Current and Upcoming

C.I.v.16: LIVING IN HOPE, PROGRAM #4 Curated by Ivana Dizdar

C.I.v.16: LIVING IN HOPE, PROGRAM #4 Curated by Ivana Dizdar

The fourth edition of this year’s Curatorial Incubator starts Friday, November 13, 2020, with an Instagram Live introduction by emerging curator Ivana Dizdar at 7pm ET followed by the first title in her program, The Violence of a Civilization Without Secrets by Zack Khalil, Adam Shingwak Khalil and Jackson Polys.

This year’s Curatorial Incubator, taking place in these (as we say) unprecedented times, is a bit of a different beast. This year we invited eight incubatees to each make a program that responds to the theme of Living In Hope. In keeping with the restrictions of COVID-19, we are taking the entire program on-line, unrolling one title per week with an on-line Zoom conversation at the end of each program featuring the curator and the artists.

On Friday, December 4, 2020, Ivana Dizdar will be in conversation with artists Zack Khalil, Adam Shingwak Khalil and Jackson Polys, Akram Zaatari, Sharif Waked, Nicholar Vollmer and Laura Kissel at 7pm ET on Zoom. Check the Vtape website for a link to this conversation.

PROGRAM #4 Curated by Ivana Dizdar
A truth, if it is a truth.

My first migration occurred in utero. Having fled their native Yugoslavia during the Civil War, my parents temporarily settled in South Africa. In their first photograph in Cape Town, they are standing on a headland at the southernmost point of the continent, my mother visibly pregnant. Before them is a large wooden signboard inscribed with the words “Cape of Good Hope.” It is an undeniably romantic epithet and, surely, for my parents, there is hope to be found. But just how good, how ubiquitous, could it be? With the end of apartheid approaching yet still a year away, what the Cape could represent was only a discriminative, fraught, and elusive sense of hope.

I see the theme of this year’s Curatorial Incubator, “Living in Hope,” as a complex provocation, and hope itself as something invariably complicated. My pursuit to uncover buried treasures of videography in Vtape’s archive drew me to works that made me reconsider the process of uncovering as something equally complicated: something that can be the source of illumination but also of vulnerability, of risk, of harm and pain and death. Against the axiom that uncovering always or necessarily leads to truth and justice, the videos in this selection call for a recognition of its multivalence.

Ivana Dizdar is a scholar, curator, and artist. She works on the intersection of art, politics, and law, with particular interest in decolonial gestures and acts of epistemic disobedience. Her writing recently appeared in MIT’s art and architecture journal Thresholds and in Vistas: Critical Approaches to Modern and Contemporary Latin American Art.


A truth, if it is a truth.

New Red Order (Zack Khalil, Adam Shingwak Khalil and Jackson Polys), The Violence of a Civilization Without Secrets, 2017, 10:00

Science, mythology, ideology, pathology: strangers, acquaintances, friends, or brothers?

It is 1996 in Kennewick, Washington. The excavation of the “Kennewick Man” provokes a contentious debate: what is his lineage and who was here first? Erroneous and misinterpreted craniological studies incite alternative claims to indigeneity as well as attempts to re-frame, deny, and erase a colonial past.

New Red Order’s documentary-cum-manifesto, The Violence of a Civilization without Secrets (2017), traces a legal, ethical, and ontological conflict that arises when a community’s right to bury its dead is challenged by calls for anthropological research.

Discovery, evidence, authentication, testimony, and their media coverage are, in this tale of subjectivity, not marked by a pursuit of truth.

In their uses, misuses, and abuses, excavation and burial are kin.

Akram Zaatari, Time Capsule Kassel, 2012, 07:24


Iron, concrete, earth.

I grew up with an understanding that to save something can mean to bury it. Roughly translated, the root of my grandmother’s maiden name, Kaljević, is “mud.” To protect them from being kidnapped during invasions by the Ottoman militia, my ancestors, I am told, were periodically compelled to bury their children beneath layers of mud.

Artefacts and photographs are a lot like children: precious, delicate, and in need of protection. In Time Capsule Kassel (2012), Akram Zaatari re-imagines the National Museum of Beirut’s effort to conserve its collection of objects by keeping them sealed within concrete blocks for the entirety of the civil war in Lebanon. Zaatari’s work offers an extension of this model, one that entails concealment as well as burial.

Crypts, tombs, and mausoleums signify death, and yet, here, they enable the preservation of cultural life, a treasure covered in favor of its eventual recovery.

Sharif Waked, Chic Point, 2003, 07:15
“Fashion for Israeli checkpoints,” the artist calls it.

To characterize Sharif Waked’s work as a dark comedy feels wrong, and yet it is both unquestionably dark and irrefutably within the margins of humor—no—satire—no—absurdity.

It begins with a runway, with male models and their chiseled abs. High-cropped shirts, a collar misplaced above the naval, a horizontal zipper across the stomach, a gaping hole revealing chest hair and nipple. To be sure, the haute couture in Chic Point (2003) is designed to accentuate the midriff.

Suddenly, documentary photographs reveal Palestinian men forced by Israeli soldiers to prove they are not carrying explosives by lifting their clothing and exposing their abdomen: an invasive and humiliating surveillance practice, an overture to fatal endings. Why not, Waked suggests, make this biopolitical choreography more efficient, more effortless, through innovations in fashion?

After all, violence, here, has long been in vogue.

Niklas Sven Vollmer and Laura Kissel, Unfettering the Falcons, 2007, 07:20

What’s in a name? Would that which we call a falcon by any other name fly as high?

A gender-reveal party—for a bird and a football team—takes center stage in Niklas Sven Vollmer and Laura Kissel’s Unfettering the Falcons (2007). This is not the kind of nature documentary one is used to seeing on Discovery.

Identical twins Lauretta and LaVergne, both experts on birds of prey, want to set the record straight: the falcon is, by definition, a female. The only true Atlanta Falcons, they add, are the team’s cheerleaders.

Wishful football fans insist the falcon’s athletic namesake would do well to rebrand itself as her male counterpart, as the Atlanta Tercels. Unbeknownst to the fans, the tercel is smaller and—quite literally—the weaker sex.

Replete with the twins’ idiosyncratic observations, the video evokes the tension between language and gender, for the latter is unfixed and resistant to definition, sometimes slipping through the cracks of our syntax.


New Red Order (NRO) is a public secret society facilitated by core contributors Adam Khalil, Zack Khalil, and Jackson Polys. Working with an interdisciplinary network of informants, the NRO co-produces video, performance, and installation works that confront settler colonial tendencies and obstacles to Indigenous growth and agency.

Akram Zaatari has been exploring issues pertinent to postwar Lebanon. Co-founder of the Arab Image Foundation (Beirut), Zaatari based his work on collecting, studying, and archiving the photographic history of the Middle East notably studying the work of Lebanese photographer Hashem el Madani (1928-), as a register of social relationships and of photographic practices.

Sharif Waked was born in Nazareth to a Palestinian refugee family from the village of Mjedil. He lives and works in Haifa/Nazareth. Through ironic reflections on power and politics, Waked overturns established aesthetic formations and ponders the absurd realities of political conflict.

Niklas Vollmer is an interdisciplinary artist, who teaches film production at Georgia State University. Vollmer’s experimental documentary work has screened in the US, Canada, Europe, Africa, South America and Asia, and at AFI, Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, California Museum of Photography, and the Directors Guild of Los Angeles.

Laura Kissel is Professor of Media Arts in the School of Visual Art and Design at the University of South Carolina and an Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker. She has received grants from the Fledgling Fund, South Carolina Humanities Council, and was a Fulbright Fellow in 2009.

PROGRAM #3 Curated by Sanjit Dhillon

Slow Unfurling

I began the process of selecting these films as our established modes of being were brought to a halt. The routines and rituals that we regularly engaged in without any thought transformed into absences overnight. A rupture formed in our accelerated culture of individualism and competition.

It is this rupture, however, that has impelled a collective probing of many of the values entrenched in capitalist life. This program forms a deeper investigation into how these values are upheld and consequently shaped our ability to imagine future outside of capitalism. The films presented in Slow Unfurling arrest these socio-political constructs with stillness, contemplation and reflection.

Mark Fisher says that capitalism has not only become the only viable political and economic system, it has become impossible to imagine a coherent alternative. In the contemporary moment, the only option is to envision and work towards an alternative. Through ongoing reflection, as exemplified by these films, the potential for imagining new ways of living beyond reformist principles can be proposed. To do so is to live in hope.

Sanjit Dhillon is a multidisciplinary artist, curator and cultural worker based in Tkaranto/Toronto, Canada. Her practice interrogates constructions of memory, embodied subjectivity, precarity, and the limits of visual culture in creating and disseminating identity. She has curated for Xpace Cultural Centre, DUTY FREE zine and participated in residencies at Whippersnapper Gallery and Roundtable Residency.

On Friday, November 6, 2020, Lisa Steele will speak with artists Erika DeFreitas, Johan Grimonprez, and Saskia Holmkvist at 7pm ET on a recorded conversation. Look for this on the Vtape website, followed by the final title in her program


Slow Unfurling

Erika DeFreitas, forgive me for speaking in my own tongue – 4 mins and 12 secs before entering melancholy, 2016, 04:12

forgive me for speaking in my own tongue – 4 mins and 12 secs before entering melancholy depicts the artist, Erika Defreitas, in a state of meditative breathing. Focusing on each inhale and exhale, the act of breathing surpasses biological necessity to become an act of asserting presence. In the larger context where the right to life continues to be contested, the ability to breathe easily–without anxiety or urgency–is not guaranteed for all. Her intentionality towards presence becomes an act of resistance.

Raymond Tallis on tickling, Johan Grimonprez, 2017, 08:00

Neoliberal individualism requires a collective consciousness to uphold and sustain it. Raymond Tallis on Tickling proposes that there are no individuals, as consciousness is fundamentally relational. Tallis remarks: “We are ourselves only through being in dialogue with others.” Tallis challenges the notion that humans are merely organisms acting according to their nature, and that much of the human experience cannot be quantified as much as science has tried to do so.

Saskia Holmkvist, Blind Understanding, 2009, 12:05

In Audre Lorde’s seminal speech, The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, she urges the audience to consider their commitment to language and the power of language. It is not only imperative to interrogate the truths we speak, but to examine the language in which these truths are spoken. “What are the words you do not yet have?” Lorde asks, “What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own?”

In Blind Understanding, Holmkvist poses a parallel question: “How do we know what we think we know?” Through a series of loosely connected fragments, the artist meditatively explores the arbitrary codification of language and its relation to power, change, and assimilation. Holmkvist illustrates how our modes of communicating are rarely neutral and at times insufficient, yet perpetually in flux.

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Erika DeFreitas is a Scarborough-based artist whose practice includes the use of performance, photography, video, installation, textiles, works on paper, and writing. Placing an emphasis on process, gesture, the body, documentation, and paranormal phenomena, she works through attempts to understand concepts of loss, post-memory, inheritance, and objecthood.

Johan Grimonprez’s work dances on the borders of practice and theory, art and cinema, documentary and fiction, demanding a double take on the part of the viewer. Informed by an archeology of present-day media, his work seeks out the tension between the intimate and the bigger picture of globalization. It questions our contemporary sublime, one framed by a fear industry that has infected political and social dialogue. By suggesting new narratives through which to tell a story, his work emphasizes a multiplicity of realities.

In Saskia Holmkvist’s work, questions of agency and professionalized language are explored through fractured narrative, employing performance, orality, film and improvisation. The works address consequences of power structures in communication such as translatability of subject positions as well as historical trajectories and post colonial presence by interacting with methods of communication borrowed from fields such as interpretation, psychology, journalism, and improvisational theatre.

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PROGRAM #2 Curated by Warren Chan

.exe

What does hope look like in the digital age? As digital depictions of the world become increasingly integral to our experience of the world, to live in a world with hope requires also finding hope in the digital realm. Yet, I sometimes find it difficult to be hopeful in an environment where we have been reduced to data points and our fates seem predetermined by code and algorithms.

The world we live in is a hybrid of the physical space we occupy and the digital spaces through which our vision of the world is continually refracted. As our experiences of reality are subsumed by experiences defined by corporate technologies, liberation from this mediated version of the world appears distant. What hope remains in finding humanity and freedom in a digital reality obfuscated by corporate agendas, where the language of ones and zeroes have been co-opted by corporate tech development?

In this program, I find hope in this digital reality through video works that recontextualize digital images, reject the rules of virtual realities, and interrogate the boundaries between physical space and the infinite worlds on the other side of our screens. Digital photographs, videogame worlds, and computer-generated realities are critically examined in these video works. Through this, I find hope that the opaque systems of the digital world can be understood, reclaimed, and reshaped.

Beginning with the white light of a digital screen and ending with the black void of digital nothingness, the extremes of the digital world are symbolized here. By titling this program .exe, I aim to represent hope in the digital age as executable and actionable. The featured artists here do not find liberation by opting out of new technology. Rather, they confront the new status quo and carve out their own spaces of reflection and expression within this new digital world.

Hope here lies not in Ludditism but in methods of participation that critically engage with these mediums and reject the corporate-defined parameters of these technologies.

Warren Chan is currently completing his MA in Cinema and Media Studies at York University, where he is researching the usage of A.I. generated images in experimental cinema. Outside of his studies, Warren is a filmmaker with an interest in experimental video works that analyze digital and new media technologies.

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.exe

Yoshiki Nishimura, Somewhere, 2016, 07:55


In Somewhere, the natural world and the digital world form a dialogue as footage of ocean waves are translated into 3D computer images. These resulting images of waves may not represent any physical location, but this video work argues that these uncanny bodies of water do, in fact, exist somewhere. Nishimura documents and explores digital space as real and meaningful, and foregrounds its relation to natural space. Digital images here are not mechanical reproductions of scenes in the natural world, but acts of creation that use real world references to construct a new space.

In this digital somewhere, we confront the black void of nothingness beyond the horizon. Shrouded in darkness, the image is at first haunting and alien. Yet, as the computer generated sun sets, there is hope that it will rise once again in a new day–a reminder that the future of this digital landscape has not yet been determined.

Peggy Ahwesh, She Puppet, 2001, 15:15

Most virtual worlds of videogames are governed by rules that dictate what one can and cannot do. In She Puppet, Ahwesh uses the Tomb Raider videogame series to examine the limits of our actions in these coded realities and posits that we can reject those rules and find liberation within the parameters of these spaces. Through this defiance of the videogame’s predetermined goals and limitations, the virtual world becomes a space of reflection and expression.

Death in games is intended to be a lose-state. Yet, Ahwesh recontextualizes death here and examines it as a victorious liberation from the confines of the videogame world’s rules. Death symbolizes defiance of the world’s rules and with each death, one is reborn once again to keep forging their own path. Accompanied by quotations from Fernando Pessoa, Joanna Russ, and Sun Ra, Ahwesh turns Tomb Raider’s world into a platform to explore themes of identity and gender.

Alejandro Šajgalík, zuma_cuts.mov, 2016, 06:06

Zuma was a photo series by John Divola, wherein the deterioration of an abandoned building used for firefighter training was documented over a year. Contributing to the building’s decay himself during his photography, Divola frames his process of documentation as part of the structure’s continued change.

In zuma_cuts.mov, Šajgalík recontextualizes these images on the computer screen and continues the building’s deterioration as he cuts into the screen with a utility knife. The image on the screen distorts under the blade, foregrounding the materiality of the digital image and its existence within physical space. As the view outside the window is replaced by whiteness, the image ceases to index an absolute space in the physical world, but becomes a window to the infinite space on the other side of the screen. The building Divola photographed lives on in this digital space and continues to change. Through this, Šajgalík investigates the reciprocal relationship of the digital and non-digital.

Friday, October 16, 2020, Chan in conversation with artists Alejandro Šajgalík, Peggy Ahwesh, and Yoshiki Nishimura.

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Alejandro Sajgalik’s work draws from his academic background in architecture and urban sociology, as well as his performance practice. A self-taught interdisciplinary artist, Sajgalik has explored a wide array of artforms including music, dance, video, and text.

Peggy Ahwesh began her career using Super-8 film and has since experimented with a diverse range of mediums, including found footage, digital animation, and Pixelvision video. Her wide breadth of works take on different formats and styles, but are unified by a distinct voice that uses levity to investigate digital culture and gender identity.

Yoshiki Nishimura is an experimental filmmaker who primarily works with 3D computer graphics. Through this, Nishimura examines the relationship between real and virtual worlds. He teaches film and media arts at Tohoku University of Art and Design in Yamagata, Japan.

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PROGRAM #1 Curated by Madeline Bogoch

Alternate Arrangements: Subjective Impulses and Social Memory

Outside of this residency I work in a video archive, so much of my day is spent organizing content in a way that is legible to those who wish to access it. Despite my best efforts, the residues of my own subjectivity inevitably leave their mark on this process. In reflecting on this intrusion of the self into the realm of objectivity, I gravitated towards works that develop their own distinctive methods of sorting through the excess of images and content we exist amongst. This program presents three films: The Innocents by Jean-Paul Kelly (2014), Bunte Kuh by Parastoo Anoushahpour, Ryan Ferko, and Faraz Anoushahpour (2015), and Hobbit Love is the Greatest Love by Steve Reinke (2007). Relying heavily on found imagery, these works are evidence of what Hal Foster refers to as the “archival impulse,” a utopian drive which seeks to gauge the present and forecast the future through the remnants of the past.

There is an economical quality in this impulse of recombination and juxtaposition, one which produces meanings greater than the sum of their parts. In The Innocents, this is used to undermine the fidelity of the documentary genre, while Bunte Kuh obscures the prototypical travelogue into something hazier and more ominous. This impulse reappears in Reinke’s acerbic video essay Hobbit Love is the Greatest Love, most explicitly in the image stream of U.S. military personnel killed in the Second Gulf War, arranged by attractiveness. While the relation between Kelly’s images remain opaque, his and Reinke’s image streams share a libidinal classification system which signals the desire to parse an overwhelming supply of content through a personal logic. Something in this drive speaks to an empathic sensibility shared by all three works, which pursues new dialogues by superimposing the artist’s own inflections onto their sources. By developing new ways of ordering and thinking about existing material, these artists exhibit a private approach to the public archive. I present these works as ways of overcoming an impasse of imagination, clever approaches that incubate new futures through existing material and unlikely interlocutors.

Madeline Bogoch is a writer and MA student in the art history department at Concordia University. Her work is focused primarily on experimental moving image practices, specifically: circulation and dispersion, media preservation, and the aesthetics of obsolescence. In addition to her academic work she is a member of the programming committee for the Winnipeg Underground Film Festival (WUFF) and is a Project Coordinator at Video Pool Media Arts Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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Steve Reinke, Hobbit Love is the Greatest Love, 2007, 14:00

Reinke opens his desktop essay with an immodest proposal to update Adrian Piper’s Calling Card project. Penned as an open letter, and speaking in the plural pronoun “we,” Reinke offers a sarcastic polemic against “that increasingly impossible category: autobiography.” In a later chapter, Reinke graphically elaborates his hyperbolic historical diagram as a diamond shape, the widest point at the centre representing the present situated between two points, past (“trauma”) and future (“apocalypse”). He arrives at this figure by combining a teleological view of history hurtling towards eventual apocalypse, with a retrospective view of biography which is derived out of an unnamed proto-trauma. Reinke’s work thrives at this crossroad of biography and history. There’s an elegant brevity to his organizational logic, often illustrated through diagrams and delivered by his resonant voice and authoritative tone. In the final chapter of Hobbit Love, Reinke presents a series of portraits of military casualties from the Second Gulf War, arranged by attractiveness. While the conceit of this gesture is certainly provocative, the sheer volume of the sample size reflects the unmanageable violence with which we are continually confronted. In response to this magnitude Reinke responds rationally, exhibiting them according to his own desire—a way of ordering the world and its overabundance of images and trauma, which makes about as much (non)sense as anything else.

Faraz Anoushahpour, Parastoo Anoushahpour, Ryan Ferko, Bunte Kuh, 2015, 5:45

Tolstoy wrote that that all happy families are alike. Following from that, it could be said that all travel photos share a similar homogeneity. In Bunte Kuh, the artists mix documentation of a family trip with footage of swimming koi fish. The image rapidly flickers between the two, with overlaid audio of fireworks, and a voice-over reading a found postcard. The integration of the layered audio against the sharp edits creates a rhythmic cadence, which lulls you into a trance-like reverie. The tone and the content strikes a stark contrast—an implication of violence lurking behind the leisure-class luxury of seeking exotic experiences. This disorienting ambience is produced by the artists’ manipulation of the audiovisual afterlife of memories, defamiliarizing their otherwise prosaic content. What transpires is a sensation not unlike déjà vu, an elusive familiarity, which leaves an eerie residue in its wake.

Jean-Paul Kelly, The Innocents, 2014, 12:50

The Innocents begins with the artist presenting 42 prints of images culled from online sources. Lacking any explicit criteria, the stream includes images of violence, sex, and several portraits of Truman Capote, a figure who functions as a sort of conceptual guide throughout the film. Each photo has one or more holes punched out, voids which reappear later as solids in a Super 8 animation. Between these scenes, Capote reappears through a surrogate who wears a plastic bag over his head, and re-enacts an interview with the author, mimicking his gestures. What Capote refers to in the interview as “poetic reporting” could be aptly applied to Kelly’s practice as a whole, particularly his capacity to extract the essence of the documentary image by prying it apart at the seams. In The Innocents, the source material is reduced to its most basic properties, only to be reassembled in new forms which probe at the tangled connections between material, representation, and perception.

Friday, September 25, 2020, Bogoch in conversation with artists Jean Paul Kelly, Parastoo Anoushapour, Faraz Anoushapour, and Ryan Ferko, and Steve Reinke.


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Jean-Paul Kelly is a Toronto-based artist working in video, drawing, and photography. His practice questions the limits of representation by examining complex associations between found photographs, videos, sounds, and online media streams. He has extensively exhibited and screened works across North America and Europe and is currently a Visual Studies lecturer at the University of Toronto.

Parastoo Anoushahpour, Faraz Anoushahpour, and Ryan Ferko have worked in collaboration since 2013. Using various performative structures, their projects explore collaboration as a way to upset the authority of a singular narrator or position. Recent work has been shown at New York Film Festival, TIFF , Gallery 44 and Trinity Square Video in Toronto.

Steve Reinke is a Canadian artist and writer best known for his diaristic videos which express his desires and pop culture appraisals with endearing wit. His work is screened widely, and is in several collections, including the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Pompidou (Paris), and the National Gallery (Ottawa).

Image credit: forgive me for speaking in my own tongue – 4 mins and 12 secs before entering melancholy, Erika DeFreitas, 2016

A Selection of Dazzling Scarves Films & Videos by RM Vaughan

A Selection of Dazzling Scarves Films & Videos by RM Vaughan

A Selection of Dazzling Scarves: Films & Videos by RM Vaughan

Curated by Jon Davies

A Selection of Dazzling Scarves

Films & Videos by RM Vaughan

I was a child riding in the passenger seat of my father’s pickup truck. We were in the country-side somewhere. I looked down and saw that there was a big bug sitting on my knee – a beetle? – and I screamed like a little faggot. The look of disgust on my father’s face is seared into my mind. I’m sure many sissy boys have similar experiences; you know from then on that if you don’t take that horrific feeling of shame and knit a dazzling scarf from it you will never survive.

“because at 16 Camp is impossible    at 16 you can be scared

or you can be laughing, not both”

(from RM Vaughan, “Seven Good Reasons Why The Boys In The Band Could Be A Musical    or, I Am The Dollar In The Dolorosa”)

You forge an identity from being hated and sometime in the late 1980s, a word emerges for this life-practice: queer. You learn that you are not sick or broken but that there are other people like you who had to fantasize themselves out of the mire. You, Richard, made art, you wrote – you had already created yourself so the rest seemed to come easy (no, it just reads as effortless). The voice you developed was so strong, so assured, so you. Your writing was on the knife’s edge of scared and laughing, vulnerable and angry. You spent a lot of time thinking about art, disgusted by how playing the game is rewarded while creating things of real feeling is often ignored. You refused the pretense of the intellectual; instead you were a true believer. A friend texts: “He was a brave writer. And ahead of his time. I don’t think people were ready to handle him calling out the bullshit of the art world when he did. Now they are and he’s gone.”

“I once had a behaviourist shrink who circled

every angry word in my poetry

so many yellow highlighter loops, like spilled Cheerios

words I didn’t know were there but

pretended I did, because his next questions was do you hear voices

and I almost lied”

(from RM Vaughan, “The Destructive Body Raag”)

Richard’s generation came of age in the 1980s and those who survived AIDS often felt cast aside in the march of history. In a wrenching 2019 article for Xtra!, he wrote that his generation “inherited a broken promise of freedom. Subsequently, bitterness and terror determined our early adult lives. Our stories need to be heard now more than ever, in these times of new terrors and new grudges.” The great philosophers of the world theorize “precarity” while the Canadian artist, now mid-career or (gasp) senior, lives it. When the rents spike again and you don’t know how you’ll be able to live from one grant or residency to another a new plague crashes in. You have long-internalized how to have sex with a condom but how do you hug a friend without touching? Physical intimacy is cancelled, single people are fucked – the nuclear family rises from the ashes of queer sociality. The state of emergency drags on one month, then three, then six, the politicians’ platitudes wear thin and you ask yourself if public health officers are really taking mental health seriously, why can’t I imagine a future that includes me in it?

“can I help it if the Red Ribbon reminds me of the cover of Sydney

Sheldon’s Bloodlines and not all the dead fags          one half

of the infinity loop, blunt cut          makes a good bookmark”

(from RM Vaughan, “8 Poems 3 Lines Long About Hate”)

It is October. I leave the Bay Area for the first time in eight months to visit Mt. Shasta; I hear of Richard’s death right before I leave. I am staying in the high desert and kept up at night by visions of his face. He was much closer to my ex-partner than to me, but he always extended his gossipy, conspiratorial gay fellowship to me, and helped introduce me to a Toronto queer art community that felt like a home. On a trail I find a small fairy garden made of toadstools, figurines and flowers, and I immediately see this wonderland as a sanctuary for Richard, not a “safe space” – there are none – but a home where he could write, craft, be loved, be at peace.

Now that his image is at rest in my mind, I haunt myself with his voice: I seek out his articles from The Globe & Mail and elsewhere (including “Antwerp Diary,” his 2006 shitstorm-causing article on the global export of Vancouver art), his many books of poetry, prose and non-fiction. I find his 2015 quintet of articles about his mother’s death, including his critique of the décor of her palliative care unit, which could have been the Montreal nursing home my father died in in April (he had Alzheimer’s and his condition rapidly degenerated after family caregiver visits were banned due to the pandemic). I read Richard’s final article about the trauma of the pandemic and lockdown, which ends: “COVID-19 PTSD is real and we, the scared and confused, are also real. See us or lose us.” He also wrote with great pain about Toronto serial killer Bruce McArthur, who killed gay men with impunity because no one really cared. (Richard was not shocked: he titled one article, “Gay men in Canada live with daily violence unimaginable to straight people.”) Richard bore witness as the kinship structures queers had built and held dear eroded, society eager to move on after granting us marriage and our own TV shows. He was too young to be a father figure to me but he was a role model, both in terms of queer friendship, and in showing how writing can be the laser-like manifestation of an ethos. To paraphrase Kathy Acker, “if you can’t say what you want in your own writing, then where can you?”

“What the police might find, in ashes:

3 keys in a cracker tin, fitting 4 different locks    charms

of unknown saints, an oxblood shoe (not the occupant’s size)    one encrypted

love poem, dated and signed with no erasures, pinned to the ceiling above

    a kindling wood castle, made with stakes”

(from RM Vaughan, “In a Year with 13 Moons”)

The following 7 films and videos were all made by RM Vaughan in the 2000s in collaboration with friends Michael Achtman, Jared Mitchell, Laura Cowell, and others. Most are narrated by Richard himself but even those that are not are very much in his distinctive voice, which I find myself wallowing in these days – aurally and in print – like a balm for our deeply fallen times. It is a voice pulled between innocence and experience: a boy struggling to relate to his father, a man scrutinizing his aging body, the perpetual cycle of being hurt and inflicting hurt in turn. Found footage from films and TV, or ostensibly simple self-portraits become the visual foils for his voiceover ruminations on self and world. There is a sense of wonder at how complicated love and other emotions can be, an awareness of all of the sharp edges that leave us bleeding. Listen closely and hear a wise wit gained from the understanding that everything falls apart.

Goodbye, Richard.

  • Jon Davies (“a forty-year-old, pudgy, white Canadian faggot who writes about art”)

Program:

Mr. Danvers / Michael Achtman and RM Vaughan / Canada / 5:30 / 2000 / sound / b/w / Vtape

“I think it’s ok to hurt people sometimes…”

Romance gone wrong sparks this visually poetic meditation on love, promises and destruction, with reference to Mrs. Danvers, that icon of perfectly executed revenge in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Rebecca.

Shit Storm / RM Vaughan / Canada / 2:00 / 2007 / sound / colour / CFMDC

“I let the beast out.”

Based on a notorious “art scandal” from 2007, writer/artist RM Vaughan recounts how rich and powerful members of the art world turned on him when he wrote his true thoughts about the mundane work proffered by the so-called Vancouver School. Art doesn’t have to be pretty, but does the art world have to be so ugly?

Walnut Grove, mon amour / RM Vaughan / Canada / 4:00 / 2004 / sound / colour / CFMDC

“My father loved to cry.”

After the death of his mentally ill father, artist RM Vaughan attempts to come to terms with the event by reconstructing his father’s emotional responses to the maudlin 70s television program Little House on the Prairie. A blackly humorous meditation on death and grief, punctuated by crying scenes from the famously teary, famously cheesy television classic.

Hate / RM Vaughan / Canada / 3:20 / 2004 / sound / b/w / CFMDC

“Yes, that’s me. Me, Richard… Sorry.”

Using his own lumpy body as a template, artist RM Vaughan explores differing reactions by various audiences to the blunt reality of having a non-commodifiable body in the age of supermodels. Alternately scathing and self-deprecating, Hate dishes out (and takes) some unhappy truths about “beauty” and art.

In Cairo / RM Vaughan / Canada / 2:00 / 2005 / sound / colour / CFMDC

“I have never had a spiritual experience in my life.”

Exploring the reasons why people travel, RM Vaughan recounts his journey to Egypt in a series of slow, reverse dissolves that show the narrator standing, like a classic tourist, before the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx.

My Father’s Idea of Heaven / RM Vaughan / Canada / 1:00 / 2006 / sound / colour / CFMDC

“He liked to talk to strangers because strangers don’t ask for love.”

Using found and manipulated Super 8 footage from his family archives, RM Vaughan explores his late father’s bizarre HAM radio hobby.

Perfect / Michael Achtman and RM Vaughan / Canada / 3:00 / 2001 / sound / colour / Vtape

“You are a grain of sand on the beach…”

Perfect… a summer day, a sandbox… a meditation on the transience of consciousness.

Total runtime: 21 minutes

Thank you to Wanda vanderStoop, Lauren Howes and the teams at Vtape and CFMDC