Saturday, May 30, 2009

Soon Before The Sun

'Abnormally Attracted To Sin' is really starting to grow on me in a similar vein to 'American Doll Posse'. Slowly but surely. 'Give" is slinky, dark, beautiful and currently on repeat.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Je Baise Ta Bouche

"What a difference a day makes
There's a rainbow before me
Skies above can't be stormy
Since that moment of bliss, that thrilling kiss
It's heaven when you find romance on your menu
What a difference a day made
And the difference is you"

Amazing how it just takes one day to make a life changing impact on the next 365 :)

Words by Maria Grever & Stanley Adams

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Music Is The Glue That Holds My World Together

Music is one of the few constant things in my life. Love affairs end, friendships crumble, through the good and bad, music has been there. Certain albums are almost like old friends, a few bars of a song can bring back memories, places and people. I have previously written about the music of Olivier Messiaen and have been listening to a lot of his works lately.

The fabulous Amanda ‘Fucking’ Palmer recently posted a speech that was given by Dr. Karl Paulnack, who was director of the music division in The Boston Conservatory. Paulnack’s welcoming address to the parents of incoming students referenced the music of Messiaen and eloquently summed up how truly powerful music is.

Why Music Matters
Dr. Karl Paulnack, Director, Music Division, The Boston Conservatory

“One of my parents’ deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician… I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated… I still remember my mother’s remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school. She said, “You’re wasting your SAT scores!” On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they loved music: they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren’t really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the “arts and entertainment” section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it’s the opposite… Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works.

One of the first cultures to articulate how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you: the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us. Let me give you some examples of how this works.

One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940. Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany. He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940 and imprisoned in a prisoner-of-war camp.He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose, and fortunate to have musician colleagues in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist. Messiaen wrote his quartet with these specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire.

Given what we have since learned about life in the Nazi camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture — why would anyone bother with music? And yet even from the concentration camps we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn’t just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art. Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, “I am alive, and my life has meaning.”

In September of 2001 I was a resident of Manhattan. On the morning of September 12, 2001 I reached a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my daily routine; I did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cover on the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter? Isn’t this completely irrelevant? Playing the piano right now, given what happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless. Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a piano player right now? I was completely lost.

And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, in fact I contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And then I observed how we got through the day.

At least in my neighborhood, we didn’t shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn’t play cards to pass the time, we didn’t watch TV, we didn’t shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York, on the very evening of September 11th, was singing. People sang. People sang around fire houses, people sang “We Shall Overcome.” Lots of people sang “America the Beautiful.” The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.

From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of “arts and entertainment” as the newspaper section would have us believe. It’s not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pastime. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.

Some of you may know Samuel Barber’s heart wrenchingly beautiful piece “Adagio for Strings.” If you don’t know it by that name, then some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie “Platoon,” a film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn’t know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what’s really going on inside us the way a good therapist does.

Very few of you have ever been to a wedding where there was absolutely no music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some really bad music, but with few exceptions there is some music. And something very predictable happens at weddings-people get all pent up with all kinds of emotions, and then there’s some musical moment where the action of the wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if the music is lame, even if the quality isn’t good, predictably 30 or 40 percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding cry a couple of moments after the music starts. Why? The Greeks. Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can’t talk about it.

Can you imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly the same moment? I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music stripped out, it wouldn’t happen that way. The Greeks. Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.

I’ll give you one more example. The most important concert of my entire life took place in a nursing home in a small Mid-western town a few years ago.

I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We began, as we often do, with Aaron Copland’s Sonata, which was written during World War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland’s, a young pilot who was shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the pieces we are going to play rather than providing them with written program notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out and play the music without explanation.

Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was clearly a soldier. Even in his 70’s it was clear from his buzz-cut hair, square jaw and general demeanour that he had spent a good deal of his life in the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve heard crying in a concert and we went on with the concert and finished the piece.When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed pilot. The man in the front of the audience became so disturbed that he had to leave the auditorium. I honestly figured that we would not see him again, but he did come backstage afterwards, tears and all, to explain himself.

What he told us was this: “During World War II I was a pilot, and I was in an aerial combat situation where one of my team’s planes was hit. I watched my friend bail out, and watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute cords so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I didn’t understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost pilot, it was a little more than I could handle. How does the music do that? How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?”

Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationships between internal objects. The concert in the nursing home was the most important work I have ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect, somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is why music matters.

The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this: If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at 2 AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.

You’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell yourself. The truth is you don’t have anything to sell; being a musician isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used cars. I’m not an entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music, I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives"

‘Evoke’ (First & Second Image): Usman Haque
Emotions Chart: Steven J Chen
Sheet Music: ImpactVids

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ex Tenebris Lux

© Aideen Barry 2009

Aideen Barry is a Visual Artist, working in the media of performance, film, musical composition, drawings and animation. She was awarded funding from the Arts Council of Ireland’s Projects: New Work Award towards the creation of a new work filmed in Zero Gravity whilst on a residency at Kennedy Space Centre, NASA. In September 2008 Barry was invited to partake in the collaboration project ‘Sound design for future films’ initiated by the artists Melissa Dubbin and Aaron S.Davidsson with four other participating artists Pierre Huyghe, Christine Rebet, Kate Gilmore & Klaus Schafler. In 2008 this showed at Moderna Museet, Sweden, and later traveled to The Wexner Center for the Arts in Ohio.

Sean Kissane, Head of Exhibitions at the Irish Museum of Modern Art selected Barry to represent Ireland at FRA GIL in Barcelona, Spain in May 2008. Barry was the Irish Artist in Residence at the Banff Centre in Canada in 2007. She also undertook a residency for Convoy, in Seydisfjourder, in Iceland, which was funded by The Skaftfell Centre, Iceland and Culture Ireland. She curated Subversion and the Domestic: House Projects, which has been published into a book on the 7-curated projects in Ireland, New York and London. She co-curated a number of exhibitions including TULCA: City of Strangers (Galway) and ‘Terms & Conditions’ with another artist Pauline Cummins at the Mermaid Arts Centre (Bray, Ireland.)

Barry teaches part-time in Galway Mayo Institute of Technology, The Galway Film Centre and also has lectured in several art institutions in the west including NUIG Galway, Limerick School of Art and Design, Sligo Institute of Technology and The Burren College of Art on their MFA programme. Barry lives and works in Galway in the West of Ireland. She recently spoke with me about her work and her residency experience at the NASA Kennedy Space Centre.

© Aideen Barry 2009

GOE: Are there any artists in particular that have influenced you?

AB: Lots, and lots and lots....
I don't really know where to begin.

I cant say there is any one main artist. There are certainly a lot of writers and thinkers: Beckett, Foucault, Heirdegger, then sci fi writers like Arthur C. Clarke, Neal Stephenson and of course the gothic horror writers...especially our Irish ones, Sheridan La Fanu and Bram Stoker.

In film there have been so many, I don’t really know where to begin: Lynch, Cronenburg, and Kubrick have had a massive impact on me. Contemporary film makers such as Vivienne Dick, Lars Laumann, and Eija-Liisa Ahtila have been making such interesting works delving into the notion of the third space; both in the making of their film and video works but also how the work is sited between the cinema theatre and the Gallery while also addressing the in-between spaces of our minds, I find this extremely exciting and at this point this has had a major impact on the way I have made film and video works.

What was the 1st piece of art that provoked a strong response in you?

I am not sure exactly what the first one was...
I think, to be honest some of the most important pieces of art I saw as a child were some of the eastern European animations that RTE used to screen on the telly. RTE ( Radio Telefis Eireann) must have got them cheap at the time, and probably didn't realise what gems they were. I remember seeing some of Jan Lenica's films like Ubu and the Great Gidouille (clip) and being blown away.

Also RTE occasionally would show something out of the ordinary, like Calder's Circus (clip), and that had such an amazing impact on me as a child. Calder's ingenuity was mesmerising, and I remember trying to replicate his inventions with elastic bands and bits of wire; to try to make his circus creatures and characters, performing them to myself, building stages out of old shoe boxes...

I grew up in the 80's in Ireland in working class Cork city. We had nothing and in a way that was a blessing as I spent every single minute making something, comic books, paper dress dolls, catapults! You name it, and seeing that kind of stuff on the telly was just awesome to my little brain!

© Aideen Barry 2009

You mentioned in a statement that your current work deals with the notion of the “Uncanny”; and that this work has been informed by a diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Most artists that I have known seem to have a slightly obsessive streak or drive about their work that seems to feed the creative process. What drives you to make art?

In 2006 I was diagnosed with a mild form of OCD. This manifests itself with nervous fits, panic attacks and compulsions; I stay up all night cleaning and cleaning and cleaning, organising and re-organising the studio. I don't get enough sleep and I cant stop working. I am not sure exactly why I am the way I am, but I feel quite normal in comparison to most of the neighbours in our housing estate in County Galway. Some times I look out the window on a Sunday and I see the neighbour from number 43 cleaning the inside of the hubcaps of her 08 Lexus hybrid 4x4 monster car and think "Bloody Hell, she is definitely more OCD than me!".

Its crazy what Celtic Tiger Ireland has done to this country. Everyone has been racing around striving for perfection in some way, trying to be better than the family next door, and somehow, there is a slippage, the mania is just beneath this bizarre veneer, and we may have lost something... perhaps our minds! At the moment its Holy Communion Season in our housing estate. For the past 4 days the road has turned into Inflatable land, with bouncy castles in every second garden. Each one trying to out do each other with the size and colour of their inflatable "Bouncy-Manor". We may be on the verge of bankruptcy as a country but by god we are going to have that bouncy castle for the little one on his or her "big day for god".

In a way I think not just every artist has a form of a disorder, I think we all do. Perhaps we are the ones that are saying, " You know, its ok, I'm an artist and I can be mad" in a kind of Van Gogh kinda way, but in reality, we are all a little unhinged.

I find this all rather fascinating....

For me this is the new Gothic. We always seemed to regard the ones with the long black hair, and painted pale faces as the ones to be feared, in terms of "The Goths", but in reality, the Irish Housewife is a far far scarier person, in a Bree Van de kamp ( Desperate Housewives/HBO) kinda way! I mean you only have to look around at the new Ireland with the thousands of cloned housing estates, and the 'stepfordzombiness' that has settled in to what were Irish Villages and market towns up and down the country and wonder, what kind of nightmare have we woken up to in our country?

This is what drives me to make art, I like to hold up a mirror to our reality and say "Is this what we are now? Is this where we should be? And what next horror is around the corner?"

© Aideen Barry 2009

Most inspiring place or space you’ve been?

My Housing Estate. NASA is a close second.

You were awarded funding from the Arts Council of Ireland for a New Work Award towards the creation of new work filmed in Zero Gravity. This was done whilst you were on a residency at the Kennedy Space Centre with NASA. That sounds like a dream come true for most people. Can you tell me about the experience?

Long story: I have always wanted to go into space!

Partly because my baby sitter as a child was my first cousin Breda O'Callaghan-Hay. She was attending UCC at the time studying experimental physics. After she got her doctorate, she went ofF to the states and joined the US Air Core, and started flying fighter jets. It has been her dream to get into the NASA Astronaut Programme. She has actually gotten shortlisted for NASA fifteen times or something like that. So her chances of being the first Irish person in space are extremely high! But I want to beat her.

I made a pitch to the Arts Council of Ireland to Help me Beat my Cousin in the Race for Space. Partially because the training to be an astronaut is an endurance performance in itself, partly I wanted to make some work in zero gravity and purely on a selfish reason, I really want to see space. So they funded me, and in December 2008 myself and my camera man Chris Hurley went off to Kennedy Space Centre to do a residency; and to experience zero gravity in parabolic flights, with other astronaut hopefuls. It was an amazing experience and I am still trying to process everything that happened out there.

© Aideen Barry 2009

What do you do when the going gets tough and creativity isn’t flowing?

I clean.

When viewing your work I get the feeling that it is at times humorous but mixed with hints of dark undertones; and you’ve created some truly beautiful imagery that can be slightly unsettling simultaneously. You mention that “Through playful manipulation of materials, objects and scenarios, a productive dialogue emerges between object and body. I use these notions as a tool in expressing human behaviour in the strange area between amusement, madness and discomfort; creating balance and tension. “. How did you become interested in using optical illusions, endurance performance and the challenges presented to us in our everyday reality in your work?

I think one of the things that enables me to make work, is that I am never at ease, I never feel I am at home and I am rarely comfortable where I am. This causes me to constantly question why that is, why do I not belong and how can I address these feelings.

Perhaps its because I am never really sure if what I am seeing is real or imagined, or that perhaps it is an untruth. There is definitely a humour involved in the work I make and I enjoy incorporating that into the work; but a larger element for me as a person is fear and insecurity. These are like the vowels to my words: my works. They shape where I am going to go next with each project.

In your question about how I began to work in endurance performance, I guess it was like a testing of my self in this reality. I was very much interested in how the body pushes itself beyond its limitations in a ritualistic performance. How after a while you don't feel pain and you don't notice time passing. Again this for me questions what is real and what is perceived to be possible. Though this is only a part of the larger body of my practice.

© Aideen Barry 2009

The optical illusions were also a test of this reality. In the film Levitating 2007 (above) I spent 7 days jumping and doing my domestic chores around the housing estate I lived in at the time. I set up the shot to take a photograph when I was exactly 6 inches of the ground. Then I turned these photographs into an animated film. If you can image that film works at a frame rate of 25 frames or photographs a second, well you can just imagine how many jumps I had to do to create an illusion of levitating above the ground. This was what I now call a Performative film,
made out of an endurance performance work on camera to create an effortless ( looking) illusion of hoovering.

The every day reality is definitely presented in this film, as it is my house, my local supermarket, my neighbourhood where the film was shot; to everyone who watches it, there is a familiarity to this uncanny scene.

Do you find art cathartic?

Em, yes and no.
Yes because I would go mad if I didn't create,
but then sometimes it's hard because you are constantly looking at yourself and questioning every single decision. I would say I have a love/hate relationship with art.

Oh classic, I am the tortured did that happen?

Can you give an example of how a piece comes to life; can you talk me through your process?

I am not sure exactly because its very different for each work.
I can tell you about these new objects I am making at the moment.
I am interested to see how the contemporary mania will manifest itself in the future. In particular I am interested to see how the Irish House wife will evolve in the future and how the "War on Germs' will manifest.

© Aideen Barry 2009

Having been to NASA and been informed by the materials that are used in creating objects to send into space; such as aluminum and alastics, I have started to create what I call "Weapons of Mass Consumption". These include Spray Grenades, where are cast aluminum grenades but with domestic spray cleaner handles on top (See for more images).

The objects are extremely seductive, funny and yet terrifying. I try to incorporate a humour and a familiarity into them. Like you can look at them and recognise certain aspects of their structure from your own Cif cleaning product in your kitchen or bathroom.....They are rather funny objects...I do like them!

How would your life change if art was no longer a focus, if you were no longer allowed to create art?

Well I just don't know. The obvious answer is that I just wouldn't be able to function anymore. I would be a vegetable.

What is your ultimate goal as an artist?

To make the best possible work that I can, and to enjoy doing so along the way. To be true to myself and my convictions.

For more information on Aideen's work:

Monday, May 25, 2009


"Let me just say that I am not often lonely in country places. In cities I am, like the writers of the letters. Nature doesn't break your heart: other people do. Yet, we cannot live apart from each other in bowers feeding on nectar. We're in this together, this getting through our lives, as the fact that we are word-users shows."

Nuala O'Faolain

City Image: Cuellar

Friday, May 22, 2009


I never win anything and as a result i was delighted when the lovely Solo Lisa contacted me to say I was a winner of a competition on her site. The prize was 250 free business cards of my choice from The design, required image size and DPI requirements were double checked with a graphic designer before I placed the order on April 7th. I uploaded the images and info as per the instructions on the site. Timeline? “We guarantee 3-5 days production time on most standard products. Custom orders will be quoted on an as needed basis”

On April 21st I received an email saying that the cards hadn’t printed properly, could I send the images again? No problem. A day later another email arrived asking me to resize the images; even though the originals were sized to the site specifications. Again I did this. And then…nothing. I had to email at the end of April to establish had they received the images and what was the status of the order. I received a reply on May 6th; an apology for the delay-that they didn’t know what had happened but would add some extra cards. I was assured the cards would be printed first thing the following morning.

The cards were delivered May 21st and I was excited to finally (6 weeks after the order was placed) receive them. You can imagine my disappointment upon opening the parcel and finding that the cards supplied were not ”Premium business cards at affordable prices”. The base colour for the card was black but when I picked a card out of the bundle there appeared to be specks of dirt on it. I wiped and looked closer. It wasn’t dirt. Small flecks of colour that almost look like faint scratches and the greyish edging on the corners resulted in some tatty looking cards. More cards picked. Same result.

I rechecked the images that were emailed; there was no evidence of any colour other than black. The images sent were over 600 dpi so I can’t figure out why this resulted in pixelated text. I have emailed them to express my overall disappointment in dealing with them. I now have a load of cards that I wouldn’t dream of giving to anyone as they look like something I printed myself. I have yet to receive a reply.

If a company provides me with a quality service and product i spread the word and let people know. Needless to say due to the lack of clear communication, delays in printing and the shoddy quality of the cards provided, I won’t be a repeat customer at Bizcard.

I think I'll be shopping with in future for my business card needs.

Any suggestions on what to do with 300 unusable business cards?? (apart from the recycling bin)

Image via Striatic

Mind Over Matter

" You got a lot of societies and governments
tryin' to be God, wishin' that they were God
They wanna create satellites and cameras everywhere
and make you think they got the all-seein' eye
Eh...I guess The Last Poets wasn't too far off
when they said that certain people got a God Complex
I believe it's true.....
Over the world hearts pound with the rhythm
Fear not of men because men must die
Mind over matter and soul before flesh
Angels for the pain keep a record in time
which is passin' and runnin' like a caravan freighter.."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Untold Stories

I've had my eyes opened in the past few months about homelessness and drug addiction; and how people react to them. Homelessness is a growing problem in Dublin, i guess even more so with the current economic situation but i was unprepared for the sheer scale of the problem in Vancouver. Due to the mild weather that Vancouver usually has year round and especially in winter, living on the streets here means there is less chance of being frozen to death.

The week i arrived here something unusual happened: It snowed. Temperatures dropped to an average of minus 13. As i walked around trying to get my bearings in a new city i noticed a huge amount of people begging and panhandling (approaching strangers to beg or ask for money or food). I've travelled and have never encountered anything of this scale before. The snow continued and one morning I heard that a homeless woman had burnt to death a short distance from where I was staying. In an effort to stay warm she had lit a candle in the makeshift shelter she had built. Her cart and belongings caught fire. The smoke marks are still on the wall where thousands of people pass everyday. Brace yourselves; there may be some ranting ahead.

I had been told to avoid the downtown east side (DTES) area of Vancouver but wanted to see it for myself. On December 25th,Christmas day I walked through parts of the DTES for the first time. Those that had a home/ family or friends were nowhere to be seen. With heavy snow on the ground there were people crouched in a doorway sharing a bottle of alcohol, people with limbs missing, elderly people, others nodding out or shooting up. Dante's circles of hell had nothing on this. I was there recently, crossing Hastings and Main Street and it was an open air drug mart with tension in the air.

Regarding the DTES : It's one of the cities oldest neighborhoods. It is home to thousands of people, from the homeless to the affluent. The residents are a diverse mix of people, many different ethnicities, ages, and incomes. Parts of the area are riddled with drugs, prostitution, theft and violent crime. The strange thing is that it’s taken for granted that people sell and take drugs in the area, almost accepted. Unfortunately this is the final roaming grounds for many that succumb to overdoses or ill health.

It has been written, argued and debated about. Opinions vary widely from people I’ve spoken to on the subjects of homelessness. Veering from "Why should we spend hard earned tax payers money to help junkies or homeless people" to "it's their choice, many choose living on the street". There is a sliding scale of homelessness: there are many working in low income jobs that are unable to support families and afford housing.

Rent is Vancouver is astronomically high and homelessness is rising amongst families surviving on low income. Considering the minimum wage is $8 an hour and the average cost of a 1 bed in Vancouver is between $800-1500. It’s a fact that people ignore but most people (myself included) are 2 pay cheques away from being homeless.

I’ll watch with interest as to how the DTES situation is handled as the 2010 Winter Olympics are being held in Vancouver. What the fuck is wrong with a society that think nothing of spending billions on bringing the Olympic Games to the city; but turn their backs on the thousands who sleep on the streets every night. Where indifference has replaced anger and a ‘it’s not my problem’ attitude prevails. I’m amazed how badly the situation been handled. It’s almost as if the powers that be have wiped their hands of the situation. There are already talks of how the police will handle homeless people and people in the DTES in the run up to February. If you live in a neighbourhood where drug addicts or homeless people are, it's easy to be dismissive and forget they are human beings.

Not all homeless are addicts and not all addicts are homeless. Addiction should not be viewed as a crime. It has to be treated as a health problem. There is a large percentage of both addicts and homeless suffering from mental illness; and each individual has a story as to how they got to where they are today. For example Riverview was a psychiatric hospital located near Vancouver. The hospital opened in 1913 on 1000 acres and provided specialized treatment and rehabilitation for patients aged 18+. Apparently at its peak in 1951 there were 4,630 patients. Over the years patient numbers reduced to hundreds and the hospital closed relatively recently. Many of the people who were in Riverview were long-term residents. Some were moved to smaller facilities, but there was also some that had nowhere to go; nor the means to cope with everyday life. As a result they have ended up on the streets.

It’s not a subject that can be wrapped up easily and it’s not something that just affects Vancouver. Addiction and Homelessness affect millions worldwide. There are 2 excellent documentaries that put human faces and stories on the topics above: ‘Cart’s of Darkness’ and ‘Through a blue lens’. You can watch both of the films in their entirety below thanks to the National Film Board of Canada (click on the link below to watch these films in a larger size and hundreds of other shorts and films for free on their website).

In 'Carts of Darkness' director Murray Siple befriends a group of homeless men who use the treacherous mountain roads and shopping carts of North Vancouver as a way to escape the darker realities of life. Shot in a similar vein to extreme sports film making; and featuring a pounding soundtrack featuring Black Mountain, Ladyhawk, Vetiver, Bison and Alan Boyd of Little Sparta, Siple captures the risks and intensity of life lived on the outside.

‘Through a blue lens’ is a harsh and unflinching account of daily life in the DTES; and was shot by members of the Vancouver Police Department who work thereon a daily basis. It contains some scenes that are adult in nature and viewers of a sensitive nature may want to skip certain parts. It's gut wrenching to watch but
interesting to hear the stories behind the people.

Hand Image: Jeff Sheppard
Riverview Hospital Image: Justus Hayes / Shoes on Wires

Carts of Darkness Still Image: Scott Pommier
Placard Image: The Blackbird

Monday, May 18, 2009

What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk Through The Fire

'Dear Zachary' is a staggering piece of work by filmmaker Kurt Kuenne. It was made after his best friend Dr. Andrew Bagby was murdered. Their friendship blossomed at the age of 7 and continued until the evening of Nov. 5th 2001.

Andrew (28) was discovered with fatal gunshot wounds in a parking lot in western Pennsylvania. The prime suspect, his ex-girlfriend Dr. Shirley Turner, fled the United States to St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. It was here, shortly after the incident, that she announced that she was pregnant with Andrew's child. She named the little boy Zachary.

Kuenne started the documentary to honour Andrew. When he learned of Zachary he decided to make the film for the child; as it may be Zachary's only chance to get to know his father. Taking nearly a decade to make, old footage has been woven with interviews of Andrew's family and friends.

It may sound sentimental but it is hands down one of the most powerful documentaries I've ever watched. I sobbed for about 20 minutes after watching it (which is not something that happens often). It avoids falling into sentimentality. Kuenne deftly weaves the footage at his disposal into a riveting tale of friendship, love, tragedy and strength .It also highlights how the judicial system in Canada needs to be revised. Members of the Canadian governmental systems were hell bent on saving face in the wake of this tragedy rather than admitting their error and taking positive action. It's seriously Oscar-worthy material and I've been telling everyone I've met that they need to watch it.

Kuenne said "I wish that I had never had the opportunity to make this film. I wish that my friend Dr. Andrew Bagby was alive and well and that I was blissfully ignorant of the lessons I've learned along this journey. Alas, this is not the case. When bad things happen, good people have to take what they've learned and make the world a better place, and that is precisely what I hope this film will do – make the world a better place."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

8 x 8 = 888888

As a general rule i don't do meme's. However Mr Rick O' Shea passed on a little something that was concise and didn't involve reams of information. This is my first (and final) one. I'll throw it out there for anyone to carry it forward, should you wish!

Eight things I like:

Being immersed in a good book
Rummaging through charity/vintage stores
Dipping my finger in wax
Chai tea (it's a hug in a mug!)
Cleaning with loud music when there's nobody in the house
My grey hairs
The Smell of Cigars, burning kerosene, fresh laundry, wallflowers, baking, leather and horse manure.

Eight things I did yesterday:

Wondered how the heck did i end up where i am today.
Scanned the long list of people I've been meaning to email or contact
Reread 'Howl' by Allen Ginsberg
Listened to Rachmaninoff Concerto No 2 in C Minor Op.18
Checked out flights to NYC
Made yet another list
Ripped a chunk out of my stress ball at work
Lusted over a custom feather hat/headpiece on Etsy

Eight things I wish I could do:

Blog/ Write for a living
Swim properly
Meet more people who spin fire
Make myself go to Bikram Yoga 6 times a week
Own a harp
Go to Africa to work with a charity
Finish a sketchbook once i start it

Eight things I dislike:

Violence in films
Velvet / Loose cotton wool (Can't touch the stuff without wincing)
Text speak
Runny egg yolk
Being rushed
Fair weather friends

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A Little Pick Me Up

Combining 3 of my favourite things at the moment: The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink and a killer feel good tune from French band Phoenix. Their new album 'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix' is due for release on May 25th and 'Lisztomania' is the first single.
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