Sunday, April 11, 2010

Spaghetti Junction offers food for thought

Last Friday, the DeLeon White Gallery opened its doors for Spaghetti Junction, an exhibit showcasing the thesis projects of thirteen art students studying at York University.

While the display at Spaghetti Junction offers visually craving epicures a luscious plethora of priceless ocular stimuli, let it be known that this is no bourgeois art buffet: there is not a red velvet rope barrier in sight at the DeLeon White Gallery, and—more affordably—no entry fee. Hosting fifteen sculpture and installation pieces made of everything from grass to jock cups, Spaghetti Junction is composed of pieces based on ideas as various as the intersection between natural and artificial environments, gender performance, the body and its relationship to personal and social spaces, artificial culture, consumption, stereotypes, as well as the nature of identity.

As mentioned, Spaghetti Junction does cater to the visually peckish, but Margaret Papadatos’ untitled contribution will only feed that hunger for so long—it’s got a different agenda. Papadatos’ piece has the outward appearance of a basic fort constructed by the industry and ken of a (perhaps rather tall) child—complete with all the essential blankets and clothespins that allow such a structure to qualify for that category—but pinned to the opening is a caution to the visually dependent: “Do not enter without first […] placing on the blindfold.”

On the outside deceptively simple and a product of nostalgia, Papadatos’ work is inspired by a parable that Longinus tells in his only attributed work, On the Sublime, wherein Herodotus (one of the first writers of history) says that Cleomenes (a Greek king) went mad, got captured, and then “in his madness cut his own flesh into little pieces with a knife ’til he had sliced himself to death.” Papadatos finds this interesting, saying it characterizes her work, engaged with “the isolation of the senses and playing with that idea and sort of ripping yourself into these tiny components.”

Although it is by no means the centerpiece of Spaghetti Junction’s spread (the show is void of such a focal point), Papadatos’ work is a narrative about the lengths one has to go to in order to escape the staleness of the way things are commonly perceived, and banality is under attack from so many angles at the gallery; Brittney Katula’s Fa’afafine—the moniker of which comes directly from a group of people considered to be third-gendered in Samoan culture—celebrates liberation from the male/female dichotomy with the interesting incorporation of a decorative chastity belt; Tasha Turner’s Emme presents anatomical forms that are often hidden from the public’s gaze frankly on a wall, aiming at evoking the feelings of awkwardness and embarrassment that people have been socially trained into harbouring in relation to the shapes; and by donning a packing tape suit, rolling down sidewalks and collecting whatever will connect to him—an undertaking presented at Spaghetti Junction via a film projection of the process and through mounting the packing tape suit itself to a wall—Simon Black aims to liberate things that are taken for granted from their overlooked condition by making their accumulation a sublime affair.

The show is not only concerned with how things are perceived, but also with what spaces and objects individuals encounter on a daily basis.

Kailey Bryan chews over the effects of the spread of brutalist architecture in Surroundings, a steel weaved seedpod/cocoon inspired sculpture proposing a return to incorporating organic shapes and forms into architecture. Bryan reflects on the history of architecture, saying, “when you walk into an old building and look at the degree of craftsmanship on a moulding or the carving on a door—even just things like a little misstep of the carpenter’s hand when carving a pew or something like that—you understand that you have a relationship on a human level with the person that crafted the thing, so it imbues all of these places with this warm humanness.”

Like Bryan’s Surroundings, Alexa MacKenzie’s A Culture for People Who Don’t Live There—a sculpture of Niagara Falls’ famous Horseshoe Falls fabricated out of tourist paraphernalia—pursues the nature of what’s often encountered. Having grown up in Niagara Falls, MacKenzie finds some disturbing irony in the fact that the quintessential piece of Canadiana that is often celebrated as a natural wonder has become something that is essentially constructed, “[where] all the businesses and all the culture there is aimed towards people who don’t actually live there, to draw people in for commerce and to make money.”

Her own construction of the Horseshoe Falls a piece that allows viewers a perspective from behind the cascade, MacKenzie’s piece is revealed to be supported by a typical wooden frame, hinting at a contrived nature underlying both the town and the Falls themselves. According to MacKenzie, “in the ’50s, they rock-blasted away some of the falls because [the redirection of the water flow] was considered more aesthetically pleasing.” MacKenzie continues, “Today they only have about 20% of the water going over the falls in peak tourist season.”

Appropriate among other pieces that challenge normalized perceptions Allen Matrosov’s contribution, Petrifying Education, is a piece that Matrosov hopes will make viewers reconsider their conceptions of the education system, which is ultimately an institution that has great control on the way people comprehend things in everyday life. For Matrosov, education becomes futile in the sense that “by the time a student graduates high school, in twelve years technology [changes] so much that everything they[…] have learned from […] their elementary years [will] be obsolete,” and he illustrates this by placing three school desks made of basic desk materials slowly breaking apart under the indifferent force of water dripping from pipes.

Also focusing on issues to do with education, Meghan Scott’s Making the Maker zeroes in on the physically moulding effects of the education system, where several identical 21st Century desk/chair hybrids are presented and deconstructed, forcing the viewer to consider how education shapes perceptions as well as bodies. The piece is particularly significant in that it not only urges viewers to consider what education produces, but also how education shapes what is produced to be perceived.

Other artists featured at the gallery are Robert Clements, Couzyn van Heuvelen, Jeannette Hicks, Phoebe Lo, and Joe Phillips.

Challenging the methods of perception and also things that are perceived, as a unified collection, Spaghetti Junction is a thirteen-course meal of brainfood.

Open this Sunday from 1 ’til 5, and Wednesday from noon ’til 8, Spaghetti Junction runs until April 14. The DeLeon White Gallery is located at 1139 College Street.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Protest the Hero’s Dostoevsky grin

^I did not take this photo. Image rights reserved by the respective author.

Last Thursday Protest the Hero came to the University of Guelph and I got a chance to interview the band's bassist and lyricist, Arif Mirabdolbaghi. All I can say is that the guy was really laid-back and that he was totally down with doing the interview. He also loves his Dostoevsky. Here's the article I wrote for The Ontarion:

Protest the Hero’s Dostoevsky grin
Math-metal quintet hits The Brass Taps
by Tom Beedham

Long before MuchMusic’s disBand and before Lights and Stereos were signed to his record label, in 1999 Mark “London” Spicoluk’s Underground Operations was but a small nexus that consisted of a fistful bands that you only knew about from word of mouth, hours spent on Myspace, or from watching George Stroumboulopoulos’ The Punk Show. While many of the bands that originally supported Spicoluk’s label have since left to pursue other things in life and the face of Underground Operations has certainly changed, one group has only changed its name. Once known as Happy Go Lucky, Whitby mathcore act Protest the Hero maintains its association with Underground Operations still to this day, despite having gained worldly success and being signed on to the monolithic Vagrant records since 2006.

In an execution of reifying their contemporary name, last Thursday Protest the Hero took a night off from their freshly embarked upon Jagermeister-sponsored and more commercially attractive Snocore tour to headline an intimate, 350 person capacity show put on by the University of Guelph’s metal club at The Brass Taps.

Assaulting fans with an arsenal of songs mainly from their 2008 studio album Fortress, but also including tracks like “Blindfolds Aside” and “Heretics & Killers” off of their 2005 album Kezia—which combined with a 2006 signing to Vagrant records also brought the band success in the States—Protest unleashed a performance that went against what lead vocalist Rody Walker anticipated about the band at the time of Fortress’ release. In a 2008 interview with MTV, Walker described Protest the Hero as ADD Metal, making reference to how the band gets bored easily and how at the time of Fortress’ release, there wasn’t any desire to play songs off of Kezia ever again because the songs were routine and they wanted to perfect their new and more complicated work. Bassist and lyricist Arif Mirabdolbaghi confirms that when PTH plays tracks from Kezia, it’s mostly for the fans, but also maintains that when Rody did that interview, his responses were indicative of “a time in [the band’s] life where we were feeling this sort of musical frustration.”

The band’s reverence for undertaking onerous tasks might have something to do with its influences. One of Protest’s most overt lyrical influences—especially in pre-Kezia material—is Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky. Even the title of one of PTH’s songs, "I Am Dmitri Karamazov and the World is My Father" is a direct reference to The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky’s last novel, which is—in only a few words—about struggling with intellectual stasis.

In 2004, Mirabdolbaghi was even invited to (and attended) the 12th Symposium of the International Dostoevsky Society at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. Reflecting on the Russian thinker, Mirabdolbaghi admires the fact that “[Dostoevsky’s] mind rebels stagnation” while also contending that there is no way he could ever cease to be influenced by him, despite while “perpetually turning into someone else.”

Despite the band’s self-acknowledged short attention span and while tens of thousands of students prostrate the fruits of their hard-earned labour to the university every semester, bassist and lyricist Arif Mirabdolbaghi said that even though the band has made some obscure rider requests in the past—including birthday cakes, underwear, wallpaper imported from China, Persian carpets, and films by Dennis Quaid “because we think he’s a comic genius, even if he doesn’t realize it”—on Thursday Protest played it modest and didn’t ask for anything special to play at the U of G. Mirabdolbaghi also insisted that, “Our rider isn’t ‘make it or break it’ in the sense that if we don’t receive what we request we’re not going to play a show.”

According to Mirabdolbaghi, after Snocore and an appearance at New Jersey music festival The Bamboozle at the start of May, the band—which hasn’t put out any new material as far as songs go since Fortress in 2008—is looking forward to getting back into the studio and recording new work, which they’ve already started writing. Apart from his work with Protest the Hero, Mirabdolbaghi is further pursuing his interest in Dostoevsky. In collaboration with an actor friend, Mirabdolbaghi is currently in the process of interpreting a Dostoevsky work for a string bass piece, the performance of which will premiere in Toronto at the end of April.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Varroa mite is the fiend behind the disappearing bee: Guelph professor Ernesto Guzman explains the root of colony collapse disorder

Imagine a world where bees are extinct: a world without bee stings; culturally abandoned apiphobia; and—most importantly—a world entirely void of natural food. That’s the world that Canadian author Douglas Coupland presents readers in his latest take on the future, Generation A: where contact with even a single honeybee (Apis mellifera) warrants abduction by hazmat suited troops and weeks of interrogation and blood sampling. It is undoubtedly a radical interpretation, but for the last three years, honeybees have been dying fast enough to earn the phenomenon the moniker of colony collapse disorder (CCD).

Perhaps well founded, Coupland’s prophecy might never come to fruition (much to the delight of beekeepers around the world). With funding from the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association; the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs; the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council; and the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture, University of Guelph environmental biology professor Ernesto Guzman believes he’s figured out the problem.

In a study published last month in the biology journal Apidologie, Prof. Guzman noted that Varroa mites (Varroa destructor) were the cause for over eighty-five per cent of honeybee deaths in Ontario. Varroa mites are typically 1-1.8 mm long by 1.5-2 mm wide, eight-legged parasites that thrive on the blood of honeybees. In leeching off of honeybees, Varroa mites are indifferent to viruses their prey might contract—like deformed wing virus—from which victims can lose use of their wings—or even contract paralysis—and are ultimately left with a reduced life span. But the Varroa is also a parasite by the virtue that it has been sucking life and money out of the beekeeping market and food industry, bite after bite.

The Varroa mite has been a problem for roughly twenty years, but Guzman says, “it’s becoming a stronger problem…because mites are developing a resistance to the chemicals that are being used to treat colonies against them.” In Ontario, colonies have been reducing in size by one third for the last three years, and Guzman recognizes that “It’s not economically sustainable to keep on losing [bees at that rate] and […] to purchase bees or to split colonies in half in order to make up for losses.”

“If they have to do that every year, they’ll be out of the business very soon.”

“It’s important to underscore that one third of the food that we eat in western societies is produced thanks to the pollinating services of bees,” Guzman says. He adds that there is no natural alternative to honeybee pollination. “It would have to be manually or mechanically, which would be more costly.”

For Guzman, the Varroa mite is among three main factors contributing to the disappearing bee phenomenon. He also attributes the mortality rates to insufficient winter food supplies within colonies, as well as splitting colonies too late in the season (fall). Guzman notes that while bees live longer throughout the winter months, splitting colonies in the fall is particularly problematic because queen bees stop laying eggs for the winter, “and in order for a colony to make it to the next season, you have to have sufficient bees in the colony.” Guzman says that is when the Varroa mite is particularly problematic, “in the summer months, there are still plenty of bees being produced by the queen […] to replace those bees that die from the infestation of the mite, but if they shorten the lifespan of those bees by half during the winter, […] they will never see the spring, and there are no replacements.”

While the findings in Guzman’s study are concerned with data from Ontario, he maintains that, “I’m sure the Varroa mite is among the three main factors causing the mortality of bees all over the world.”

With the source of CCD in the know, Guzman’s current project is finding an effective treatment, and he’s not focused on finding a miracle pesticide. “I mean, many more synthetic pesticides can be developed to control the mite, but eventually, [the Varroa] might develop a resistance to all of them.”

Guzman has been working on natural compounds that mites will be less likely to develop resistance to and won’t contaminate the honey, listing thymol and oregano oils as products that have been “very effective” at controlling the mites. Guzman also suggests using bio-control agents like fungi that are naturally occurring in the environment, which agree with bees but not with the Varroa. “A third way of approaching this problem […] would be to develop genetically resistant bees—bees that are naturally resistant against the mite.”

Also published at The Ontarion

Sunday, February 28, 2010

It's the last day, but...

I know it's already the end of the three week party that is the Winter Olympics, but that doesn't make this any less relevant. If you are at all interested in knowing what hosting the Olympics has cost Canada and its people, check out this documentary. The clip that's provided is only part one of eight. Make sure to watch all the parts.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

On the Olympics

Environmental rape, gross overspending, and stealing land from native peoples: these I can understand (understanding and condoning are two very different positions) because they are products of base capitalist greed, an entity anyone in the 21st century should be well acquainted with.  

What I really don't understand about the Olympics are the vast quantities of people who are willing to stare into their television screens, begging those who share the country they were born in to win their event, and in the event of their defeat, disregarding those that might achieve more than their fellow countryperson and simply focusing on how at least "one of their own" won a silver or bronze.  

There is a very big difference between the athletes that compete in the Olympics and those who watch them. It appears as though the watchers have lost all respect for real athletic prowess and the people who have an actual capacity to show them how far human potential can be stretched, in exchange for this weird thing called "patriotism."

Citizens of the world: raise your standards!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

From Teenage Sex Pistol to Folk Troubadour: Former bass player and songwriter from the Sex Pistols goes acoustic in Guelph

At the Guelph Youth Music Centre (GYMC), considerable mystery surrounded what Friday evening’s events would entail. Advertising for the show could have been described as minimal (consisting mostly of a few flyers in Guelph’s downtown shop windows), and the GYMC—in all the glory of its theater-like seating—wasn’t exactly the quintessential punk haunt. Smokers shuffled cold feet in the snow outside the entrance, chewing over whether there would be a bar: “There’s gotta be. It’s Glen Matlock. He’s a Sex Pistol for chrissake!”

Glen Matlock has a special place in Sex Pistols history. As the bassist for London’s seminal punk band, Matlock wrote most of the songs on Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, but punklore has it that he was excommunicated from the Pistols in 1977 for liking The Beatles too much. The truth, as Matlock tells it in his autobiographical I Was a Teenage Sex Pistol, is that he left because he was “sick of all the bullshit.” Whether or not that “bullshit” had anything to do with guitarist Steve Jones’ frustration over Matlock’s insistence that he learn Beatles chords for Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, will be debated for as long as the Sex Pistols remain relevant.

Making his way up to the same kitchenette counter that’s open to everyone else in the GYMC lobby, no one recognizes Matlock as the mere footnote in punk rock history that he has been reduced to by some storytellers. But many are aware that this is the man who begat a new sound, and the bassist who could actually play it.

With psychedelic country rock band The Sadies opening, there was not an electric bass in the building. Sadies bassist Sean Dean played an upright acoustic, but it did more than keep the beat, it served as a subtle but downright reminder that it was not 1976, and that this would not be the same set from an early Sex Pistols gig. No one is dressed in robes that are straight out of Malcolm McLaren’s clothing boutique ‘Sex.’ There are no ragged fishnet shirts, no bondage belts jingling among the mass, and leather, if present, is brown and well kept, not tattered and black with haphazard stud jobs. Perhaps this was a crowd that grew up and beyond the unforgiving nature of Johnny Rotten, much like the man they had come to see.

When Matlock was done his sound check, a lone bagpiper blasted into the room and erupted into a rendition of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” Fusing folk method with a classic rock anthem, this was the perfect harbinger for what was about to come.

Matlock’s acoustic show proves that music doesn’t have to be vicious to be punk. Making a point about punk aesthetic in an interview with Max Chambers, he points out that, “People talk about punk as a musical style, but also there’s a spirit involved in it.” He cranks out covers of Sex Pistols songs like “Pretty Vacant,” “God Save the Queen” and the Monkees’ “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone”— a song that every Sex Pistol can say they’ve spent some time with (even Matlock’s bass incompetent, yet crowd pleasing successor Sid Vicious covered it during his brief solo career).

To the accepting crowd that sings along, Matlock has no problem disciplining the audience for their lack of familiarity with the chorus to Small Faces’ “All or Nothing,” looping the chords ad nauseam and saying “I can do this all night,” sitting back on the Sadies’ bass drum to further his point until he got the response he wanted.

Despite the demanding nature he took on during “All or Nothing,” Matlock is anything but arrogant; he is cheeky, but humble. Matlock proves he’s above his Sex Pistols celebrity even when he’s not playing the traveling troubadour. In response to Haiti’s earthquake in January, he’s teamed up with Nick Cave, Johnny Depp, Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream), Mick Jones (The Clash), and Shane MacGowan (The Pogues) to cover Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell On You,” which is set for release later this month.

Originally posted @The Ontarion