Nothing gets my bile spitting and burping like the contrived nightclub scene masquerading as something real, as something that matters to me.  When I almost left an exclusive, sold-out, Vancouver International Playhouse Wine Festival (VPIWF) event – a California wine tasting at CANVAS Loungeafter only casing the joint, I realized something about myself:  I have little patience for the performance of knowledge and etiquette, especially when it occurs at a venue that is just a regular small-town bar impersonating an upscale lounge impersonating a legitimate wine tasting venue.  Although, I suppose a fake lounge is an appropriate locale for a fake tasting.  And it’s not snobbery on my part.  I love talking to folks who are enthusiastic about wine, especially when I can facilitate their learning, and I love meeting people who can facilitate mine.  Despite what I will sacrilegiously (misappropriate from Judith Butler’s influential gender theory and) call class/culture performativity, or “doing wine,” few of the California Cruisin’ patrons knew anything about wine tasting or wine, or cared to, although they behaved as they thought Masters of Wine might.

Although I chose to ignore the dress code sign on my way in, wearing plaid and denim myself, it came to haunt my every observation.  I wasn’t sure if it was the sign, or the retinal sandpapering of gaudy sequins, aggressive heels and leathern tits spilling out of tight polyester that made me want to be instantly transported back to my cozy little apartment, in my jammies on the couch, sharing popcorn with my dog.  A perfectly acceptable date for a Wednesday night, right?

But I was not wearing glittering ruby slippers, and after clicking my heels, I opened my eyes to find myself standing in front of a used car salesman who was trying to pour wine into my glass, which was not yet empty.  When I stopped him, he informed me that the wine I was drinking, from the competitor’s table across from his, was derogatorily known as “Desperate Housewives Wine” in the States.  The wine was excellent, and much better than his own table’s offering (no wineries mentioned), although it was difficult to be objective after witnessing such poor form.

Since the event was more of a social affair than a wine tasting, navigating around tables was difficult, there weren’t many wines open to try at each table, and no one had ‘the big guns out,’ so to speak.  But I was happy to take my time with some stellar wines, and by the time I got to the fourth or fifth sample, I observed that wine reps were starting to pour near glass-sized portions because, they too, realized people were just there to drink and get tipsy.  And maybe find a date.

Or watch attractive women contort their tiny bodies.  Two female acrobats assumed 80s-inspired rhinestone-studded positions in narrow nooks in the wall, and finished the show on a table shamelessly fashioned from a silver spray-painted cable spool acquired, I assume, just for their routine.  I think I was successful in refraining from laughing while I snapped ironic pictures.  Tragically, CANVAS’ website talks extensively about its social consciousness, but the lounge does not seem to think exploiting women’s bodies for cheap and unconsciously campy entertainment is something, merely, to refrain from, especially when profits are to be had.  I would cry foul and say that what happens in Vegas should stay there,  but the tackiness and low-budget execution of this spectacle made the sleazy Vegas showgirl shtick look like something authentic and legitimate.

For all the venue lacked, and I’m talking basics – the walls and ceilings needed fresh paint, the railings were decorated with xmas lights, there was a disco ball above the bar (did someone hire their 13-year-old to decorate the place?) – it employed in photographers with impressive cameras circulating about, preserving the wonder of the evening.  They took pictures all night long, and periodically uploaded them onto a projector slide show.  People were almost as amused with watching photos of the event they were currently attending as they were with the bewildering acrobatic performance.  Servers circulated with plates of bite-sized food:  sliders, fig-and-blue cheese breads, bocconcini tomato skewers, and chocolate-covered strawberries.  Of course, none of the plates offered were vegan (although most were vegetarian), so I can’t comment on them except to say that they all looked beautiful with exception of the sliders.  Is that fad not over yet?  I suppose it’s unfair for me to criticize CANVAS Lounge for a food fad that everyone seems to love, even if it is going the way of the salad bar.

Oh, and CANVAS is listed on the VPIWF‘s event page as “Canvas Lounge and Gallery in Gastown” although it does not seem to call itself a gallery on its own website.  Either way, the venue seemed to be exhibiting at least two distinct series that were marked with title/artist/medium placards.  Now that I’ve criticized amateur wine enthusiasts for acting pretentious about wine, I don’t want to do the same thing about art.  But I will say that the images lining CANVAS’ walls seemed quite commercial; most of it appeared to be digital/graphic art, printed, framed, and under glass.  One series was sports-themed:  back-lit and stylized collages of Trevor Linden and Geroy Simon of the BC Lions, for example.  Perhaps the glorified memorabilia were brought in for Olympics hype; regardless, they looked a bit like they belonged in a rich bachelor’s basement or a high-end sports pub rather than an atmospheric lounge.

One benefit to what I perceived as a horrid waste of opportunity was, well, that everyone was wasting opportunity.  While important-looking people guzzled Chardonnay and ogled the two acrobats tying themselves into one titillating knot of shiny spandex, I held extensive conversations with many of California’s most renowned wine elite:  Ted Seghesio of Seghesio Family Vineyards, Alan Cannon of Rombauer Vineyards, and Randy Ullom of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates just to name a few.  And, they seemed genuinely happy to meet folks interested in wine because we were a rare breed at this event.  When it was time to leave, I must admit, I was enjoying myself immensely:  taking ironic pictures of the tacky disco ball, the fetishized acrobats, the ugly bathroom and the filthy red carpet.  But, as this event in no way resembled a proper wine tasting, there were, of course, no spittoons, and I take no responsibility for my sarcastic revelry.

On my way out, the men at the door were kind enough to indulge my request to photograph the dress code sign in the window, and they joked about my acknowledging the “no douchebags” rule as they so-called it.  The security guards were friendly and funny, and although I share their distaste for certain fashion wear, the irony of the anti ‘gang-wear’ sign was hilarious; I think it, in fact, summoned the very clientele it stood to prohibit, if there was a grain of truth in the guards’ joking.  On this particular night, the place was as fresh as a summer’s eve, if you catch my drift.

All kidding aside, I should concede that most California Cruisin’ attendees enjoyed themselves immensely, and found the lounge cool and kitschy.  I even heard folks talking about it the next day – about how much fun they had and how they buy the $55 tickets every year, and intend to do so next year too.

I should also say that the venue is only responsible for so much, and CANVAS was hired to provide services that I, personally, did not fully appreciate.  I assume the wine tasting itself was commissioned and organized by a party associated with the VPIWF, and not CANVAS Lounge.

Yeah, okay, so I took a picture of a picture of myself when it rotated on the projector. This is me with Vancouver's own joe corkscrew and a sip of Chardonnay in my mouth.

Well, friends, I can’t love everything.  I’d be a tad masochistic to go to California Cruisin’ again, even with free tickets.  Had I known that the event was a glorified club affair and not the legitimate wine tasting it was advertised and endorsed as, I probably would not have been so disappointed.  And I’m sure the folks at CANVAS Lounge, should they happen to come across this post, would regard me an unfit patron, let alone critic, of their fine establishment.

– ruby


'Beginnings I' and 'Beginnings II'

Tegan Whitesel knows a thing or two about scale.  And her execution is impeccable, with crucial attention to detail.  When I visited Metascope:  Perceiving and Portraying the Sublime, I was drawn immediately to the magnitude, the enormity, the sublime beauty of two canvases dominating the left wall of the relatively small foyer at Emily Carr:  these were Beginnings I and Beginnings II.   I will discuss the two paintings first together, and then separately, here, because I feel as though they are profoundly intertwined.  They are not merely pieces in the same series; despite their concrete separateness; to contemplate one is to contemplate the other, and that is precisely why Beginnings I and Beginnings II are so extraordinary.

First, though, a few words about the rest of the show.

I filtered into the modest gallery and observed the artists, the art-types, and the like – young women in tights and loose, bohemian tops, scratching at short, blunt bangs; young men in misshapen beards and thick-rimmed glasses jamming slender hands into tight pockets.  As I found myself amid this socially indulgent din, I wondered how many were here to look at art.  Maybe I was just late, or antisocial.  Probably both.

I approached the first piece in the room, closest to the entrance or exit, depending on your point of view.  Sean Mills’s Untitled hung perpendicular to the rest of the exhibit, and its attention to simplistic precision is truly beautiful. White(ish) lines interwoven with white(ish) lines of another depth (and I realize this horrifically limited description does the painting little justice) seemed to sneer in the face of the whimsical and picturesque paintings it introduced.Although I noticed the minimalist canvas on my way into the gallery, truthfully, I did not completely appreciate its mathematical beauty, its serenity and its austere comment, until I was on my way out of the show.

Sean Mills, 'Untitled', acrylic on canvas 59 x 59 inches

The piece is a graceful remark, I think, on the sublime experience.  It distills perceived natural beauty to its foundation and celebrates the mere beauty in its existence, whether it is embodied in an insurmountable peak, or perfectly taped off and painted white lines intersecting perfectly taped off and painted white lines: a vast and beautiful canvas of white.  Both, I think, manifest the psychological Zen achieved in careful meditation.  Contemplating Mills’ painting, somehow, encourages the mind and body to dismiss the mundane, and instead, to consider the texture and the therapeutic presence of interlocking lines.   Perhaps it is the meticulous, painstaking labour involved, or the tangible beauty in mathematical patterns that, here, takes form as paint on canvas, but occupies the natural world all around us – a woven basket, a honeycomb, a blossoming tree – that make this painting a work of art, and such a minimalist, yet reachable, representation of perceiving the sublime.  Interestingly, however, the piece at once embraces measured exactness in uniform vertical lines, but there is a sense of vagueness where they interlock, a fogginess of white that enables the artist and the viewer alike to contemplate the beauty in the unpredictable, imperfect sublime, too.

On the same perpendicular wall, but across the walkway, hung Caroline Mousseau’s eclectic Puddle of Clouds that dripped paint and plastic pieces up its canvas.

Caroline Mousseau, 'Puddle of Clouds', oil, acrylic, prism plastic, silver leaf on canvas 78 x 36 inches

I noticed that most of the art-viewers at the show seemed to admire the oil, acrylic, prism plastic, and silver leaf on canvas, but I must admit the particular aesthetic did not appeal to me, although it might be a successful inspiration for the next Lady Gaga outfit.  Pieces of rough plastic pressed upon metallic drips that contradict gravity and fall toward the top of the painting, perhaps, reference the sublime in a mythical world.  It also has a lovely feeling of oil and water that, again, to me, suggests a version of the sublime found in confusion and disorder.  I suspect the painting is subverting, and indeed, literally overturning, an artistic convention of which I am entirely unaware, and I appreciate the literal aspect of the comment (if it indeed is so), but I felt as though it was not a comment on the sublime as much as it was a comment on the (consciously) aesthetic.

Chia-Chen Hsu’s Untitled garnered little attention from the gallery patrons, at least in the short time I was there, but is quite provoking, I thought.

Chia-Chen Hsu, 'Untitled', oil on canvas, 36 x 72 inches

Hsu seems to manipulate conventions of abstract art and comic-book art with this piece.  Of course, I know nothing of either.  Interestingly, the canvas depicts a series of striped clouds filled with a spectrum of white-alternated colours piled on top of cartoonish, even Chad Van-Gaalen-esque, rendered feet on a rudimentarily painted conventional floor mat. My initial feeling is that this piece is informed by comic or cartoon conventions, but whether or not this is so, the stacked, rainbow-laden bubbles seem to turn a critical eye on the sublime aesthetic of the natural world by its obvious, cookie-cutter cloud shapes and deliberate, horizontal spectral lines that seem to get darker as they descend the image.  The clouds almost suggest dialogue bubbles, too.  If Hsu is representing the anticipations of a word from a faceless character, and then another word and then another word and then another word, this image compounds its viewers’ impotent expectations, and leaves us to rely on our own devices, a naked and bodiless figure to imagine.  The sublime, here, perhaps, is the colour of imagination.

And now, readers, my sincerest apologies for keeping you; I will return to Tegan Whitesel’s Beginnings I and Beginnings II, which truly stole the show, and took their collective interpretation of the sublime in a unique direction.  The obvious benefit to creating larger than life art that occupies so much real estate on the gallery wall is that it is difficult to ignore; it is impressive in its vastness alone.  But Whitesel’s Beginnings I and Beginnings II are not merely incredible paintings that are incredibly large – although they certainly are that; they are, in my humble opinion, images that require 72 x 84 inches of space.

Both pictures are interesting because they at once create their own, distinct environments, or atmospheres, and feature a singular and unique subject, enlarged and centered, almost as a character featured in a movie poster or a video game ‘choose your character screen’ is, yet they follow a parallel design.  These ‘characters’ appear entirely other-worldly, like things from the pages of a colourful sci-fi novel or a biology textbook.  I think the similar treatment of the two subjects, or characters, or species, or whatever they are, despite their distinctness, is an interesting artistic statement, especially if the subjects are indeed representations of life, or nature, or beauty, or all of the above.  Whitesel’s blatant centering and magnifying her organism-like creations, a hallmark of her work, rejects the tendency of artistic (and social) standards to marginalize certain images, or certain parts of images, to force the unknown and unfamiliar to the edges of the canvas and instead privilege a conventionally pleasing aesthetic that distributes images and colour in a familiar, rolling landscape kind of way.  By framing her subjects as she has – almost like portraiture – Whitesel privileges an unconventional and inclusive sublime:  all life, even human life, is unfamiliar in its earliest stages, all life is dynamic, all life has a beginning and an end, and all life is beautiful.

For all their interconnectedness, Beginnings I and II are equally distinctive.

Tegan Whitesel, 'Beginnings I', acrylic, oil and charcoal on canvas, 72 x 84 inches

The atmosphere in Beginnings I feels, to me, like it exists in on a larger plane than Beginnings II, perhaps, because I find the biological inspirations for Beginnings I so much more familiar.  The image is an interesting fusion of plant and animal life.  I want to describe it as a tangled plantlike tube with huge vacuoles, or chlorophyll-stained intestines, with cuplike openings that spit vibrant, fresh, oxygenated blood.  For me, this piece speaks to the interconnectedness and interdependence of animal and plant life, and I think the red splatters make my response to it more visceral.  Interestingly, upon looking closely at what I interpret to be blood spatters, tiny outlines, subtle suggestions, of the image portrayed in Beginnings II emerge.

These ‘microscopic’ insinuations ultimately suggest that Beginnings I is an organism that exists on a larger plane of existence, and that the two ‘species’ are linked in an even more fundamental way than I may have initially thought:  existence of the first necessitates existence of the second.  Or vice versa.

Close up of the right corner of 'Beginnings I'

Or, the two are symbiotic life forms, requiring each other to survive, just as the paintings themselves, I think, require each other to be completely understood.  The pieces, together, are interesting representations of a creative ecological chain, not in terms of what eats what, but in terms of what gives rise to what, what needs what, what enables what.  I interpret this connection as a clandestine overturning of the classic hierarchical schema of life, The Great Chain of Being, which in many ways still dictates perceptions of the moral functions different life forms fulfill in this world.  (And as a vegan, I feel especially familiar with this – the rationalization, for example, that animal life is not as valuable as human life, and/or that “God put animals on this world for human purpose”).  Rather than suggesting a system of biological and spiritual superiority, the paintings, together, reflect the interconnectedness, the symbiotic and cyclical nature, of life as it exists in the natural world.  Conceptually, I think, it also shows viewers, especially art neophytes like myself, how the creative idea is not born in a vacuum, but arises from another idea, another concept, another canvas.

The zoomed-in image suggested in the blood spatters, and foregrounded in Beginnings II supports my interpretation that there are two scales of existence, here, and Beginnings II is the  more minute of the two.

Tegan Whitesel, 'Beginnings II', acrylic and oil on canvas, 72 x 84 inches

The centered object, this time, is duplicated repeatedly in the background and (relatively) large orange plasma-like blobs float about, which also suggests a world further removed from our own in terms of scale, but perhaps more connected to human life on a fundamental level:  who knows what strange-looking little beasts are floating around in our bloodstream?  Well, biologists know, but I don’t.  The suggestion of blood plasma cells, too, supports a biological interpretation of Beginnings I, and leads me to believe the red sprays are indeed blood.  Maybe Beginnings II depicts ominous life – although interconnected and symbiotic; maybe it is a disease or a virus, benign or detrimental, infecting Beginnings I.  The enlarged image itself is a cluster of irregular, surreal, yellowish spheres with ominous green thorns protruding from their centers.  Interestingly, they do not look unlike an abnormally ripening raspberry.  So, from my perspective, the interesting cluster is both reminiscent of strange young plant life and cellular animal life, and even primordial life:  beginnings indeed. 

The tiny ‘single-cell’ replicas of the centered cluster not only indicate its presence in a vast world full of others like itself, they accentuate the under-the-microscope feel, and they add to the environmental authenticity in Beginnings II, and by extension, Beginnings I.  I feel as though I am not merely looking through the microscope at some weird little bacterial creature; I am there, with it, under the microscope too.  And I think that might be the point.  Life is alien, unfamiliar, uniform, and it embodies sublime, awe-inspiring beauty in all its forms, whether they are visible through a microscope, in the diagrams on textbook pages, by the naked eye, or on Whitesel’s tremendous canvases.

My amateur musings do not begin to convey the complexity and the sophisticated beauty in Whitesel’s aesthetics, and the unique way she approaches “perceiving and portraying the sublime.”  Although Metascope is over now, you can see some of her work for yourself at the Emily Carr Grad Show Opening 2010.  Don’t miss it!

– nora

Thanks to Tegan Whitesel, Metascope, and Rory Conroy for the images.

I remember the first time I stumbled across an Australian bottle brandishing the Shiraz-Viognier label, and in my youthful ignorance, I was thrilled to have discovered what I thought was a whimsical Aussie conception.  Mixing red and white wines?  This must be a new idea!  After the initial embarrassment of eagerly sharing my brilliant discovery with a wine-guru confidante, who informed me of my mistake, and then eventually acquiring some formal sommelier education of my own, I came to learn that blending red and white wines, and often cofermenting the different grapes,  is a French winemaking tradition.

Three Rhône wines, one from the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation, that are all blends of red and white grape varieties.

For many wine neophytes, like myself some years ago, French wine is a bit of a mystery because it does not label grape varieties, although this is changing to meet demands of new world consumers.  The Rhône valley, in the South of France, produces many blends of both red and white varieties, including some familiar Côtes-du-Rhône wines, and the Côte-Rôtie is only one of several Rhône appellations renowned for them.  In fact, the Côte-Rôtie is the original Shiraz-Viognier producer; these two varieties are, indeed, the two grapes of the appellation, but here the red variety goes by its original moniker, Syrah. Continue Reading »

The first of many posts to come, defacedbook is a series of mildly amusing facebook activities I witness, on my wall, or on my friends’ walls.  Amusing, here, might mean funny, smart, stupid, infuriating, or all of the above.  My intention with these entries is to let the posts speak for themselves, since the facebook discussion has been essentially frozen in time by my posting an image of it here.  But I always encourage further discussion, by commenting on this post, by anyone and everyone interested.  The names and avatars have been altered, or defaced, to maintain my friends’ anonymity, and for fun.

defacedbook: my point is loud

As a facebook ‘fan’ of PETA, I receive their updates.  When I saw their link to a blog entitled “Is Your Man a Hegan?” and responded with a status, and an appropriate amount of disdain, the following conversation amongst Star Wars toys ensued:

Continue Reading »

I am vegan because I am compassionate.  I think many vegans might begin such a blog with such a statement.  I’ve decided to write a definitive entry about my lifestyle choice because a significant number of people I encounter on a day-to-day basis – and frankly, have no business asking me the questions they do, never mind condemning my answers – seem to fervently disagree, and take a personal, emotional investment in my very personal decision, merely, not to do something.

Suicidal Tomato

Tomato begged me to do it. He took the serrated edge in his green leafy hands, and smiled in ecstasy as he guided the steak knife through his ripe, juicy flesh. Goodbye, Tomato; you will not be forgotten.

Recently, I’ve made a sincere effort to understand this tendency of some non-vegetarians to hate, and disseminate hate of, vegetarians.  And make no mistake:  it is indeed hate.  (I know all y’all who are out there, reading this and hating me now, and saying you don’t hate me).  Some folks oppose vegetarianism/veganism without hate, granted, but I’m sure they, too, can acknowledge the substantial degree of anger directed, by non-vegetarians, at those of us who choose to eat plants instead.  I truly can’t quite comprehend this bigotry, and make no mistake, it is indeed bigotry.  I mean, I think I perceive the psychology behind it, but I suppose what I don’t understand is the source of the hate itself.  I have a couple of theories, but I’ll save those for the end.

Before I address the systematic hate for vegetarians as a group and some arguments against the lifestyle I encounter, I first want to tell you a bit about how I came to be vegan, and what it means to me. Continue Reading »

I was delighted to pour a flight of three aromatic white wines on Sunday to celebrate the first day of spring.  I was a bit apprehensive, though, that many of my tasting-bar customers would be less than excited by the offering of all white, off-dry wines.  But the intense fragrance and vibrant, mouthwatering, palate of wines poured from unassuming, Alsatian bottles, pleasantly surprised many folks who might normally shy away from this style of wine.

From left: JoieFarm 2009 A Noble Blend, Ironstone Obsession 2008 Symphony, Sperling Vineyards 2009 The Market White.

I’ve noticed that a majority of consumers drink only red, or very little white, and almost everyone, it seems, is afraid of a touch of sweetness in their wine.  I’m not sure if it’s the memory of sugary, flavourless, mass-produced American White Zinfandel circa 1980, or the surprisingly explosive sweetness of that first sip of quality icewine, but it seems to me there is a general reluctance to try off-dry, or, as many people mistakenly call them, ‘sweet’ wines.  An off-dry wine, unlike a sweet wine such icewine, late harvest wine, or port, has just a touch of residual sugar, and, if made to my liking, a good amount of mouthwatering  acidity to balance the sweetness; indeed, this is precisely the difference between an exquisite off-dry Gewürztraminer, and an unpalatably cloying wine of the 80s blush variety.  Acidity in off-dry wine is kind of like a squeeze of lemon in a good recipe; it brightens the flavours of the wine, adds a bit of tartness to balance the sweetness, and provides a clean finish to a round palate.

Continue Reading »

Before I begin my commentary on the wonderfully complex and provoking art exhibit, Readings, compiled by artists Anna Marie Repstock and Casey Wei, I want to first make clear that I am not an artist, an art historian, or an art reviewer.

From left: Anna Marie Repstock, 'A Sense of Rhythm'; Casey Wei, 'All Dried Up'; Anna Marie Repstock, 'Free Verse'

Although A Kid in Vancouver already offers an insightful review of Readings, and s/he acknowledges the marked cohesiveness between the two artists’ contributions to this show – and I agree with A Kid’s assessment – I did feel as though I could easily distinguish the two artists’ pieces in the exhibit.  Now, that’s not to say they weren’t cohesive, but I think they were, on a trajectory of meaning, running in different, antithetical directions, and I love their grouping in this show for that very reason.

Here I am commenting on Repstock’s pieces, mostly, because, well, they dominated the exhibit, not only in number, but in provocation.  They are collectively titled, The Legibility of Being. Continue Reading »