Travels in Canadian Style

by Yule Heibel on January 27, 2006

Lying around in a buggy daze (sinusitis) these past few days, my surrealistic empire of serendipidous internet encounters expanded exponentially. Wow — have I been on some weird trips! Oh well, once the meds wear off, I’ll probably forget all about them… 😉

But maybe I’ll write them up sometime, if I don’t disappear down the rabbit hole of a LibraryThing time-sink. Yes, I’ve been checking out Tim Spalding’s excellent site again, and I think I’m hooked. I have to sign up, there’s no way around it. In fact, I should have saved myself the trouble and done so back in September when I first wrote about it. I’ll need a good alias, though, because although I’d like to keep my library public, I really don’t want just any old tom-dick-or-harry to know that the listed books are mine. Like my account, this one will need an alter ego who can bookmark or catalog to her heart’s content without worrying that someone — anyone! — is drawing conclusions based on the assembled collection of oddities.

A big beautiful prize in my wandering through that LibraryThing was the discovery of a cataloguer who lists her flickr page, which turned out to be gorgeous (she has lived in Tokyo for the past 7 years and takes great photos). Not only that, but if I interpreted various links correctly, she has (or had, a recent photo suggests transition) a job with an organisation I’d never heard of, the United Nations University — Institute for Advanced Study, and they in turn work on a host of worthy environment-related issues. Reading their pages, I found other environmental sites I’d never heard of before. …Oh, and since I of course googled Lil / “Esthet” / Kristen, I found Jean Snow’s A Guide to Design and Pop Culture in Tokyo: very cool! Jean has a project called Canadian Style right there in Tokyo, debuting at Cafe Pause February 1. And yikes, how is this for coincidence? I just noticed that Cafe Pause is located in Toshima-Ku, Minami-Ikebukuro, which happens to be the street my sister lives on… Japanese house numbers mean nothing to me (I heard they’re numbered according to when they were built), so 2-14-12 or 1-3-1 or any related string means nothing to me, but I think it’s a relatively small street in the ancient old part of downtown… Hmm, maybe I can get my sister or my niece to pick up a t-shirt for me? Canadian Style straight from Japan — that works.

Canadian style actually brings me to what I wanted to blog about in the first place: another leg of my virtual travels was spent listening to Canadian artist and writer-on-art Robert Linsley, a very smart lecture he gave in London England, where he talked about the depopulated spaces of Canadian art, and that this absence of figures (whether photographs, which is what he was specifically addressing, or landscape paintings or whatever) has become something that Canadian artists take refuge in, like a cliché. As it happened, I also went to visit my own flickr pages to look at my urban development set, really just to see what I could do about it now, because I uploaded all those photos ages ago and in a hurry, without rhyme or reason really, without titles or descriptions (for the most part), and worst of all, without any followups — the whole point was to document these projects in their various stages, which was supposed to mean that I’d take photos every couple of weeks or months. All those big holes in the ground have either gotten much much bigger, or they’ve sprouted gleaming glass and concrete towers. But I never did follow up, if only because I walk when I have my dog with me and it’s really difficult to take photos when he’s pulling on the leash…

As I’m looking through this set, I see that my pictures, too, embody the cliché of the depopulated Canadian spaces — and this for photos of downtown streets! But perhaps the worst part is that there really were so few people around when I was photographing. It’s not the case that I deliberately waited until the street was empty, although, after listening to Linsley, I wonder whether didn’t subconsciously wait until I could get a shot without cars and people…? My favourite is still of the couple sitting on the kerb, though. The woman has something so winsome about her, the man chuckling, but keeping it to himself.

That’s what I wanted to blog about, but now my head hurts, so this will have to wait. Tomorrow I’ll post the ram-file of Linsley’s talk, and try to chew through his arguments, think about them in relation to what I ended up posting on flickr. Strange stuff indeed to be caught in cliché like this….

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