“Est-ce que c’est le Parlement?” “Non, c’est Canadian Tire.” –Snappy answers to stupid questions overheard on Parliament HillThere 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 Worldadministrative-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 freedomto 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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
“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!”
“Sweet OH yes”
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.
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:
Least Stable Bowels
Most Similar to the Floorboards
In retrospect, LL awards himself “The Best Self-Tokenization” award for his unsolicited addition as a tranny.