Thoughts on “A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes” by Madhur Anand

I’ve been meaning for a few years now to write down some thoughts on Madhur Anand’s 2015 collection of lyric poems A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes. Since I was a child reading Sagan and Shklovskii’s Intelligent Life in the Universe and therein discovering the poetry of Yeats, I have known that the mythical division between Art and Science is a false one. The Ancient Greeks (I want to channel Matthew Arnold and write “Sophocles long ago . . .”) saw no division: Astronomy had its Muse just as did Dance and Lyric Poetry had each their own divine patron and inspiration. The Greeks had it right: eight Muses for History, Dance, and various Poetries; one for what we would now call a science. Today we creep slowly back toward a balanced view, slipping (at times) an “A” for “Art” into STEM to advocate (at times) for STEAM education. I heartily wish for a better, unconscious, common-sense attitude amongst artists and scientist to these sadly divided pursuits of which we all, by virtue of our very humanity, are devotees. It is a vanishingly rare person who does not feel the twin urges — however repressed or supressed, to create (Art) or to find out (Science). And I doubt there is a “Scientist” who is not Artful, an “Artist” who does not use Science.
I’ve been running on a bit.
Madhur Anand is a Poet and a Scientist and is unashamedly — proudly both at the same time. And her New Index for Predicting Catastrophes is a marvelous, challenging, beautiful, and remarkably coherent collection of poems about being human in a world begging for careful exploration and sensitive understanding.
Anand begins her volume with two graphic illustrations of a glucose molecule facing twin epigrams, Adrienne Rich’s “Is it in the sun that truth begins?” and Democritus’ “Everything in the universe is the fruit of chance and necessity.” Democritus has, as I am sure professional Ecologist Anand well recognizes, anticipated and distilled (with significantly less poetry) the essence of Darwin’s The Origin of Species into a single line.
But what of the sun, truth, and the glucose molecule?
Turn to Section One and the answer should begin to come into focus: “What We Don’t See in Light’s Dark Reactions”. And the poem of the same name begins with a sentence in little less than two lines:
The rejection of reds, a gap of blues, chlorophyll
absorbing necessary wavelengths.
Chlorophyll’s necessary response to photons it meets: rejection of some wavelengths, absorption of others — the “necessary” ones. And, from that simple chance and necessity, the rest of the poem’s description of nature, Darwin’s “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful.” And how have these forms been evolved? This poem’s final sentence:
Something winged, ringed molecules, sugar from light.
Look back at the winged, ringed molecules drawn as a graphic epigram. The chlorophyll has, by chance and necessity, used the light of the sun to make this ringed, winged sugar which has made the wings of the peacocks and of the bird of paradise and the rings and circles of brooches, chandeliers, oranges, and non-zero-sum games. And right there is Truth, from the Sun, through the chloroplasts of a leaf, and through the poetry on the page, and from one human mind to another.
This one poem would be more than enough for a happy book of poems, but Anand has more, many, many more “most beautiful, and most wonderful.” Many of her poems have been evolved in a way somewhat different from the usual poetic practice of relatively modern times. Some of these poems were made not by struggling over single words. Anand has made some poetic collages of passages from scientific papers. I’m reminded of the Dada poet Tristan Tzura who constructed poems from random lines clipped from newspapers. I suspect, however, the evolution of Anand’s poems is the result of a greater selective pressure than were those of Tzura. I feel that Anand is tapping into something very ancient, the now largely lost but once widespread poetic technique of formulaic poetry, originally oral. Anand is constructing poems from pre-existing elements of a scale larger than the single word, as “Homer” used the multi-word metrical formulae which were the shared poetic heritage of his culture when composing The Iliad and The Odyssey. In these poems, Anand is using ourscientific culture’s shared heritage, the heritage of shared scientific discovery and open communication to make and communicate her own discoveries.


So many wonderful poems. My copy of A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes is 20190309_1914383031408838012166888.jpgliberally punctuated with those little brass book darts (I order them in bulk). What to quote? The overwhelming density of reference of “The Origin of Orange”, with a richness to fill many years of contemplation? (cf. Pliny the Elder, Book XXVI, xiii.) Or the return to Orange in “Three Laws of Physics:

Two glasses sit side by side
on the table like windows
one filled with sunshine
one with melting ice caps . . .
Or maybe the marvelous linking of poetry, botany, Chinese calligraphy, and interior design of “Will it?” How about the unbearable and unbearably restrained eroticism of “What to Wear”?
I want you the way
a gold border wants
a red silk sari
I want you to be the blouse
tailored to my breasts, fastened
from behind by your eyes . . .
Too many. Too rich. Anand’s poems are too rich to paraphrase, too varied to describe, dauntingly allusive and joyfully elusive, and ultimately as concrete and as mutable as Art and Science and Human existence.
A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes is a volume to read from cover to cover, to read again, to make notes on, and to return to again throughout a life.
Seek it.
Find it.
Savour it.

3 x 7: Springtime in Edmonton is for Canadian Art Lovers

It truly is an embarrassment of riches this spring in Edmonton.  Yes, the economy is in the tank. Yes, the Oilers are out of the playoffs.  Sure Edmonton continues to chug along in a better economic state than Calgary and the rest of the province, and the Oilers will get to make a new start in the fall at the new Rogers Place, or, as I prefer to call it, Iron Foot Place.  Bright and hopeful civic joys are these, but the most stunning wealth Edmonton enjoys this spring is best enjoyed by lovers of Canadian Art and Art History.  Right now, within a stretch of five downtown LRT stations, Edmontonians and visitors can immerse themselves in three magnificent exhibitions of works by and influenced by two Canadian Groups of Seven.  In a single relaxed afternoon, travelling by LRT or, better, a pleasant stroll through Edmonton’s Downtown Spring, one can lose oneself in the works of fifteen of the most influential artists in Canadian history.

Maybe start at the Borealis Gallery in the Old Federal Building on the Alberta Legislature Grounds, where Alberta and the Group of Seven is showing until May 23.  Alberta and the Group of Seven is actually dominated by Alberta, in my opinion.  Only a few of the Group are represented, and they by small works.  The show is really about the Alberta artists who were (perhaps) influenced by the Group of Seven.  Personally, I find that my favourites in the show, Annora Brown and H. G. Glyde, had roots removed from the Algoma Seven, Glyde’s in the Mexican Muralists and Brown’s in the Italian Futurists. Mais n’enculons pas des mouches.

In any case, Alberta and the Group of Seven is a gorgeous and thought provoking gem which I fear is being overlooked.

After savouring “Alberta and the Group of Seven”, head over to Grandin Station and take the next northbound train a few stations to Churchill.  Or, better, walk north to 100th Avenue and then east to where it curves north to become 102 Street. Here you’ll see the view captured by H. G. Glyde in one of my favourite paintings.

Turn right (east) on to Macdonald Drive and enjoy the river view until you turn north on 100 Street. Continue to the southwest corner of Churchill Square.  Diagonally across the Square is the Art Gallery of Alberta (that thing with the silver ribbon).
  In the AGA you’ll have your socks blown off by the other two exhibits on this little itinerary.

On the ground floor (a little past a tiny work by yours truly)  we have Out of the Woods: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, an eye-opening  show curated from the AGA’s own collection.  Some of these works are the reason I was excited about the AGA’s rebuild, hoping there would be a room dedicated to rotating the Gallery’s collection out of its warehouse and onto display.  Look at Thomson’s “Fisherman”! The ripples in the pool! And Carmichael’s “The Valley”! And Lawren Harris’ Futurist drawing and print of a Toronto Street!

The works in Out of the Woods, because the Edmonton Art Gallery (predecessor to the AGA) was a little late to the Group of Seven collecting game, are not the popular works which sold well from the beginning.  These are works passed over as less approachable, more difficult, transitional, and exploratory.  In short, these are works most important for an understanding of what Thomson and the Group were trying to do.  On its own, Out of the Woods is a show to make springtime in Edmonton a Heaven.

But, go upstairs to the second floor.  Go into the little RBC New Works Gallery and savour Britney and Richelle Bear Hat’s Little Cree Women and know that if not for the giant, heroic, woman-of-myth Daphne Odjig, whose works you will soon witness, the Bear Hat sisters would never have been allowed to show their art outside a handicraft shop.  Pause for a moment and consider what might have been — what has been — lost.

Now. Take a deep breath. It’s time for 7. The most important Seven. The seven members of Professional Native Indian Artists, Incorporated. Daphne Odjig and these six men changed the world of Art, in Canada, and around the world. In a single decade the shattered the colonial and academic chains that had bound professional art for generations.  Odjig and her colleagues completed the work that other Group of Seven had tentatively started.  These seven people in the heart of Turtle Island tore apart the European vision, they huffed and puffed and blew away the European academic straitjacket.  More than any one person, I would argue, Daphne Odjig, “Picasso’s Mother” in Norval Morrisseau’s words, more than any one group, Professional Native Indian Artists, Inc. broke the European Academic cycle of dominance.  They made Art, with a capital “A”, something not just European, but something universally human.

You’re pretty lucky to be standing here, in Amiskwaciwâskahikan, before Daphne Odjig’s Mother Earth, a little way from Alex Janvier’s Cold Lake Sunset, Norval Morrisseau’s Christ,and so on. You stand surrounded by pivotal works in the history of Art.


Alberta and the Group of Seven is at the Borealis Gallery until May 23, 2016.

Out of the Woods: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven is at the Art Gallery of Alberta until April 17, 2016

Little Cree Women is at the Art Gallery of Alberta until July 3, 2016.

7: Professional Native Indian Artists, Inc. is at the Art Gallery of Alberta until July 3, 2016.

A Very Brief Visit to “Alberta (and the Group of Seven)”

This afternoon I dropped in on Alberta and the Group of Seven at the Borealis Gallery at the Federal Building on the Alberta Legislature grounds.  For some reason I had it in my head that this was principally an exhibition of works by the Group of Seven with Alberta subjects. What a pleasant surprise when the first work my eye fell on was “Clinging Clouds, Mount Assiniboine” by Annora Brown, one of my favourite Alberta painters! And next works by the Whytes of Banff, and H. G. Glyde, Euphemia McNaught, Evelyn McBryan . . . !  Yes there were a few small Lawren Harris pieces and some by Jackson, Lismer and Macdonald. But really, this is an exhibition of Alberta artists to which the works of Group of Seven members are a footnote.

My visit today was brief, a quick taste which left me desperately hungry for more. Another must-see in Edmonton’s Art Scene.

After the gallery, the Legislative Assembly Interpretive Centre staff encouraged me to take in the show at the Pehonan Theatre next door.  It was a pleasantly immersive tour through Alberta History guided by Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the Province’s namesake.  The venue is impressive, reminiscent of a planetarium, but the script given Princess Alberta forced me to ask “does no one know anymore the meaning of ‘begs the question‘?”


Alberta and the Group of Seven continues at the Borealis Gallery until May 23, 2016.

A Personal Meditation on “7: Professional Native Indian Artists, Inc.”

It’s just those moments that wasn’t about being Native or not, it was about doing stuff [and just being].
– Richelle Bear Hat, quoted by Angela Marie Schenstead in Brittney Bear Hat & Richelle Bear Hat: Little Cree Women (Sisters, Secrets & Stories)


Friday evening (March 4, 2016) I had he great and long awaited pleasure of experiencing 7: Professional Native Indian Artists, Inc. at the Art Gallery of Alberta.  This visit to Edmonton is the final stop of the tour of Regina’s Mackenzie Art Gallery‘s magnificent exhibition of works by the “Indian Group of Seven”.  Curator Michelle LaVallee writes:


7: Professional Native Indian Artists Inc. is not a retrospective exhibition, a simple look back, but rather a retro-active exhibition. This is what could have happened , and should have happened, forty years ago.

– from the exhibition catalogue, p. 13.

This is an exhibit that should have toured forty years ago, but its arrival in the time of Idle No More and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a most well-timed example of “better late than never.”

Anyone who knows me well or has read much of what I have written here knows of my life-long fascination with the art indigenous to the continent that has been home to eight generations of my family. I have written here and here of conversations I’ve had with Alex Janvier. Through acquaintance as a young man with Jackie Bugera of Edmonton’s Bearclaw Gallery I have been fortunate to enjoy the works of a number of indigenous artists, including one of the 7, in my home for over thirty years. 7 is the exhibition I have been waiting for for half a century, since I was a child, since before PNIAI was incorporated.

Two of the three living members of PNIAI were present at the opening reception.  It was good to see Alex Janvier again and to tell him of my excitement when I heard of his commission for the Iron Foot Place mosaic in Edmonton’s new arena.  Mr. Janvier was resplendent in a personalized Edmonton Oilers Jersey and his signature white cowboy hat. After a moment of chatting (about hockey), I moved away to let others have time with the artist. Joseph Sanchez, in contrast to Mr. Janvier’s casual-comfortable is a stunningly dapper dresser, with careful moustache curls that forever put the lie to the myth that Native guys can’t rock facial hair! The youngest member of PNIAI, Mr. Sanchez appropriately spent a lot of time posing for smiling selfies with gallery members. After mingling  and opening remarks from curatorial staff and sponsors, we made our way upstairs for the main event.

The works included in the exhibition are absolutely stunning. My first impression on walking into the second floor gallery was “they’re bigger than I expected.” Indeed, most of the pieces are quite large, to be measured in feet rather than inches. And the range of styles is remarkable. There can be no confusion over which artist is responsible for which work.  Certainly Morrisseau and Ray are of the Woodland School, but Ray’s focus on earth tones instantly distinguishes his work from his mentor’s.  Janvier’s curves are, of course, unmistakable, as are Odjig’s sometimes-faceted swirling compositions. Beardy takes a different Woodland direction, largely eschewing the black outlines so prominent in Morrisseau and Ray. Sanchez has a distinctly South West, arid, desert quality, in consonance with his Pueblo and Spanish heritage.

Eddy Cobiness’ work is something remarkable to me. He shows a stylistic variation made more startling by his absolute confidence in each work.  Consider the drawing “Wild Rice Harvesting”, the painting “Let There Be Life”,  the symmetrical abstraction of “The Four Winds”, the brilliant stylization of “Caribou”, the detailed study in “Two Herons, and the skilful portrait, “Medicine Man and His Vision”. It seems Eddy Cobiness was a consummate stylistic shape-shifter!

Of course, the works must be seen. If you are in Edmonton before July 3, 2016, be sure to visit the Art Gallery of Alberta and spend time with some of the greatest and most important Canadian art of the twentieth century.


Perhaps in my youth I had something of a “Wacousta Complex”, a desire to BE “Native”. How could a bookish Canadian boy with my name escape the possibility? But a comment from a fellow White Canadian when I mentioned my desire to go to the opening of “7” — you remember ur white right?” gave me reassurance that I’m not following in the footsteps of the character in Major John Richardson’s foundational Canadian novel.  I’m pretty sure I’ve come to the point where, despite and because of my privilege, I can never forget that I am white.

The night before the AGA’s members’ opening reception for “7” I read the marvellous catalogue for the show.  I had ordered it some time ago from the Mackenzie Gallery in anticipation of one day seeing the works in person.  It is a magnificent exhibition catalogue with exceptional reproductions of the works, informative (if slightly repetitive) essays, and moving words from the artists themselves.  Particularly poignant in our time of attempted reconciliation is Jackson Beardy’s poem “A Main Street Indian” on page 108:

. . . As I walk the dismal streets of this city,
Kicking a tin beer can ahead of me,
I think bitterly of that invisible government
That took me away from my folks so early,
Only to be used as a psychological sop
To relieve society’s major hang-up.
They denied me the right to experience
My identitiy and my culture.
They denied me the right to experience
The intricacies of the White world,
While they stripped me of my pride and dignity
In a secluded government boarding school
During the crucial twelve years of my life.
I emerged a learned man with a hollow soul.
After a few faltering steps, I fell flat on my face —
I had never learned to walk in either world.
I was born of the noble Indian race,
Bred in the confines of a government test-tube,
And released a zombie.

The seven artists, Daphne Odjig, Alex Janvier, Joseph Sanchez, Norval Morrisseau, Carl Ray, Jackson Beardy, and Eddy Cobiness came together at Odjig’s gallery in Winnipeg in the early ’70s and decided learn themselves and teach others  how to walk in both worlds. They rebelled against the “craft” view of “Indian Art”, against the criticism of Odjig that her work was “too influenced by Picasso” and “not Indian enough”. They stood together against pigeon-holing and insisted on being true to themselves and to their art.  In short, they insisted on being seen as professional artists, and by so doing, they forced a revision of Canadian Art more radical than the legacy of The (White) Group of Seven.

And yet, just as gallery owners said “you remember ur Indian right?” to Daphne Odjig in 1970, a White guy in 2016 who enjoys the art of Janvier and Morrisseau is asked “you remember ur white right?”  Thankfully, the AGA’s Catherine Crowston opened and closed her remarks on Friday night with acknowledgement of Treaty, now a routine acknowledgement at public events in Edmonton.

But still: “you remember ur white right?”

Somehow that question is linked in my mind to something Alex Janvier said to me the first time I chatted with him: “Maybe someday they’ll let us be Canadians.” As long as being excited about an exhibition of the art of some of the most influential Canadian artists of the last (and this) century is seen as “going Native”, as long as there are people not letting indigenous artist be Canadian, there’s a long, difficult road to Reconciliation, to the place where life is “about doing stuff [and just being].”

Summer Republic III

This past Thursday evening (July 9, 2015) I went to a show-opening reception at a small North-Side gallery in Edmonton.  The work, by a collective of artists, is a mixed bag of styles, subject matter, and media, but bright, summery tones of orange stand out around the four walls.

I bumped into (name dropping alert) David Janzen, one of Edmonton’s premier landscape painters, and his partner Sue.  Dave and I seem to get talking when we bump into each other, sometimes about art, sometimes about cutting grass.

I pointed to a large work that occupied one corner of the gallery, a deceptively simple looking monochrome wood-cut print in black hung beside the actual block from with it was printed.  A quirky aspect of the print is that rather than being rolled in a press, this piece was printed, once on paper and once on cloth, by driving a steam roller over the thing.  The result is an extremely limited edition print titled “Roadwork” by Aaron Harvey.

“I like that,” I said.  “It’s got a sort of Mexican Day of the Dead vibe going.”

Dave said “Oh yeah . . . (?)”

“Yeah.  The two figures are sort of skeletal and those look like sombreros on their heads.  And down at the bottom is the underworld, Xibalba, the Maya Land of the Dead.  And the two figures are the Hero Twins, Hunapu and Xbalanque, or maybe they’re One and Seven Death, the highest of the Lords of Xibalba. . . . .”

“What about those twisted amoeba-like things at the top?”

“Those are clouds and they’re reflected in the similar shapes at the bottom, just as the underworld must reflect the upper. And the crosses in the buildings reference the remarkable syncretism of Mexican ‘Catholicism’ . . . .”

Dave had another chip.  I nibbled baklava, hoping the nuts wouldn’t kill me.

“I like this one, too,” I said, pointing at Lora Pallister’s “Golden King of the Jungle.”

“What is it?” asked Sue. “A rabbit?”

“No, it’s a gorilla dressed sorta like Carmen Miranda.  Or a lion.”

“And that’s a big joint in his mouth,” said Dave.

“Or a piece of red licorice,” I suggested.

Dale Badger’s three line-drawings after Crucifixions by Dürer, particularly “Angels Collecting Blood after Dürer”, are brilliant.  Simply brilliant.

I spent a little time nibbling the snackies and then (name dropping alert) Rona Fraser (you may remember her as one of Avenue Magazines “Top 40 under 40” from a year or two ago) asked me if I knew of a good place to get beef ribs to barbecue (I don’t) which took us to the subject of black pudding and then Rona asked “Do you know a good place to get haggis?”

Well, obviously, I told her the best place in Edmonton for both black pudding and haggis (and meat pies) is (name dropping alert) Old Country Meats in Allendale across 106 Street from the Allendale School.


I suppose you’re wondering where this magical North Side gallery is, a place full of wicked good art, a place you can rub shoulders with top artists and hobnob with Top 40 under 40ers and talk with them about food and art and the Popol Vuh.  I suppose you’re wondering.

Wonder no more.

(name dropping alert)

This gallery is at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts.  If you are in Edmonton you should know about The Nina, you should go to the Nina, and you should learn what it is and what it isn’t.

The Nina is a mentoring collective.  It is not a sheltered workshop.  The Nina is a studio for artists working with barriers, not “art therapy” for the “handicapped”.  The art on display in the show I described above, Summer Republic III, has been created by Artists in a studio, not by disabled people in segregation.  They have been mentored by some of the top artists in Edmonton such as (name dropping alert) Jill Stanton, Caroline Gingrich, Brenda Kim Christiansen, David Janzen, and Artistic Director Paul Freeman.  The Nina Collective is made up of these and more mentoring Lead Artists as well as Apprentice Artists who are being themselves mentored in the art business (writing grant applications, etc.), volunteers, and the almost two hundred Artists with abilities, not disabilities, who are being mentored in art making.

The works in Summer Republic III have been chosen through a jurying process and represent the best of what the Artists of the Collective have produced over the last year.

The work is rich, it is evocative, it should be seen, it is Art.


Summer Republic III is on display at the Stollery Gallery at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts, 9225 118 Ave, until August 14, 2015.

Go see it.

And drop into the busiest studios in the City while you’re there.



Jerome’s Gnome Home

A Fairy Tale For an unknown period of time on a quiet, semi-secret spot on the right bank of Edmonton’s Mill Creek, deep in the ravine, a small Gnome named Jerome has been living quietly, until recently, with his life-partner Noam.  Jerome and Noam took part in Edmonton’s 35th annual Pride Celebration by flying a small rainbow flag in their little Gnome Garden filled with trinkets and messages from their friends amongst we Big Persons. Tragically, sometime over the last few days, Jerome’s Gnome Home was brutally attacked and largely destroyed by (Big?) Persons Unknown.  The destruction was discovered by a Big Person coming with a small gift for the Garden.  To his horror, he found Noam’s shattered head lying on the forest path and the Gnomes’ treasures scatted about the roots of the spruce tree they had made their home. Jerome was nowhere to be seen. A History Jerome’s Gnome Home is a guerrilla art installation by Edmonton artist, etc. Kristin Ashmore.  She created the little tableau of a Gnome named Jerome enjoying his garden in the spring of 2015, never expecting it to last more than a few days.  In fact, Jerome and his partner Noam continued happily undisturbed in their home almost until the end of June.

Jerome and Noam at Home (photo courtesy Kristin Ashmore)

Jerome and Noam at Home (photo courtesy Kristin Ashmore)

I had been following the charming story of Jerome’s Gnome Home – and its amazing endurance — for some time on social media.  Soon my friend Kristin’s whimsical project became a collaboration with anonymous friends of Jerome and Noam who added trinkets and notes to their little garden.  I was hoping to get down into the Ravine with my sidekick and her mobility issues to join in the fun. When Kristin made Jerome’s Gnome Home into a Make Something Edmonton project for #DYIcity day and posted fairly precise directions to find Jerome, I immediately got together what I thought an appropriate Gnome Gift and we set off to the Ravine. My gift for Jerome and Noam’s secret forest sanctuary was a fragment of a larger thing I’m working on related to a Medieval poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, concerning a man who searches for a secret forest sanctuary. I left my sidekick to rest at picnic tables on the left bank of the Creek, quickly rushed across the red bridge, and followed the clues Kristin had described.  At almost the same instant I saw the toppled sign asking  that the Gnome Home be respected and a piece of Noam’s shattered head on the path at my feet.  I continued on, placing my gift and the shard of Noam’s head in the ruined garden and tweeted a photo to Kristin.

After the Battle (photo by me)

After the Battle (photo by me)

This could have been a story of vandalism and an artist moving on, giving the Coors Banquet swilling barbarians the victory.  But that’s not Edmonton’s way, that’s not Edmonton’s artists’ way, and most emphatically, that not the way Kristin Ashmore rolls. On our way home we met Kristin marching as though to war, a satchel of replacement bits on her arm, her partner at home prepping the back-up Jerome (sadly Noam had no replacement).  By evening, Jerome’s Gnome Home was back in place, the only sign of the Battle of the Gnome Home being a small cemetery memorialising the fallen.

Jerome and Noam's Tomb (photo courtesy Kristin Ashmore)

Jerome and Noam’s Tomb (photo courtesy Kristin Ashmore)

Personally, I hope Jerome’s charming Home lasts until winter, a tiny bit of warmth and colour in the short, grey days. And winter is the season when Sir Gawain came to the Green Chapel and survived what seemed  certain destruction. Just as Jerome did yesterday.

Jerome at Home and ready for (respectful) visitors (photo courtesy Kristin Ashmore)

Jerome at Home and ready for (respectful) visitors (photo courtesy Kristin Ashmore)

Update, July 28, 2015: I dropped in on Jerome this evening and was pleased to find that he’s still doing well. I know Kristin goes by regularly and tidies a bit for Jerome. Happily there have been no more cases of egregious vandalism.

Perhaps Jerome has unknown friends in the woods.

Big, scary, protective friends!


Jerome has friends in the woods! Big, scary, protective friends!

Scott Berry’s “Confusement”: Two Video Walk-Throughs and a Thought or Two

Confusement – The feeling of being stared at but no one can see who you are.
– Scott Berry

We hoped to collaboratively create an environment for the viewers to experience and make their own meaning.
-from the program accompanying Confusement

Scott Berry’s installation, Confusement, a collaboration with dozens of fellow members of the Nina Haggerty Collective, staff, volunteers and visitors, is a breathtaking mirror held up to each of us.  Anyone who has spent time with people who are “different”, who have “disabilities” or “challenges” or “special needs” is familiar with the double takes, the brief or extended stares, the uncomfortable smiles that inevitably are directed their way.  Berry has turned the tables on “us” with Confusement.

Here we are surrounded by thousands — possibly tens of thousands of unblinking eyes (and a few blinking ones). Voices are whispering around us, but its hard to catch any words.  Bits of music float by, scales on a piano.  A mirror faces us at the end of the entrance corridor – this is about us. Hands reach out from walls, ghostly figures (packing tape whole body casts of Collective artists) loom above us and around us.  Just before turning the corner into the heart of Confusement – a party of ghostly figures in conversational knots surrounded by yet more eyes – one is mesmerized by Berry’s computer video of floating lidless eyeballs, staring, somehow blinking their irises, unpredictably and uncannily.

For all the Lovecraftian spookiness such a description might imply, Confusement is not frightening.  It is certainly designed to confuse, to playfully unsettle, but also to amuse, pleasantly mystify, and stir us to beneficial thought.  These eyes mean no harm. These unknowable figures are busy about their own affairs.  The curtains of eyes are the environment we all move through every day, but some of us are forced to swim more deeply in that sea of benign, but too often unseeing eyes, the world of Confusement.

The day before the dismantling of the installation, I made two impromptu video walk-throughs.  They do little justice to the powerful effect of the vision of Scott Berry and the Nina Haggerty Collective.




Confusement was at the Stollery Gallery of the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts in Edmonton from February 12-27, 2015.