Art & Culture
April 27, 2020

Beer, Bikes & Mads Mikkelsen

Here’s a beer commercial with actor Mads Mikkelsen showing why Danes are so happy. He of course points to Hygge, where Danes get the feeling of being  “all fuzzy and snuffy together”.

In this ad for Carlsberg beer, Mikkelsen bikes through a range of venues and surfaces, including on roof tops. I counted him riding his bike on ten different surfaces. And in this ride through the city, there’s something very evident~there’s not one vehicle on the road.

No wonder Danes are so happy.

 

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Ian Young, Vancouver columnist with the South China Morning Post, wrote a widely circulated piece which credited some of B.C.’s success at flattening the Covid curve to the early actions of the Chinese community.

Virologist Dr Jason Kindrachuk, Canada research chair in new and re-emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba, attributed BC’s “phenomenal” results to … the early behaviour of BC’s sizeable Chinese community …

“What you have in BC is a Chinese community that was seeing the impacts across Asia [and] had been through Sars … and there may have been a grass roots movement in that community to start with the physical distancing,” said Kindrachuk.  …

The local Chinese community was also an early adopter of face masks, which Canada’s chief medical officer Dr Theresa Tam only this week acknowledged as a way for the general public to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. “In Asian communities there is more comfort and a relationship with these things [masks] in public …

Ah, the mask.

Kindrachuk: (The BC Chinese community’s reaction to the outbreak at its early stages) “needs to be examined as we try to work out what things helped in different communities that we can all think about whether to adopt as time goes on.”

Will the mask now be another indicator of ‘West Pacific’ – a culture that combines habits and traditions in a blend of the new normal?

Until recently, whenever I saw someone wearing a mask over their mouth, I assumed they had been brought up in Asia.  An indicator of the immigrant, still wearing local dress, taking a precaution from a more-crowded culture.  I don’t see it that way anymore.

Of course, it will be appropriately redesigned:

Billie Eilish at the Grammy Awards, in January, wearing a Gucci face mask. Photo: AFP

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A group of Vancouverites who work in trauma and counselling have been circulating an email asking their friends for their favourite poems or prose that helped at a time of crisis. Among the poems being circulated is this one from  poet Naomi Shihab Nye, which was sent in by a librarian.

These are difficult times for everyone from many standpoints. This poem was a favourite of the crisis workers. The images are by photographer Ken Ohrn.

The Song

From somewhere
A calm musical note arrives.
You balance it on your tongue,
a single ripe grape,
till your whole body glistens.
In the space between breaths
You apply it any wound
and the wound heals.

Soon the nights will lengthen,
you will lean into the year humming like a saw.
You will fill the lamps with kerosene,
knowing somewhere a line breaks,
a city goes black,
people dig for candles in the bottom drawer.
You will be ready. You will use the song like a match.
It will fill your rooms
opening rooms of its own
so you sing, I did not know
my house was this large.

~ Naomi Shihab Nye

Images: Ken Ohrn

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Last year I wrote about an American named Bill Heine who became the “local character” in Oxford Great Britain.Heine ran two cinema houses, and had garnered a law degree before turning to movies.

In 1986 Mr. Heine had a Big Idea and for some reason  commissioned the building of a huge headless fibreglass shark which he craned to the top of his house. The timing of his installation of a headless shark on the roof of his 1860 British townhouse was the  “41st anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.” The piece was created by artist John Buckley. Mr. Heine tried to say that his headless shark was a political statement. The shark weighs 400 pounds and is 25 feet from its tail to the top of its headless body.

The good citizens of Oxford were apoplectic about this shark among the roofs, and as   this web page on the Hedlington Shark attests  the local Oxford city council sprung into action.

You can read about that debacle here. The story spoiler is that Mr. Heine got to keep the shark,  with an appeal tribunal stating that this was not about the fact the shark did not blend in to the surrounding historic roofscape but rather the individualism that the shark did NOT blend in the historic roofscape. You can’t make this stuff up.

The Hedlington Shark is now a historic significant monument. But what are the chances that a local Price Tags Vancouver reader actually interviewed Bill Heine in person? And that this interview was published in People Magazine?

Dianna Waggoner wrote this piece in 1987:

The neighbors should have seen it coming. When Bill Heine, a 42-year-old American from Batavia, Ill. moved onto High Street in quiet little Heading-ton, England, he already had a reputation for strange roof embellishments. First he had stuck a pair of plaster arms above his movie house in nearby Oxford. Next he had put a pair of humorous, black-and-white-stockinged legs atop a second theater. Last spring, shortly after buying his brick house on High Street, he pulled his best trick yet. One Saturday neighbors awoke to see a 25-foot, fiberglass shark sculpture being towed through town by a farm tractor. Sure enough, before the day was out, the shark was up there on the roof, right above the ivy and the pots of geraniums, head-down in the shingles. What did the neighbors make of that?

“Downright disgusting,” observed Irene Williams from her front yard.

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It is not often that a  Vancouver person’s  working life has a half century of documentation and film.  In 1964 Vern Frick was documented in this YouTube video which was produced for CBC and described his daily work as a postman. In the video he stops on Granville Street for his morning coffee. The original postal station D was on Broadway close to Fir Street, and you can see the Fir Street off ramp for the Granville Bridge in the video below. You also see a different Vancouver, with wooden houses, front porches, and a mailman who knows everyone on his route.

Vern Frick later worked as a postal inspector and ended up in safety management with the Post Office. Although he retired over 20 years ago from the post office, he kept on with his second job which was as an usher with the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition). And what a life he experienced with that job. This  2018 article by Susan Lazarek with the Vancouver Sun describes Vern as the “longest-serving employee of the PNE, who has been on shift as a part-time usher for virtually all the shows at the annual exhibition venues since the summer of 1963, is working his last shift on Labour Day.”

He was at the Beatles concert as an usher in August 22, 1964 (which ended after twenty minutes when fans rushed the stage).

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With thanks to Duke of Data Andy Yan for the reference, here’s a memory for those of a Certain Age that were taking transit in Vancouver in the 1980’s and 1990’s. At that time, the city seemed to be covered with ubiquitous places where you could get muffins, most near transit hubs. Muffin shops also carried coffee, not the fancy stuff of Starbuck’s creativity but the kind that came straight out of a glass carafe, and usually had the consistency of caramel.

Karon Liu in the Star wrote last spring about the muffin trend, stating that “the bar (was) set by Toronto-based muffin chain Mmmuffins (full name: Marvellous Mmmuffins). In the chain’s ’80s and early ’90s heydays, almost every Canadian mall had a location that offered a rotating menu of flavours. Everyone had their favourite: some liked the cornmeal muffin, others peach bran, while my mom loved the seldom-seen pineapple muffin…”

Marvellous Mmmuffins started in 1979, was franchised, and peaked in the 1980 to 1990 years. By 2019, what was once a bevy of stores had shrunk to only two with one of them, the Second Cup, picking up on the new trend towards espresso and specialty coffee.

It may seem a weird trend now where people are careful about ingesting carbohydrates , but in the late 1980’s Liu observes that the muffin had the three ingredients necessary for the  “yuppie” (“Young Urban Professional”) lifestyle.

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It glitters!  It spins!  It outrages!

Click here to see the Chandelier spin.  Whee!

Since it was hung under the Granville Bridge, Spinning Chandelier has appalled those who deem it an insult.  Like Melody Ma:

How did such an insensitive piece of public art come into existence? Did no one at the city of Vancouver anticipate the outrage that would follow?

… It’s like letting the McDonald’s golden arches be the emblem of a city. …

One spinning chandelier to remind us of the inequality in the city is more than enough. It’s time to review the public art process before it produces another obscene structure …

Whether it’s puritans or progressives who are condemning an artwork as obscene, watch out.  Mediocrity is waiting in the wings.

And we happen to have an ideal comparison with two works by one artist: Rodney Graham, who actually created the obscene Chandelier, chosen by the developer, and another piece you’ve probably never heard of, chosen by the kind of process that Ma favours:

It was a commission for the Olympic and Paralympic Public Art Program, and it is, if I may be harsh, one of the most mediocre works on one of the most opportune sites in the city: the entrance to Stanley Park.

The work takes its title from a series of photographs … which documented a series of ‘incorrectly’ assembled toy glider kits… And the park, of course, is a place where children and adults may very well play with glider.

It would at least be appropriate next to a children’s play space.  So how about we do a switch: put Graham’s work near a playground and replace it with the statue of Lord Stanley, arms spread wide, welcoming “people of all colours, creeds and customs” at the entrance to the park.

Except, of course, this dead white male colonialist wouldn’t pass the trauma test.  Nor does the Chandelier, according to Mitch Speed in another scathing indictment in MoMus:

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Vancouver has the highest density of artists per capita in Canada. But they’ve lost nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space in the past decade, while their median rental rates have increased more than 65 per cent. The Eastside Culture Crawl Society, alarmed at the increasing conversion of light industrial buildings to condos, produced A City Without Art?, a report that documents artists’ displacement, and calls for no net loss of existing spaces, plus more non-profit and community ownership, and other strategies.

Meanwhile, The City of Vancouver has committed to addressing our acute cultural space challenges in its Culture | Shift plan, and has recently opened 10,800-square-foot purpose-built artist production facility Howe Street Studios, with much more promised.

Can it deliver? Can it stop conversions? Will more artist space mean less city housing?

Our guides for this conversation are Eri Ishii, formerly evicted painter, and Director of Portside Studios and the 901 Artists Cooperative; Cheryl Hamilton of ie: Creative, and a third speaker to be confirmed.

 

Thursday, January 16

12:30 PM

SFU Vancouver Harbour Centre – 515 West Hastings Street

Free Event | Registration is Required

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Sesame Street is 50.

The Washington Post celebrates its Kennedy honours here.

While us Boomers weren’t the target market (by 20, I knew my alphabet), our kids were – and every generation thereafter.  But Sesame Street did teach me a lot about a particular version of New York – a working class street of brownstones, stoops, a mix of shops and homes, a mix of people.  This was not the suburbia of my neighbourhood or the rest of sit-com TV.

And while this version of New York was, well, nice, it was also edgier than even today’s version of the show, and it prepared me for a New York in the late 1970s and 80s that was anything but nice.  As the Post writer recollects:

On a recent afternoon’s binge, I watched one “Sesame” musical number from 1975 called “The Subway!” several times in a row. It’s funny and impressively clever — edgy, even, when compared with the show’s present-day tone. “You could lose your purse; or you might lose something worse, on the subway,” sang an old-lady Muppet, squeezed into a subway car with a trenchcoated Kermit the Frog, a testy Bert and too many others.

Sesame Street taught me the ABCs of an urbanity of which I had no experience.  And so, when I had the chance to experience it, I saw the city not just as some dangerous, undesirable, perverse world but as a place to which I had been given an introduction by a green frog and his friends  – even the underground world of The Subway.

*Here are the lyrics to The Subway:

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