Notes Towards an Endemic Critique

“Est-ce que c’est le Parlement?”

“Non, c’est Canadian Tire.”

Snappy answers to stupid questions overheard on Parliament HillOttawaThere is a certain satisfaction in seeing the confusion on people’s faces. If this is what’s oozing out of Ottawa, just what is happening to your average mediocre city? A spontaneous and unexpected outbreak of tropical hysteria in a cold, boring, early-to-bed bureaucratic monocrop of a town. Stories of new mind-mush: it’s getting hotter every year. Perhaps we’re just some random itinerant students at the universities, passing through a radical phase? Or an infection of external rebels living here by circumstance from certain known centers of revolt (Montreal, perhaps to a lesser extent Toronto, which is at least large enough to be plausible?) What puzzles to the point of numbness is that many of our group are actually from Ottawa (and the true Ottawa, of course, its suburbs). Of those that have come here from elsewhere, it is usually from even smaller, even more boring places.*

It could be said that our critique of the city is therefore endemic.

Ottawa is one of those odd New World administrative-capital cities which are often explicitly distinct from the centres of culture (Montreal, Toronto, New York etc). Sitting stupidly on-top of sacred indigenous sites at the crossing of the rivers and the Chaudière falls, its capacity to crush its own mythic loci is astounding. And then, during its colonial existence, Bytowne was an actually pretty wild frontier spot with some interesting mythological implications (the giant Big Joe Mufferaw…Devil along the Kitchissippi in search of an onion sandwich…The Witches of Luskville… The Haunted Lake of Fairies).

But this was a separate life on the same spot, a totally different town, and has had no real impact on the present mindset of the city. This negation is the result of a series of specific, massive colonial and then Federal projects surrounding its capitalization, such as the Rideau Canal, the Copy-Pasted Parliament Buildings, or the Victoria Island paper mill, and then, a century later, the Gerber Plan. They have built indiscriminately on top of the interesting, the indigenous, and the poor, as usual. And now, for example, a massive new condo project being developed on-top of the old poisoned industrial site built on-top of a sacred Algonquin island. We must be onto our third or fourth layer of outrage, now?

And he pointed out a sort of Nuremburg toy planted on a hill top. This toy with its polychrome architecture resembled the House of Parliament in London much as the Montreal cathedral resembles St. Peter’s at Rome. But that was of no consequence; there could be no doubt it was Ottawa.

-Jules Verne, Robur the Conqueror

The blossoming of the fatberg.

It is well known that a fatberg is a congealed lump in a sewer system formed by the combination of non-biodegradable solid matter such as wet wipes with grease or cooking fat. Fatbergs may also contain other items which do not break down when flushed into a toilet, such as sanitary napkins, cotton buds, needles and condoms, as well as food waste washed down sinks. The resulting lumps of congealed fat can be as strong as concrete, and require specialist equipment to remove. Such are our problems.

In some ways the fatberg is too adorable to hate. It’s not unique in its style of mediocrity, and that’s the whole point.

Of course there is a typical banalization of life itself emanating from the most dominant presence in the city i.e. at present, boring middle aged and mostly white bureaucrats who moonlight as hockeydad paterfamiliases. And with them the standard level of racism and fascist-nurturing as expected, dog-whistle attacks on black music from our local radio stations who insist only on “real rock” and the nuanced suppression of the indigenous, immigrants, people of colour, workers, and the homeless.

What’s worse, in recent years the fatberg macro-culture has itself developed a bad-conscience. The functionaries themselves feel the need to justify themselves by deriding their own status, and pursuing the sweet “spice of life” activities on the side. Thus the rather pathetic proliferation of “Ottawa at Night” or “Ottawa Underground” documentaries, the promotion of a local pseudopoetry or pseudo-radical arts scene (Scotiabank Presents Nuit Blanche!) or other abortive attempts to make amends for its own mediocrity.

Meanwhile, out in the suburbs, a new spirit forms from the angry kids and the misfits of the fatberg ideal. They simply allowed some of us too much freedom to watch old cartoons and to play in the forest. It is from the magical lots of old quarries and abandoned factories that the sludge of the Chimera originally crawled into the gullets of a few maniacal teenagers who never blossomed as they aged.

Perhaps the one redeeming feature of how the city “looks” in its official capacity is its penchant for the neo-gothic architecture. Well then. Maybe these are our houses, and we’re the neo-goths?

We know our forebears. We know what you are on the inside. We speak from the insider’s experience of an unintentional mediocrity of life to an explicit mediocrity in the eyes of the service economy, on the trail of the phantom carriage.

So.

At the outskirts of the utilitarian city we might recreate ourselves as:

A centre of gravity for uselessness

Sexual and gender multiplication tables

An outlet for misfits, the poor, the mad (who often join us at our park bench, and play along)

Nonconformists, absolutely, but also underconformists, sideconformists, etc.

An experimental farm for chance

A greenbelt of antagonism

A provocation for the eclectic productives and cool parents

Ignorers of initiatives

The next step for activists who are too angry

Collectors of the detritus of Old Hull

Fangirls of the Wendigo, the Loup-Garou, the ghost of the Lac des Fées

The spirit of revenge against the personality-market of that sponsorship scandal masquerading as an arts and poetry scene.

All of the above items remain as hypotheses or as temporary scaffolding to try out, in group life. We have tried on the masks we saw hanging out of reach on the walls of the museum of our childhood, but we’re not done playing with them yet.

We’re here to poison the happy families. Obliteration everywhere for all pseudotropolises.

*But after all, is it all that odd? Paris and London/SLAG, of course, but it’s Leeds that has the longest running surrealist group in the history of the UK. Chicago is also, as the Rosemonts have pointed out, an alternative reality to the more central literary culture of New York. Even Stockholm, it seems, is not exactly a radical effervescent centre (either now, or in the 80s?). And others. Perhaps there is a sweetspot of alienation, social pressure, population density and radical unimportance that favours the growth of surrealist fungi.

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Shadowman and Shadowchild

Always trust the man with the hat;
The shadowman leads an alien into a black void.
An alien headed child.
There’s an eyeball at the bottom of the poll.
A soviet criminal murderer.
She bled her shadow on the wall inappropriately.
There’s a hole in the sign,
The sign looks like a tree…

All the broken symbols beckon from the window
And with a bolt it strikes and fractures the glass into insignificant specks
Under the microscope they resemble a stain on an inside-out goat.

 

 


-JA, PP, MM, interpreting photos sent to us from Graz by Dunja Apostolov on July 16th 2018

A Vernissage Avoided

A Non-Visit to the University of Ottawa Bachelor of Arts Graduation Vernissage, April 27 2018.

What first caught our eye was the rusty grate underneath the entrance. This it turns out couldn’t be called anything but “The Missing Troll”. We admired the attention to detail in the rust. The string was a charming Dargerian touch. A classic, tasteful use of dried leaves and rocks added to the elegance. We also noted with pleasure the smatterings of garbage here and there. What it could have used was something actually sleeping inside, though this might have ruined the palpable sight of invisibility

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Nearby, we encountered a startling portrait and/or modernist architectural design, an air conditioner paired with an empty generic coffee cup which was no doubt entitled “A Sort of Irony”. We admired the dappling effect on the conditioner which may have been a bust, a face, or a building, but we had to agree that the coffee cup itself was the real centrepiece. The vines were nice but the single melodramatic leaf on the cup was kitsch, perhaps in a good way or not. Where the pigs are butchered, where the meat is sold.

Air Conditioner
A Portrait? A Meat Factory?

Climbing up the steps gave us a moment to admire an excellent grey bag which draped itself dramatically at our feet. This motif appears to be a reference to The Shroud of Turin, as featured in /kaɪˈmɪərə/’s unreleasable vaporware fourth issue. It is perhaps a city-mouse relative to the same school of design. As the shroud was determined to be a sort of garment, we may conjecture that the bag is a sort of haute couture showpiece for the seldom noticed Ottawa Faceless Bureaucrat, a ubiquitous creature rarely seen because it camouflages so with stale, dusty air.

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Insiders have dubbed this submission “The Self-Hooding Auto-asphyxiation Hood.”
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The Shroud of Turin. Notice the repetition of the sand dune wavelets as a staircase, above.

Looking at the actual door, we noticed a beautiful, neo-medievalist diptych with strong allegorical symbolism. This had to be called “The Magnanimous Excommunication”. The two hands pointing, one representing the heavenly sphere, and the other, more crooked by an estimated 2 degrees, representing earthly imperfection. Upon reading the motto we then realised that we were at the wrong door. And so we had begun by unintentionally starting at the back-entrance of the exhibition, the same building being both 100 Laurier and 600 Cumberland street, depending on who you asked.

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Stepping inside we noticed the first of what turned out to be a continuing motif of several very beautiful, almost neoclassical white heaters throughout the building. These had fine, Grecian composition and an almost Doric gravitas. We debated whether such things were pure aesthetic items or functional.

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Classicism Abounds

We block the front door for a long while admiring a particularly blurry old panel—we wonder whether it is a found-object equivalent to asemic writing, or perhaps an artistic palimpsest recovered from a sorcerer’s grimoire. A man asks us if we can read the names. Believing that his test is a trick question, we utter no definite answer.

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A map of the exhibition somehow being given to us, we make sure to disorient ourselves throughout the tour by actually trying to read it. We are reminded of the circuit diagrams older integrated systems used to print with their programming manuals, technology being a major component of contemporary art.

A coat hanger and coat rack combination; at first a pagan temple deity, then a serial killer’s murder victims, on the order of 15 or so. Death by taxidermy. Who is responsible? It was determined to be not the butler but someone with influence; the mayor? A big metal mailbox system is the morgue.

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A morgue for bodies left over from skinned coats (not pictured, for modesty’s sake).

We are very lost. There are penguins everywhere. We go downstairs. There is a sequence of three garbage cans which we dub “The Modern Venus”. Always coffee cups. An emergency phone which reads SOS (a pun on “sauce”) using a telephone to play on the trendy topic of synaesthesia.

 

Nearby, “I am what I eat” and a toilet that doesn’t flush (which one is the artwork?). The railing of a staircase is determined to be a goat’s horn. A room from a Japanese light novel with murder and mystery involving an after school club, very dark.

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Club room. A virus attack. We spew out very loud associative chains, silencing everyone else in the room, including the artist. The hair is a cave. What is in the cave? An ice worm. A moose. A stop sign. A man carrying a stop sign in outline. A protest. Is it edible? A lollipop.

A door for an elf and a hobbit. We go upstairs and downstairs as you like.

There is a visitor’s book laid out for each artist, usually lavishing simple encouragement and praise, so we cannot resist the urge to fill some of them with automatic writing and drawings:

Automatism

“Where does the ape live when it loses the first leader of its own fire? Blast the horse with its own collar into the seemless.”

“I loom in NO horror I beg the fishermen for sweet tea of eyes.”

“The mysterious universe screams out to me from beyond my fridge where is my wallet?”

“The Tulpa I envision when I think of flowers is more like a crow that eats the tongues of those that tease me.”

“I disagree wholeheartedly with this nonsense!”

“Eyes Worms”

“Bee Stings”

“Sweet OH yes”

Guests

At one point, LL launches an impromptu exhibition on the door to a gender-neutral bathroom, a sort of participatory installation commenting on the act of gendering as othering.

Impromptu (2)

Fragments beneath a window-sill; nails, a lock, some scotch tape instructions. A message from The Administration: “Please do not lock(ed) this door”.

We consider trying to make an offer to some of the more promising artists of all the benefits of surrealism: the chance to be ignored, profitless, poor, avoided, obscure, mad etc. “Stick with us, kid…”

As for the artworks, we quickly disposed of the obligation of actually reviewing them by means of a simple, and loud, analogical game. It was determined after some discussion that the closest companion to an art gallery we could think of was the barnyard, its different animals and products. Thus, substituting the barnyard entity we associated with each artist’s section, in order of appearance, we encountered:

Artist 1 – nonspecific eggs
Artist 2 – fishing worms, maybe an earwig
Artist 3 – slaughtered beef, ground beef
Artist 4 – goats, their horns, and the junk that they eat
Artist 5 – pigs, blood, chunks, and a vampire
Artist 6 – emus
Artist 7 – chupacabra
Artist 8 – horses
Artist 9 – honeybees
Artist 10 – maple syrup trees
Artist 11 – eels
Artist 12 – crows
Artist 13 – tengu farm
Artist 14 – dogs made out of bananas
Artist 15 – a baseball farm with horses as camouflage
Artist 16 – a fairy farm
Artist 17 – a limb farm

At the end of the night, overhearing someone talking about one of the award-winning students being extra-worthy of attention, we came up with some awards that should be given out that night, but then forget to award them to any specific artist:

Best Self-Tokenization
Most Self-Hating
Least Stable Bowels
Hungriest
Most Similar to the Floorboards
Prize Pig

In retrospect, LL awards himself “The Best Self-Tokenization” award for his unsolicited addition as a tranny.

A Film/Dream Scenario

IT WILL HAPPEN

The blob is waiting as I sit on the toilet. It grabs and enters my asshole and dissolves me from the inside out and sucks the rest of my body down the hole.

I wake up and my veins are being pulled out like puppet strings by an evil puppet master. A medieval sultan has invited me to his harem to hear some music. A large musical instrument-cum-torture device is wheeled out. As he plays it, people scream. I escape by flapping a pair of mechanical wings, flying out of the dark cityscape. Steam rises from the sewers as green ooze drips down.

Pieced together from memories of films in an associative sequence by L, SH, JA, PP and MM.

Love in the Tub

Good Sport, 1858

Chimera boat race

This race was perhaps more interesting in a local sense from the fact that the Chimera was lately built on novel and somewhat Yankee lines by Mr. Mansfield of Teignmouth. The Oriole being also a new boat attracted much attention although she has rather the appearance of a very powerful bad weather boat than that of a racer. Midge had sailed here on former occasions and proved herself to be a fast little craft consequently she possessed a host of admirers. The start was most admirably effected at 12h 49m Chimera occupying the most weathermost station led off followed by the Oriole and Midge. A good deal of jostling took place between the two first mentioned in the run down to Goodrington mark-boat. The Chimera although slightly ahead was to leeward and threw her competitor considerably out of her course by occasionally luffing across her bows. Meanwhile the little Midge was making a straight course for the mark boat and nearly succeeded in cutting the others off. The close proximity of the yachts at this point will be manifest when we state that the Chimera passed the mark at 1h 5m 0s the Oriole at 1h 5m 28s and Midge at 1h 5m 40s. The contest between the Chimera and Oriole continued with unabating interest and some miles they apparently ran bowsprit to bowsprit but before Berry Head the Oriole manifested her superior qualities in rougher sea by taking the lead and during the beat from the eastern mark she so materially distanced the Chimera that the record of the time at which the first round was completed shows her to have been five minutes ahead Oriole 2h 28m 30s Chimera 2h 33m 30s Midge 2h 40m. Throughout the remainder of the race she had it all her own way and the Chimera was ultimately beaten by more than half an hour albeit she was entitled to four minutes on account of tonnage. The Midge met with a sad disaster on the second round while off Brixham and during a sudden squall her mast went by the board making a clean sweep she lay like a log on the water and in this prostrate condition was taken in tow by a trawler that happened to be passing and brought to Torquay harbour The second round was completed by the Oriole at 4h 2m 28s and by the Chimera at 4h 26m 35s and the third by the Oriole at 5h 39m 30s and by the Chimera at 6h 11m 15s.