiment or some type of a commune or something like that; it would have kept itself running, we were going through some ups and downs, and some peaks and valleys, a little built of resentment – but essentially people knew when it was it was getting towards a breaking point and responded.

Z: What is the history behind Butchershop’s closure?

J: Like I said eventually it became victim of its own success. Uhh. We got too popular for our own good. We had been dealing with a building inspector, Adrian Buchanan for going on 2 years. He was pretty cool, he appreciated what we were doing but he agreed to turn a blind eye. He said: “Keep it under wraps as long as I don’t get a report about you on my desk! I don’t know who you are, I am not gonna actively enforce any bylaws against you.”

Z: How did he find you guys in the first place?

J: From Forbes, don’t know exactly. Whether Forbes approached him or whether he came to us from a complaint. But…Forbes had known him and had a relationship with him before we took over. Essentially, we were forced within the funded model to be a little booze can and a little bit of music space, things that were not legal for us to be doing. We never made any money off of booze, to be honest. It was more of a draw to get people in there. A chance that people brought there own booze anyway, it was a space that you saw people drink their own mickies of stuff, and ‘ah, faah thanks for supporting’. Basically after the NPA got elected in January 05, he [Buchanan?] came around and said: “There is going to be more tension on guys just so you know, I might come by with my boss sometimes.” Shortly after, we got our third noise complaint in 3 years, from the same residence on 26th. Somebody had thrown a beer can in to her rose bushes – and she took offense to that and made a complaint, it ended up on Buchanan’s desk. The boss showed up to the next art opening, which was a Parliament of Owl Show, in Dec 05. There was coffee and tea being served, there was an acoustic musician and there were kids blowing bubbles. There was a little sculpture, toys and sowing stuff. They said: “No this is illegal. Just cut it!” We were told that the Butchershop is basically outside of the zoning district. We were given a 30 day ultimatum of cease and desist order and [Jesse pauses and pinches his lips]...
We were basically ordered to engage in dialogue about zoning and upgrading with initial estimate of 80 000 dollars in fees – their quote [Jesse’s voice rises, an emphasis, perhaps a hint of resentment and cynicism] - to begin initiating a process and not finish the construction, with permits and their surveys from their people. They gave us a month to enter a dialogue with them and pay 80 000 dollars or to vacate, or to cease operations. We effectively ceased operations and we did not really vacate for another month. We floated the space for another month, and just realized there was no way we could continue to try and even raise funds to support ourselves with this order, let alone try raise 80 000 dollars.

Z: That is impossible. Especially for a place that is not making money, totally ridiculous.

J: Yea.

Z: What did you feel when it was shut down, what was lost?

J: I used it, as did all of us, as platform for my own creation and practice and as my own studio. So yea, I lost a studio, I lost a platform for my own creation and bringing in my own community, which at that point was an independent, experimental media arts into the space. I knew right away that even though we made gestures towards moving on to another space, or being a just producing team or starting a new collective was just not going to happen. I knew that certain people were on cusps of other things and in sense certain people were tired of catering to a majority or within politics. Certain people just wanted to fuck around or get out of the city. So I knew it was over, even though we pretended it wasn’t for 3 or 4 months.

Z: after you lost the space?

J: Yea, after. So I knew that without a space, without a platform that the community had been dissolved. People that I had grown really close to and struggled to do a lot of stuff with. I just knew we were going to drift a part with and we did.

Z: So there was some hope?

J: Yes and no. We had a really pragmatic view, a realist view about the realities of having a space. And we looked for spaces for about a month and half. And really realized we could not raise a capital to try get a space to do what we wanted it to do.

Z: And this new space…would you have created it by the book?

J: We were attempting to, but we realized that the ceiling level for that was something we couldn’t stand on each other’s shoulders and reach. We were trying to get a space with a cabaret license in order to fund ourselves - then no. The other option was to float a space and stay in the Butchershop for about 3 years, without doing any major public events, without music, without alcohol, without major revenue builders – to even start to qualify for any public assistance through Arts Councils. We weren’t willing to do that, to try and float things around for another 3 years, and then yea we couldn’t afford the capital investment for getting cabaret license for a space. It was out our reach.

Z: Thanks Jesse thank you for sharing. I recall so many memories.

J: I know every time I speak about it…

Z: I know…

J: Definitely good times

Interview - Pt 1

The following is a transcription of an interview we did with a friend who was taking a Human Geography class at UBC and asked us some questions about cultural infrastructure, et al. Apologies for the frankness of it all!

Credit: Zuzia Juszkiewicz, Undergrad.
Under the Direction of Prof. Kathrine Richardson, UBC
Class: Off Campus Research in Human Geography

APPENDIX IV: “Strawberry and Scotch Sunday at the Memelab”
Interview with Mirae Rosner and Jesse Scott founders of Memelab

Z: Can you please tell the story behind memelab's creation how did you come across this space?

J: Sure, I guess the premises has to do with the person who lived here before us. He had essentially canvassed our neighborhoods looking for warehouse space, ended up running into Darren Stark and Ed Ferreria who were two major developers for CBRE – which is one of the main property developers within Yaletown. He kept on running them running in to these buildings and eventually found a suite of buildings on this block of Pandora. And found our landlord who is the only independent landlord in this area and set up shop here and started a studio. When he was moving out he just notified his mailing list and we jumped on the opportunity right away.

M: The space has some kind of history also before our friend found it. It was a party space because the landlord said when we moved in…well the landlord had told us no raves, so we said “Ok, we’re not going to throw any raves because no one does that anymore anyway (they're called hipster dance parties now!)”. The landlord is ok with us living here even though it is a totally underground illegal space in everyway. And we wanted a space, we wanted to live in a loft space where we could do our work, and have a rehearsal space, and have things going on for ourselves. And then, because we are performers we wanted to open it up to the community through these events. So we started to have these art parties - art salon events - which would bring together a variety of people in the arts, different arts, communities. Sometimes activist communities show up too and some other underground scenes – just bringing them all together and bringing in new people that do not go to any art event ever. So that was kind of where things started off in terms of becoming a space – is our desire to have these events.

From there it took about 6 months. After the first event we got the floor, and then after we got the dance floor it is now a studio where people use it for meditation group, yoga, belly dance classes, voice classes. We have had a variety of different types of people coming to rehearse here, like dance and theatre work, photo shoots. And just through word of mouth, no advertising because we are totally underground – we don’t advertise directly anywhere - through that there’s slowly an identity that’s built up in the space. It’s an identity that’s based on the fact that people come to use the space. Because there is this community of people that are accessing and using this space, we try to keep it as grass roots as possible with rentals being really cheap but we also do exchanges and work with people who do not have any money. So that’s kind of where it becomes a community space – is in that way more than it just being a community performance space although that has happened occasionally. We stopped the art salon series now and we are leaving the space soon. We might do a few more events here, but it won’t be the ones that we have done in the past.

J: …but we are making sure we pass the space off to somebody who’s going to be able to continue within the spirit of the space.

M: there are groups that have been here now for over a year, that use the space and we want them to remain. Where people come in and have their group meetings. Who ever takes this space over, is someone who wants to continue that. It’s too collective to stop it from going and we don’t want to see them [collectives, artists] out on the streets.

Z: Where are you guys going, are you moving on somewhere?

M: yea we are leaving the country in October

Z: you’re leaving the country!

M: yes, we will move to Europe for a while. We have been here for 3 years, and we have carried on through with the art party salons and we have done 7 of them. 7 over the course of 2.5 years. Kinda feel like we have carried that as far as it can go. The space is at a point now where we have been putting a lot into it as a community place. We have done own work here too….

J: its disproportional

M: Well, the balance between trying to be artists ourselves and things we need to do for ourselves, its always been balanced between what we are doing for the space. All the facilitation that comes about when you have lots of people using this space – just keeping track of schedules and making things happen – takes a lot of administrative work. So, we are at the point where we need to focus on our own work and see what else is going on in other places. It’s again important for us to see the space continue. Might get a new name, we don’t know about that, but the communities that are accessing it will continue on and so, in a lot of ways it has been very successful. But there are significant groups of people that have come together and they’re – like the meditation group has grown – the dance collective has grown and its established, its been almost a year now, and its going strong now, it’s grown. People keep gaining skills and becoming more creative in knowing what they are creating as a group together – mostly in movement. Then we also have noise jams - an all female noise collective, that is growing too. There are teachers who have used this space but these three groups – its just amazing to see them grow. And yea, its so important for us to definitely leave that legacy because there isn’t a lot of spaces where something like this is happening. It’s hard to find them and really hard to maintain them.

Z: exactly...would then the memelab have to get some funding so you can see it, witness its growth?

J and M: uhh…[hesitation, Jesse and Mirae look at one another]

J: The thing is that it can’t really grow.

M: There is nowhere to go from here. It’s become what it is. There is no one level to go to, for a whole variety of reasons.

Z: ok…uh, well then maybe in the spirit of grassroots and sustainability: how do you envision this space being sustained?

M: What we have been doing is about all we can do. Just keeping our activities underground making sure that we don’t have huge parties that attract the cops, making sure that people that come to use the space are doing things that…well we are drawing a crowd that will be respectful of the space and the community around the space. And no advertising! Those are the things that we do, and somebody could potentially keep for years. But there is no security though. There are major zoning issues and major issues to do with that, making it a place of business, making it more sustainable and with making it more secure. First of all the landlord would have to renovate the building itself – it not legal at all to even have this suite period! So, if he wanted to that and spend thousands of dollars (which doesn’t), then we could start looking at upgrading this space. And so if we had thousands of dollars, once the landlord spent thousands of dollars, we could then spend thousands of dollars and only then could we have legal suite and workshop. Only then, it could be publicly accessible and it would have everything up to date: fire code, bathrooms whatever. Then, there would be a security there. As it is now there is none. All of this could be gone like that! … Well that’s kind of the reality and we have gotten used to that and used to dealing with it and used to knowing that. Umm, however we have been here for almost 3 years and nothing has happened. The practical side is that you know the reality and that you know how to work underground and within the restrictions. That is the practical approach which we have done. If we were to try to bring this space into another level, I think that the investigations we’ve done just show that it will be impossible. Especially considering the fact that we have to get the landlord to do something he himself doesn’t really want to do and doesn’t really need to do for his business – for any reason expect for us. This whole building is illegally subdivided. He would have to go and get the city to come in and approve things, and he would have to do lots of construction to bring it up to some kind of code because it is a warehouse – so it could be some kind of industrial building. So for now, they built these walls and floors and things.

J: you know they just built it and never really bothered to get into zoning qualification. And just getting by like…

Z: So you can’t do much with the actual physical structure?

M: Oh, we did have a friend who did this in the neighborhood. We do know people who did their all their research, very well connected, really on it. They tried to rent a collective space in this area, and they were kicked out within minutes. The city would not allow…

Z: what happened?

M: I think the main issues are that city is not willing to have these front-runners, gentrifiers, artists starting to move into this area.

J: They [the city] told the landlord that they were not interested in to looking into any sorts of rezoning. And whatever it was they were trying to do: an office slash bookshop slash community space.

Z: that is very bleak. Speaking of such actions, do any of the organizations such as Arts Alliances or Task Forces in city get involved in helping to sustain spaces and collectives such as this or is it pretty hands off?

J: Places such as the Arts Alliance and place of Cultural Affairs are primarily looking out for their own, and primarily stuck within their world view. So places like the Office of Cultural Affairs and Arts Alliances are looking for places that are established that are legal, that are on the map. PAARC is sympathetic to underground spaces because they have been there and that is where the come from, the Artist-Run Culture, but at the same time it’s a bit of a dog eat dog world in terms of funding, audience, demographic and audience development. So in my experience moving into PAARC with Post-Butchershop Coalition was that they were “Oh sorry its to bad, its sucks…ok, so about this grant….” The Vancouver foundation turned the page pretty quickly.

M: there is nothing in place where you could go and say “I want to start an Artist–Run Space. Can you help me? What do I need to do?"

J: There is intense amounts of capital of things that would have be brought into this process, for one. So there are no bridging institutions that would match artist with visions with venture capitalists, or people who have administration skills, organization skills…

M: yeah so starting from square one if you didn’t have a space yet. You would be hard pressed to find resources to help you start one up properly. What people do is they go find some really sketchy place – and they just do it. They just move in thinking, “this could last for month, or it might not” or they are really na├»ve and they’ll be like “Hey this awesome”, they get really involved in it and they love it!”

J: They try to do everything by the book and it just burns them. Even to get the liquor licenses for their events which does nothing but put them on the map as a place to be shut down. Collectives attempt to go to the city of Vancouver and say “Hey we want to do this and this.” They [the city] says “Well guys its gonna take 5 years and 280 000 dollars.”…

[Mirae jumps in eagerly]

M: …So “hey now that we know where you are you need to pay us your money or you’re kicked out!” That’s exactly the process that has been repeated again and again: somebody will start something up and on practical, functional level it is working – people are using the space there is a lot going on, there is a lot of cultural vitality happening. When the law gets involved because there has been a party and somebody has made a noise complaint, or because the people throwing the party went to get a temporary liquor license and do it by the book; then the task forces are the team that goes out on Saturday nights and inspects the liquor license and catches them. When something wrong happens there is nothing in place at the stage, there is nobody around that says “Hey you guys are contributing to culture in this city and we want to help you not get shut down. If you get your act together you can apply for this grant to do this upgrade or we’re gonna waive this fee (kind of a bursary). We’re gonna help you out because you artist and you don’t make money of your space, like a retail space would.” At these various stages there is nothing around. We have been doing these various meetings to get people talking about this stuff. This one guys who is a city planner said, well his idea was, there needs to be an advocacy group for this. There needs to be somebody around that people can go to either at stage one or later in the process. Somebody that will actually be like: “Ok we’re gonna advocate for these spaces”. Because they really need to be fostered I believe, I really think we are not allowing for this stuff to bubble up from the grassroots. Thus we will continue to see mono-culture everywhere, in the city, in its buildings in its places to gather. It’s really fascinating to me that people keep doing it.

Z: You are right, even the advocates in place that claim they have interest in local culture, fail to show up to public meetings at the city, for example like 901 Main St. They just don’t show based on excuses that they were not given enough time. Where is public response?

M: Well the problem is these spaces are from the underground. I think it is important to have a lot of diversity in culture on those levels. In a way things are pushed underground and because it’s a two way street: things are surviving underground and contribute to the cultural vitality, but then on the public side people do not know about them; they are not as aware. In our experience when people come here [memelab] for instance they would bring their co-workers. The co-workers would be like “woah! I have never been to an art gallery before and here I am, and this is so great and so cool.” Then we would have someone’s mom come to an event and say: “I’m so glad the kids these days aren’t like Paris Hilton.” They actually said that! On that level there is a lot of potential if we had a little more of this advocacy and enabling of these spaces and you know, it just would contribute to the texture and fabric of the city, and the cultural life of this city in a way where there could be little more exposure. Artist could thrive and create stronger work, its about community building for me, more then anything - and community has got to start somewhere. In a way we have responsibility to artists but we also have to work with them in terms of that communication. So…you can’t really say “The public doesn’t want this, we should do this. Because the public wants the big cinema then we’ll…” [Mirae looks down at her green tea and pauses]…if there isn’t the other option there, how will people make the choice, if there isn’t any choice. If artist are not around to work on these choices.

Z: Yes, awareness important whether in the community itself or in a larger local-global discourse, this idea of what choices we have…[I stumble over my words] Moving on I would like readdress the memelab: Can you please tell me a little about your most successful show in this space, and what to you made it successful?

J: I guess there are different qualifications of success. You know with our salon series we have had ones that have been really full and we have had ones that have had well received art, we have ones that have evoked very passionate almost controversial discussion, or ones where we have seen the place get totally trashed. Some of those have intersected in salons others its kind hard to say, but u…


M: The events I guess one of the salons, more intimate, less work, the audience was mellow and there were 60 people. And that one felt nice. I think for me, the success is the groups that are coming out of this space and think that those groups are really the most successful things. It is really about these new community, and new communities of artists and people connecting…

J:..a sense of empowerment and sense of legacy

M:…being able to provide a space for them has made them possible. Some of them started without us and then have found us. But I think being able to be a stable, cheap, affordable space…Oh, we also have discussion series that started, that is going really well too. Every time we get the right amount of people, 10 -15 people. We discuss the work of art

Z: oh critical response…can I hear more about it…I was think about coming but don’t know…

J: You don’t have to bring anything with you. It is a process that was developed by the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange. She was a dancer in Washington DC, and has been around for a long time …It’s a process that is very structured way for artists to control and shape feedback mechanism for their work…

It’s a process that transcends genres….

[We speak a little about the history]

Z: How does it run form start to finish?

M: Process that needs to be taught. We have everyone come in. We have little snacks and tea and break the ice a bit. Then people get to know each other. And Laura teaches the four steps of the process. The first steps, the artist shows the work and we ask for brief responses from the audience usually, ones that involve…

[Jesse quickly jumps in]

J: statements of meaning!

[Jesse pauses, looks over at Mirae and she continues to speak]

M: Well, it is called “statements of meaning”. Basically, what you found to be meaningful, very briefly. Then the second step is that the artist asks questions and people respond without an opinion. They answer the question, they have to answer the question they can’t go off on a tangent! [Mirae’s raises her tone] Then the artist can ask question, but they make sure that within their question they can’t state an opinion.

J: If they want to the artist does not have to answer.

M: Well, I guess they don’t, no. Then the last piece is that audience state opinions with permission form the artist. This really breaks it down very simply but the whole thing is about attempting to give the best feedback to the artist. Its about the artist gain of the feedback, doing it in away that brings discussion to the issues rather than about people’s personal views about what the artist should do and what they should have done and what they need to do. Trying to take that out and trying…

J: …Essentially, it’s the piece that lands back in the hands of the artist. Make sure the piece and the work and the showing, is about empowering the work and not about gratifying the ego of the viewer. [25:00]

Z: That is fantastic…has this process been adopted anywhere?

M: It is taking off in the states in different communities. Its getting really well known. I guess it’s starting to come to Canada.

Z: It’s cool.

M: its cool, it almost like doing a workshop because we have each time lots of new people and we have to learn. And it is one of those things how you are speaking, what you are saying. How you are trying to say what you want to say. IT is intense.

Z: Who are the Artists?

M: well if you have something to show you can just sign up. The work can be any medium, or at any stage: almost done, just started, just an idea but it has to be something you are working on and want to continue working on…

[Zuzia Rambles, must be the scotch].

Z: how do you function as a collaboration: what are you influences, where you gel or clash or how do you work things out?

J: between us?

Z: Yeah. Just curious how it materializes, how your efforts get put “out there” into your space?

J: Well, a lot of the salons, art parties. We kind of set the stage and we give general guidelines about the form and function of things and then allow people to take it up themselves and work with them throughout the process. Give where possible: studio, rehearsal and inspiration, time and chances for artist can connect and collaborate on something themselves. Throughout friends in the community and people who are involved here - Dance troop, Critical Response – have been either co-initiated or pitched to us.

M: right

J: In terms of staging here; we have instances where in retrospect and before announcing something we have realized that has not been a collaborative effort, and we attempted to addend that and have cancelled or not gone forward with events. The collective process is the key to the whole idea, that it is a lateral power structure.

M: We have always done things that are informal, works in progress, experiments, an emphasis on that and on collaboration – bring different teams together. We've never reached a point where we had an idea, and we necessarily though of it in terms of structuring it to the point we were getting it across to the right people - that fit into the idea. Things evolve, things are collaborated on, sometimes we don’t know what the project is gonna look like the final stage. A lot of it has to do in the economics involved in the space, because there is no money involved, no one is getting paid, we are not hiring people. The lateral structure really comes out as part of the underground collaboration. The politics of the space are very much influenced by economics. We have made that choice to embrace that, economically we never know what could happen in the space. We never know what will happen with the night we are putting on in a way, sometimes, although we have had pretty clear ideas of certain perimeters. What happens: people that come into this space to work on things, they have to be down with the scene, and collaborative side of things, and have to know what it is that we are dealing with here. There is a cultural thing going on, which is interesting to me, we never really wanted to be exclusive, we don’t want to say “you can’t come you can’t participate because you are different”. It is an interesting paradox…Finding strength and community where people can support one another, but on the other side there is culture built up…If we were to be staying, here I would love to keep working with this paradigm and keep bringing in new influences into this particular community (the east side underground art space). This community has a certain cultural background and I think we [the city, and publics?] all need to be collectively more aware….just to know the certain nexus (very specific) that we are operating in. Saying that we have had new people that come in. And not all people mix… I am interested in the location that we are in. As artists in these neighborhoods, playing a role in the gentrification process possibly, we need to be aware of that and we need to be connecting more. I think in terms of the work that is being done in these neighborhoods. You know there is the party culture that attaches themselves, and they need to shut down. This party culture I think as a lack of consequence, in terms of being responsible. Those are some of the issues, if we were to be staying in this community, I would like to address…In some ways we are already by saying we are workshop space, we are not a party space, we are not getting shut down. We are enabling and all female noise collective, we are doing Dance stuff, meditation, we are doing a different types of things, within the public events if we were stay – we would have to look at restructuring those because they are starting to get too much of party thing. The collaboration throughout all of this is really key, and collaboration has to occur when people have to agree on something. That is where the cultural thing happens. When people have come in and want to show something. .. It is an interesting moment, when do you become exclusive? Where do you not collaborate with somebody?

Z: You provide an environment where you can get people involved…however, is this a space where your collectives and audience can start embracing these very same ideas you are attracted to and critique?

M: maybe

J: ..can’t cognize it - the element of support structure.

M: we had one group…wanna talk about it.

J: No

Z: what went on?

M: no there is this other situation.

J: it’s not relevant.

Z: oh…well tell me off record…thanks guys!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


While looking over notes for my presentation at one of the CECC's Cultural Research Salons last January, I happened to focus upon one thread of the presentation that I wish to explore now in more detail; the apparent parallels between my ideal of how cultural communities would proliferate and my sense of how business communities operate under  globalization. 

Business tends to run the table, to dictate it's own means of survival. A deregulated market, wherein one is free to scribe one's will, etc... these are the preconditions that have been recreated across the world with the advent and continual reinvention of ever-more detailed economies. But the interesting thing is how business culture has created its own support mechanisms; Government lobbies, schools and training institutions, self-regulation councils; all a diaspora of bureaucratic organizations that create a mosaic, effecting the business world as precisely that, an entirely separate, if parallel, realm. 

The argument is that this kind of approach lends weight to a certain work ethic, while advancing the social field as a whole. That it generates individuals of leadership and vision. That it is a terrifyingly organized mechanism without having the waste and inefficiency of a top-down deliverance. 

This unique pairing of deregulation with a diverse support network seems, at surface, desirable, and a possible avenue to pursue for cultural infrastructure. Perhaps it is just this type of program that has made certain other cities so successful (Of course, this predicates a visionary, fearless leadership, something we have flirted with but failed to embrace wholesale).

It occurs to me that one aspect of this, the contemporary art world, has already traveled this path. Big money rules its predilections. It has presumed and initiated several self-defense mechanisms, or appropriations, in order to position itself as legitimate, vital, necessary.  It is ruthless, holding no loyalty but its own longetivity, as a system. 

The concern, however, lies in the leap to embrace this methodology while knowing full well what it is we are aping. Should cultural communities and infrastructure for art mimic the techniques of a profit-driven system? What is compromised in exchange for the mantle of 'efficiency' et al? What possible ways of organizing - ones that may play more to our strengths - are abandoned? 

The issue at hand then, is what are these alternatives? There is a wealth of thought that has been written and presented around cultural organizing, in (and about) Vancouver and beyond. Yet, it is currently diverse, separated, at odds with itself. It respects cultural relativism, and as such must pay homage to tenets that would keep it alienated. 

It is akin, I believe, to choosing an open-source platform, compiling it from source, and running a minimal operation versus using a simplified installation wizard to run a flashy, commercial program. 

The problem is that there will ever be a definitive choice; it will always be replicated and redone, and their pr machine is much bigger than ours...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

An Urban Myth

There is one story I never become tired of relating, whenever I am at some meeting, feedback session, strategy meeting, presentation, etc. regarding cultural planning in Vancouver. It goes like this:

In the late 1980's, a well-known and established performance artist became fed up with the red tape culture of the City of Vancouver, and moved to Montreal. Once there, he/she applied to the City of Montreal for a liquor license for a garbage can - they planned to stand in a garbage can on St. Catherine's Street and serve shots of vodka in plastic cups for $1. The license was approved. The artist created video documentation on the entire process, and mailed it to the City of Vancouver. 

Now, I'm not sure if this was real, or even where I heard it anymore. I don't know that it matters. But whenever I tell it, people laugh, and more importantly, they get it. It probably does as much as any other platform to elucidate the differences between Vancouver and other, more libertarian, cities (though an admittedly extreme example). 

Despite this type of program, I admit that I find it all too easy to jump to conclusions regarding the CoV and 'their program'. I admit that, while not really sympathizing, I subscribe to some sort of empathy with such a large organization forced to attempt to balance so many different political agendas, while simultaneously having to traverse it self-made quagmire of rules and regulations. I only vaguely understand the scope of the structure that a government is, and I mean in terms of really, lucidly, tangibly, understanding it. 

But its like watching a circus hi-wire act repeatedly doomed to fail; we have to remember, that in the above example, the safety issues, among others, inherent in the performance piece are antithetical to the avowed purposes of a City, within a social contract. A polis survives in order to save the populace from itself, or more tangential whims and positions of fringe elements. However, they also exist in order to facilitate the aspirations of citizens.  The City of Vancouver has obviously chosen to focus on this former type of paradigm as a government, on such a scale, for such a time, and to the exclusion of all else, that it has become an entirely predictable machine, striating and inscribing all that comes across its desk into safe, digestible segments. 

I find myself asking whether it is a matter of understanding the structure that you are engaging with - whether dialectically unravelling the soul of the city (and/or its government) is necessary before you ask it any favours, demand of it any concessions... and methinks that urban myths like the one above are only muddying the view. 

Friday, August 15, 2008

Vancouver Matters

The Following is an Abstract I Submitted to a Journal Published by the UBC Geography Department. 

Wheat-Paste - the mixture of flour and water into an adhesive substance used for posting paper bills - may be one of the most prevalent yet transient materials at large within vancouver. 

This work presents and abridged overview of its use and implementation within the past decade: the major users, public reactions, civic codes, how it has managed to curtail and enable differing kinds of promotion and street marketing,  allows a psycho-geographical tracing of power factions within certain communities, and encapsulates a microcosm of the many tensions prevalent within Vancouver's current urban experience. 

In order to present wheat-paste within the context and processes of Vancouver, I will draw upon my nine years or experience in utilizing it as a tool for street marketing, including years of working with activist groups, DIY concert promotion, operating a registered street marketing business, and subsequent time as a consultant, my work as a graffiti artist, as well as drawing upon knowledge of left-of-centre social organizing communities, contemporary and street art scenes, and local promotional markets. 

In conclusion, I will maintain that it is possible to trace and detail the many tactical concerns, political considerations, manners of professionalization, draconian business tactics, and psycho-geographical boundaries that arise in correspondence to wheat-paste's use; furthermore, that by doing so is to present the matter and practice of wheat-pasting as a microcosm of the many unresolved, contradictory tensions present in Vancouver's current state of geographic, cultural, and political makeup. It is the aim of the author that by making this analogy apparent, it will open the practice to review, consideration, and, eventually, change. 

Tipping Point

The Tipping Point has now ran two complete incarnations at its new home The Franklin Office.

I have yet to attend any of them! 

The Tipping Point was initiated by the memelab (which is myself and my partner Mirae) in response to the closure of several artist-run spaces in Vancouver. It was aimed at connecting diverse areas of the city's social and artistic life, and sharing resources amongst our cultural producers. The Tipping Point itself was a continuation of the ICAN/UNARC meetings (the very spaces that had been shut down, amongst others...). 

Thanks to TFO! Onwards!!!

Bums In Seats

As a promoter, I have often been warned - or warned others - to heed the law of summer in Vancouver: "don't expect a crowd"...

Yet, it seems that cultural participation is alive and well. Mind you, I have no spreadsheets and material research to back this all up, but every event that I have attended in the last few months has been a success. (some too much so!)

I remember, even three years ago, when you could be hard pressed to find two things to do on any given week, unless you had a predilection for expansive tastes. Now, one is hard pressed to support even one's friends by attending their events, let alone to explore something new. 

Has Vancouver finally shed it's reputation of No Fun City ??? I think not, but something is happening despite the worst intentions of the bureaucrats... 

Satisfaction Quotient

It would seem that the city has once again fallen into complacency; that with several spaces approaching a semblance of normalcy and sustainability, that the attention has gone elsewhere

Fake Jazz Wednesdays at the Cobalt, the fact that the Emergency Room hasn't been shut down, and Women's Studies at VIVO, curated and run by Her Jazz Noise Collective, has helped to spawn a new era (and generation) of experimental noise. DubForms at Open Studios has cemented Lighta! Sound as major promoters, who can fill an underground, illegal venue, a bar-capacity space, and even bring in out-of-town guests to headline Thursday Ting! and the Astoria. Hoko's seems to be 'enough' for the shoegazer-cum-art rock of GreenBelt Collective, Collapsing Opposites, OK Vancouver OK crowd... Various weeklies by a federation of art-school snobs, when combined with the availability of The SweatShop, have hipsters and the nu-dance kids beer-soaked and proliferating party shots on blogs like they were a nest of CobraSnakes... 

And.... for some reason, I am complaining. That spaces are stable. That my generation is having a good summer of it. That they are not fighting for more. 

There goes the leadership impulse again. And all this time I have been living in South Vancouver, Little India, learning to write code. Weak.

New Avenues

I have been involved in two new projects, in the meantime, that have been concerned with whole new plateaus of space

Graffiti Research Lab (Vancouver Chapter, Canadian Cell) is an international federation of media activists and artists involved in cutting-edge cultural resistance. GRL is concerned with issues surrounding public space, media ecology, urban planning, and spectacular capitalism, and uses the tools of the system to take direct action regarding this. 

Laser Tagging and Muralling, the two hallmarks of GRL Canada's NeoGrafik project, implement themselves directly upon commercial space, and, fluidly, temporarily, retake the walls of the city into the public sphere. 

Spatial interventions, from street art to guerilla theatre to public protest, can occupy one of the three coordinates, X, Y, Z... 'Projection Bombing' takes all three. To my eternal discredit, I am reminded of the car commercial where the headlights of the vehicle turn it's field of vision into nighttime, and liberated, energetic social situations emerge (parties, street musicians, night-on-the-town apparel, etc.). Apologies for my formulaic imagination, but that, in a nutshell, is what GRL promises. More on this later...

Mobile Muse, likewise, builds upon reclaiming similar contested spaces, that of digital bandwidth, the ecology of screens, and mobile-terminated content. Aimed to aggressively develop the advancement of high-end mobile applications, Muse will also allow a diverse community of artists, activists, and small-scale publishers to assist in shaping the future direction, execution, and implementation of mobile new media in Canada, rather than relying upon commercial interests. 

Simultaneously a technology consortium and a granting agency, the MUSE 3 Platform will allow cultural, artistic, and commercial groups to engage in the forefront of participatory mobile media, utilizing technologies that will allow mobile originated/terminated streaming, live display interaction, social media aggregation, location based services, and mobile VJ'ing. 

Thursday, August 14, 2008


(as an aside, or parallel continuation of the 1st paragraph of the last post...)

But is that correct? Can that be? NO advocacy? Nothing that furthered the cultural causes afflicting our city?

I remember when I abandoned radical political organizing within Vancouver for a period of time. I was unable to say that "I didn't practice politics" in the meantime. I was painfully aware of the politics of everyday life (I was a Situationist at that point, afterall!). I realized that almost every action I could engage in, from where and how I worked, how I spent my free time, who I associated with, how I consumed and purchased, they all had political implications. What is it to say that one is not practicing advocacy, especially when one has been an advocate, will continue to be one, when one's political life has become largely defined by it? 

Is the question, then, one of what is advocacy, and how is it discernible within the broader milieu of politics? (a Liberal, Social Democrat tactic? An appeal to the Rule of Law? Of a Rousseuaian Social Contract? A Hegemony then? A mere tactical exercise?) Further, can the question be asked - and answered - as to why I have left it? Or why it has left me? Is it an abandonment, a hibernation, or just a lull in the action? 

We should also ask whether the social appetite for it has truly vanished, or if we were basing the trajectory of that upon the attentions of an all-too fickle and somnambulistic media. (We had a good run of coverage, and maybe didn't leverage those enough to keep the ball rolling?) 

Dialectically, we should properly triage the social situation before we make any new conjectures (unfortunately, not within the scope of this Blog).  Who persists? What still exists? 

A Curious Thing...

I have just realized; I am sitting here, pen to paper (so to speak), looking over old material in situ for this writing project, and I realize  that I have not pursued any form of cultural advocacy for over 6 months. 

Now, it was only a year ago, where one couldn't troll through the Georgia Straight, the Alliance for Art  & Culture, or essentially any street corner without seeing some notice of an invitation to make your voice heard: "let a thousand flowers bloom! we will reinvent direct democracy in the heart of the DTES!

From the North Sky Consulting interviews on the proposed Cultural Precinct, to the Creative City Conversation by the Office of Cultural Affairs, to the UNNARCC-cum-ICAN-cum-UNARC meetings, to the Alliance Roundtables, to the Creative City Network open houses, to the CECC Salons, to the presentation of the DeSacco Report by VanCity, from ad-hoc petitions to save art spaces, to Vision Vancouver summits, it was a veritable alphabet soup of organizations, alliances, and agendas. 

Of course, it must be realized that at least half of these were doomed from the start; whether because they were mere window-dressing for developers to pretend they were listening, platforms for politicians to soapbox, alienated, ineffective artist groups that hadn't reached the right audience... but, in essence, there was almost too much of a critical mass to do any good. 

I have experienced something like this a few times before in Vancouver, and indeed, it is starting to feel like a quintessential Vancouverism to me; in 1997-8, after the APEC protests at UBC, and 2002-4, with the rebirth of the experimental sound community. With both epochs, various circumstances (largely space-based) contributed to the genesis of large, diverse, and vital communities, ones that were decentralized, forward-thinking, largely horizontal in structure. Without going into too much detail ( I realize I am digressing from my initial point of this post...), I surmise that there is actually a satisfaction quotient at play that engenders complacency (I really should finish reading Collapse by Jared Diamond). Both... societies, scenes, subcultures... whatever you wish to call them, collapsed because of internal dynamics far more than external ones, in my opinion (though the concurrent depletion of the aforementioned space-based circumstances, in the absence of cultural infrastructure, avenues for community justice, congregation, etc. certainly helped). 

To take this back to a personal level - I, for one, was starting to feel burnt out with the amount of energy that I was committing towards attending meetings, bridging communities, postulating causes, and the such. As did others. The amount of energy that a few of us put into such things inevitably allowed others to pull out. With UNARC, that is certainly the case... though with it's anti-authoritarian politics, diverse membership, and rising popularity, it should have been the last organization to fall apart. 

At a certain level, one must also consider the dynamics inherent in the project of advocacy; that it is essentially a statist enterprise, weighing upon the benediction and consideration of power structures, a type of liberal 'appeal to the common good' approach of political organizing and action that, like any political project, only effects change if the advocate has an uncanny knack with communications or is at the forefront of a tremendous groundswell of political will (which, it could be argued, we were in Vancouver, and if I had less ethical qualms [ or more ?? ], I may have appropriated the role of Leader on a larger level, a Cultural Bolshevik, if you will).  In the end, this approach to politics only allows for so much power in the hands of the people, as the final decision making apparatuses are ceded to existing structures; "at the end of the day, son, you did all you could. Now we must await the judges their deliberation, behind closed doors, and accept their ruling as it lay..."

Other Links...


Curious... even the notion of a beginning is suspect within the domain of this type of project. Nevertheless;

This Blog is intended to serve as a platform for musings and explorations of various ways that the notion of space can be aspected, materialized, manifested, yes, even institutionalized. It will likely, in turn, discuss concepts as far-ranging as Urban Geography, Cultural Infrastructure, Communication Architectures, Virtual Places, Psycho-Geography, Locative Media, Mobile Development, Site-Specific Art Production, Street Art, Projection Bombing, Media Activism, GeoPolitics, and Capitalist Recuperation, to name a few... (not to put any labels on anything!) 

My experience is as an activist, anarchist, advocate, administrator, skateboarder, graf/street artist, new media practitioner, curator, web developer, programmer, writer and critic. Organizations I have worked with, that will influence this project include APEC Alert, the Ruthless Vandals, NTSC, The Butchershop, UNARC, the memelab, New Forms Festival, Balcone Art Society, Graffiti Research Lab, the Centre for Expertise on Culture and Communities, Mobile Muse, Capital Magazine, Poster Midget, and a few more that are of such questionable legal status that I shouldn't mention them, indeed, have already said too much...

And so, it begins...