Posts Tagged “Letters From”

05w40:2 Letter from St. John's

by timothy. 0 Comments

Good Reads Mailing List | 2005 week 40 number 2 (letter from st. john’s)


Letter from St. John’s 03 | Craig Francis Power
“What is wrong with Newfoundland? You may have noticed that since the initial outcry over Gordon Laurin’s firing things have been unsettlingly quiet in St. John’s. For a few days, there was a great deal of local and even (gasp) national news coverage of Laurin’s dismissal, and there was also a real sense of the art community pulling together during a rough period. Despite how disheartening Laurin’s firing was, we were all in this fight together. We were really pissed off. It felt good. That seems like a long time ago. […] There hasn’t been a word from any of the local arts organizations about Laurin’s firing since. […] Part of the problem with this tiny art community in St. John’s is that the people who are here REALLY want to remain for the rest of their lives. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that there are about six art jobs in this town, and if you want one of them someday, you’d better not be too critical of anything. You certainly should not embarrass a corporation like The Rooms, who could at some future point supply you with a cushy government job with a dynamite pension and benefits to boot.”

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emailed by Timothy on Thursday 06 October 2005 @ 3:15 PM

05w29:2 Letter from St. John's | London Bombings

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Good Reads Mailing List | 2005 week 29 number 2 (Letter from St. John’s | London Bombings)

Craig Francis Power has written me a couple of letters from St. John’s, the latest deals with the latest controversy with The Rooms and Gordon Laurin’s firing.
Now, while the news channels today are creaming themselves about being able to devote another full day to the crumbs fed to them by the London police, we should remember that in the long run, visual culture and literature is where a society’s memory lies, and certainly not at the news desks of CBC and CNN, where they tell us that today’s bombing occurred two weeks after the first round. No shit. I wasn’t born yesterday.

Goodreads began partially because of what I read by John Taylor Gatto in an autumn issue of Harper’s magazine a couple of years back:

After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven’t yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.

And that stayed with me. Then, last winter’s readings of John Ralston Saul drove the point home:

“There is no reason to believe that large parts of any population wish to reject learning or those who are learned. People want the best for their society and themselves. The extent to which a populace falls back on superstition or violence can be traced to the ignorance in which their elites have managed to keep them, the ill-treatment they have suffered and the despair into which a combination of ignorance and suffering have driven them. […] It’s not that everyone must understand everything; but those who are not experts must see that they are being dealt with openly and honestly; that they are part of the process of an integrated civilization. They will understand and participate to the best of their ability. If excluded they will treat the elites with an equal contempt”.

London Bombings
Bombers in London are suffering from a lack of imagination, by which they can’t relate to society at large. I’m reminded of something Mark Kingwell wrote ten years ago discussing crime statistics in the U.S. and noting that for some the conditions of poverty were so severe that going to jail was a step up, guaranteeing shelter and three meals a day. (Such motivations have also led many people into the military over the past couple of centuries as well).

One then begins to see that these suicide bombers are trying to escape their lives. And, as the media would like us to think – they all appear normal, aren’t in dire poverty. They always come across as a middle-class, albeit in some cases, lower middle class. Instead, we have a situation analogous to the suicides of Canada’s north, where the Inuit children, after years of sniffing gasoline for cheap and brain-destructive highs, are hanging or shooting themselves. We have a pretty good idea as to why those kids are self-destructive, and that is because ‘they have no culture’, the story being that the misguided intentions of a century ago to assimilate the native populations did terrible damage to their sense of self as a culture, and in effect, destroyed their imaginations. The imagination of themselves and their place in the world, in the grand scheme of things.

And so, I want to say that suicide bombers are suffering from a lack of imagination. That they are choosing to die, and to escape into the paradisiacal world (the only thing, one imagines, that has preoccupied their imagination for years) rather than continuing to live their dreary, industrialized, modernist, post-modernist, (or whatever other name we throw at it) lives.

Those of us who despise reality television and other aspects of pop culture choose do so because we feel that we have better things to occupy our imagination – great books, the art of contemporary galleries – ‘cinema’ as opposed to Hollywood blockbusters…. but if you’re a child of immigrants, and don’t identify either with your parents or fully with your peers, and instead your imagination is stimulated by religion …. it doesn’t seem to be so mysterious now does it, why these kids would do what they do.

We imagine ourselves, develop ambitions, or at least have plans for the future – next vacation and so forth. Imagining ourselves and our place in the world is terribly important in helping give us a sense of context, and in carrying out our daily activities. Our love for stories feeds this sense of imagination – and we feel more alive when our life is echoed in the imagination – it is a resonance chamber by which we build symphonies of meaning.

The Rooms
The tension in St. John’s is one of two imaginative visions: an elite version (which I suppose would be Laurin’s camp) and one down-home version (the CEO’s camp). Now, admittedly, I’m not in St. John’s and am only working with what I’ve read (today’s links) but let’s look at it according to Saul’s take on elitism. I believe, as does Saul, that people want what’s best. That only seems like common sense. Yes, the elites, and especially art-elites, do form a sort of tribe which treats people outside of it with an element of contempt. They think they are engaged in what’s best. They think that the lobster-trap craft folk are uneducated and misguided and have the blinders on towards ‘what’s best’. Hence, tension.

Ok, that being said, it does seem to me that Craig Power has a point where he writes, “Newfoundlanders have a reputation for being stupid, inbred and drunk. With the events of the past week and a half, is there any reason to wonder why?” having set it up by saying, “Wanda Mooney, a career government administrator, has been installed as interim director. … I don’t know what this woman’s knowledge of art history or contemporary art practice is, but I do know that if you Google her name, you find out that she used to be the woman you called if you wanted to rent space or book a reception at the old provincial gallery. How this qualifies her to run the gallery on even an interim basis, I don’t know, but I can hardly wait to see this visionary at work.”

Perhaps that’s unfair. But the point here is that according to the attitude among artists in St. John’s, the Board of Directors and CEO are suffering from a lack of imagination, one that in itself is contemptuous of the public at large. One that assumes tourists want to travel to foggy and cold St. John’s to see a bunch of folk-art crap, when they could be treated to the best of what contemporary culture has to offer.

But, the point I’m trying to make by bringing up London and my thoughts therein are that treating The Rooms with the contempt with which it has been treated, first by the Provincial Government, which kept it closed for a year, and now with Laurin’s dismissal, is stunting the imagination of Newfoundlanders, a place which so far has imagined itself as backward and victimized, and been rewarded by doing so by a Kevin Spacey movie. Laurin’s purported vision to give the citizens of St. John’s the quality of culture they deserve (that is, the best) and to resist mediocre crap, is admirable, and it’s unfortunate that another Maritime art scandal has resulted in the process. But here we also seem to be dealing with the backlash of ‘the excluded’ toward the elites (who have excluded by obscurantist writing and snotty attitudes for a century now) by treating them with ‘an equal contempt’.

Let’s just say that nobody has a monopoly on the imagination, but London also illustrates that it’s important to foster the best imaginations society has to offer.


Letter from St. John’s 2 | Craig Francis Power
“In his brief tenure, Laurin had already formed alliances with Newfoundland and Labrador’s artist run centres, not to mention its experimental musicians, dancers and writers. There was a real sense of excitement amongst all of us. We actually believed that the provincial gallery, long a bastion for the cultural vacuity of Christopher Pratt (NL’s answer to Alex Colville), would begin to take contemporary art and artists more seriously. I, for one, feel like the biggest sucker in the world. […]Newfoundlanders have a reputation for being stupid, inbred and drunk. With the events of the past week and a half, is there any reason to wonder why?”

Artists ‘mortified’ by sacking at St. John’s Rooms | CBC Arts
“Newfoundland and Labrador’s arts community is ‘mortified and deeply embarrassed’ by the recent firing of Gordon Laurin as director of the province’s art gallery, according to an artists group.Gabrielle Kemp, director of communications of Visual Arts Newfoundland and Labrador (VANL), told CBC Arts Online her group is vexed by Laurin’s dismissal just two weeks after the province’s landmark art gallery, The Rooms, opened. “

Director’s exit stuns community | James Adams (G&M)
“Laurin was hired for the job just a little more than a year ago, following a lengthy search. A graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, he’d been director of Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery in Halifax since 1998. In the spring of 2004, it was expected that Laurin would be overseeing the move of the art collection into The Rooms, but that March the provincial government announced it was postponing the opening of the facility by a year, to June 29, 2005, to save an estimated $2-million.”

Interview #2 | On the Go
“The Room’s is living up to it’s controversial beginnings. Remember the enormous fight over building on top of the Fort Townsend site. Now, within two weeks of our new provincial Museum, Archives and Art Gallery opening, the director of the Art Gallery has been sacked. Gordon Laurin, the now former director, will not comment. Dean Brinton is the CEO of the Rooms. He’s the man who fired him. Here’s part of what he had to say to the host of Weekend AM, Angela Antle.”Aired Friday, July 15, 2005 | Real Audio File

Interview #3 | On the Go
“When the news came out on Friday that Gordon Laurin, the director of our new Art Gallery in the Rooms was sacked, many people were shocked, if not outraged. Now the province’s visual artists are getting together, having meetings and making phone calls to find out what happened at the Rooms and what happens from here on in. VANL, The Visual Artists of Newfoundland and Labrador is an advocacy group for visual artists. That group held a meeting today, and then two of it’s members came by our studio. Elayne Greeley, is the chair of VANL’s advocacy committee. Tara Bryant is a member of the board. Ted began the conversation by asking Ms. Greeley what she’s learned since Friday about why Gordon Laurin was let go. Here’s what she said.

Q: What is important about this dispute for the people who aren’t working artists, the people listening to us right now?
A: Do they want a cultural institution that represents their culture in an accurate and in an informed way, or do they want a watered down version of programming and culture that is aimed at a less informed audience? An art gallery is a research institution as well as a space that presents work, right? So we’re talking about curating, we’re not talking just about a pretty space to hang artwork, we’re talking about representing the culture that has happened as well as presenting the culture that is existing now, and how it is going to move into the future’. [7.32/9.33] “Aired Monday, July 18, 2005 | Real Audio File

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emailed by Timothy on Thursday 21 July 2005 @ 1:49 PM

Call for Writers and Friends

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Call for writers and friends

Dear people,

Living in Canada is like being a diffused chemical measured in parts per million. We aren’t concentrated like in the United States. There are only 32 million of us, which is about the same number of Americans without health insurance and apparently, the exact number of Americans with blogs.

The fact that there aren’t so many of us means that our numbers, when we divvy ourselves up into professions, are relatively small. At the same time, the net has come along which makes finding information and communicating with anyone on the planet easier than it has ever been. Canada is well known to be a regional country, and that’s great. But lately I’ve been wondering what the hell is going on in Saskatoon? Who are the artists there? What kind of work is popular? There are lots of reasons why I don’t know this, but seems to me it can’t be that hard to find out. I’ll just find someone in Saskatoon that can write me a letter. In turn, I’d like to share that letter with you.

I’d like to set up a ‘letters from’ section on Something like or, etc etc. I’d like to post there letters from cities across Canada, but whatever, if you’re reading this in Lynn Lake Manitoba, I’d love to hear from you too. I’d expect a letter a month, maybe two if you feel the need … but no blog like thing requiring an everyday commitment.

And why do I want to do this? Because for all their intentions, the magazines suck when they only come out every 4 months. We can’t have a dialog with a 4 month delay. There’s no good reason anymore why I – and in turn, anyone who checks out the website – should not know about your town’s art stars. I had to move to Toronto before I’d ever heard of Ian Carr Harris, and I only learned about Doris McCarthy a couple of weeks ago. It’s not so much that I’m retarded as it is that we aren’t communicating with one another. And because this is about sharing information, real communication, there’s no money involved, although I’d like think one day I’d be able to pay people.

So, if you’re interested, send me an email.

Yours truly,

Timothy Comeau

emailed by Timothy on Friday 18 March 2005 @ 3:51 PM