design

Art that Makes a Difference

As much as I like going to museums and art galleries, I sometimes struggle with the question of what these institutions contribute to the world. And I know museum and gallery professionals struggle with this question too. Sometimes people just need a place where they can look at or interact with something that gives them new ideas or new insights, or makes them see the world in a different way. Museums and art galleries can be that place. But while I certainly disagree with the business-oriented operational model that demands tangible and measurable outcomes – because that model assumes that if it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist – I do wonder sometimes whether museums and galleries can use their resources to have a more visible impact outside their own walls.

So I was very excited to read about an art exhibition which will have a tangible external impact. (more…)

Water

Writing a blog is rewarding in many ways. But for me, one of the great and unexpected benefits of blogging is being inspired – even unknowingly – by the work of other bloggers.

This spring, a blog that I’ve really been enjoying is The Perimeter by photographer Quintin Lake. Quintin has done several long-distance walks in the UK, but last year he embarked on an epic journey – a walk around 10,000 kilometres of Britain’s coastline. He’s doing the walk in sections, as time permits; he estimates he’ll get back to his starting point (St. Paul’s Cathedral in London) in April 2020.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had some unusual opportunities to take photos – including a round trip by seaplane from Vancouver to Nanaimo. I found that for some reason my eye kept being drawn to water: its textures, its movement, how the light made it change. And I ended up taking a lot of pictures of it. But it wasn’t until a few days ago, (more…)

20 Years of ‘Heavy’: An Interview with Eric Matthews

In 1995, there was an “adult alternative” radio station in Bellingham, Washington – just south of the Canadian border – that played pretty much everything and anything. One day when I was listening to this station on my car radio, I heard a song called ‘Fanfare’. The song was so distinctive and powerful that I knew I had to get the record – but I missed the name of the artist.

I went to the largest record store in downtown Vancouver and asked one of the staff, “Do you know a song called ‘Fanfare’?” His face absolutely lit up, and he said, “Do we ever. We love that song!” And he handed me a copy of It’s Heavy In Here by someone named Eric Matthews. The album was on Seattle’s Sub Pop label, but the cover photo showed a neatly groomed and stylishly dressed young man – the complete opposite of the beard-and-dirty-flannel grunge that Sub Pop was famous for. It was then that I knew I had found something very different and very special.

After writing about music for nearly 30 years, I can’t really clearly articulate why I love It’s Heavy in Here and ‘Fanfare’ so much. It’s Heavy in Here is an unconventional album in many ways, with its non-linear lyrics and ornate instrumentation. But instead of coming off as self-indulgent, it’s a grandly confident and fully realized individual vision. ‘Fanfare’ is both intimate and epic at the same time, and its emotional vulnerability and honesty are profoundly moving.

Matthews released one other album on Sub Pop, and then seemed to pop up every few years with a new project, in addition to guesting with other artists such as the Dandy Warhols – that’s him playing the trumpet on ‘Godless’ – and Pugwash. A couple of months ago, on a whim, I searched Matthews’ name on Google to see what he was up to. Much to my delight, I found that It’s Heavy in Here was being re-released for its 20th anniversary, and that Matthews had joined a band named SheLoom that was just releasing a new record. And not only did Matthews have a Facebook account, but he also responded to messages through that account. I was thrilled when he agreed to be interviewed about the process of creating the It’s Heavy in Here re-release. (more…)

A Tribute to Bill Watterson’s Perspective on Success

The work of cartoonist Bill Watterson is widely loved and respected, but Watterson has had a most unconventional career path. His comic strip Calvin and Hobbes was one of the most successful cartoons of the late 1980s and early 1990s – but Watterson resisted all attempts to commercialize the strip and its characters. No animated movie, no TV series, no stuffed toys or other merchandise. And when Watterson felt the comic strip had “said all it had to say”, he graciously ended it. Other than a few unexpected projects and guest appearances since then – like in 2014,  when Watterson anonymously took over a week of Stephan Pastis’ comic strip Pearls Before Swine – Watterson has worked on whatever he wants to, whenever he feels like it, and stayed out of the public eye.

One of my friends showed me this comic by artist Gavin Aung Than, who runs a website called Zen Pencils. Than was frustrated with working in corporate graphic design, and quit his job to create a career in what he found personally rewarding: choosing inspirational quotes and drawing cartoons to illustrate them. Zen Pencil is a wonderful site; the quotes are carefully selected, and Than’s artwork is astounding – especially when he is illustrating the words of another artist (Calvin and Hobbes fans will recognize the visual reference in the last panel of this comic). Than’s commentary on his Watterson comic explains very eloquently why Watterson’s work is so highly regarded by other cartoonists, and why Than personally was inspired in his work by Watterson’s unconventional choices. Here’s Watterson’s words and Than’s images, in a beautiful and profound commentary on what “success” really looks like. (more…)

Disrupting Gender Stereotypes in the Media

My friend Sam Ford does a lot of interesting things, and one of them is teaching in the Popular Culture Program at Western Kentucky University. Last year, at a research conference, Sam was on a panel with another WKU professor, Ted Hovet  – and during that panel, Ted made a provocative proposal: “We should never ask students to do anything again in which the professor is the only person who sees their work”. Sam took that idea to heart. And now, at the end of every semester, he sends out an email with links to students’ videos, presentations, and research articles from his classes.

I always like getting that email from Sam, because his students’ work is so enjoyable. But this past semester, there was a presentation so exceptional that I thought it deserved a wider audience. Sam kindly put me in touch with three of the four students who did that presentation, and the students agreed to share their project on this blog.

Shelby Bruce, Katie McLean, Kalee Chism, and Paige Medlin were students in POP 201 (Introduction to Popular Culture), and the topic they chose for their end-of-semester presentation was “women in the media”. The Prezi of the entire presentation is available here, but the part of the presentation that really caught my eye was (more…)

Population Ecology and “Handmade With Love in France”

One of my favourite events every year, the Vancouver International Film Festival, is in its final week. This year’s festival was a good one for me – I saw seven movies, and every one of them had something to recommend it.  But the one that I enjoyed the most was a French documentary entitled Handmade with Love in France. It is a heartfelt tribute to some very talented artisans, and – although I am pretty sure the filmmaker didn’t explicitly intend this – it also illustrates the organizational theory of population ecology.

Population ecology in organizational theory is based on the biological theory of evolution; it tries to explain why (more…)

Seeing Kate Bush

On the morning of March 21, I looked at my email and saw a message from katebush.com with the title “Pre-Sale Code”. That’s weird, I thought, an obsessed fangirl like myself would know if Kate Bush had a new record coming out, and I haven’t heard anything. What could possibly be going on sale? So I opened the message – and I screamed.

Kate Bush was going to play live.

To understand why this was such momentous news, you need to know that (more…)

How Latvian Mythology Contributed to the Olympic Silver in Bobsleigh

Fascinating insights from the designer of the graphics on Latvia’s Olympic bobsleds. And how great is it that all that attention to detail helped the Latvian bobsled team win a medal!!

Food, writing, random musings, and everything I enjoy

These past Olympics have been mind-blowing for the Latvians. A very small country, with the third most medals per capita of all participating countries, Latvia also managed to induce partial heart attacks to 35million Canadians with the show-stopping Canada vs. Latvia hockey game, drawing all eyes on Latvia (similarly to the last summer Olympics when Latvia won gold in men’s Volleyball – “Wait, do they even have summer?”)

Edit: not gold in volleyball, bet bronze in beach volleyball, beating the US team in the quarter finals. Thanks to the readers that spotted that mistake!

Bobsleigh Ornaments

A satisfying end to the Olympic run was when team Latvia’s bobsleigh team nabbed Silver on the last day. The bobsleighists had been a favourite and everyone had hopes for the team. They didn’t let us down, and just missed gold by a sliver.

But my rooting for the Latvian Bobsleigh team has a backstory, and…

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Behind the Music (and Other Stuff): Creating a Skating Program

During the 2014 Winter Olympics, a lot more people than usual will be interested in figure skating. As an adult skater, I appreciate any attention that my sport gets –  but I also realize that occasional watchers don’t always know how much has to happen off the ice for skaters to look so good on the ice. So I thought I’d give some insight, from my own experiences, into how a competitive skating program is created. (more…)

A Great Introduction to Skating Choreography

Anyone who wants to learn about choreography for competitive skating programs  should take a look at this excellent video, put together by American Ice Theatre. It uses examples from programs at the recent US national championships to demonstrate what a well-choreographed program includes, and what the judges are likely to be looking at in the choreography when they score a program. Thanks, AIT!