Saturday, August 29, 2009

Passion Peanut Sauce Soba Noodles and an Asian-flavored Slaw

Passion Peanut Sauce from Eat, Drink and Be Vegan (aka the best cookbook ever)

Cilantro garnish

Asian flavored slaw (grated cabbage, carrot, ginger, onion with honey, rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, toasted sesame oil and vegetable oil)

Soba noodles cook into a wonderful wreath shape...

Noodles meet sauce and garnish = delicious.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Abstracted Reality of Thomas Nozkowski at the National Gallery of Canada

The article below is a reprint of my column from The Art Blog.

There is something about Thomas Nozkowski’s work. Over sixty small-scale works seem to pose different questions and engage the viewer in different ways in the extensive show at Ottawa’s National Gallery (the first show curated by Marc Mayer, its new director). The paintings are mysterious; all are untitled, coded only with numbers. They deny the viewer information, but, consequently, unleash the imagination. Each of Nozkowski’s paintings is remarkably distinct; no two are alike.

Regardless of the superficial inscrutability of his work, the New Jersey-based painter presents strong, sensuous and compelling pieces. Nozkowski’s paintings are poetic, colorful, dynamic. There is a meditative quality to the canvases, a fascination that grows from his imperfect geometry. Each work an undeniable whole.

Considering Nozkowski’s work, I can’t say too much. It is more of an experience. I feel like the sensitivity and thought apparent in the washes and unconventional patterns of the paintings breathe a life of their own. The National Gallery must have also felt the same sort of reverence since, apart from an introductory text, the curator lets the work speak for itself with only a few quotes from the artist himself punctuating the otherwise blank white walls.

Aside from having being featured in over 300 exhibitions worldwide and garnering numerous accolades over his 30-year artistic career, Nozkowski has most recently won The Academy of Arts and Letters Merit Medal for Painting (2006) and been featured in Robert Storr’s exhibition at the Italian Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale called Think with the Senses, Feel with the Mind – Art in the Present Tense.

Nozkowski’s work is indeed both sensuous and thought-provoking, as the Biennale title suggests. The work is also humble. The artist states that he wants his paintings “to be in service of life” documenting moments and ideas that he has lived. He has expressed his mission as followed: “My project has been to make paintings that come from things in the real world. I mean “things” to be taken in the broadest way – objects, ideas, moments – and I mean “real world” to be taken as broadly, including both physical and speculative realities.” His painterly language, at once natural, at once scientific, expresses moments, observations, explorations. He has truly abstracted his reality to create works that most suitably express ideas.

Nozkowski has the admirable ability to reinvent himself with each new canvas and also distance himself from any other style of abstraction. Watching the two YouTube videos (1 and 2) made by his son, Casimir Nozkowski, a viewer can enter Nozkowski’s world. The artist truly observes and engages the world around him, finding awe-inspiring geometric details in a scrap yard and poetically exploring painterly possibilities expressed in live interactions. Thinking back on his work, I now see his oeuvre as a personal collection of memories and observations explored. His art is cerebral, emotive, perceptive, exploratory, instinctive. He truly does capture moments. And just as no two moments can ever be the same, no two of his canvases are alike.

For more insight into the artist, read this interview.

Thomas Nozkowski runs at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, ON until 20 September 2009.

**For image credits, please consult ArtBlog article, linked at the beginning of this entry

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What If...

What if this search for meaning,
this search for a path
is actually meaningless?

What if there isn't actually anything
worth searching for?

What if the meaning of life is, in fact,
just to live?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Dignity of Being Loyal to the Power of Art

At the conclusion of the movie The Soloist, Steve Lopez shares a final reflection in an interior monologue. He ponders the impact of his relationship in trying to help Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless and troubled yet brilliant musician. And says:

"I can tell you that by witnessing Mr. Ayers's courage, his humility, his faith in the power of his art, I've learned the dignity of being loyal to something you believe in. Of holding onto it above all else. Of believing, without question, that it will carry you home."

His faith in the power of his art.It moved me. The dignity of being loyal to something you believe in. My mind enraptures in the beauty of these statements.

I know that I have experienced, on multiple occasions, that power, that divinity, that truth, that honesty of art, in all its fragility and strength. There is a sanctity to that moment when you witness, when you realize, when you connect to the expression of art. It goes beyond. A sweeping breeze of chills spreads, and I always need to pause. To breathe it in and give it the silence it requires for its resonance to finish its final echo.

Friday, August 21, 2009

On Work and Happiness

It seems almost weekly that I find myself mired in doubt at work, wondering Am I really happy? Am I doing what I am meant to do? While some may say being faced with this constant doubt is not at all positive, I'd say that a certain measure of doubt and personal evolution keeps you evaluating and re-evaluating life, pushing your circumstances to where you want them to be. When you can make a change, you'll have done the reflection to really push the decision. And sometimes you are signed up for a contract and just have to have a little faith to motor through its duration.

Lately, I've had the urge to wander. With the very valuable learning experience/debacle of Harvard Career Discovery this past summer, I am more in control of who I am and what I need to thrive. At the moment my job is really great, interesting people, some cool assignments, great work environment, nice perks. It really is astonishing that it is my first job out of college. One would think that I would suffer a little more, work some awful jobs for menial pay, and really figure out what I want. But I am quite blessed in a way. I'm in a great place right out of college, what's wrong with that?

Ghandi once said Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is important that you do it. From day one, this isn't really the attitude we are taught. We are taught to have dreams and goals, to have an end result of what we want to be when we grow up. We seem to need dreams in order to fulfill them. But this goal-setting and dreaming only sets us up for defeat as we put our lives on hold in the hopes of living a fantasy. And in the end, if we never get there, we regret never having achieved that dream. All the while, we've lived lives, unpresent, waiting.

Certainly goals and evolution are worthwhile but it should never be done at the expense of living, really living. You should be able to achieve your dreams every day in small measure, sacrifice shouldn't be necessary, although sometimes temporarily it is.

I don't really believe in wanting or needing to do things. I feel the urge to change, change cities, change jobs. Part of me feels this need to wander, work as a barista, write, read, really plunge into things...

When it comes to jobs and careers we are so often told to follow our passion. I've grown to hate the word. It seems so one-minded. You won't always be loving and passionate of your work. There are days where you will struggle, days where you will hate it, days you will be unhappy. Isn't that just the natural progression of things? You should instead, invest in a career, live it, find that process that enriches you with its ups and downs. Accept all it has to offer and live the journey, live the everyday.

While there is part that feels wanderlust, part of me is just happy, happy with where I am here and now, knowing that somewhere in the future I will outgrow my present situation and then, only then, will the natural end and natural new beginning of things bloom.

Thanks for reading, I feel like its basically a ramble of the thoughts inside my mind at the moment...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Letting threads waver in the wind...

there are a few quotes from Anne Michaels's Fugitive Pieces that I wanted to revisit, so I though I would let them all sorta hang together...

...and he gave me his cherished copy of a pocket-sized hardcover selection of Greek poetry, planting rows of words in me that would grow for the rest of my life.

In the still house, the visitation of moonlight.

I long for memory to be spirit, but fear it is only skin.

I saw what I can only call a soul, for it was not yet a self, caught in that almost transparent body. I have never before been so close to such palpable evidence of the spirit, so close to the almost invisible musselman whose eyes in the photos show the faint stain of a soul. Without breath, the evidence would vanish entirely. Thomas in his clear plastic womb, barely bigger than a hand.

Truth grows gradually in us, like a musician who plays a piece again and again until suddenly he hears it for the first time.

In a forgotten cup on the terrace, now filled with rain.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dance of Two Spirits - Kent Monkman at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

I am now an official reviewer at The ArtBlog! Check it out here. Text re-posted here for your viewing :)


Kent Monkman’s video installation Dance to the Berdashe begins in darkness. Four projection screens decorated with tassels and shaped like bear hides surround a central screen. A gloved hand appears drawing simple icons of different natives on the surrounding screens. The larger-than-life drawings become animated dancers and then come to life by overlay of human figures, bringing the viewer into a live filmed ritual.

As the natives dance to traditional aboriginal music, they morph into gentleman/native hybrids, sporting umbrellas and top hats. Bowing down to the central blank screen, the dancers grow weak and blurry, while Monkman appears as the central figure of the Berdashe, a man dressed as a woman. As the music becomes trance-like and contemporary towards the end of the 12-minute dance, the men dance in synch with the Berdashe, spinning to a final electrified moment of power and divinity.

As a viewer, I was left in awe, curious about this central figure and his/her power.

The piece by the Toronto-based Cree-artist Monkman, on display at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art (MMFA), was created in response to artist George Catlin’s reaction to the male/female figure he encountered in his travels documenting Native Americans in the early 1800s. Witnessing the dance, Catlin called it “unaccountable and disgusting” and even went so far as to “wish that it might be extinguished before it be more fully recorded.” (1) While his statement very strongly dismisses the custom, Catlin’s painting Dance to the Berdashe seems innocuous. This painting shows native men dancing around a male/female figure. One dancer appears shocked but otherwise the others seem celebratory. While seemingly innocuous, it is what is not painted that illuminates the impact of the European point-of-view on the conception of Native peoples.

What image comes to mind when you hear the term Native American? A stereotypical image à la Pocahontas? A stoic, strong, painted and feathered hunter? Where do these images come from? The Western eye and consequently Western art has arguably oversimplified and misrepresented Native people. Monkman, in his oeuvre as painter, performance artist and filmmaker, tries to revisit and complicate this history by offering another point of view.

In a painting, on display in an adjacent room at the MMFA, Monkman has masterfully recreated Albert Bierstadt’s Among the Sierra Nevada, California (1868). Or so it seems. Upon closer inspection, the majestic scene is actually populated along its lower edge by buff half-naked settlers, well-coiffed gentlemen, casual natives, a cross-dressed man posed as a Botticellian Venus, as well as Westerners pretending to be Natives for a photographer. The work, entitled Trappers of Men (2006), wittily, humorously and masterfully pokes fun at history/colonialism/gender/sexuality/representation. A plaque below the painting attributes it not to Monkman but to his alter ego Miss Chief Eagle Testicle.

Monkman challenges his viewer to rethink the history they think they know. Dance to the Berdashe reveals a simple, pure ritual, yet it does not mine the questions of reinterpretation of history fully. Berdashe, as I later discovered is actually an extremely derogatory denotation, deriving from the old French word bardache, meaning gay male prostitute or passive sodomite. Monkman fails to really educate his viewers and tell them this definition. He does not mention the now politically correct term two-spirit or the privileged role of these male/female figures in Native communities.

While his video installation and accompanying text create a dissonance, they fail to really educate the viewer. The act of posing the question What is our History? is indeed important in stimulating dialogue and paving the way to greater intercultural understanding. However, I wish that, beyond the questions, Monkman had provided some answers so that the process of education he very aptly catalyzed could have gone further.

(1) George Catlin, Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of North American Indians, London: 1844.

Further Reading...
Article by Monkman and his alter-ego here; a great article on hybridity history and sexuality here; and more about Two-Spirit (or duo-gender Native Americans) here and here.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Stefan Asks: From Where Do You Draw Your Inspiration?

Inspired by Katie's Birthday Wish asking the question What Kind of Person Do You Want To Be?, I turn to you, readers, friends, somebody, nobody, and pose the question -- the most important act is asking: From Where Do You Draw Your Inspiration?

I'm curious. I'll get us started. I know that I draw energy from other people's creativity: people who dare to dress up wildly when they go out, dancers who pour out their soul in movement, writers who twist a phrase just so and stop my heart, other people's journeys and just the sheer power of possibility.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Known Coordinates, Unknown Location

Over Bilboquet ice cream last night, Annemarie proposed an idea. Spurred by people wearing t-shirts saying "Not all who wander are lost," she proposed that perhaps those people who proclaim being lost are actually not. Those who are lost, and know it, know where they are. They aren't actually lost. You feel me? Those people who don't even acknowledge the fact that they are, are, in fact, lost.

It sorta boggles and ravishes my mind.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Words by Amelia : Leave Room For God

Amelia is one of those few yoga teachers who really just gets me grooving on my mat, accepting, opening, stretching on out. I'm really honoured to count her as one of my friends and to know such a wise calm and nurturing spirit radiating in the world. I am doubly honoured and touched by the words she recently penned... [words and image shared with permission from Amelia]

so i was watching this maxwell video that comes with the iTunes download, and he's talking about his personal and therefore musical evolution over the course of the past years that he's been out of the public eye. he was discussing the live show he's developed with his band, communicating the understanding that it doesn't have to be perfect, it doesn't have to be precious, it can be a little dirty, it shoudn't be learned too well, and to "leave room for god."

i stopped the video. the concept hit me like the needles of a big fresh beach wave.

i've heard the term before. i've used it on strangers who have sidled up too close to me in public places, like the ruler the nuns would wedge between seventh graders at the catholic school dance, as if god was only twelve inches wide. but woah.

i don't believe in god-with-a-big-white-beard-in-the-sky, so you can substitute whatever word you like, you can take the "o" out of the middle, you can capitalize it, you can add -dess at the end, you do you.

but wow. leave room for god.

leave room for god in music so that the notes play you instead. so that god moves in the spaces between the lines of the melody and breathes literal inspiration into the musician as divine medium. oracle.

leave room for god in yoga so that you have space to breathe and move and stay.

leave room for god in your relationships, don't hold so tight that you squeeze the god out of the other person. god will float between you, strong complete individuals.

leave room for the god between you and your child, so that which created can continue to connect and nourish while stretching sometimes miles and miles. leave room for the god in your child that she or he may find it and radiate it.

leave room for god in your life's calling so that you can be --- do --- have [as they say] in that order.

leave room for the god on the bus, under your feet, in the rain, in the most mundane places and at the taj mahal.

leave room for god as you witness those loosening their hold on this life and know that they have to go alone but they'll never be alone.

leave room for god and you can only be safe.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Isn't it beautiful?, she pointed from the car. Yes,
I replied. Too bad a highway runs through it.
The Lake of Two Mountains*, perhaps two sunken
peaks filled in with water, on either side of this road.

Hiking through the woods, we could always hear
the uneven banter of the thoroughfare, the I-93.
The Fells**. Perhaps named after they were bisected,
past tense and plural. The Fallen.

*Lac des Deux-Montagnes, Quebec
**The Middlesex Fells, Massachussetts

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Defusing the H-Bomb: Harvard + Fashion

Harvard. It’s as easy as that. Just say the word and already you conjure up in your listener a whole set of images, stereotypes, and pre-conceived notions. Associate Harvard with something else and you unleash a whole new flurry of ideas.

Harvard signed a 10-year licensing deal with clothing manufacturer Wearwolf Group to give its name to their line of apparel called Harvard Yard. The name references the famous central quadrangle surrounded by freshman dorms and over which the statue of John Harvard presides. Now, however, the name has been rather thoughtlessly adopted for a preppy/collegiate apparel line. News broke in an article in WWD and has since been picked up by incredulous authors at NY Mag and Perez Hilton, among others. I find it hard to bill the clothes as anything remotely close to fashion or style.

From what I see of the line so far, I’m not impressed. Is this preppy? Is this collegiate? To me it just looks cheap (or at least the styling is seriously distasteful… ugh, my eyes!). Although, actually it isn’t cheap at all: pants are priced around $165 and sports coast sell for $495. I find it hard to believe that the manufacturers drew inspiration from Harvard in the 1960s (so they claim). Rather, I feel like they drew from a very clich√© fount of inspiration, their completely timeless conception of Harvard. Since preppy/collegiate seems to be en vogue at the moment, what other name would instantly attract consumers but Harvard’s? It is rather unfortunate that the prepped out clothes that Harvard’s name graces are so bland. Preppy can be classy and respectable and pretty affordable, just look at J. Crew and its reinterpretation of prep and subsequent wide appeal.

But that to me is beside the point; Harvard apparently does this often. Upon speaking with Office of News and Public Affairs at Harvard, I was informed that the University signs licensing deals with apparel lines often (they have dozens of deals worldwide and hundreds domestically). The Harvard name is but common currency. While the proceeds do go towards funding some of Undergraduate Financial Aid, something to me is amiss.

I look at these photos and think, Harvard is so much more than this. Probably some straight white guy in loafers with a private school education. Here I am guilty of slapping on stereotypes but if Harvard has agreed to put its name on this line (albeit only on the inside label and putting its trademark crimson in buttonholes and zipper pulls), it has agreed to be represented by this image. What of Harvard’s diversity, economic, racial, interpersonal and sartorial? It’s not to say that there aren’t students who are loafered and privy to Nantucket reds, but there are plenty of us (I speak as a recent alum) who represent so much more. The Harvard community represents a rich cross-section of individuals from all walks of life with their special brand of intelligence and enthusiasm. It seems trite to just slap on a rather boring and reductive label to the Harvard name. But that’s just it isn’t it? You say Harvard and a whole rush of notions bubble up. As simple as that. Harvard should be more cautious in signing away its name. Because while dropping the H-bomb must be used with caution, selling the Harvard name comes with an even greater amount of responsibility.

Friday, August 07, 2009

What kind of person do you want to be?

My dear friend Katie turns 23 today and as a birthday wish, she wanted friends to answer the question What kind of person do you want to be? Perhaps its more appropriate to ask What kind of person do you strive to be? or some other formulation of the question that acknowledges more fully that I AM the person I want to be, since I am continually striving to evolve and be the person I want to be. You feel me? Let us not negate what already is in asking what we want later.

Feel free to respond yourselves in response to this post (and any of the questions above). Here is my best go at...

What kind of person do I want to be?

loving, silly, playful, engaged, thoughtful, kind, creative, inspirational, centered, giving ... i want to be the type of person who cooks (literally and metaphorically) for others and just smiles, asking nothing in return ... adventurous, fearless, sometimes carefree, dedicated, honest, true, in-my-own-way confident, quietly myself, connected (internet not included), invested, responsible, sharing, reflecting

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A Montreal Moment

He crossed the street, a galloping, goofy Indiana Jones, squinting at the soon-to-be oncoming traffic, shooting with his middle/index finger pistols and providing his own sound effects.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Anne Michaels, continued...

I am thick into Anne Michaels' Fugitive Pieces, a book I couldn't appreciate as a 14 year-old when I read it. I expect random bits to float up into the blog.

For now, a sentence [about Antarctic explorers]:

At night, rigid in their sleeping bags, they discussed chocolate. (33)