The Great Beaver Mystery

Kim Kennedy Austin's show at Malaspina Printmakers

With no artist statement and no work titles to go off, Kim Kennedy Austin‘s current show at Malaspina Printmakers on Granville Island, Vancouver, leaves a ton of room for gallery visitors’ curiosity and interpretation to roam.

Kim Kennedy Austin's show at Malaspina Printmakers

Kim Kennedy Austin's show at Malaspina Printmakers

And although you can gain some insight into Austin, her process, and how this current work has developed by reading Here and Elsewhere‘s recent interview with her , I quite enjoyed the lack of definitive persuasion by the artist.

I have been wondering why that beaver interests me so;

Kim Kennedy Austin's show at Malaspina Printmakers

how I hope he escapes the clutches of that obviously dastardly Mad Trapper.

Kim Kennedy Austin's show at Malaspina Printmakers

And, does the trapper use those infinite straw spheres to capture his game, or are they perhaps secret beaver escape pods..?

Kim Kennedy Austin's show at Malaspina Printmakers

Kim Kennedy Austin's show at Malaspina Printmakers

Kim Kennedy Austin's show at Malaspina Printmakers

AJ runs until February 5th 2012.

Kim Kennedy Austin's show at Malaspina Printmakers

Malaspina Printmakers is open:
Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 5pm
Saturday, Sunday and Holidays from 11am to 5pm

You’ll find it at:
1555 Duranleau Street, Granville Island, Vancouver BC Canada V6H 3S3

Kim Kennedy Austin's show at Malaspina Printmakers

For more info, check out their site
or call 604 688 1724
or email info(at)

Kim Kennedy Austin's show at Malaspina Printmakers


Such A Bloody Good Time It Was Torture! (A Review of Howie Tsui’s Celestials Of Saltwater City at Centre A)

On this rare sunny afternoon in Vancouver BC, I tucked into Centre A on West Hastings. I had been meaning to see Howie Tsui‘s current exhibition, Celestials Of Saltwater City. It is described as “imagery from ancient Asian ghost stories to satirize the disturbing climate of fear in contemporary society.”


I must’ve been carrying a rabbit’s foot, because it turns out today was the last day of the exhibit. I felt lucky because it would’ve been a shame to miss this.

I was nicely surprised. I didn’t expect such involved paintings.

Initially the first thing you see appears to be an abstract mess of paint (with more time, it turns out to be one of Tsui’s recurring ghosts) on the wall, with huge piles of paper beneath.

It all gets a lot better when you walk deeper into Centre A, around the front wall – Bam! A hanging shape with a death mask is centre stage. Underneath him are four floating possessed emperor’s lackeys, unsuccessfully carrying a cart or portable throne.

I enjoyed what came next the most. A series of long paintings, some vertical,

most horizontal,

of a bizarre but engaging combo of old Asian ink paintings (including old homes, lakes, and mountains) with a madness of fantastical ghosts, spirits, demons, and animal-headed people in various states of elaborate torture or death.

There is a strange way that Tsui makes his pieces move the viewer’s eyes. At a far distance, the paintings are almost indecipherable, you need to move closer to try to comprehend the individual parts.

Then you see that although each inch of the paintings are not rendered in equally exquisite detail (a few areas are actually disappointingly unfinished),

but where the detail occurs is in flesh and bodies; a disturbing sensuality.

There was also a small room of projected art.

I didn’t find this work as interesting, though it is intriguing why Tsui chose to create these lanterns. In his artist’s statement he says, “The use of magic lantern projectors and the utsushi-e medium is a natural extension of my interest in reviving archaic art forms and genres from East Asia.”

Also of interest: a video of Tsui painting and apparently burning the spirits onto the gallery walls, and a short documentary-type piece in which he explains how and why he came to the focus of this exhibit.

A shame I hadn’t seen this show earlier, I definitely would have promoted it. Not only were the series of paintings engaging, the effort they took to view resulted in a sense of satisfaction, time well spent. Be on the lookout for more from Howie Tsui !

Thank you Centre A for hosting this show and for being kind enough to let me take photos.

For my full set of photos, please visit my set of Celestials Of Saltwater City photos on Flickr.


Reflections From A Volunteer Raker (how participating in grand scale temporary art reasserted four important things for me)

The unpredictability of the future.
Funny – who knew I’d learn to rake sand, to fluff it up but keep it even?
Who knew I’d fill in the spaces between circles for hours one early Wednesday morning in my 34th year of life?

We never know what’s going to happen to us.
Our futures are unpredictable, even when we make the decisions we do, as I did when I signed up to volunteer to help artist Jim Denevan with his latest piece, part of the Vancouver Biennale.

I awoke early in the morning. 6am.
It wasn’t a work morning – I wasn’t heading to the office.
Instead, I found myself traveling from one end of Vancouver, the far east, mere blocks from Burnaby, to the other end, the west, mere blocks from UBC.
I decided to give myself a rare break, so I threw my bike on the front of a #4 bus, wisely investing in a $2.50 fare, and settled in. As the wind blew through my bike’s spokes, I caught up on some reading.
Through Gastown, downtown, across the bridge to Kits… by 7:40 I was at 4th & Sasamat, some sort of pristine silent hilltop paradise. I haven’t heard that sort of silence in the city, ever.
As I headed north on Sasamat, the hill quickly began to descend – everywhere in front of me were huge houses, parks, a lone hopping squirrel, and the early morning beach in the distance.
I rode down, slowly, soaking up this neighbourhood’s vibe of upper eschelon peace.

I was one of the first volunteers to arrive (about a dozen of us total), yet Jim was already far out on the beach. Taking advantage of low tide, his work had begun.

I don’t think any of us knew exactly what we were going to be doing this promisingly warm morning.
We had, in one way or another, found out that Jim Denevan, worldwide-known professional artist, was creating a new piece for Vancouver Biennale, and that he requested a few volunteers to help.

I believe he normally does all the work himself, even though the scale of most of his pieces are huge.
He has created the largest piece of art ever in the desert – check out the zooming map on his site – it’s utterly mind boggling.

We began by setting up a small tent on shore with prints of Jim’s past work, as a base station for our operation, as well as an “info booth” of sorts for passerbys to today’s project.
While we were introducing ourselves, setting up the tent, and slapping on sunscreen, the artist was busy drawing circles – many many circles – far out toward the waterline.

Jim Denevan’s work is often temporary – he creates art in nature, not introducing new elements, rather, working with what exists, and today was no different. Jim was drawing in the sand. Superhumanly, though, he was drawing circles of all different sizes, and perfect circles at that.
Drawing a perfect circle freehand on a piece of paper is quite tricky (try it right now – I dare you). Often it will be almost perfect, but something will be wonky – it’ll stretch out too far on one side, or the connection won’t quite match.
But Jim seems to have an incredibly powerful inner compass, and all day long, from 7:30 till 12:30, he drew. With a tall stick, this tall man picked a spot, honed in on his centre, and then paced in a perfect circle, dragging his tall stick in the sand, creating the line that would meet up, perfectly each time, to complete a circle, some five feet in diameter, most 10 or more feet, some easily 30 or 40ft.


Our job as volunteers was to support Jim’s physically arduous day by putting our backs into it, too. We were handed thin wire rakes – they felt old fashioned to me – and told to rake the spaces in between Jim’s circles. By raking, the sand broke up, almost fluffed up, and it darkened because we were releasing the wet, deeper sand to the surface.

All along Spanish Banks, the volunteers were completing an integral part of the art piece – we were simultaneously adding two types of contrast – value (light circles vs dark between) and texture (smooth circles vs rough between).

The idea with Jim Denevan’s work is to alter nature by drawing into the surface – sand, earth or ice. His work is called “temporary drawing” and his piece on Spanish Banks was especially so – his work was to be created and washed away in the same day. Actually, it only existed in its completed form for a few minutes, because it took all day to create (work began before 8am), and as it was finished (at 12:30), the tide began to reclaim it (I was told that some pictures were taken as the tide came in, and that the drawing could be seen through the shallow water!).

This day was more for me than simply working with a professional artist, which was the original reason why I volunteered. I wanted to observe an artist at work and to be part of his creation.
But what I did not expect was to experience so much more.
Four points stand out:

  1. The physicality of it all.
    Raking all day long is not an easy task. But being active, as I’ve mentioned in the past, is something I enjoy a lot.
    I enjoy feeling my blood rush through my body, I love feeling my muscles heat up, really feeling my hands, limbering up my joints. Having my bare feet in sand all day was a touch-sense overload! I loved it. Plus being out by the water, in the fresh air and sun for all those hours was magical.
    I spend a lot of my time indoors, on my computer, so I truly appreciate these days of being active, getting away from my crouched-at-the-desk position to move my body.
  2. Community.
    The group of people that arrived to help Jim were all amazing. Everyone was happy, excited, and proud to be part of a special event.
    No one complained when we were told we’d be raking in between the circles. Instead, we struggled with this surprisingly challenging task (raking sand so that it doesn’t clump into mountains, striving for an evenness, is tough!) together, trying new techniques and sharing the successful methods with each other. We found a Zen state as the repetitiveness of the task sunk in – it was compared to those mini-Zen gardens – until JIm told us to speed up or else we’d lose to the tide.
  3. Unpretentious artists.
    Jim and his assistants are amazingly down-to-earth people. This day restored my belief that artists do not have to be pretentious stuck up elite, who believe they are better than everyone else because they can communicate their voices.
    Most of us have a deep seated dream to find our voice – a way to express ourselves. Even if no one listens, we all want a way to say what we think and we feel in a way that is uniquely us, because it feels good to feel connected to ourselves. In the rare times that I have made that connection with my true voice, there is a sense of satisfaction, a sense of being in my place in the world, that is unlike anything else. But this sense of being special, of being unique, can be taken to an egotistical extreme, and there was none of that from Jim or his assistants, Molly and Christy. This added an unexpected level of enjoyment that made the day enjoyable in a refreshing way.
  4. Temporary art.
    This is somewhat related to lack of pretention. Art, separate from the artists who create the art, can be pretentious. There is a sense that art is precious, that every piece of work should be framed and never touched – hell, some people treat it like it should never see the light of day because light can break down the paint, for example.
    While I love art, and appreciate that we do not want to treat art pieces like old socks, the glowing barriers that are placed around art, especially the art of those artists who are magically deemed “important” artists, can sometimes be taken to an extreme. For example, I have trouble with sculpture. What is sculpture, if not a physical, three dimensional medium that begs to be touched? Yet we cannot touch it, for if everyone touched it, the damn grease in our collective hands would prematurely age it. Or some jackass would break a figure’s finger off.
    Long ago, I experimented with making one-of-a-kind drawings, then taping them to street posts, knowing they would get ripped, postered over, or rained on, and that I would never see them again. But I wanted to release myself from the high-class, framed and behind glass treatment of art. I never took that project very far, but I see the same purpose in Jim Denevan’s work. He knows his work will not be around forever, yet he stills creates. And he obviously loves doing it.
    Though it doesn’t hurt that he has fantastic photographers who fly up in helicopters to capture his work, and through those photos, his work will be immortal.

The future is unpredictable. Being involved in THE MOMENT is a choice. On a wonderful June morning in Vancouver, we took in our moment and lived it, breathed it, sweated it, and soaked it in fully.
Thanks Jim, thanks Vancouver Biennale, thanks wicked volunteers,
cheers, Ash