Art & Culture

Lead Into Gold

“…the majority of popular culture is worthless, anti-democratic, scelerotic garbage”, according to Stephen Moss, writing recently on the Guardian’s blogs. Mr Moss’ article is in part a reaction to a new report from Oxford sociologists that has determined that the cultural elite does not exist. The report suggests that there are actually four groups of cultural consumers, which Moss summarises as: “univores, who like popular culture; omnivores, who like everything from Posh Spice to Puccini; paucivores, who absorb little culture; and inactives, who absorb none (is that possible?).”

Moss’ article takes a rather extreme stance against all forms of pop culture, and revels in the notion that despite the research taking place at Oxford, there may still be those faithful enough to high art that they are blissfully ignorant that pop culture even exists.

While I consider myself an “omnivore” as defined by the report, I sympathise with what I believe is the underlying sentiment in Moss’ article – that in general, we don’t recognise and appreciate true quality enough of the time. However, in my recent trawling of “best of 2007” lists that multiply across the world wide web like mushrooms at the end of December, I found two pieces of work that, once and for all, firmly solidified the value of popular culture in my mind.

As the CBC’s “Best of 2007” list editors put it, Alanis Morissette’s parody of the song “My Humps” by Black Eyed Peas “…almost justifies its existence”.

Alanis, herself a pop princess (albeit with a more “serious” persona) takes lyrical gems (cough, cough) from the Black Eyed Peas like this:

What you gonna do with all that junk?
All that junk inside that trunk?
How’m I gonna get get get you drunk
Get you drunk off this hump?

…and makes it actually, almost, kind of — beautiful. The melody is memorable, and the parody is spot-on. It takes a “hit” that I never bothered to listen to, and recycles it into something infinitely more interesting, if even to simply take note of precisely how ridiculous the original lyrics are.

Peaches, another “popular culture” phenom, takes the whole parody of this one amazingly banal song to the next level, by applying her usual raw and raunchy treatment, but also folding in elements of Alanis’ parody.

What’s marvellous about Peaches taking the parody a bit further is that it picks up where Alanis left off. Alanis did a great job of laying bare the inanity of the lyrics of the original song. Peaches links the whole thing back to the inanity of daily life – our dumps, our humps. Perhaps there will never be a Top 40 hit about our dumps, or our shopping list, or taking children to daycare, or going to the gym and doing the same routine for the fortieth time. It makes one wonder why there is a song about “how’m I gonna get get get you drunk” at all, since that sentiment is about as interesting as my shopping list. Or perhaps even less interesting, depending on what I’m shopping for?

And so, Mr Moss, that’s the value of pop culture today, for those of us who fancy ourselves to be a bit more highbrow, or at the very least, “omnivores” by the standards of Oxford researchers: the best and the worst of it can be fodder for other artists to make bigger, more interesting statements. To turn lead into gold, as it were.

Hat tip to the CBC’s “Best of 2007” list, which led me to both of these gems. If you really want to get get get the original version of “My Humps”, you can click here.

Art & Culture

xxxboîte launch


If I was in Montreal tomorrow, I would certainly be going to this launch! It’s an event to celebrate the release of xxxboîte, a collection of critical writing and a DVD compilation of works celebrating the last 10 years of Montreal’s own new media and network arts centre for women – Studio XX.

First, the details:
Date: Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Time: 5:00pm – 7:00pm
Location: Gallery Yergeau, 2060 Joly, (one block west of St. Denis, just up from Ontario) Montreal, QC

Kick off the 2007 HTMlles festival with a toast to the community that made it all happen. New texts from one of the four founding mothers, Kim Sawchuk, as well as extraordinary artists, Anna Friz, J.R. Carpenter, Michelle Kasprzak, and Marie-Christine Mathieu, and a DVD compilation that is part humourous, part touching, and all guerilla girl action – a true portrait of Studio XX!

Next, the reminiscing: I knew of XX for a long time, but my first real interaction with it was being invited to participate in one of their excellent Femmes Branchées events in 2003. That particular event was themed “Home“, and I presented my interactive piece Scrub, which explores eroticism and domesticity. Dr Perla Serfaty-Garzon was a perfect foil to my comedic performance (complete with featherduster and rubber gloves) in a housewife persona. Shortly thereafter I moved to Montreal, and became the Studio’s technician for a while, as well as being involved in several projects and participating on the programming committee. I have so many happy memories around the Studio and all the people that make up the XX community, which makes it a real honour to take part in xxxboîte and the 10th anniversary. Bonne fête et félicitations, Studio XX!

Art & Culture Featured

Ciel Variable 77 – Cultural Tourism

CV photo
CV Photo magazine has just released its “Cultural Tourism” issue, and has also been completely redesigned! For this issue, I wrote about the work of Montréal-based photographer Jessica Auer. There’s also a review of Dubious Views, the online exhibition by Gallery TPW/Virtual Museums of Canada that I took part in (I curated Subversive Souvenirs, one half of this double-headed exhibition) by David Garneau. The “Cultural Tourism” issue is on newsstands now across Canada and elsewhere.

Art & Culture Asides

Manchester Urban Screens

USM logo
This week, the Manchester Urban Screens two-day conference and four-day programme of events kicks off.

The omnipresence of public displays such as LED, LCD, plasma screens, large scale projections and media facades demands a critical reflection of their impact on cities and on our perceptions of them. At the same time, they offer new and exciting possibilities for artistic and non-commercial use as well as for community development and play. Urban Screens Manchester looks specifically at the creation of content, commissioning / funding issues, curatorship and the architectural possibilities of urban screens in the 21st century.

The schedule is packed and looks as though it will present the possibilities of urban screens from as many angles as possible, with a range of speakers from academia, industry, and arts. I’m speaking with Dooeun Choi and Sylvia Kouvali on a panel moderated by Mike Stubbs. The panel takes place on Friday Oct 12 at 17.00 and is entitled: “Curating Screen Art for an Urban and Architectural Context”. The panel is described the programme notes thusly:

Until now it is rare that a curator or other new media expert is consulted on the conception of media facades and other urban screens. Consequently, lots of existing urban screens lack the comprehensive sophistication that would explore spatial, architectural or medial potentials. Which curatorial criteria should be applied to the creation and curation of urban screens? How important is site-specifity and the local context? Which economic and content-related restrains do curators have to face? Do urban screens suit a presentation of elaborate artistic content or will entertainment win over art?

I’m also pleased to announce that both of the recent video programmes that I’ve curated for urban screens will also be presented as part of the art programme: Otherworldly and Best of Transmedia. The complete listings (including times and locations) for the art events is on the Manchester Urban Screens website. This is the world premiere for Best of Transmedia and only the second run (the premiere took place in Melbourne, Australia) of Otherworldly. I can’t wait to see both programmes on the screens, both permanent and temporary, throughout Manchester’s city centre!

I’m very excited to be in Manchester this week chatting with experts in this growing field and hope to see many old friends and colleagues there – do get in touch if you will be attending!