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Douglas Coupland’s art dwells on the same subjects as his novels: urbanism, technology and a culture accelerating toward uncertain ends. He distills loaded ideas into supercharged symbols, like the colossal toy soldiers at Fleet and Bathurst commemorating the War of 1812, and an orca sculpture in the Vancouver Harbour that resembles a pixelated JPEG. His work over the past two decades has been poppy and prescient, forecasting Internet ubiquity and commodification. Yet despite his skepticism, Coupland is a diehard utopian, energized by the knowledge, innovation and communication that technology affords us.
The new exhibit Everywhere Is Anywhere Is Anything Is Everything is the first major retrospective of Coupland’s visual art, divided into themes like “Pop Explosion,” “21st-Century Condition” and “Growing Up Utopian.” The ROM and the MOCCA have transformed into helter-skelter funhouses, filled with Coupland’s candy-coloured painted panels, towering Lego cities and an installation he calls “The Brain”: a room of 5,000 toys and trinkets he’s collected over 20 years from Craigslist and garage sales. The show swamps your brain with pop culture references, optical illusions and politicized polemics. His message? For all the fear and frenzy, there’s still plenty to be hopeful about.
Jan. 31–Apr. 26. Royal Ontario Museum (100 Queen’s Park) and MOCCA (952 Queen St. W.), couplandto.ca.
When the lineup for the 2014 Cannes film festival was announced last April, the Canadian media transformed into a patriotic hype machine. The reason? Three Canadian directors had films in competition: the Academy Award–nominated Atom Egoyan for his thriller The Captive, the body horror auteur David Cronenberg for Maps to the Stars and, sidling uncomfortably up the flank, the 25-year-old Quebecer Xavier Dolan for his family drama Mommy.
The Heart of Robin Hood, a new feminist fairy tale from Mirvish, morphs Maid Marion from a prissy damsel into a spunky swashbuckler
For little girls, the most indelible image of 2014 was that of Frozen’s Queen Elsa, shimmying and shimmering as she discarded the manacles of her regal existence. At that moment, Elsa became an avatar of tweenage girl power, trumpeting the virtues of self-expression, pragmatism and independence. Frozen, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, is the latest fairy tale to be reimagined as a badass feminist manifesto. We’ve also seen Snow White and the Huntsman, which recast the porcelain princess as a hard-core warrior played by Kristen Stewart; Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie as an evil fairy turned motherly martyr; and Wicked, which transformed Elphaba, The Wizard of Oz’s reptilian witch, into a sensitive victim of bullying. After centuries of docile damsels and nefarious crones, the new fairy-tale heroines have pluck. They fight battles, stand up for themselves and belt out the swelling go-girl anthems that inspire millions of YouTube covers. As female role models, they form an unimpeachable sorority.
Art Spiegelman never wanted a retrospective. “It feels like walking around among a bunch of tombstones,” he recently pronounced. It’s no surprise the famously anti-establishment cartoonist would be ambivalent about hanging his work in museum halls: he’s a cultural heretic who got his start scribbling satirical cartoons in the early ’70s as part of an underground comics ring in San Francisco. In 1991, he completed his Pulitzer-winning Maus, a disturbing parable based on his father’s experience in the Holocaust, that reimagined the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats.
Just as Spiegelman inadvertently elevated comic books into literature, he also transformed cartoons into high art. His new AGO show, which opens on Saturday, documents every stage of his creative trajectory: his earliest comic strips, the discarded drafts of his 1993 New Yorker cover depicting a Hasidic man kissing a black woman, and studies for a stained glass panel he designed for his alma mater, New York’s High School of Art and Design. Most affecting is the section dedicated to Maus, plastered with character studies and family artifacts, where a sound system plays recordings of Spiegelman interviewing his father. Click through the gallery for a look at some of his most iconic comics.
Dec. 20 to Mar 15. Included with general admission, $19.50. Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas, St. W., 416-979-6648, ago.net.
Anyone who drives in Toronto knows about the kink in the DVP—that bend below the Eglinton off-ramp where, however swiftly cars have been moving away from downtown, they inevitably slow to a crawl. It’s a pain if you have a pressing engagement north of the 401, but the spot affords a terrific view of the Aga Khan Museum, which hovers over the highway. Each day, thousands of captive drivers will turn their eyes to the gleaming white structure and think: hold on, when did Toronto get a castle from the future?
Film is a billion-dollar business in Toronto. Lured by favourable exchange rates and tax credits, American companies come here to shoot TV shows and blockbuster features full of clones, serial killers, giant robots and smaller robots.
Unlike inwardly focused Hollywood, though, Toronto rarely plays itself on the big screen. Our standard North American streetscape and convenient cluster of downtown skyscrapers make the job of disguising the city relatively easy. Completing the illusion, though, requires work. As a result, filmmakers spend millions dressing our streets to look like other places. Much of that money goes to a network of local businesses that exist to serve whatever movie crews pass through town.
When film productions want to make Toronto look like New York—or any other city, for that matter—one of their first calls is to Peter Cullingford, who specializes in movie vehicles. His workshop, near Warden and St. Clair, is home to a fleet of about 180 vehicles, including imitation New York police cars (Cullingford makes them using decals and standard rooftop lights) and real New York City taxis purchased at auction. All of it is in demand, thanks to a recent boom in the local film industry. Each car can rent for hundreds of dollars a day.
Toronto sci-fi mastermind Jim Munroe’s new project, Haphead, is an eight-episode webseries set in a near-future Toronto, where a subculture of teenagers learn lethal skills by playing a new breed of highly immersive video game. To pay for post-production, Munroe and friends have set up a Kickstarter campaign where one of the rewards for donors is Fallen Toronto, a month-by-month calendar full of richly detailed illustrations of what Toronto might look like after an apocalyptic event. Taken as a whole, the images make for an unusual—and unusually unsettling—imaginative exercise. We aren’t used to seeing Yonge-Dundas Square, Roundhouse Park and CityPlace used as settings for floods, epidemics or other disasters. (In movies and TV shows, it’s usually American cities like New York and Washington D.C. that get the end-of-the-world treatment.) We asked artists Mathew Borrett, Sanford Kong and Terry Lau to share the stories behind the dozen dystopian visions they created and how they made the leap from today’s crumbling Gardiner to tomorrow’s toppled CN Tower. Click through the image gallery to read what they had to say.
If you’re going to mount a substantial gallery show dedicated to a filmmaker’s work, it helps if that director is a little bit obsessive. Stanley Kubrick was an infamous control freak, flaunting totalizing, tyrannical power. It’s the kind of experience that can be hell for actors—his taxing work ethic caused Shelley Duvall’s hair to fall out on the set of The Shining—but tends to benefit fans. The Lightbox’s new exhibit is filled with the fruits of Kubrick’s neurosis: annotated scripts, production photos and detailed notes, including those pertaining to his legendary unfinished projects (a biopic about Napoleon, a Holocaust drama called The Aryan Papers). The show also collects plenty of artifacts and knick-knacks from the canon, like the Star Child model from 2001: A Space Odyssey, a miniature war room from Dr. Strangelove and the “Born to Kill” helmet from Full Metal Jacket. Taken together, the props and exhaustive documentation are more than just film ephemera—they’re a glimpse into the oddball imagination of one of cinema’s most remarkable, and commanding, talents.
Fri. Oct. 30–Jan. 25. $12.50. TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King St. W., 416-599-8433, tiff.net.
On November 10, one Canadian author will become $100,000 richer when the winner of this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize is named at a black-tie gala at the Ritz-Carlton. Don’t know your Bezmozgis from your Toews? Toronto Life, Quill & Quire and the Giller are teaming up to bring you excerpts from each of the six finalists.
In her Giller-nominated novel, Frances Itani (author of the beloved book-club staple Deafening) returns to familiar CanLit themes: small-town isolation, unhappy marriage and post-war depression. Read Quill & Quire’s review.
Toronto: November 1, 1920
Zel glances around the room: oak floor, oak desk, wooden cabinet, two windows that look down over city streets three storeys below. Shelves behind the desk are stuffed with black binders. These, she suspects, are guarding secrets stored for generations.
She is in this room with three other women, a man and a baby. The baby, six weeks old, sleeps while nestled against her mother’s arm. Papers are arranged neatly before a woman who wears a tailored jacket over a grey dress. Zel sees compassion on her face; she senses it from her manner and her voice. A brooch in the shape of a miniature sleigh, with silver slats and curved gold runners, is pinned to the woman’s jacket. A tiny gold chain droops from the crossbar to represent a rope attached to the front of the sleigh. It’s as if the woman, who has introduced herself as Mrs. Davis, has a playful side, though not here, not as the official who will ensure that the documents on her desk are duly signed. In other circumstances, Zel would ask Mrs. Davis about the brooch, its origins, its maker.
If you’re looking to place a $100,000 Giller bet, many literary insiders swear that Miriam Toews’s funny and devastatingly sad novel, about a writer’s relationship with her suicidal sister, is the one to beat. Read Quill & Quire’s review.
Our house was taken away on the back of a truck one afternoon late in the summer of 1979. My parents and my older sister and I stood in the middle of the street and watched it disappear, a low-slung bungalow made of wood and brick and plaster slowly making its way down First Street, past the A&W and the Deluxe Bowling Lanes and out onto the number twelve highway, where we eventually lost sight of it. I can still see it, said my sister Elfrieda repeatedly, until finally she couldn’t. I can still see it. I can still see it. I can still … Okay, nope, it’s gone, she said.
My father had built it himself back when he had a new bride, both of them barely twenty years old, and a dream. My mother told Elfrieda and me that she and my father were so young and so exploding with energy that on hot evenings, just as soon as my father had finished teaching school for the day and my mother had finished the baking and everything else, they’d go running through the sprinkler in their new front yard, whooping and leaping, completely oblivious to the stares and consternation of their older neighbours, who thought it unbecoming of a newly married Mennonite couple to be cavorting, half dressed, in full view of the entire town. Years later, Elfrieda would describe the scene as my parents’ La Dolce Vita moment, and the sprinkler as their Trevi Fountain.
Set 20 years after the 1985 Air India bombing, Padma Viswanathan’s Giller-nominated novel borrows from real life in following Indian psychologist Ashwin Rao, who returns to Canada to interview others who lost family members during the terrorist attack. Read Quill & Quire’s review.
9 June, 2004
AT THREE IN THE MORNING,
New Delhi’s air is mostly remnants. This is its quietest hour, though the city is not still. The sounds of night business concluding, morning business being prepared, all sorts of shrouded transactions: these carry. But the air itself is nostalgic with acrid exhaust, cookstove smoke, the dying breaths of jasmine and bougainvillea breaking down into each other, night exhaling the prior day.
Please excuse: poetic lapse. I orient by smell. The night-scent excited me as I locked my door and ascended, then stopped, descended and re-entered the flat to check again: taps off, windows locked, no food anywhere. I don’t normally second-guess this way—I have many neuroses, just not this one—but I would be away in Canada for a year. I would leave my key with a fellow resident but didn’t want to leave her a reason to use it.
Heather O’Neill is the closest thing CanLit has to a rock star, so it’s fitting that her nominated novel follows the 19-year old twin children of a Québécois separatist folk singer as they navigate life in Montreal’s gritty Boulevard Saint-Laurent neighbourhood during the 1995 Quebec referendum. Read Quill & Quire’s review.
Girls! Girls! Girls!
I was heading along Rue Sainte-Catherine to sign up for night school. There was a cat outside a strip joint going in a circle. I guessed it had learned that behaviour from a stripper. I picked it up in my arms. “What’s new, pussycat,” I said.
All the buildings on that block were strip clubs. What on earth was their heating bill like in the winter? They were beautiful, skinny stone buildings with gargoyles above the windows. They were the same colour as the rain. There were lights blinking around the doors. You followed the light bulbs up the stairs. They were long-life light bulbs, not the name-brand kind. The music got louder and louder as you approached the entrance of the club, like the music in horror films.
Political and personal revenge are at the centre of two-time Giller nominee David Bezmozgis’s latest novel, The Betrayers. An Israeli politician flees with his young lover after scandalous photos are leaked in retaliation for his dismissal of a plan to have Israel withdraw from its West Bank settlements. Read Quill & Quire’s review.
A thousand kilometers away, while the next great drama of his life was unfolding and God was banging His gavel to shake the Judaean hills, Baruch Kotler sat in the lobby of a Yalta hotel and watched his young mistress berate the hotel clerk — a pretty blond girl, who endured the assault with a stiff, mulish expression. A particularly Russian sort of expression, Kotler thought. The morose, disdainful expression with which the Russians had greeted their various invaders. An expression that denoted an irrational, mortal refusal to capitulate—the pride and bane of the Russian people. That Leora persisted in arguing with the girl proved that she was the product of another culture. In Israel, notoriously obstinate country, argument could be sport, sometimes engaged in for its own sake, sometimes to accomplish something. But this Levantine penchant for argument was of no use in a Crimean hotel at high season. Much had changed, Kotler observed—the very existence of this modern hotel and a few others like it; the vacationers in their Western fashions and their brash, contemptuous, cheerful, money-induced postures; all the visible appurtenances of progress and prosperity — but at the root, where it mattered, there was no change. One had only to look at the Russian girl’s face. A people’s mentality, this hard nut, mysterious and primitive, resisted change. Yet to espouse such a view was now considered provocative, and it was precisely this sort of provocative thinking that had landed him in his predicament, Kotler thought gravely — but not without a twist of ironic satisfaction.