Saturday, November 12, 2011

Zero to Infinity

The exhibition "Ordinary Language," curated by Michael Davidge and including work by artists Sarah Greig, Kyla Mallet, and Roula Partheniou, was at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre in Kingston from November 12 to December 17, 2011.  Read the curatorial essay here.

Image: Installation View "Ordinary Language" with works by Sarah Greig (left) and Roula Partheniou (right). Photo by Chris Miner.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sonic Expedition for Tone Deaf 10

Under the name "Happiness is..." I contributed the track "Pointy Shoes" to the compilation "Tone Deaf 10: Kingston Sound Expeditionaries" available on-line and as a cassette tape released by Bridge Port Falls Records (Kingston, Montreal, Sackville) with Tone Deaf.  It can be listened to and downloaded here.

This compilation documents experimental musicians active in Kingston, Ontario around 2011. It was compiled by Neven Lochhead and Chris Trimmer and released to mark the 10th anniversary of Tone Deaf, a festival of adventurous sound performance.  The 12 recordings featured are previously unreleased (except for the track by Pop Talk), with a number of the artists creating new pieces for the compilation. The artwork is by Lucas Huang. 

As the text from the compilation reads: Happiness is... is a solo project from SouB? Ringleader and the Artistic Director of the Modern Fuel Artist Centre Michael Davidge. His performances and audio interventions have involved everything from re-interpretations of cinematic scores, to a new arrangement of an Erik Satie piece. As Happiness is... he combines tape loops and skronk saxophone to hallucinatory effect.

Released October 27, 2011 for Tone Deaf 10, at the Baby Grand in Kingston from October 27-29, 2011.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Continuing Adventures in Reading Images

My column, "Message Pictures: Adventures in Reading Images," continues in the Fall 2011 issue of BlackFlash.  The content is not on-line, so here is the unedited text below:

Message Pictures
Adventures in Reading Images, Part Two
By Michael Davidge
The following is the second in a series of three texts that focus on the pleasures and frustrations, the rewards and dangers, of reading images and imagining readings.

As the last issue of Blackflash proved, there is plenty to be read in an image by Rodney Graham, and the triptych The Gifted Amateur, Nov. 10th, 1962 (2007) is no exception.  When I encountered it at the National Gallery, the giant backlit tableau of the staged photograph was a feast for the eyes on a cinematic scale.  In the picture, Graham’s persona, dressed in pajamas, is engaged in the creation of a painting in the middle of his living room, leading me to wonder if there is an “allover” composition at work.  I sensed that the scene depicted had been art-directed to its very last centimetre so that everything my eyes might discover had been deliberately placed there, in advance, by the artist.  All of the easily legible titles on the spines of the books scattered about the autodidact amateur’s makeshift studio will certainly be significant.  If Tintin is the hero of the comics’ mysteries because he is the best reader of the clues, then Graham’s work as an attempt to “faire Tintin” is masterful, placing his person at the centre of its composition and its interpretation. Can such a literate image be dialogical like a novel, as in the literary theories of Mikhail Bahktin[i], wherein marginal voices can be read against the grain of the master narrative? Captured by this image, one might do best by remaining silent.

Playing the investigative journalist, I was inspired to do a little of my own sleuthing and look for a fissure in the verisimilitude of Graham’s impressive façade in order to unravel a bit of its mystery or its mastery. The detail I was most interested in was the date on the newspapers splayed on the gifted amateur’s floor, placed there in order to catch any drips of paint that might stray from the Morris Louis-type painting in process.  Sure enough, the date is contemporaneous with the title of the photograph, making an airtight case. The confirmation of this detail felt a bit like the denouement of a film I recently watched, Call Northside 777 (1948), where [Spoiler alert.] a wrongly-accused man is exonerated by a detail in a blown-up photograph: the date on a newspaper.  Both scenarios rely on the credibility of photography as an historical document.  Of course, the Rodney Graham photo is a put-on that calls into question the veracity of an image that has a top of the line degree of high fidelity to its time period.  Continuity is broken when we recognize the artist in the photograph.  In this regard, Graham’s picture hews most closely to a line that measures photography as art rather than machinic process, and might be best filed under the category of history painting. Such a categorization suggests that its narrative is probably more epic than novelistic, thereby diminishing its heteroglossia (cf. Bakhtin). I’m tempted to read the image symbolically, though, and make the newspapers underfoot a kind of base to the superstructure of the artist’s activity. On the front-lines of the avant-garde after photography shouldered the burden of representation and mass reportage, abstraction in painting doggedly pursued its own self-determination. If, as I established in my previous column, we can compare Rodney Graham to Tintin, who sent photographs of his adventures back to the home office, then we have another vantage point for viewing the embedded journalist. The impression given is that Graham’s barefoot amateur is thoroughly embedded in this scene of combat.

The typical view of the embedded journalist is that he or she is attached to a military unit in order to get access to areas of armed conflict. Embedded journalists are often viewed as being completely dictated to and controlled by the military, the results seen as little more than propaganda.  If information is another front of warfare, then military forces are becoming as sophisticated in their public relations as in the technology of their weapons, and very often artists are enlisted to engage in the battle for hearts and minds. In such a situation, can someone voice concerns from the margins? Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin are London-based artists who were embedded with the British Army in Afghanistan in June 2008. Their practice often plays on the tension between “embedded” artists and their hosts, as they actively present themselves as photographers in order to gain access to institutions that might not otherwise be open to the kind of critique the artists have in mind.  Their project with the British Army presented them with many of the challenges posed to the embedded.  In an interview, Chanarin stated, “In Afghanistan it felt like the army was lifting our camera, composing our pictures, and clicking the shutter.”[ii] The only way they felt they could be subversive in this scenario was by engaging with it not at the level of the image but at the level of the apparatus, engaging rather with the very structure of embedding and refusing to produce an image that would clearly reiterate a narrative the Army controlled. The outcome, in an exhibition of works entitled The Day Nobody Died (2008), resembles an absurdist theatre of war, wherein Broomberg and Chanarin even refused to handle their own materials and had soldiers troop a 50 metre roll of photographic paper out to the front-line, where seven metre sections of it were unrolled and exposed to sunlight for 20 seconds.  The results can be seen in their photograph entitled The Press Conference, June 9, 2008: an abstract colour field that challenges conventional representations of conflict.

The photographs under examination are both carefully dated by their titles, but beyond that they diverge in their strategies of address: Graham appears to be in complete control of his transparency, exposing every surface to be read; Broomberg and Chanarin take a different tack and pursue a strategy of illegibility in order to retain control of their image.  By placing himself front and centre in his composition, Graham implicates himself in the scene of the crime, if it is one.  I do not want to suggest, however, that Broomberg and Chanarin are innocent by contrast: as Chanarin admits, an important touchstone in the artists’ work is Janet Malcolm’s book The Journalist and the Murderer (1990) which paints the titular relationship in shades of grey.[iii] Tom McCarthy links Tintin to Cocteau’s Orpheus (1950), through the coded radio messages of the French Resistance that echo in the works and through the two respective characters’ ability to write without writing, and I suppose that means writing without giving anything away.[iv] Broomberg and Chanarin are resistance figures too, but I’d link them with an even darker film, Jean-Pierre Melville’s Army of Shadows (1969).  Melville’s film about the French Resistance, which features an extraordinary sequence where the ruthless hero does nothing but sit and read through a stack of books on the philosophy of mathematics, offers one cold observation: Even those who peddle abstraction cannot avoid getting their hands dirty.

[i] Bakhtin, Mikhail.  The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays.  Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 1981.
[ii] Oddy, Jason.  “An Outsider’s Guide to Getting Inside Places Only Insiders Normally Get to Go.” Art on Paper 15.5 (2009):  66.
[iii] Ibid. Pg. 61.
[iv] McCarthy, Tom. Tintin and the Secret of Literature.  Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2008. Pp. 33, 45.

(If you were looking for part one, it can be found here, and part three is here.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Message Pictures Part One

The first installment of my three-part column, "Message Pictures: Adventures in Reading Images" appears in the Summer 2011 issue of BlackFlash.  You can read it on-line here.

Part two is located on this blog here, and part three is here.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


POPTALK and ALCRETE released a split cassette called "Gone Fishin" of aquatic theme on some swanky blue-chrome cassettes. Joining the party and bringing theatrics was SouB?'s Michael Davidge aka HAPPINESS IS... Also friends THE GROUP SOUND are coming through town and bringing catchy Edmonton-based surf-rock to balance out the night.

**Early show** doors @ 730, PWYC, Cassettes $3 or PWYC
music starts @ 8 with:

Happiness is...
The Group Sound
Pop Talk



Happiness is...
SouB?s audio interventions have collaborated with Boney M, Oscar Peterson and Rocky Balboa. Who/what will Michael Davidge work with next?

The Group Sound
The unlikely marriage of surf rock and Edmonton is a magical and passionate one. "Also, these guys are super-nice." James Goddard

Pop Talk
PT's debut cassette "Stop, Drop and Roll" received a brief unpublished review, calling it "The weirdest band in Canada." The sophomore cassette takes this radio-based mumblecore duo to the banks of the river. Oh and they'll play some of the classics, too.

Eamon Quinn brings texture and thought to every performance. With a trust in improvisation and a background in philosophy, Alcrete is bringing some seriously cool vibes to the Kingston music scene.



Saturday, June 18, 2011

On condolence

Greg Staats' exhibition condolence ran at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre from June 18 to July 23, 2011. Click here to read the exhibition essay by Michael Davidge.

Image: Greg Staats, untitled_liminial_effort, 2010.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The square root of Vexations to the power of three

Members of the SouB? ensemble (Left to Right: James Goddard, Kristiana Clemens, and Michael Davidge) perform Michael Davidge's arrangement of Erik Satie's "Vexations" for alto saxophones (left and right) and turntables at the Union Gallery in Kingston, Ontario on 18 May 2011.  Link to article in the Queen's Journal.

The performance was broadcast on CFRC community radio during the radio programme "Kingston Staged" on Thursday May 26th 2011 at 1pm, or 1300 hours, you know?  Link to CFRC programming archive.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Time Machines of the Gods?

The exhibition Paleofuturity, curated by Michael Davidge and including work by artists Jason de Haan, Lauren Hall, James K-M, Mac McArthur, Iriz Pääbo, and Holly Ward, was at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre in Kingston from April 30 to June 4, 2011.  Read the curatorial essay here.

Image: Installation View "Paleofuturity" with works by Lauren Hall, Jason de Haan, James K-M, and Holly Ward. Photo by Chris Miner.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Pretty Vacancy at Verb Gallery February 2011

The exhibition "Pretty Vacancy" ran from the 12th to the 28th of February, 2011, at the Verb Gallery in Kingston, Ontario.  A reception was held from 5:00pm to 7:00pm on Friday, February 25th, during which Michael Davidge made the following remarks:

“Hello Everybody,

Thanks for coming out tonight.  I promised to make some remarks about my work around 6 o’clock and now the time has come, so here they are:

First of all, I’d like to apologize to anyone here who is expecting me to cut myself.  At one point I was promising people that as part of this talk there would be some blood let, and it was going to be mine.  Unless someone here attacks me, it isn’t going to happen.  And let me be clear, I don’t want you to attack me.

Rather, I would like you to hear me out.  Now, it is conventional for artists to give talks at art galleries and openings in order to give people a better idea about what their work is about.  And I am here to do that for you, hopefully.  However, I was thinking that the talk could also be a part of the work, or a work in its own right.  That the piece (what there is here, simply, a neon sign) could create an occasion for the work of the talk to take place.  That the physical work itself could be a speech act that effected the talk.  Like the concept of performativity in J.L. Austin’s How to Do Things with Words, whereby language is a particular practice that can effect a concrete change on the state of affairs in the world.  Like a priest who would be invested with the power to say “I now pronounce you man and wife,” only more like, “I now pronounce you work of art and artist.”

Maybe it would make a little more sense if I provided you with some background to the piece, “Pretty Vacancy.” It is really, simply, one thing: a variation on the title of a punk rock song by the Sex Pistols, “Pretty Vacant.”  Well, two things, because it is also a vacancy sign.  It is a marriage of the Sex Pistols’ song with a vacancy sign.  And this marriage has engendered this talk that I promised to do. (Or is it the other way around?)  At any rate, I promised to do this talk, effecting a kind of contract in which hopefully my word would be my bond.  

Did I promise that I was going to cut myself?  Why would I do that?  It has something to do with history, and here, now, with the history of punk rock.  In 1991, the lead singer of the Manic Street Preachers, Richey Edwards, when accused of being a poseur and not authentically punk enough, this lead singer, in front of the interviewer who had challenged him, took a razor bland and carved “4 Real” into his forearm.  Edwards had to be rushed to the hospital.  He wrote himself into punk rock history with that razor blade.  And then he disappeared, but I won’t get into that.  I’ll get back to me and my motivations, which by analogy, would be to prove my seriousness, to make a claim for my legitimacy, and write myself into history.  But what history? The history of Punk, of Performance Art, of Visual Art, of Writing?  I’m certainly not a punk.

In its heyday, I was too young for it, as the years passed, I was too out of it.  Punk has always been something on the periphery of my life.  I heard about it.  I knew about it.  I knew some people who were into it.  But I was not it.  My earliest memory of punk is when I was seven years old.  If I remember correctly, I was in the backseat of my parents’ car, with my sister.  My dad was driving and my mom was in the passenger seat.  We were going over the newly constructed Fort Garry Bridge.  It was a bright sunny day.  My stomach was a little sour because my dad regularly smoked in the car, so it smelled like an ashtray.  Plus, I was reading a newspaper, and reading in a moving vehicle always makes me queasy.  I was reading the music charts, and I remember reading that in the top ten there was a band named the Sex Pistols.  I thought this was hilarious, that that name of the band was a joke, and that it must be some kind of a put-on.
I also remember, around this time, watching Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve with my sister (who is two years older than me and that much more sophisticated) and seeing David Bowie performing “A Space Oddity.”  Again, we thought it was hilarious and weird.  I remember my sister saying, “He must be on drugs!”  Every performer that we thought was a little weird or offbeat, we would always assume was on drugs.  We didn’t really know all that much about drugs at that time except that weirdos like David Bowie must use them.  And of course, we were right.

There was another time a few years later that I was riding in the back seat of a car, my aunt and uncle’s, in downtown Toronto, and I remember my younger cousin Christopher wildly gesticulating and laughing and pointing at a punk with a Mohawk haircut, and my Aunt Judy crying out, “Christopher, you lock your door right now!”  Of course, Christopher grew up to be a hard-core punk musician.

I suppose what is remarkable about the Sex Pistols and David Bowie [whom we might more properly refer to as the glam-father of punk] and the punk with the Mohawk in Toronto is that they made themselves deliberately different to stand apart from the crowd.  At that time, and maybe ever since, I’ve paid more attention to and identified more with less flamboyant characters, regular guys or anti-heros, like Howard the Duck, for example, a comic book character accidentally transported from his duck planet to find himself on Earth. (The tagline from the comic was “Trapped in a World He Never Made.”)  Howard just wanted to deal with it, make his way, make a living (he drove a taxi-cab), stay out of trouble, but because he was different (he was a walking, talking, cigar-smoking, taxi-driving duck after all) he was always getting pulled into trouble.

So, I never really felt like Punk was of my time, or I was of the time of punk.  I always felt more like I was out of time and place, like Howard the Duck.  And yet, the spirit of Punk does speak to me: As the lyrics for the song “Pretty Vacant” go: “You’ll always find us, out to lunch.”  I love going out to lunch. Of course, out to lunch means more than that: it means being on drugs, not working, being spaced out, out of step, out of time and place, daydreaming.  By extension, I think that art is out to lunch.  

You’ll note that the light from the “Pretty Vacancy” sign is really the only light that is illuminating the space in here.  It’s meant to focus your attention on the sign, but also on the space that it is in, and that all the surfaces that the light touches comprise the Pretty Vacancy.  The Pretty Vacancy is a place where you can come to be out to lunch.  So, by picking up on a Sex Pistols’ phrase and redeploying it, I’m hoping in some way to carry on its tradition, much like Richey Edwards with the text he wrote on his arm.  But whereas he was trying to cut right through and connect right back to the authentic source and make a direct link to be fully present, really real, my quotation places more emphasis on the spacing between the two instances, establishing their difference.  All text contains and creates a space between words and worlds, which the reader can inhabit, particularly in the margins. The margins are ideally suited for addenda or graffiti, interpretive or interpolative scrawls.  And the space illuminated by the Pretty Vacancy sign has led me to append one more word to my talk [I crossed the room and said it as I wrote it on the wall opposite with the pen from the guest book]:


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Eastern Ontario's Accursed Share

An article by Michael Davidge about Don Maynard's Frankenforest exhibit at the Agnes Etherington Art Gallery and the McLaughlin Gallery appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of Front Magazine.  Read it online here.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Michael Davidge awarded Nan Yeomans Grant 2011

Michael Davidge, as the winner of the 2011 Nan Yeomans Grant, was asked to give a presentation at the Kingston Arts Council's Pecha Kucha event at The Artel in Kingston, Ontario, 4 February 2011.  Link to the Pecha Kucha presentation uploaded by the Kingston Arts Council. 

Or, watch it here: