Monday, August 20, 2012

Fiiiiiiiinally Read: Swann by Carol Shields

The latest installment of Fiiiiiiiiinally Read brings me to Swann by Carol Shields, which I read with much delight this summer.

Though it doesn't concern visual art, Swann does a terrific job of suggesting the various ways that the creative work of a single individual (in this case, a little-known (fictional) poet, Mary Swann) can be appropriated, edited and reshaped by others into something completely different.

It also raised a question for me: even if we alter a creative work just a little bit, or make it shape our own arguments or views just a little bit, does that make the work, in a way, completely different from what the creator intended?

As with anything by Shields, it's not just the overarching intellectual theme that sings here. Shields' capacity to observe and articulate details of so-called everyday life, whether it be in academia, publishing or curatorial work (of which an amateur version is presented), is stellar. The clothes people wear, the food they eat, the partners they choose—Shields had a wonderful gift and talent for enriching readers with a full, round sense of life in her characters and settings.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who studies the lives and works of creative people, whether academically or otherwise. (Though academia does perhaps get the most fun skewering/tributing here. And Shields skewering often tempers the sharp with the gentle, and vice versa, one of the most wonderful things, I find, about reading her work.)

For more about Shields—and the way her work was sometimes overlooked by those who found it too comedic or "domestic" (aka, often, "feminine"), read this tribute Margaret Atwood wrote following Shields' death in 2003. (Though you may rightfully question this version of her life, and many others, as Shields herself does in Swann.)

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Friday, August 10, 2012

In the zone again...

Yep! This is where I'm at. Back on August 20.

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Q&A with Mark Clintberg at

 Artist/critic/curator Mark Clintberg is a multitalented guy; he's published research on artist restaurants, installed signage at the Banff Centre, and is working on his PhD at Concordia University.

So I felt lucky to connect with this busy man a few weeks back on the occasion of his installation Behind this lies my true desire for you at at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

Building on past works where Clintberg had used signage and text to address ideas of love and relationship, Behind this lies my true desire for you seems to speak of a kind of longing that museums themselves may have. 

A condensed Q&A related to our phone conversation was posted at Here's an excerpt:

LS: Thinking along the lines of passion and desire and your past work, as well as this new project, it came to mind for me that one purpose of an art institution is to encourage admiration or desire or passion for art among viewers. What do you think of that?
MC: Well, I think that’s absolutely true for me. The AGA, which used to be Edmonton Art Gallery, was the first place I learned to love art. I grew up in Stony Plain, about a 45-minute drive from the gallery, and my family used to take me there to see shows from an early age. 

I remember seeing a lot of shows there that really fostered a strong love for art. There was a Stan Douglas show that was really meaningful for me as a teenager. I definitely remember an early Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller work there, which, as someone growing up in a small town, really exploded my idea of what art could be on a material level. There was an Attila Richard Lukacs show; it was the first time I had ever heard of an art exhibition with a mature content rating, so that you needed to be a certain age or have a parent’s permission to go. I made sure to see it as soon as I could! 

Since I’m also pursuing a PhD in art history, it’s very easy to fall into a pattern of considering art from an analytic, thoughtful perspective that is built around proving something or demonstrating an argument that’s purely about reason. I really believe that art institutions are places for reason and for thinking, but they are also places for feeling, too—for passionate feeling. 

I think if art institutions are serious about being places that are about inviting publics to engage, then they need to be willing to allow publics to engage on an emotional level, not just on the level of thought or rationality.

Read the full Q&A at, and find out more about Mark on his website.  

(View of Mark's installation at an artist talk at the Art Gallery of Alberta; photo by the AGA) 

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