Thursday, June 25, 2009

Art for a millenium

Artist and journalist Jonathon Keats has created the longest story ever told for Opium Magazine. Merely nine words long, the story has been printed in such a way that only long term exposure of the magazine cover to ultra violet light will reveal each word over the course of 1000 years.

Keats's work is a reaction to the quick-click publishing and consumption that dominates the internet and contemporary culture at large. That this work has captured so much attention, along with the slow food movement and the resurgence of craft (ie Etsy), tells me that people may be exhausted by the current speed of living.

Among my pet peeves about the fast and the furious are people who fail to read emails carefully before hitting 'Reply All', and friends who won't read my longer blog entries. Slowing down is desirable but, as a generation brought up on video games, I suspect that only heart disease and other byproducts of our lifestyle will force us to operate at a more leisurely pace.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Best case Monday

With summer finally arriving in Toronto, I'm finding it hard to go to work. Happily, today is turning out to be better than expected. Both my boss and my immediate supervisor are out of the office. While this scenario is conducive to slacking off, I have actually been productive because meeting a deadline has been compatible with listening to "Q" on CBC Radio, which featured an interview with one of my favourite writers, David Sedaris. I actually laughed until my spreadsheet became blurry, though my co-worker might have perceived sobbing stifled by hastily grabbed tissue paper. The podcast of the interview should be uploaded soon so check it out.

Quick notes on two street festivals that I visited over the weekend:

Taste of Little Italy - A smaller event than Taste of the Danforth that was heavy on food offerings from everywhere but Italy. My friend made a point of eating Italian food at the festival but was disappointed after his determined search resulted in some rather ordinary ravioli.

Big on Bloor - It was unfortunate that this one day festival took place during steady day-long rain on Saturday. The weather meant less crowding for Joe and me but we felt sorry for the sodden vendors, especially the ones without any shelter. One thing that I like about the Big on Bloor Street Festival is that it features up and coming crafters and artists that I do not normally see at bigger events. Eric Cheung had his Orphans Plush sitting in an old suitcase, open to the elements. He came out from the shelter of a store front to give us a whimsical tale about the dolls and explain how he had learned to sew in order to produce them. The Orphans were so appealing and well priced that we couldn't resist adopting one. We named him Walter and discovered that he longs to become a ballet dancer in spite of his footballer's build, which he attempts to camouflage with the vertical lines of his tight sweater.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Latest obsession: The Tawny Man trilogy

For the past two weeks, I have been sleep-deprived yet felt little in the way of exhaustion because of my raging addiction to Robin Hobb's fantasy trilogy, The Tawny Man series. I had previously attempted to read this series after finishing the Farseer trilogy that precedes it, but gave up, perhaps due to fantasy fatigue. When I recently felt the need to be immersed in something other than non-fiction, giving The Tawny Man series anther chance seemed like a good bet.

Overall, The Tawny Man series has less action than the Farseer trilogy. The same narrator, FitzChivalry Farseer, is now a 35 year old recluse who refuses to be dragged back into his previous life as a royal bastard turned assassin, a role that ultimately required him to sacrifice love and family for the sake of loyalty to the Farseer monarchy. Like its protagonist, the books are more slowly paced and the best moments are the ones that focus on character development and interaction. Hobb's ability to imbue her characters and their relationships with psychological depth and realistic complexity is as impressive as it was in the Farseer trilogy.

Cryptic spoilers to follow.

Book One: Fool's Errand
Possibly the most satisfying book of the series because of its consistent focus on the themes of civil and paternal responsibility. The reader fails to encounter any action until the 1/3 point of the book, hence, some may find the pacing slow but I was absorbed in the reunion of Fitz with the few who know that he lives, especially the Fool, now known as the ridiculously entertaining Lord Golden. A romantic tension between these two male characters becomes palpable, in spite of Fitz's obliviousness to the Fool's subtle affection. The threat of the Piebalds, a militant group originating from a marginalized community, feels very real. The novel concludes with the rocky start of Fitz's relationship with Prince Dutiful and the devastating end of another.

Book Two: Golden Fool
Fitz reacquaints himself with his childhood home, Buckkeep, while attempting to hide his true identity as a royal bastard under the guise of the outrageous Lord Golden's servant. The majority of the story is driven by intrigue brought about by a possible political alliance with a former enemy, the Outislanders, through an arranged marriage for Prince Dutiful, and Fitz's reluctant role in it. The romantic tension between Fitz and Lord Golden builds to a devastating clash that results in the sorely felt absence of the latter character for the second half of the book. This void is partially filled by a riveting sequence in which Fitz engages a group of Piebalds and nearly loses his life, but the conclusion of the novel is marred when the relationship between Fitz and the Fool comes to a dissatisfying impasse.

Book Three: Fool's Fate
Reading the first half of this book was an exercise in frustration simply because of the narrative's unrelenting focus on Fitz's thankless guardianship of half-wit, Thick. Thick becomes the 'JarJar Binks' of the series, nearly ruining the third book by forcing both Fitz and the reader to suffer his idiotic selfishness. It is only when Thick recedes from the spotlight and the Fool/Lord Golden returns that the story picks up again. The plot quickens as Fitz and the Fool face the latter's arch rival, the Pale Woman, and Fitz must seemingly choose between loyalty to the Farseers and his friendship with the Fool in deciding the fate of a long lost dragon. While the conclusion of Fitz's relationship with the Fool is heart wrenching, the rest of Hobb's plot wrap-ups seem overly convenient. Especially disappointing is the afterthought resolution of the Piebald problem. Fitz's life is determinedly set for a happy ending, with the notable exception of his relationship with the Fool, which ends prematurely and without closure for both men - sadly much like real life.
For a more detailed assessment of Fool's Fate, I recommend the review of J.Smith "ladyofthebooks".

I feel a little relieved that I have finally finished this series since it has distracted me from functioning as a productive adult. As dissatisfying as I found the ending, wishing that it had been as ruthlessly loyal to the characters as the Farseer trilogy was, the novels kept me riveted throughout, and I would recommend them without reservation.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Drinking and stumbling

This past weekend, I ran my first race since the Las Vegas Half-Marathon back in December and it was in keeping with my new, lackadaisical attitude towards running. The inaugural Twenty Valley Niagara Wine Country Run offered 21km, 10km and 4km distances and featured wine tasting stations roughly every 2 kms. I was thrilled to have an facsimile of the Marathon du M├ędoc offered so close to home.

The race atmosphere was the most relaxed that I have ever experienced. Despite claims to the contrary, personal bests are important to racers and competitive posturing is rampant before the gun goes off. Yet, none of the runners that I saw carried gels nor other nutritional supplements and few exhibited quiet intensity at the start line, since the savouring of alcohol already dictated less than ideal racing conditions. Runners joked about boarding the "elite runner's shuttle bus" and asked for recommendations on which wine went well with Gatorade. The route's scenic rolling hills prompted many runners to simply walk the inclines, especially after leaving a wine tasting station.

The only complaint that I have about the race was the time of day that it took place. Since alcohol cannot be legally served before 11am, all races started at roughly that time. Much of the route was unshaded and it was a hard run under the midday sun with alcohol sloshing in the system. My personal preference would be for the race to be scheduled in the evening, though that may be too much of an inconvenience from organizational and marketing points of view.

The night before the run, we stayed at Silver Birches by-the-Lake Bed and Breakfast. Besides being conveniently located, the hospitality was superb and the amenities demonstrated owners, Paul and Leah Padfield's attention to detail. One benefit of the late race start was that it allowed us the leisure to enjoy the hearty breakfast, which is not normally recommended before a race but provided a good foundation for the wine sampling to come.

Definitely a very enjoyable weekend of bacchanalian athleticism.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Not an infomercial for pillows

For the first time in 15 years, I am not suffering from a stiff, achy lower back. Why? Because I have discovered the body pillow! Just $99.99! Call now!

Actually, I am just using a regular pillow but it is supporting my upper leg when I sleep on my side and the result has been the disappearance of my lower back problems. Previous to my use of this body pillow equivalent, yoga exercises helped ease the tension in my back but it was a treatment rather than a solution. I am ecstatic with this seemingly magical product, to say the least.

Also making me happy at night is my buckwheat pillow, which I bought at the Christmas 2008 One of a Kind Show from Harvest Pillows. I was inspired to buy this product after using a traditional Japanese buckwheat pillow during my stay at an onsen. It took about a month of restless nights before I became comfortable with the buckwheat pillow, but now, it provides all of the neck support of my previous favourite, the Obus Forme Standard Cervical Pillow, minus the frustration of weakening neck support over time. Joe inherited my old Obus Forme pillow and, despite its slightly degraded foam, it has cured him of the headaches that were brought on by his regular pillow's lack of neck support.

The body and buckwheat pillows are not for everyone but a sleep aid of some sort can cure seemingly unrelated body and head aches. The solution can be as simple as providing limb support using an spare pillow. Wow!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Luminato 2009 = weak art

Now entering its third year, Luminato - Toronto Festival of the Arts + Creativity failed to interest me in its two previous years. The majority of their events are ticketed performances while their free programming is limited (Correction: by my count, 2/3 of the programming is free). However, I decided to check out the Luminato free visual art projects last Sunday and it was disappointing to say the least.

Red Ball Project Toronto by Kurt Perschke
Essentially a giant ball wedged into familiar city landmarks. On Sunday, it took up the main entrance of Old City Hall; this venue proved to be a more interesting contrast to the giant red ball than Friday's venue, Nathan Phillips Square. The piece easily engaged the general public, encouraging public interaction with the ball from kids and adults alike, but definitely lacked any depth. I worry that a piece like this will be used by those who fail to appreciate contemporary art as an example of how shallow the genre is.

long wave by David Rokeby and Primary Manifestos by Jason Baerg (Luminato Box)
After seeing Perschke's work, long wave's use of red balls appears derivative. Even considered on its own, Rokeby's string of red balls swirling through the galleria of Brookfield Place has the impact of Ikea home design: safe and unobtrusive.
Jason Baerg's Primary Manifestos was Sunday's featured artist in the Luminato Box and its total lack of consideration for the unique venue was off putting. Paintings and a projection that could have been shown in any gallery space did nothing to acknowledge the Luminto Box nor the location. However, I am more inclined to blame the curator than the artist for this sloppiness. With a different artist featured every day of the 10 day festival, one would think that the curator would have chosen more dynamic work that makes use of or references the Luminato Box.

Broken Arrow by Germaine Koh
This piece was hiddent deep inside the darkened Exchange Tower and was overwhelmed by its venue. Koh had moving words projected onto a wall, but the whole piece was barely noticeable above a pair of escalators and on a wide expanse of black granite wall. The result was underwhelming and the message was obscured.

Public art installation by Tony Oursler
Having had some of Tony Oursler's work burned into my memory more than a decade ago, I was disappointed by his contribution to Luminato. When we arrived in the middle of the day, Oursler's piece just outside Grange Park was not turned on. After a sufficient number of confused visitors had roamed around the piece, a Luminato worker finally got up to turn on the visuals and sound. However, it was hard to see anything in the midday light. Ousler's installation would have been better suited to a night time event like Nuit Blanche than a festival that takes place during some of the longest days of the year.

Based on what I have seen, I would characterize Luminato's free visual art offerings as conservative and/or insensitive to its surroundings. If the organizers of Luminato cannot offer provocative visual art in the event's rather limited repetoire, they might as well not offer any at all.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Sucker for punishment

This past weekend, I watched Flocons participate in the Milton Try-a-Tri, as part of his quest to get fit or die trying. As I watched Flocons and the other competitors flop around like salmon during spawning season, followed by public disrobing, then some random silliness (ie running with a bike helmet on), I thought to myself, "This sport is becoming increasingly attractive..."

I have not participated in a running event yet this year, partly because I do not enjoy running in freezing temperatures, but also because running has become routine. However, with the injection of biking and the threat of drowning, perhaps my will to exercise will be revived.

To test this theory, I have signed up for the Toronto Island Give-It-A-Tri along with Flocons. We will try to support each other over the next 10 weeks of training. If our swimming does not improve by August 15, we will literally support each other as makeshift floatation devices. For once, I can honestly say that I am aiming to finish.

Monday, June 01, 2009

I want this

I could easily believe that this is a hoax or even an art project but the fact that it is a reality makes me grateful that I am alive in this consumer culture.