Page 1



Riva Symko, hangin' with some peeps (in Calgary).


o but literally though. Peeps. Hanging. In a window. Like, peeps as in peepers, as in eyeballs. Five hundred of them. Suspended by fishing line from the ceiling of a commercial-style glass-fronted display window. The kind of display window that you might be more likely to associate with an old-fashioned Christmas toyshop display featuring a fat Santa presiding over an electronic train set, blonde curly haired baby dolls sitting on mounds of fake snow, and a jack-in-the-box leering maniacally out of his colorful aluminum shell. Or maybe you’re more the type to associate it with a flashy department store window featuring mannequins sporting the latest ripped designer jeans/sparkly blazer/t-shirt/spiky heels combo (what?). EITHER WAY, I highly doubt you’d be thinking “floating eyeball holding case” and so you might be slightly creeped out if you came across London, Ontario-based Conan Masterson’s latest installation, Peep Show. After all, it has some audacity, just staring at you like that. I mean, who’s the viewer here? The audience of perpetually alert googly eyes gawking out from behind the glass? Or the parade of white-collars, black-clad arties, street people, socialites, skateboard-toting youths, and Flames-jersey’d shoppers that inhabit the +15 pedestrian walkway in downtown Calgary – a labyrinth of indoor pathways built fifteen feet above the street linking all the major office towers and high-traffic continued on page 2

Matthew Hills lingers in pet symmetry.


taring into the glass eyes of the lynx in a white feather boa I could not help but think of my father. Several different taxidermied animals, positioned on planks of roughly hewn lumber and pedestals throughout Union Gallery’s main space, were garbed in costume and accessorized. Pearls hung from one of two stuffed birds suspended in mid-air. Projections of a winter landscape focusing on a tree pulsing with the rhythmic sound of breathing or panting, cut through the eerie tableau of gussied up taxidermied animals installed at the Union by Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby for their exhibition Abject Nature. The exhibition consisted of three works—Beauty Plus Pity, Reanimating the Universe with Basic Breathing Exercises, and A Year in the Life of the World— all compellingly complex and morally engaged without being glib or pedantic. Recently nominated for the Sobey Award for a second time, the first time being in 2004, Duke and Battersby have been exhibiting together across the country to critical acclaim for over a decade. Their inclusion in Canadian Art’s Artists to Watch in 2009 confirmed them as contemporary art darlings of the recent moment passed. Based in Syracuse, the pair are from different coasts of the country respectively, practice collaboratively in a variety of media, and examine various existential issues from a humanist perspective. Making claims of moral utility for their work, they address issues of degradation, environment, and nature with complexity and wit. It is the claim, staked out most vocally by Emily Vey Duke, to moral utility that I find particularly compelling and in the case of the lynx’s glassy stare evoked my father. continued on page 2


issue 1.2

w sims

a n d re

l by hal it y


s to




syphon honours the etymology of the term "hoser," referring to those farmers who, on the Canadian prairies during the great depression of the '30s, would syphon gas from their neighbours’ vehicles with a hose. we reclaim the somewhat derogatory expression and apply it to all those trying to make ends meet in artist-run culture.





da ul t

Melanie Dugan spells out that stuttering acronym: K.C.C.P.P.


with gary michael dault, melanie dugan jaime forsythe, hadley and maxwell kate hallemeier, matthew hills darren springer & riva symko

syphon: -huffing that gasoline, making that scene. a publication of modern fuel artist-run centre kingston, ontario issue 1, volume 2 spring 2010 issn number: 1480-0306




t 6 pm on Thursday, January 28, 2010 I joined perhaps 60 to 70 other people in Memorial Hall of Kingston's City Hall for what was termed Stage Two of the Kingston Community Cultural Policy Plan Public Workshops — which gives us the stuttering acronym KCCPP — organized by The Canadian Urban Institute. The overwhelming shade of hair in the room (of those who had hair) was grey, mine included. There was only a smattering of younger faces. Where were the younger folks? Perhaps out creating culture or experiencing it. Hard to say: it was a very cold night. Brief digression #1 (its relevance will become clear presently): Two or three summers ago my family and I drove to Guelph, Ontario to collect our son, who was working there, and to bring him home for a short holiday. It was July 1st weekend, and downtown Guelph was dead; only two restaurants in the downtown core were open, all the other stores and restaurants were closed. There was almost no one on the streets. We returned to Kingston, and the city was hopping! People were everywhere, thronging the sidewalks, and most of the stores and shops were open. That night we attended the display of fireworks in Confederation Basin. It was packed; hundreds of people — families, young people, visitors — turned out to enjoy the evening. There was music, things were happening. Back to KCCPP: The evening began with a welcome by Brian McCurdy, of the City of Kingston. Aside from some unfortunate jargon — “cultural organizations” were referred to, which is an unnecessarily vague term that warrants clarification, but its use may point to a serious problem with the KCCPP, and if I never hear the word “stakeholders” again (you can’t find it in The Funk & Wagnalls Canadian College Dictionary, edited by RMC’s own Walter S. Avis) that will be fine —  Brian discussed why the KCCPP was underway. The KCCPP, it turns out, is a bastard child of Richard Florida’s theory of creative classes, which — roughly — notes that cities are competing to attract industries and workers, and as labour and industries become untethered from bricks and mortar building (we’re talking here about the kinds of industry every city wants to attract, ones which employ well-educated, high-

o ot



G.M. Dault is condemned to beauty.


y wife and I moved to Napanee a little over a year ago. Although I’d been brought up in Kingston, and had lived there until I was sixteen, I had gone to University in Toronto and had settled into a mostly wrong-headed career there as an art writer and teacher. The art writing was a sort of mistake. And I remember with dispiriting accuracy exactly when it began. It was a very long time ago— in the late 1960s—at the opening of an exhibition by the then very young John MacGregor at the now legendary Issacs Gallery at 832 Yonge Street in Toronto. There was a huge crowd of people milling around—there were always huge crowds back then at Av Issacs’ openings—and even though John MacGregor was a friend of mine, I was shy, and kept pretty much at the periphery of things, moving along the walls, gazing intently, defensively, upon John’s paintings and constructions (most of which seemed, for the time, both remarkably witty and remarkably naughty). At the centre of this teeming room, like a maypole surrounded by beribboned children, stood a prodigiously tall, rather stork-like woman. Her name was Anne Brodsky, and she had continued on page 3

ALSO INSIDE Feditor's letter from Michael Davidge notations by Hadley & Maxwell a literary supplement from The Wolfe Island Ferry Story Cabal

continued on page 3


photo of conan masterson's peep show by riva symko




syphon is an arts and culture publication, based in Kingston, Ontario that is meant to act as a conduit between the arts community in Kingston and communities elsewhere. Syphon has a mandate to feature local, national, and international arts coverage with an emphasis on arts scenes and activities that are located outside of the major art centres found in larger cities. The publication aims to engage a readership that includes its subscribers, the greater Kingston community and communities beyond.

shopping and cultural areas of the city centre. Designed to protect those poor, long-suffering Calgarians from the not-unusual minus 30 degree winter chill of the foothills, the +15 pathway, made (in)famous in films like Waydowntown, also entertains with its brightly colored walls, interactive digital maps, historical posters and, yes, half a dozen large display windows designated to various local artist-run-centres. Peep Show (AKA “awesome eyeballs” as overheard by a group of passing eight-year-olds), hosted by Truck Contemporary Art, combines Masterson’s penchant for creating anthropomorphic and eerie fantasy environments out of soft, fluffy textiles. Her 2006 show Kaleidoscopic, for instance, featured a soft forest of enormous, hovering white trunk-like sculptural forms in a darkly lit and glowing gallery space that transformed into a kind of spectral antechamber. For Peep Show, Masterson had to adopt a painstaking construction technique that saw her (pun intended) gluing an army of tiny hole-punched vinyl pupils and soft blue irises onto bulbous needle felted polyester scleras in an almost masochistically meditative process of repetition. Masterson has an obsession, it seems, with unsettling the banality of passing strangers and unsuspecting urban amblers by injecting the ethereal seduction of a freak-show smackdab in the middle of their consciousness. Here, Mikhail Bakhtin’s carnival-that elusive artistic device that subverts and liberates the assumptions of the status quo with humorous chaosis suspended motionless but watchful in some kind of low-grade fun-house hegemony. Masterson points out the spectacle of the spectacle and draws attention to the deeply embedded visual carnival of our everyday lives. Her work is unnerving but captivating at the same timewelcoming in its cartoonish sense of humour and inviting materials, but still something you want to keep at arm’s length for all its strangeness. But can you keep a gaze at arm’s length? Peep Show by Conan Masterson ran at the Truck Gallery +15 window space in Calgary from February 5th until March 29th, 2010.

My father was born and raised on a farm. As a result he had a utilitarian view of animals. His views on how the animals humans have occasion to interact with on a daily basis should be treated extended to our family pets, which included over the years rats, cats, and two dogs. For reasons he did not hesitate to espouse to his children, our family dogs were not allowed in the house. Reaping the benefit of years of vociferous lobbying, our family’s last dog, Molly, was allowed free entry to the home. Ironically, Molly, a spaniel mongrel adopted from the humane society, became a fixture beside my father’s reading chair. It was a spot that she would not move from for more than two weeks following my father’s death.

Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre is a non-profit organization facilitating the production, presentation, and interpretation of contemporary visual, time-based and interdisciplinary arts. Modern Fuel aims to meet the professional development needs of emerging and mid-career local, national and international artists, from diverse cultural communities, through exhibition, discussion, and mentorship opportunities. Modern Fuel supports innovation and experimentation, and is committed to the education of interested publics and the diversification of its audiences. board of directors Matthew Hills, President Chantal Rousseau, Vice President Riva Symko, Treasurer Donna-lee Iffla, Secretary Christine Dewancker Lisa Figge Wendy Huot Troy Leaman Pat McDermott Melinda Richka Catherine Toews staff & personnel Michael Davidge, Artistic Director Bronwyn McLean, Admin Director Ted Worth, Bookkeeper and Finance Modern Fuel would not be able to function without the generosity and spirit of its volunteers. Thanks to everyone who has helped us in our times of need, especially to Greg Tilson and Apple Crisp Arts. 21 Queen Street Kingston, Ontario, Canada K7K 1A1 tel: 613 548 4883 Gallery Hours: Tuesday to Saturday 12 noon to 5pm editorial & publishing for syphon Michael Davidge, Editor-in-chief Vincent Perez, Editor-at-large & Art Director Stephen Guy, Contributing Editor Aaron Mauro, Copy Editor Printed at McLaren Press, Bracebridge, Ontario.

riva symko is a Queen’s University grad student who just spent the last few months in sunny Alberta. For the record, it’s actually colder in Ontario.

Animal rights are of course sanctimonious bullshit. Last year Molly was euthanized. Although I knew that her euthanization, in lieu of a slow and painful deterioration to death, was inevitable and impending, I wept thoroughly when my Mother called to inform me. I spent the majority of a weekend composing a eulogy that I felt sufficiently expressed the significance of this dog. Once finished, I promptly felt ashamed. I felt ashamed that I could so easily mourn the loss of an animal, when I had failed to muster this level of mourning for the significant people who have died in my life. Animal rights are of course sanctimonious bullshit. Rights are bestowed by social contract and, beyond the most basic moral imperative of humans to respect life in any form, there is little to no protection inherently afforded the existence of an animal. The obligations of care inherent to the keeping of animals as companions are manifestations of the mediated relationship to nature that Duke and Battersby’s Abject Nature relentlessly examines. The value placed on the life of an animal in our society, as opposed to those placed on a rapist or a crack-addicted child, all of which are players in Duke and Battersby’s work, are worthy of reflection. Realizing this as I moved from one taxidermied stare to another made me feel less ashamed.

matthew hills works in arts administration and is the current president of Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre. He has lived in Kingston for almost 2 years and has survived his traditional initiation by fire. Before Kingston, he lived in Vancouver, where he was involved with Grunt, also an artist-run centre.


photo of duke & battersby's beauty plus pity by kate yüksel

Anne apparently liked John’s work. During a moment of conversational lull—caused, perhaps, by the very fact that she seemed about to speak—she asked, in a voice equivalent in grandeur to her commanding stature, “Would anybody like to review this show for me?” Nobody said anything. And then I heard this rather tremulous voice—which turned out to be mine—say “I will.” And I did. And I’ve been writing ever since (O fatal day!)—about other people’s art. I was supposed to be finishing a Ph.D. thesis. And I was also supposed to be painting (knowing full well that these two procedural imperatives were going to pull me apart down the middle. Well, hindsight is murderously, unforgivingly accurate). And so I entered upon a kind of secondary life, setting to one side what I felt were the more primary activities of “real” writing (poetry, plays, novels) and art-making (I did things of my own in the dusty little corners of what was left over), to make my way (except for a purgatorial five years as the Executive Producer of the CBC Radio show Morningside) as a critical keyboard for hire. And I did it for a long time. One day, a little over a year ago, while I was waiting endlessly in my car to make a left hand turn from one congested Toronto street into another, it came to me, with the force of revelation, that I didn’t want to live in Toronto anymore. Luckily, the same feelings were stealing upon my wife, Malgorzata. And so, with a precipitousness, with a sense of sudden, unshakable resolve that is not at all like us, we sold our Toronto house and straightaway moved to a noble Victorian house on a shady street in Napanee. It was bliss—and continues to be. I think I had it in the back of my mind, that, nourished by the beauty of this rather somnolent

gary michael dault (Napanee, ON) is a writer, critic and visual artist. Author or coauthor of a number of books of criticism and poetry, his writings have appeared in many Canadian magazines and newspapers (his art-review column, "Gallery-Going," ran in The Globe & Mail for the past fourteen years). He has mounted numerous exhibitions of his work, the most recent being "A Half Hour of Landscape Painting," a suite of thirty of his one-minute cereal box landscape paintings at Modern Fuel from May 15 to June 12, 2010.

continued on page 6

d le han isib

i nv


ly-trained people and don’t pollute much — the IT industry being one such example) and workers can locate fairly easily, cities need to become the sort of places people want to live. What sorts of places are those? Well, it turns out people like to live in places with “cultural vitality.” Supply the cultural vitality and the workers will come. This kind of approach makes it difficult to avoid concluding that KCCPP and similar initiatives are aimed, therefore, not at the people who already live in Kingston and pay the taxes (and are, therefore, underwriting this exercise), and not at the artists (which I use loosely to mean visual artists, musicians, writers, dancers, composers, choreographers, performers and other cultural workers), but primarily at some vaguely-imagined, highly-trained, well-educated worker who has not arrived yet, but is on his or her way here to sip cappuccinos and stimulate the economy. O.k., so. Brief digression #2: My partner, Don Maynard, had a sculpture in Kitchener as part of the Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener & Area (CAFKA) Biennale in September 2009. I attended the show with him and had some time to kill while his piece was being photographed, so I wandered around Kitchener City Hall. It’s a relatively new building and it’s full of art — old, contemporary, abstract, figurative, all sorts. I didn’t love all of the art, but it was all interesting, none of it was offensive, and a lot of it was owned by City Hall. Out of curiosity, when I came back to Kingston I went and checked out the art in City Hall — I had a pretty clear idea of what I’d see, but I wanted to refresh my memory. Our collection largely comprises old, dusty, not-very-good even by the standards of the day paintings of Dead White Males, which weren’t representative of Kingston’s population even then, and are less so now. This in a city that has resident artists of national stature whose work the city could easily purchase and display, which would make City Hall a much more pleasant place to pay your parking ticket, I guarantee. Back to KCCPP: Now, I have an admission to make: The KCCPP is in the hands of the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI), which was holding this and other workshops, has liaised with various groups, and will present recommendations to City Hall in 2010. I Googled the CUI and it turns out there is not one cultural worker (dancer, painter, you know the drill) listed on the CUI’s board or on its staff on its website. This in an organization that is being paid by Kingston to guide cultural planning. I found this odd. Who knows culture better than the culture-makers? Why aren’t there any on CUI’s board or on staff? But back to the evening: introductions were made and the agenda review discussed by Nicole Swerhun, who did a good job, speaking clearly enough for all to hear. Jeff Evenson walked us through the Community Briefing. Then the Discussion part of the evening began — and I

,t, no, there’s nothing wrong with any of this, that’s not what I mean; it’s all so goddamned pleasant...

town (and it’s comforting proximity to the only city I really think of as home), I’d be instantly reborn here as the cyclonically prolific artist and writer I knew that, deep-down, I was. And, in truth, I have been reasonably productive in the past year: I’ve mounted two exhibitions in Toronto (one of paintings, one of photographs) and another one at Modern Fuel in Kingston. I wrote my weekly art review column for The Globe & Mail. I’ve written the introductory essays for two international art books, essays for a host of Canadian gallery catalogues, essays for Canadian art periodicals (Canadian Art, CVPhoto), published one book of poems (and am anxiously awaiting the appearance a second). I’ve begun serving as a consultant for a Toronto real estate developer. I’ve taken on a lecture course at Ryerson University. I’ve begun a quarterly magazine here in Napanee—called Bridge Street. But it’s not enough. Or it’s the wrong kind of enough, undertaken at the wrong rhythm. It’s not what I wanted. I am clearly still taking refuge—mostly—in the secondary. Napanee is beautiful. Eastern Ontario is beautiful. Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River are beautiful. Maybe too beautiful. You can take shelter in beauty. You can hide in it. The pastoral world all around me is abuzz with cultural production. There are potters everywhere and weavers and glass-blowers. The region is up to its eyebrows in landscape painters. Everybody is penning a book about local history (no, no, there’s nothing wrong with any of this, that’s not what I mean; it’s all so goddamned pleasant). Listen, it’s fine. Objecting to any of it would be cretinous. But there’s this restlessness, always, this endless undertow of unfulfillment. It’s not Napanee’s fault. The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the (local) stars but in ourselves. Nobody is keeping me from a novel—or from acquiring an art dealer in Montreal, New York and Chicago. But you stroll downtown here and everybody’s so affable and the streets and the old houses are so lovely and you think, as you sit in the sun with your latte, well, all that can just wait a while. And the trouble is, it can—all too easily.



recently been appointed editor of what was once Canadian Art magazine but had now—in that age of the speedy elision (Trans Canada Airlines into Air Canada, Canadian National Railways into ViaRail, etc.)—been rechristened (with a modestly affected lower-case “a”) artscanada (it subsequently returned, of course, to Canadian Art).





o ot




Editor-in-Chief Michael Davidge checks his spots.


s part of a panel discussion at the Union Gallery last year on curatorial practice in Kingston, Ontario, I represented the perspective of someone who works in an artist-run centre. I likened the work of curators to a description of intelligence gathering in the War on Terror given by Donald Rumsfeld: In the fields of art as in the fields of battle, there are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. I claimed that the rhetoric of artist-run centres generally supports the unknown unknowns (in this instance referring specifically to emerging artists and artistic practices from diverse sources that no one has heard of yet). Regardless of the fact that our sympathies lie with the unknown unknowns, there is little we can do for them. As an editor of a publication that is dedicated to exposing art practices in places far from the centres where most can establish careers for themselves, I am engaged in reducing the area of the unknown unknowns, even if the scope of my activity is marginal. I recently confronted a work of art that economically reflects my concerns, “the invisible hand (after Adam Smith)” by Antonia Hirsch. This work was included in the exhibition Sorting Daemons at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston from 16 January to 18 April 2010. Curated by Jan Allen, the exhibition took measure of the presence of surveillance in contemporary society by presenting related works by artists who have addressed the social, political, and aesthetic dimensions of the theme. Hirsch’s piece sneaked up on me, as it is placed over your shoulder when you enter the exhibition. It remains elusive even once you are aware of it. “the invisible hand (after Adam Smith)” is comprised of a series of 44 convex full-dome security mirrors, like those you see in convenience stores for example, arranged along one length of the gallery (about 50 feet), in a patcontinued on page 6



Hot Turkey Sandwich :

by Kate Hallemeier 1. When reassured sought certainty that surely would suffice then surely sure made uninsured that certain surfeit self.

a broad of the ferry cabal 2.

Undoing you and I is not losing

My Sentence and Yours

but loosing. We have undone you and I.

by Darren Springer

We would I could be I and you could be

He was friendly enough at first, just as he was at the last. You could say

you. We would we could

that about him. Just someone pleasant, that’s all I wanted. The ad was simple

be losers, lost. We

enough. I was not demanding, and I’m still not. Just a non-smoker, prefer-

only are looser

ably a student of some kind, although on this point I was flexible. Look, I


bend. You could say that about me, and you still can. Please do. He’d arrived wearing a slightly too-tight flannel shirt, light-blue jeans, and a baseball cap, the visor of which was uncreased and stiff as fresh cardboard. I thought of the ten-year-old kid dressed by his father and forced to try out for Little League when he would’ve rather been in his room tracing pictures of model airplanes. Of course, that image vanished once he spoke, his voice taking on a rural Ontario drawl as he grasped for words that eluded him as often as they gave themselves up to his clutches. “Disorientated” was how he described his current position as an older student, early thirties, pursuing an Agriculture diploma; “profoundities” were what he was afraid of having to encounter in future conversations with more worldly classmates. But there was an intellect there; please don’t let me be misunderstood. I told him I sometimes envied

friends who weren’t in the academic rut I was in, and he shrugged: “There’s

Maybe it was when he came home and almost tripped on a shoe I’d left

perilously close to the front door, his hands splaying out in front of his face

work, and everything else is just hanging out. It’s all just patterns.” It was

just in time to keep his mouth from smacking into the wall. He started to

the way he said it. He signed the lease, shook my hand, and with a smile

laugh, almost hysterically, and all I could think of was a drunk dumped by his

that seemed to loop itself, lingering long after it should’ve faded, he told me

girlfriend, laughing against the wall of his favorite pub, because it was really all

he’d see me again in a month and a half, “ready to begin my sentence—and

he could do, because what was the alternative? Well, you didn’t want to think


about that. But I’m just projecting here. Don’t ask me why.

He was friendly. I have said this. And he would show what seemed to

say so. You could never offend me as much as I offend me, you know?” And

Anyway, he looked up after a moment, then stopped laughing. “Shit, that

be genuine interest in my day, on any particular day, if I came home after he

he’d be running his hands through his hair sometimes as I closed my door, giv-

was close.”

did. But he was easily triggered. It was inevitable that some key word I would

ing a puff of air through his lips, as if he was unsure of what else he should be

I winced. “Yeah. Man, sorry about that.”

utter would set him off, like Laurence Harvey in The Manchurian Candidate,


“That’s fine. Wouldn’t have been so bad if I had hit that wall. I can’t

get much uglier.” He chuckled, drawing in his breath. “Anyway, I’ve got an

and suddenly he would launch into describing a memory from childhood, a detailed recounting of a minor incident from earlier in the day, a treatise on

There were those times, more often than you might think, when I wouldn’t

interview tomorrow at Staples.” School had been out for two weeks at that

some broad subject he’d been pondering at some length. He might be sitting

be greeted at all. Instead, maybe I’d be sitting on the couch, alternating be-

point, and he needed a summer job until the fall, when he moved back home

on the couch watching The A-Team on DVD and eating Neapolitan ice cream

tween reading an essay and tracing out rippling waves of patterns on my white

to take over the family farm. “But you know what’s weird? I walked past that

from the carton, and he’d ask what I’d been up to. “I had a meeting with a

stucco ceiling, projecting my own irritation into the creases and folds of the

Blockbuster on Canal Street, and apparently they’re hiring people. I thought

professor about a paper,” I might reply. This might lead to a minute descrip-

finish. And he’d walk in the door, and without glancing at me, he’d stomp into

they were bankrupt. I guess they’re in denial. But anyway, there you go.” He

tion of his own all-night ordeal writing a four-page report worth ten percent

his room and shut the door about three degrees shy of a slam. Moments later I

paused and looked up, cocking his mouth to one side as he often did when in

of his final grade for a particular class. As he talked he would mostly keep his

would hear what sounded like Youtube videos, sometimes Rocky and Bullwin-

thought. Then he announced, “Bankrupt. It’s funny how most people prob-

eyes on the exploits of Murdoch and company as they rescued a kidnapped

kle episodes, or Masters of the Universe, the animated series. I’d be reclining,

ably don’t apply that word to their actual lives. I mean, what does it mean?

CIA agent, and sometimes he would idly scratch his chest, as if that was where

staring up at the glint emanating dimly from the hillocks of plaster hanging

Depleted, empty, no resources. And most people, hey, you know.” He trailed

his ideas, his most eloquent thoughts, were locked away in abject misery. He

above me, and I’d hear disembodied, disconnected scraps of conversation.

off temporarily, then came back into range as quickly as he’d fallen away. “I

might say something like, “It’s crazy that I can’t just streamline my thoughts

Things like, “Some plan! The slightest error and we’ll surely all be killed!” Or

mean, they probably just go back to work every day, don’t enjoy it, but give

like everyone else can. They just seem to fly away from me when I try to put

something like “Natasha, I have plan to take care of moose and squirrel for

everything to it, and just go home and watch TV, and they have nothing left.

the pins in, like fuckin’ butterflies or something. I have a genius-level IQ! I

good, finally!” And sometimes I’d look over at his closed door, from which no

And I, uh, I want… savings, you know?” He sighed and shook his head. “I

was in the gifted class in high school. And there are dumber people who have

laughter emitted on days like these, and think about what he was doing, how

don’t know. I just hope I love running a farm myself. I can’t be one of the

a way easier time putting their normalized, unextraordinary ideas into words.”

he was sitting, if he was content with his own plans. Meanwhile, the sound

walking dead. I want to keep thinking for myself. If you aren’t thinking for

And the torrent, flowing regardless of the intended audience’s body language

would flicker and dance, coming into focus and drifting out, like someone

yourself, you might as well be dead, I think. No life. That’s just no real life for

or fairly apparent lack of real engagement, would keep me paralyzed, rooted

was throwing a blanket over the noise and taking it off again.

anyone. You might as well just say, ‘Newspapers, TV, just give me whatever

in the living room due to the mandates of etiquette, yet desperate to flee this

This confused me more than anything. For whatever reason, I would

lies you can, and I’ll just curl up with them…’” As I curled up myself on that

self-flagellating oratory.

often feel, on those days, like I needed to hear his voice, to hear him respond

couch, I looked at his white Reeboks and realized, after an hour and a half,

I’ve never been so conscious of boundaries as I was back then. Not just

to the glow and the tinny blare. This is not something I would have expected

that he hadn’t taken them off. Preparedness is everything, yes. But for what,

the boundaries between people, separating where you can and can’t go, or

to feel. You understand this. But without his laughter, or shuffling, or even


what you can or can’t say to someone who is basically a stranger, but also the

throat-clearing, it may as well have been coming from a neighbor’s house,

boundaries between spaces, between rooms. I would often cleave to the border

from an open window of a house I happened to be walking past, the sound

between kitchen and living room, for instance, hoping that my torn, divided

mine momentarily before it had to pass. I wanted it to be rooted somehow.

honey,” as he called it. I was watching My Cousin Vinny on cable, and during

body, half in the room and half out, would signal to him the painful tension I

Not mine, but close. And then on nights like these, I’d be in my room and

Marisa Tomei’s big testimony scene his dad’s truck pulled up outside. I looked

felt between the demands of polite interaction and my selfish desire to have a

hear bowls and plates and glasses in the kitchen clanging a little louder than

out to see a grey Chevy with the Chevrolet logo decal on the back window.

shower or eat. I’d hide the lower half of my body behind the kitchen entrance

they needed to, and their master sighed a little more emphatically than he

His father bounded out wearing a flannel jacket, light blue jeans, and a bright

as he stood in the living room talking about what he’d seen that day. I am

might have, and suddenly I’d be happy for the distance, grateful for my sepa-

orange hunter’s cap that seemed to have a fairly big rip across the visor. He

slowly disappearing, this suggested. I am being pulled away—against my will,

ration from the sound, and thankful that noises in your own home could

practically leaped to the front door, as if stalking a particularly smug bit of

it must be said—from your blow-by-blow replay of the tense conversation you

seem far enough away to belong to someone somewhere else, just flowing

prey. He seemed like he did pretty much everything at a gallop.

had with the head of your program. An engrossing tale that I would love to

through the window before floating away in a determined drift.

Or maybe it was the day he moved out, back to “the land of hicks and

The doorbell rang and his son’s bedroom door swung open. “That’ll be

hear at a later date, when I don’t have to, say, return to my room and finish

my dad, I imagine.” He wore grey sweatpants and a Denver Broncos shirt

a hypothetical stack of fictitious work. But if he could read those signs, he

with a rip along the shoulder. He’d placed most of his boxes near the front

never showed it. Instead, I would wait until either the story ended or he finally

door, and he maneuvered around them like a quarterback dodging tackles. I

relented, surmising that he must be keeping me from something. And as I

heard him greet his Dad in the foyer, and he led him inside. Seeing me, his

walked away, he might say something like “Hey, if you need me to shut up, just

dad gave me a short, sharp nod and introduced himself. I returned the favor.

Midnight Grocery by Jaime Forsythe

Sylvie feels it coming on like a sneeze, the itch building in her brain.

She holds it and holds it before it finally escapes her in one long breath. All August, it’s been one syllable, one bouncing quarter note. Ko ko ko ko. The sounds slide out of her, and here at home she can even enjoy the private music of them. Ko ko ko.


Ducky, Nan says from the doorway.

Sylvie hits Mute and the saxophone solo on the TV stops. The woman

the cart, to wait for Nan, who holds the banister with one had and her lighter

onscreen continues to circle her hips and drop pieces of her outfit onto a bear-

in the other and shrugs at the fringed scarf that keeps slipping off her left

skin rug in silence. A black bra lands on the dead bear’s snout.


Ready? Nan asks. It’s quarter to.

Outside, the air is pungent with city skunk. Nan lights up. A sort of fog

Nan can’t see the scene on the TV from where she stands, its gauzy

hangs around them, a mix of steam rising off the cooling pavement, exhaust,

colours. Sylvie is on her back with a strand of hair wet in her mouth. She

fireworks residue—there are fireworks almost every weekend, the summer a

stretches her bare toes up towards the ceiling, nods hard and blinks. To others

constant celebration. When Nan blows smoke it mixes with this fog, and it’s

it looks like blinking, Sylvie knows, but in her mind she bats her lashes. She

like her tiny cigarette is filling the whole sky with grey clouds.

read that in a comic while spooning cereal one morning and liked the sound

of it. Don’t bat your lashes at me, Betty said to Veronica, whose smile was a

Course. Tall crooked girls in long, double-looped necklaces teeter on high-

white space, with no divisions for teeth.

heeled sandals. Some of them wear sunglasses. It’s like they’ve been out all day

and didn’t notice the sun go down. The girls make as much noise as they want,

There are new things you can do once you turn ten, according to Nan. Syl-

It’s prime time and Sylvie’s nails are painted a shade called Quartz of

vie’s tenth birthday was last month. They’d had a party with the kids who lived

laughing and staggering and leaning into one another.

in the apartment below them--twins, only eight, but Sylvie didn’t mind be-

One week till school, Duck, Nan says.

cause they brought their frantic Shih Tzu who wore a party hat that drooped

Nan nicknamed Sylvie Ducky because Sylvie used to flap her hands. Syl-

to hang under his chin like a hot pink beard. Then the twins started to get

vie wasn’t trying to act like a bird; she barely knew she was doing it. It embar-

messy. The sundae toppings scattered over the floor, the melted ice cream

rasses her, now, to remember this.

smeared identically on each twin’s face, the high-pitched yells and yips: each

of these things spun inside Sylvie’s head and she had to hold her breath un-

things. Sylvie bats and kos and pushes the cart, empty and so light it feels like

til the twins left. The sounds don’t go away once they start blooming in her

the wheels want to float off the sidewalk. Nan pokes her and she concentrates

throat and chest. The only way to get rid of them is to let them out.

on the lights and the people, because she loves being out here at night and that

will end soon.

One week till school, end of the month, end of the money. Too many

dsheet e wolfe island story l Wear nail polish, take piano lessons, stay up as late as you want in the

summer. Staying up late means prime time. Luckily, Nan usually bakes when

the good shows are on. Tonight the sweet floury smell almost covers the smell

in her piggy bank, which is just a wooden box with a slot and not shaped like

of garbage that needs to be taken out, rotting in the heat. Sylvie knows with-

a pig. There are four bills in the freezer in a Tupperware container marked

out looking there will be fruit flies clinging to cracked eggshells on the coun-

SAUCE, red exotic-looking fifties Sylvie sometimes lifts out and presses to her


lips to test whether they’ve turned to ice. The fifties aren’t for groceries, but

Staying up late also means they can go grocery shopping whenever they

Sylvie has $4.25 in a zippered change purse shaped like a cloud and $7.60

Sylvie doesn’t know what they are for.

want, and tonight they planned to go at midnight. Nan likes going late because

most people are doing things other than grocery shopping, and there aren’t as

much more than fruit: bunches of carnations wrapped in cellophane, Her-

They arrive at their favourite 24-hour market, Bloor Fruits, which sells

many pinheads blocking the aisles. Also, at night, Sylvie makes less of a spec-

shey’s kisses you can buy one at a time, juice boxes with Japanese writing on

tacle. No one notices her beside the tall man who sells sheets of looseleaf, the

them, nuts with scoops. The woman behind the counter wears a green apron

heavily-rouged woman with the leashed ferret, or the teenagers whose faces

and smiles at them and the lights are so bright and Sylvie bats, bats, bats. Nan

are freckled with metallic studs.

drifts towards the middle of the store, where produce bags flutter from rolls in

How many holes in the head does a person need, Nan likes to say.

the A/C. She plucks down one of these bags and glances around.

Nan buckles her shoes, bent over so that her pink scalp shows through

Big pockets and big pants are good. Roomy purses and scarves, too.

her dyed-brown curls, and Sylvie pulls the wire cart out of the closet. They go

Something like a head of lettuce would be a waste. Cheese and meat, yes.

down the twisting apartment stairwell, Sylvie pausing on each stair, balancing

Maybe a mango. Baking supplies, vanilla and cloves. Sylvie’s mouth starts to water as she thinks of the things Nan will make.

The woman at the counter answers the phone and speaks in a language

Sylvie does not understand. Sylvie’s hand is deep in a bin of apricots when two boys from her school come in. Grade sixes. One boy drops coins into the pop machine and kicks it before the can has even had a chance to roll through the machine on its own. Sylvie sees the two boys see her and remembers that she’s been wearing the same green tank top with tiny beads sewn into the collar for the past three days, and there is dried toothpaste on it. She could ignore

They then spent about an hour filling that Chevy with his possessions. The

the boys or say hi or she could frighten them. If she frightens them, they will

bed was mine, lent to me by a friend who didn’t want to move it cross-country,

make fun of her. They might make fun of her anyway.

and everything else was his. I offered to help, but they refused, possibly out of

pride, although part of me was convinced that they thought I wouldn’t be all

lieve this isn’t true. In a few years, Sylvie will be embarrassed by today’s self

that useful. Finally, after the last trip, he came back in clutching his key.

and all the selves before it, and she won’t believe her Nan is capable of any-

He stood with one hand on his hip. “Yeah, so uh, I got my key here. And, uh,

thing extraordinary.

well, that should do it.”

I nodded. “All right, then. Well, good luck.”

Nan watching her she tries to be good; she tries to keep her lips zipped. Syl-

“Yep. I’ll just leave it on the coffee table then.” He leaned down to dispose of

vie grabs a handful of apricots, letting them plop into the vinyl purse she’s

the key, then gave out a groan as he straightened up again. He sighed as he

brought, an old one of Nan’s with a magnetic clasp. She thinks maybe this

looked down at me on the couch. “I was just thinking about this yesterday.

illicit action will be impressive, but the boys only look confused.

I was just thinking about how many people I’ve met, and how many I might

have forgotten.”

cracks open his pop. The other says something into his friend’s ear and they

My eyes widened slightly. “No kidding.”

both begin to shake with laughter.

“Yeah. Yeah, like people I might’ve known for a few days, even, when I was

younger, and I’ve forgotten them completely. So is it possible that I’ll forget

to run together to sound like more like oh, like she’s calling out in pain or

you, even? I mean, no offense.”

surprise or any of the feelings she hasn’t yet learned how to hide.

Nan has said she can read Sylvie’s mind and Sylvie has no reason to be-

But today, Sylvie at least half-buys the mind reading, so when she sees

I can help you? The counter lady asks the boys. They don’t reply. One

Over and over, Sylvie’s tongue hits the roof of her mouth. The kos begin

“None taken.” “Or if you’ll forget me completely?” “Seems unlikely.”

the wolfe island ferry story cabal is a pseudo-secretive group of local storytellers who get together to ride the free ferry to Wolfe Island at sunset.

He chuckled. “Fair enough.” He looked out the window. “Anyway, Dad’s waiting on me. Good luck and everything. I’ll see you later.”

I nodded. He apparently didn’t see it. He beamed, his smile making its

patented extended loop. “I saaaaaaaid, good luck, asshole!” “Yes. Yes, I heard.” The shock almost kept me from seeing him leave or hearing him tell me to take care. I heard the truck pull away. I was now an hour into Death Becomes Her. Beyond the TV, I could hear distant noises, a car alarm, my neighbor’s radio as he sat on his lawn. There were shadows on the wall, flickering from the ceiling fan catching the light, but sometimes they’d feel like people looming against the window frame. I know that seems unlikely, but whatever. Just forget about it.

photo by jeff barbeau

If government legislates or creates conditions to attract creative types only to turf the creative types out once tourists and IT workers arrive, what you’re left with is expensive real estate with shallow roots and little connection to its community...

MELANIE DUGAN CONTINUED was overwhelmed by a sense of deja-vu, or more accurately quasi-deja-vu: Hadn’t I been through a nearly identical process some years earlier? Hadn’t I sat in this very room listening to bureaucrats outline the City of Kingston’s new approach to culture? Hadn’t I interviewed Robin Etherington (no relation to Agnes), who was newly-arrived to be the city’s cultural liaison officer (or some other nebulous title)? In a word: yes. And here I was, not too many years later, going through a nearly identical exercise. That’s when the ridiculousness of the situation hit me: Here was the City of Kingston throwing money at some organization from away so that organization could tell the City how to “[a] rticulate a sustainable, authentic, long term vision for cultural vitality in Kingston; develop a list of strategic directions, initiatives and recommendations for action and an implementation timeline; identify possibilities for connections between cultural…” etc., etc. (Kingston Community Cultural Policy Plan Stage One Update) in Kingston when: 1) we have lots of culture here, it’s vibrant, it’s hardy (see digression #1), and 2) we have lots of smart people who live here, who know Kingston and its fiefdoms (there’s the City of Kingston fiefdom, the Queen’s University fiefdom, the RMC fiefdom, the fiefdoms are legion) and who are well-equipped to articulate, develop, identify, analyze, and recommend. The challenge is to bridge the gaps between the fiefdoms, and surely those who live here are betterequipped to build those bridges than comefrom-awayers, who are only here transiently, on a hit-and-run basis. A question arose: Why is the City of Kingston throwing money at consultants who come from somewhere else when the money could be spent in Kingston, where it might trickle up — or down — to the very cultural community this whole project purports to be trying to nurture? Just a thought. It was nice to listen to all the discussion that ensued, though much of it seemed ancillary if not downright extraneous to the real issues (but that may have been the point, a sort of shell game to make people feel they were participating in shaping culture while the real issues were being addressed off-stage). What are the real issues? For one, the whole Richard FLA thesis has always been suspect. On analysis, it’s an inchoate, warm and fuzzy philosophy cloaking a fairly ruthless method of exploiting artists and culture to make a city or neighborhood comfy for the middle class to move into or for tourists to visit. Once this happens and property values rise (which they do — see DUMBO in NYC or Queen St. W. in Toronto), what happens to the creative types? The answer is: no one cares as long as they shut the door on the way out. Which is why, aside from a few places, the system won’t work long-term. If government legislates or creates conditions to attract creative types only to turf the creative types out once tourists and IT workers arrive,


MICHAEL DAVIDGE CONTINUED what you’re left with is expensive real estate with shallow roots and little connection to its community: lots of boutique stores and restaurants but no affordable department stores or grocery stores for the sort of mixed community a downtown core needs to remain lively and vibrant (sound familiar? Viz. S&R, viz. No Frills). All right, I hear you saying, easy to criticize, hard to come up with constructive advice. Here goes: 1) Kingston has culture but Kingston City Hall lacks the political willpower to support it financially (see digression #2, and the KROC Centre doesn’t count, even if the Hip do play there). Get over it. Put money into local arts and culture at a grassroots level; what’s already here will flourish and this will attract new stuff. Buy paintings by local artists to hang in City Hall; maybe have a gallery space at City Hall to show works by local artists; increase funding for existing events like BluesFest, WritersFest, other Fests; whatever happened to the Kingston Literary Prize? 2) Please let’s not repeat this exercise with consultants in another 10 years. If we don’t, I will count it a victory. Maybe it will mean we’ve overcome our inferiority complex and begun to see the value of what’s here instead of looking outside the community for validation and legitimization. 3) If the City of Kingston has money to throw at consultants, it has money to throw at the cultural workers who live here and know Kingston’s cultural highways and by-ways better than anyone. If City Hall is serious about supporting/nurturing/growing culture in Kingston, cut out the middlemen (consultants) and talk to the cultural workers themselves, the people who live here and who make their living from their work. If criteria are needed to determine what constitutes a professional cultural worker, the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts can supply them; check out what’s required for a writer, artist, performer, etc. to apply for a grant at the professional level, then go find those people. There are more of them in Kingston than you might think. Pay them for their time. And guess what — creative types are resourceful, they can make a dime do for a dollar. They’ll have suggestions that won’t necessarily be expensive (some will, but you get what you pay for). We have people in Kingston who can get this going now. Talk to the people who confront these questions every day, the artists, writers, performers, and dancers who live among us and who think about these questions as if their lives depend on them — because their lives do.

melanie dugan was the visual arts columnist for Kingston This Week from 1998-99, and for the Kingston Whig-Standard from 1999-2000 and 2001-2002. She is the author of two novels, Sometime Daughter and Revising Romance.

tern that reads in Braille, “The invisible hand.” The lowest mirror is about one and a half feet off the ground and the highest is at about ten feet. The work refers to Adam Smith’s postulation in The Wealth of Nations (1776) that the capitalist system or free market regulates itself as if by the unseen beneficent force of god whereby the individual’s freedom and pursuit of his or her selfinterest ultimately and almost magically results in the greater good. Hirsch’s work is extremely evocative, but I wish to reduce it to my own observations the afternoon that I saw it. What did I see? The security mirrors reflected the mostly bare space of the white cube and its discreet artworks. I was the only one in the gallery, and I saw myself reflected back from multiple perspectives as far as my eyes could see. Here was a work that defeated the traditional rules of perspective by placing the viewer at the vanishing point. As only the invisible hand of a god would be able to touch the phrase in Braille at this scale, the work distinctly opens a gap between omniscience and the viewer’s limited perspective. The manner in which it was displayed at the Art Centre also drew attention to the gallery’s security camera, which served as an exclamation point at the top right corner of the phrase. My position as a viewer of this work is paralleled by my position as the Artistic Director at Modern Fuel: The greater the amount of information harvested, the more daunting the task of processing it; the more vigilant I try to be with regard to being aware of my own position, the more vulnerable and closer I come to being tripped up by my blind spot. Artist-run centres are increasingly dealing with issues of professionalization, since the criteria established by the bodies that fund them increasingly demand they prove themselves professional. A resistance to the demand from funders that artist-run centres and other arts programmers prove themselves professional may be articulated in an upcoming conference at the Banff Centre for the Arts entitled, “Are Curators Unprofessional?” The organizers of the conference have sought responses to the notion that curatorial practice should out of “necessity” be an improvised and unregulated practice, since the field is demarcated by flux and change. I think that the claim that curators must somehow be more unprofessional in order to do their job is rooted in fantasy, akin to the item left out of Rumsfeld’s list: the unknown knowns. These would be the unacknowledged desires that structure a fantasy of which the dreamer is purportedly unaware. The dreamer is in denial. “[T]he invisible hand (after Adam Smith)” is a concrete manifestation of such a disavowal, and its reflexive placement within Sorting Daemons renders up for scrutiny the exhibition’s own structure. Taking a page from Adam Smith as Antonia Hirsch has done suggests that determining the “necessities” of curatorial practice would be like determining the “utility” of a commodity, and that curatorial positions should be considered

moral or political insofar as they are connected to a moral or a political economy. Or perhaps it suggests a mirror image: You may think that you are contributing to the greater good, but ultimately you are only pursuing your own selfinterest.

michael davidge is an artist and writer and he is currently the Artistic Director of Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre.

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Modern Fuel welcomes submissions throughout the year for projects in any media to show in our Main Gallery space and in our State of Flux Members’ Gallery. Proposals are selected by jury. Please see our website (www.modernfuel. org) for submission details. Our Annual deadline is May 1.

NOTATIONS hadley and maxwell have been collaborating since they met in Vancouver, Canada, in 1997, working in a variety of media including video, installation, and sound. Their work examines mediation as the threshold of intelligibility between the individual and the social, engaging relations between public and private property, history and memory. Currently based in Berlin, their recent solo exhibitions include: The Lemonade is Weak Like Your Soul, Kunstverein Gรถttingen, 2009; Improperties, SMART Project Space, Amsterdam, 2010; Some Improperties, Samsa, Berlin, 2010; and Baroque Baroque at Jessica Bradley Art + Projects, Toronto, 2010. Upcoming projects include participation in Manif d'art 5, Biennale de Quebec; Kurt, Seattle Art Museum; and a solo exhibition at YYZ, Toronto, in the fall of 2010.


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Syphon 1.2  
Syphon 1.2  

a publication of modern fuel artist-run centre kingston, ontario issue 1, volume 2 spring 2010 issn number: 1480-0306 syphon honours the...