1. "Gimme an R!" | SB Edwards
With Ken Park, Larry Clark wades deep into those familiar dark and glassy waters, pulling up handfuls of the same middle American slime that caused so much anxiety in his previous films 'Kids' and 'Bully'. There were various ways that audiences were upset by those films. Lots of parents had no idea that their fifteen year olds were probably getting more action than they'd seen in a long time and some folks felt that it was a nasty trick, an arty excuse for teen porn. Overall, most people were just awkwardly aroused because the thing with Larry Clarks' films is that if the content doesn't faze you, it really turns you on and even if it freaks you out, you still don't cover your eyes. Perverted sinner and/or patron saint of today's youth, Larry Clark sure knows how to keep our attention.
Dysfunctional family dynamics, inability to escape a circumstance and fierce teenage secrecy are once again at the forefront. The brutally insightful and often comedic screenplay for Ken Park is credited to 'Kids' scriptwriter Harmony Korine. It's a poetic match for Clark's razor sharp eye and severe disregard for conventional comfort levels.
Legend says that it was written before 'Kids' was bankrolled and has just been waiting for it's time to come. Come it has, but probably not to a theatre near you since the even ratio of male to female frontal nudity (among other censor confounding elements), means it can't even get an R rating.
In Clark's earlier films, the roles of victim and perpetrator are all played out within the micro-world of teenagers where fundamentally vulnerable characters shield themselves with so much feisty attitude and self gratification that they become completely volatile. Beautiful and terrifying firebombs, hurtling off-course. Ken Park, co-directed with Ed Lachman, is different in several ways. The kids are nicer and the adults do not get off the hook so lightly. Whereas previously, parents were noticeable by their absence, they are now placed equally at the center of the frame and their (mis)conduct is clearly detailed.
The four main characters are Shawn (James Bullard), Claude (Stephen Jasso), Tate (James Ransone) and Peaches (Tiffany Limos). They've known each other since childhood and are basically good kids stuck in complex situations. Shawn is falling in love with his girlfriend's mom, a semi-retired Barbie doll who lets him eat her out once she's finished the housework. Claude's dad is like a cross between a boozy WWF wrestler and a wolverine in the early stages of rabies. Tate lives with his grandparents, he's bored out of his skull, he's never had a girlfriend, the dog won't stop barking and all of these things fuel his hatred for their slow and simple ways. Peaches carries the burden of looking exactly like her dead mother while her father's life still revolves entirely around his obsessive grief and religious worship.
Throughout the film they all struggle to reconcile the expectations placed on them by these key adult figures with their own desire to be loved, respected or even just heard. Initially parental relationships have a veneer of warmth but the cracks begin to show early and it becomes clear that these kids are actually performing continuous spectacles of submission. Daily encounters laced with menace, emptiness and frustration, tumble together and propel each one individually toward actions that in a mixed-up way kind of make sense.
With deceptively banal pacing and cinematography, the tension in the atmosphere is slowly stretched till it hums and starts to tear. As the severed threads of their self-confidence float downward, we understand that the dominant and most destructive force in these young peoples lives is an unrelenting adult selfishness. Ken Park breaks new ground as it shines a spotlight on the common reality that most people who are supposed to protect and nurture children can't actually get past their own petty hang-ups to do so. And if you are one of the many film critics who brush Clark's work off as simply a vehicle for delivering tight teenage ass to the big screen, then too bad for you cos you just don't get it.
Using subtle dialogue and dark humour, Ken Park is an honest dissection of the ironies and madness in 'normal' suburban households. It points out the unfairness of kids being unwittingly pushed into roles that satisfy an omnipresent, pathological neediness stemming from their parents insecurities and unresolved issues. Without oversimplifying the characters or their motivations, it addresses the disappointment, confusion and deep loneliness that kids intuitively feel as a result of being used.
Within Ken Park's 'slice of life' timeframe we witness some situations resolved, some implode and others are still collapsing as the story draws to a close. In a mercifully uplifting gesture, the film culminates in a stunning dreamlike sequence where these gentle and charismatic teenagers freely give each other all the affectionate connection and physical intimacy that adults have been trying to manipulatively and forcefully take from them.
2. Producing Products: a review of On a Stick | Florentine Perro
Thursday November 7th 2002:
The sign on the door of the Helen Pitt gallery reads "Out to lunch, back at 2:05". Having already paid for parking and spotted Lee (curator) in Subeez across the street drinking a non-instant coffee I decide I can't wait around for the gallery to open and will have to write a review of "On a Stick" using only what I'm able to see through the front window.
I start by taking an inventory.
Back wall: six orange frisbees. Two tables in front of the wall with computer, monitor, & keyboard. The monitor is turned off. I seem to remember something about screensavers and I long to get inside and interact with this stuff.
Left wall: two very large barrista aprons pinned to the wall. Strange & indecipherable (from this distance) circular mystery objects hang above the aprons.
Left front wall: more of these circular objects (could be wound up strips of weather stripping held together with rubber bands?). Underneath a boldly silk-screened text on paper: truth is not found in heavy-duty font maybe in small serif fonts. I ponder this statement for a while. Sometimes a heavy-duty font can punch its way into recognition and small serif fonts are often difficult to read. My current fave font is Arial 14pt. A big, but not too big, and classically simple (no fussy serifs) font.
Below me inside the gallery's front window (and just out of reach): red & yellow plastic shopping bags with the instant coffee logo printed in white. The bags appear to be stuffed with fun products: white Styrofoam take-away containers with a black silk-screened silhouette of a prancing elk (how cool is that?), and bumper stickers; one reads Party On in the centre of a yellow flame sprouting out of some fuzzy odd ball brown "things". I'd certainly like one of these stickers for the bumper of my car. There's also a rolled up poster printed in blue on white. I can see James Karl's name there but am unable to read more or figure out what it's all about.
To the left of where I'm standing is a smaller window where eleven large Styrofoam coffee cups with the words instant coffee printed in pink are stuck horizontally to the glass. They appear to be some sort of frequency receivers or maybe they are being used to catch and store energy generated from the work in the room?
Right front wall: sheets of paper cover the wall with the silk-screened text: instant coffee does not have the monopoly on bad art. Well that's for sure but Instant Coffee is certainly doing its best to be on the list of Top Ten Bad Art Groups (in the good bad art manner, of course). Actually maybe this wall is a commentary on the competitive nature of climbing to the top of the list because each sheet of paper has screened images of sparing boxers along the edge of the text.
On the floor directly under this wall: a tape recorder with stacks of tapes scattered around it. A note directs the viewer to "Play it loud". I put my ear to the window in hopes of hearing some coffee music but all I get is the reverb of traffic noise from Homer Street.
Nearby: another heap of red and yellow shopping bags. I can't tell what's in these bags but the text on one of the bags says, I will always remember how rude and arrogant you were. What a great line! I wonder if there are postcards available with this text. I hope so because right away I think of at least six people to send them to. While I'm scribbling the names in my notebook the door of the gallery opens and two local artists, Shane and Adam, walk through. Has the door been open all the time? Or was it unlocked when I wasn't looking? Lee is there talking to Adam but I didn't notice Lee unlock the door.
Lee is telling Adam that the tape recorder is broken. "Everything is falling apart in this show and that is part of the intention", Lee explains. The tapes that we are unable to listen to are recordings of hours and hours of Mexican radio. Lee says that yesterday someone walked in off the street and asked if the gallery was reopening as a coffee bar. Earlier in the week Diana Augaitis, the curator from the Vancouver Art Gallery, came in to see the show and commented enthusiastically "This show is so NOW". So much for Instant Coffee's standing on The Bad Art List.
Now that I'm actually inside the gallery I can see that what I first thought were tables against the back wall are actually vitrines containing copies of the screensavers I've heard about. The computer monitor is on and I spend some time cruising the disk. This is definitely one product I must have! In the other vitrine are badges of the elk image and orange plastic bananas on a bed of yellow post-it notes. The text on each note reads Hate is bad for business. This vitrine is possibly my favourite stuff in the show.
In the centre of the room are 3 enormous inner tubes stacked on top of each other in order of size. The largest on the bottom is painted orange and blue and the paint is crumbling and peeling, I guess from being inflated and deflated for shipping and storing. It has an aging almost antique look to it - like it was found abandoned on some beach in Mexico and lovingly restored for the exhibition.
The back right wall has more sheets of paper with the text Instant Coffee is no better than you. Below it, on a tiny portable TV, is a video of people waving at the camera. I go over to take a closer look at the video and become distracted when I notice a white Styrofoam cup glowing with something hot and fluorescent orange inside it. What's this? I ask Lee. I pick it up and see that there is an orange fluorescent ball in the bottom of the cup. The colour radiates out and around the inside of the cup making an eerie effect like something very unwelcome - almost radioactive.
When I tell Lee I'm writing a review of On a Stick for Instant Coffee's Saturday Edition he says, "You must have some products to take home with you". He hands me one of the empty red plastic bags and we walk around the gallery picking up cool stuff to put in my shopping bag. I score a copy of James Karl's blue and white poster, The Canada Cruller. Support our efforts to replace the dollar with a name and symbol that represents the particular way Canadians spend. I get a Styrofoam cup with Instant Coffee in pink lettering (this product is now glued sideways to my studio wall picking up and storing the energy from the work in the room). Lee throws in the coveted Party On bumper sticker and takeaway tray with a black elk silhouette. And last but not least, I pick up a disk of screensavers. Now whenever I pause longer than one minute to think while typing this review Timothy Comeau's little blue screensaver guy with the Instant Coffee logo on his belly slides across the sidewalk in a suburban neighbourhood landscape. The words Instant Coffee is simple if you a simpleton in blue 14pt Courier remind me to get back to work.
Florentine Perro ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) is a a multi-media Vancouver artist and the author of the book, AFIELD.
3. Yam Lau's home, 5 Grafton Ave, 2nd floor, Nov. 29, 2002 | Jon Sasaki
I gathered from snooping around his apartment, that Yam Lau eats, drinks and sleeps conceptual art. There's art in Lau's fridge, for God's sake...in the form of James Carl's trompe l'oeil marble take-out container. There's art by the bedside, on the bookshelf, on the balcony, on the floor, on nearly every wall, there's even an installation hanging from a tree-branch in the backyard. As our small cluster of visitors listened appreciatively to this proud collector's commentary, I suddenly had some kind of weirdo ancestral memory, propelling me two centuries back in time. It was like I was standing before the quintessential Victorian collector, elucidating the finer objects in his vitrine. Except instead of parading Egyptian Sarcophagi and Roman amulets, Yam Lau showed us a sweet Garry Madlung painting on the legs of his worktable, an explosive Nestor Kruger painting on the kitchen wall, and a lot of other stuff that was way cooler than Victorian baboon skulls. If a collection is really a self-portrait of the collector, Lau sure has painted a pretty picture of himself.
4. Artists give their all to Shag | R.M. VAUGHAN
Special to The Globe and Mail
Saturday, November 30, 2002 Print Edition, Page R4
Remember the infamous Calvin Klein "kiddie porn" ad campaign of the mid-nineties, the one that featured scrawny, almost-naked teens sprawled out on threadbare carpets in basement rec rooms? The campaign created such fury that CK pulled it -- despite the fact it, and its competitors, had been using nubile sexuality for years to sell jeans and cologne.
The problem was not the underdressed algebra students, but the setting. If the models were swinging from the masts of softly lit luxury yachts, nobody would have blinked -- but with a crusty carpet, that universal signifier of seedy hotels and no-budget pornography, the shame became as palpable as the carpet's itchy fibres.
Ten years later, three Toronto artists are taking the depravity out of deep pile by creating the one-off magazine Shag -- a pictorial of young artists and performers giving (and showing) their all on beds of stringy, bedraggled carpets that would frighten Ron Jeremy. Compiled by 'zine maker Michael Barker, artist Cecilia Berkovic and photographer Simone Moir, Shag is a delightfully silly, yet still titillating celebration of do-it-yourself eroticism and the joys of cheap, rash-inducing sex.
Printed on the lowest available grade of greasy newsprint, Shag is reminiscent, in a very tactile sense, of long-lost sex-hookup monthlies such as Tab, the gay porn booklet Honcho and the myriad of swinger newsletters that blossomed in the 1970s -- the difference being that the models actually appear to be having fun. As the artists state in their introductory essay, "Shag is for hitchhiking hotties. Shag is the snakeskin panty-petting zoo . . . Shag is basement burlesque."
Burlesque is the key word here. Although many of the artists/models are forthright in their desire to elicit the same arousal response as mainstream porn (and a casual observer would be hard-pressed to tell the difference at first glance), there is nevertheless a playfulness in the imagery that harkens back to the golden age of long gloves, pasties and, most curious, erotic decorum -- a time when stripping and sex work was more playful, even innocent. Despite some of the best efforts in Shag to mimic hard-core, a chasteness lingers over the proceedings -- maybe it's all that comforting carpet? -- an approach/retreat energy that, paradoxically, makes Shag far more seductive than commercial porn.
Of course, for art insiders, the main attraction is getting to see some rather well-known artists take it off for the camera. Award-winning filmmaker Scott Treleaven (posing under the pseudonym mongrelpriest), describes his weird pagan sacrifice pose, complete with full erection, as "enacting a persona."
"I've done porn before," Treleaven says, "but I'm selective about who I work with and the context. Porn is always more interesting when the subject/object (in this case, me) has a hand in how he/she is portrayed. Even though my spread is pretty hard-core, you're actually getting more in it than you would from commercial porn because you're also getting the record of a performance. And the parameters of what is being exposed were totally up to me. I believe in the idea that the smaller the keyhole, the larger the arousal."
But does he ever get embarrassed? "Well, yes and not at all. There's always an initial moment when one's shame programming kicks in and you have a sudden sense of propriety. But then my next and immediate reaction is delight -- as in: Oh, you saw that? How wonderful!"
Part of the mission of Shag, Treleaven claims, is to negate the omniscience of what he calls "commercial porn's endless parade of Aryan sideshow freaks." And Shag is nothing if not diverse. White people, black people, fat people, thin people, and boys and girls in all combinations fill the pages. Kinky sex, with food, ropes, wrestling masks and leather boots, sits happily beside "vanilla" semi-nudes. Some of the models even cover their breasts and bottoms -- or at least half cover them.
Installation artist Germaine Koh and her partner, Teenage USA record mogul Phil Klygo, offer beautifully photographed wrestling poses, wherein their bodies and masked faces are so intertwined it's often impossible to tell where Germaine ends and Phil begins. Sadly, copies of Shag might prove hard to find. The creators of the project have, so far, resisted media intervention. They turned down a chance to appear on CBC-TV's arts program ZeD, and they offer only an e-mail address as a contact point in the back pages. The hope is that Shag will circulate via underground channels and be passed from reader to reader -- just like the good old days.
Shag can be contacted at email@example.com
Copyright © 2002 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
RM's review appeared in today's Globe and Mail. We decided to reproduce it rather than give you the link because G&M doesn't archive their articles beyond seven days. - IC