banner photo:

"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

Banner photo
Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hideous Public Art (3)

This week's Hideous Public Art comes from the city of Levis, Quebec - directly across the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City (and the spot from which General Wolfe bombarded the city during the siege in 1759). Levis has a memorial park on a busy thoroughfare dedicated to the memory of Alphonse Desjardins and his lovely wife Dorimene. Alphonse was the founder of the Caisse Populaire de Levis, the first caisse populaire (or credit union as they are known in English Canada) in the province of Quebec.

The sculpture is a memorial to M. and Mme Desjardins, but a more appropriate title would be "Memorial to the Hookers of Levis" since the work gives the distinct impression that Mme Desjardins is a lady of the evening, lingering in a doorway, displaying her wares to passersby. M. Desjardins is clearly interested, and appears to be negotiating a fee for Dorimene's services before entering her establishment, briefcase in hand.

But wait a minute, Alphonse - all is not as it seems. Dorimene is clearly a member of the Legions of the Undead - look closely and you'll notice that she HAS NO LEGS and is floating about two feet off the ground with no visible means of support. RUN, Alphonse, RUN! This so-called "woman" is some sort of revenant from beyond the grave, and obviously hangs around the doorways of Levis during full moons wearing her tattered burial shroud, luring unsuspecting horny men to their doom, briefcases and all.

Alphonse and Dorimene Desjardins were clearly upstanding citizens who did a lot for the city of Levis and the province of Quebec. It's hard to get that impression from this weird monument.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hideous Public Art (2)

Today's Hideous Public Art comes from Pointe au Pere, Quebec - a little village on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River near the town of Rimouski. Pointe au Pere is noteworthy for being the nearest town to the site of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland, the Canadian Pacific ocean liner that went down on May 28 1914 after a collision with another ship. The sinking claimed 1012 lives, making it the worst maritime disaster in Canadian history. There is a small museum near the river dedicated to the disaster.

Pointe au Pere is also noteworthy for two examples of Hideous Public Art. The first is displayed outside the Empress of Ireland museum. It is a huge bronze depicting a nude woman wearing scuba flippers apparently about to kiss a fish.

There is no accompanying description to explain the artist's vision to the perplexed public, which is probably a good thing. Maybe it depicts a St. Lawrence water nymph communing with nature. Maybe it's a symbol of the community's dependence on the munificence of the mighty river. However, given its prominent location outside a museum dedicated to an event that resulted in the drowning deaths of 279 women, the effect is rather macabre. One can't help the uncomfortable feeling that the sculpture depicts a female Empress of Ireland passenger being sent to the bottom of the river to "sleep with the fishes". Either way, it is a uniquely inappropriate work of art to be displayed outside a museum dedicated to such a tragedy.

The second sculpture is displayed in a little parkette near the main highway to Rimouski and is entitled "The Millenial Tree: Vision of the Past, the Present and the Future". The sculptor is one Andre Gamache.

A helpful plaque explains the symbolism of the work: in my imperfect English translation it says "As one approaches, one discovers the tree. The trunk is composed of the hands of a man and a woman between whom flows life. The branches join the foliage, composed of the continents and covered by doves in a hope of world peace". Near the bottom, the sculptor declares "In this beginning of the millenium, we have a choice to make as a society. Me, I choose the life of man and the survival of the planet. And you?"

Well, for me I choose to expose hideous pretentious artistic ego-trips to public ridicule. M. Gamache has inflicted a grade-A eyesore on the public which is amateurish in technique and uses over-wrought cliches to make a juvenile political statement. One hopes that as the millenium progresses and the planet survives quite nicely that branches & foliage will grow up to obscure this monstrosity.

John Edwards caught with his pants down

I guess that means he's off Obama's VP short list. It seems Senator Edwards has been caught with a woman (not his wife) in a hotel in Los Angeles. Says Roger Simon:

But now that the cat is out the bag, I will say what I wanted to say then. John Edwards – he of constructing a 28,000 square foot home while preaching about the two Americas and remonstrating about the environment – is one of the most reprehensible schmucks to appear on the American political scene in some time. And that’s saying something. That he played this game while his wife had cancer makes it contemptible beyond words. Now we know why he was always primping in the mirror. It is narcissism unbounded.

But there is a moral to this story - and I think we all know it. I hate the use of caps, but I think in this instance I will use them. DO NOT BELIEVE THE HIGH FLOWN RHETORIC OF POLITICIANS - ESPECIALLY WHEN IT IS HOLIER THAN THOU. THEY ARE LIKELY TO BE MASKING SOMETHING.

But I'll bet his hair still looks great.

Monday, July 21, 2008

McGuinty: "I'm hardly a scientific expert"

Today's National Post carries a story reporting that Health Canada has determined that it is safe for children to use cellphones. It contains a quotation from Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty which sums up for me McGuinty's bumbling, inept style:
"I'm hardly a scientific expert on the consequences of prolonged cellphone use by children," Mr. McGuinty said. "But if I read a story, just as a dad, in the paper, I might want to speak to my kids, tell them to minimize their use, and kind of stay tuned to what the scientific community has to say on this score."
This is McGuinty in a nutshell. He establishes priorities based on his gut reactions "as a dad" after having "read a story ... in the paper". After making his policy decisions, he might just "kind of stay tuned to what the scientific community has to say on this score". McGuinty hasn't yet banned cellphone use by children the way he made them all wear bicycle helmets, but this is the same guy who is gleefully banning incandescent light bulbs and plastic bags in liquor stores while making us pay deposits on wine bottles, policies which generally have lots of feel-good photo-op potential but do little for the environment, or could actually make things worse.

Ontario has the worst government in Canada, bar none. The economy is tanking, armed gangs control large areas of the capital city and lawless natives are holding whole communities hostage while the police do nothing, but by God the Premier is making us recycle our wine bottles while staying up nights worrying about little Timmy and his cellphone.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Hideous Public Art

I'm starting a feature here called "Hideous Public Art" which will provide an opportunity to comment on various works of art erected in public spaces that visually assault harmless citizens just trying to go about their business.

Today's example comes from Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick. It is a life-sized sculpture called "Sharing Land and Sea" and is installed around a picnic table outside the main visitor centre.

The work depicts a Micmac Indian woman and her child sharing a basket of blueberries with a French-speaking Acadian settler and an English-speaking farmer. A map of Kouchibouguac is spread out between them, and ominously the Acadian has plunked a large crucifix down on one corner, pointing like a dagger at the heart of the park. The plaque accompanying the work tells us that "today, these people often share their table with a more recent arrival - you, the park visitor".

Not only is this piece hideous - it looks like it was done by a bored high school art class as a project - but it is accompanied by a cloying political message about being thoughtful stewards of the land. There is a not-too-subtle visual message that the natives are the only true guardians of the park; the Micmac woman is seated magnanimously with the map spread out in front of her while the whites look on enviously. So, all you white visitors - don't forget to pick up your guilt package in the visitor centre.

This sculpture combines some of the worst characteristics of bad public art: it's poorly executed by an artist with apparently limited talent, it's visually gimmicky like a bad editorial cartoon in a local weekly paper, and it has a stern moralistic message intended to make the viewer feel guilty. Plus, it's an ugly intrusion in a beautiful natural landscape.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Take the Dominion Institute's Canada Day Quiz

How much do you know about Canada? After reading a story in the National Post about our appalling levels of "civic literacy", I decided to take the Dominion Institute's Canada Day Quiz myself. While I agree with critics that much of the Institute's quiz tests one's knowledge of arcane Canadian trivia and thus doesn't necessarily reflect one's "civic literacy", I still managed a respectable 77%. The quiz doesn't have an interactive on-line version, so you'll need a pencil & paper for this.

Quiz can be found here .
Answers are here .