30 Jan 2015, 3:44pm

Morning’s Simplicity

Or perhaps it was afternoon. Days without clocks are the roundest.

Two crows were sitting outside my window picking up chunks of snow and throwing them. Did I miss the height of the snowball fight? As I lifted the camera they left. Observer effect is hard.

If you have to be lost, it’s best to be lost in quiet pursuits, the pleasure in maintaining wood, giving it some linseed wax moisture. It’s dry to the touch, but deep within the cells sip and wick one to the next.

What would it take to work up motivation to be a seamstress? The right fabric? Wouldn’t this be dashing as a 3 piece suit with a cape?

But that’s for a later book. For now I’ll stick with papercutting, chapbook assembly.

This next book, the pet radish, shrunken is on the most anticipated of 2015 CanLit list. Yes, there are many omissions but still, nice to be noticed before entering a room.

stucco mountains
A mountain range of stucco as it was coming off to make the ceiling flat and smooth. Slowly the office become more and more comfortable.

And, btw, who are you people who are giving thumbs down to posts? Harsh. Leave a comment and say what you do want.

29 Jan 2015, 2:26pm
Architecture Citizenship
Comments Off on Ottawa’s Holocaust Monument

Ottawa’s Holocaust Monument

Dr Stephen Fai (on right) in Conversation with Daniel Libeskind at the Forum Lecture Series on Architecture.

Daniel Libeskind gave quite an inspiring talk on Monday night. He spoke the day before the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. He works in words, as he does in his architecture, the shadows and the light. He said, “It’s never too late to do something that is important to our time.” We fool ourselves if we think the scale of destruction can’t happen again. Xenophobia is still with us.

That Ottawa would get a holocaust monument was an act passed in the 2011 House of Commons, the biggest Ottawa memorial since 1939. It was a design competition worldwide. And part of a 31 country aim to set up memorials and education to prevent such acts from recurring.

His slideshow lecture was peppered with anecdotes and buildings from decades of work. For example, when he was proposing a building design competition in Berlin, Germany, a senator asked him for what major public projects he had done. At that point he said, he’d lived opposite of the Greek idea, which is to live young and fast and fierce, and then draw back and contemplate at length in old age. As a young man he was contemplating and all the active part of his life came later, which is to say he had designed many buildings but done no big commission so he replied, “If you go by the past, you’re not going to have any future!”

For one competition which he won he put the new building adjacent to the old without any attempt to connect the two. He was asked why. “There is no bridge between the baroque and now.” There is, he added, an underground passage because, that poetic gesture maps more accurately how the past and the present connect. His allegorical connections run through many of his public buildings, for example, in the Military Museum, a chevron of concrete runs through the old style building, cleaving the vaults and points to the compass direction where Dresden was levelled, the Venice on the Alba, before Allied bombing.

interior model
He mentioned he was walking by the finished building and a person on the sidewalk remarked to him, that building is disturbing. The architect said, that’s right. Whether he let on that he was architect he didn’t say. Each of his stories could have continued for days.

In Denmark a museum has his characteristic maze pattern but in surfaces and vantage point views that suggest the wooden boats that were used to let Jewish people escape from Denmark across the sea (to Sweden I believe he said) before the troops came, thanks to a tip given. A building is for changing an experience, creating a moment that virtual reality can’t give, that words can’t give, in how the planes of landscape and building relate. In another of his buildings a passageway leads outside to a garden but it is an unreachable one on top of 49 columns. The dish that people stand in are all at askew angles. There is void between galleries of images. There is also a gathering place, cafe, gift shop that is a space for light and hope and the present.

german museum
There are all sorts of other chimes with its landscape, relative to the built landscape.

He has exceptional ease with speaking, with it all seeming improv yet on topic. He explained how it is a difficult thing to build a monument to such tragedy where anywhere between 11 and 26 million were killed whether Jewish, Roma, priests, Masons, any of list of religions, people with a range of darker tints of skin. If you were queer, twins, disabled, a resistor, or an artist, the list was extensive for tens of thousands of concentration camps. And he added, those who committed suicide to escape during or after should be counted in the same tragedy. In one of his military history museum in Germany he includes an exhibit of of how we spread out the violence outside our species, the toll of death and involuntary enlisted other species, killer bees, dogs, horses, elephants.

Ottawa memorial
A sketch of the Ottawa Memorial. I couldn’t absorb it but the photo was blurred. Still..

He had been asked why the star in some form replays through his building. In Colombus, Ohio on state capital grounds, there were monuments to WWI, WWII, the Korean War and war in Vietnam but until his, not a monument to the dead. One star frames the capital building. To him it is many things. It is not there as a symbol of Judaism but as the mark to kill, whether a believer or atheist. It is also the emblem of distant light, larger world and of the star on the helmet of the American liberating black soldiers who came to break open the camps. It is not a religious mark so much as a unifying mark of humanity, not just luminaries but all citizens.

He was asked if the Holocaust Memorial would have an education centre. His answer was two-part. One, yes, it will. And two, education is not sufficient. If words could communicate what needs to be said about the Holocaust we would use them. But we need something more visceral. The communication is the experience of space, the confines, the inarticulatable of relationships of ground, space, air, horizon, speed of heart and temperature, the experience that is individualized not generalized. Education doesn’t prevent cruelty. All the top Nazi staff were not old, ignorant men. They were well-educated and in their prime, physically and intellectually. They had degrees. Goebbels had a PhD in Literature. It is a different matter that brings compassion. A monument itself cannot fix ignorance which has to happen on an individual level and spread. A monument might give a person a place to pause and assess. More of an optimist than I am, he quotes Sophocles in saying, “truth is the daughter of time”, that will will invariably figure things out correctly given time.

Light, he says, is itself a communication. If it could be done in words it wouldn’t need architecture. He quotes Emily Dickinson, “a slang of light that oppresses like cathedrals tombs.”

He gave a few looks at the memorial being designed. There’s a point which frames Parliament and a point of mediation in triangle, something of a chimney of concrete (40 or 14 meters high?) with two narrow doors to enter the space and in it an eternal flame and nothing except the open triangle of sky above.

How to do something useful to participate & make a better world? Denial and forgetting would not be it. Without remembering, without the salient living people among us who lived through the events, revisionists start reconciling the unreconcilable by changing the facts. He quoted Paul Celan as saying that green is the most dangerous colour because it is the colour if forgetting, of the past growing over.

What does one experience is individual. In an empty space alone with oneself, Paul Celan says, we “mourn in space that has nothing”. But others would see peace or hope or a eureka. It is to structure space to structure thought.

He will collaborate with Ed Burchinsky(sp?) and have photography embedded in concrete some 14 m high. There will be stone walks which are heated in winter so they have secure footing and plants pushing thru the landscape of stone, emblematic of survival of difficulty.

Doris Bergen, a historian, is another of his collaborators. She has a thin profound book, which he mentioned and if he said which, I missed it. Perhaps this.

His consideration is how to preserve evil and sense of hope, to not forget that tremor in humanity of what are capable of that ruptured the century and left the world changed. How to position oneself to such devastation of overt destruction? “History should not just make us commit suicide but give us urgency.” The question to return to, is as he put it, “How do we do something that offers hope, something useful, that makes the world a better place?”

The National Capital Commission Urbanism Lab, often at the NAC for the 2015 program (on twitter as NCC_UrbanLab) also sponsored the forum. The architecture forum lecture series is now is on twitter, as of the previous lecture, with Douglas Cardinal (Follow it on twitter @ForumLecture).

27 Jan 2015, 8:09pm
1 comment

Baby It’s Bold Outside


Winterlude start this weekend and the snow sculptors are getting ready.

By Rideau Centre the snowdust is flying.

In the courtyard one of the planter boxes is taking up the spirit of decorative surrounds.

16 Jan 2015, 8:25pm
1 comment

Letting the Light In

Sometimes it’s as hard as stopping, not waiting for it, but being receptive to its possibility. When it comes, don’t dismiss it, don’t cling to it. But take it in.


“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” ~ Nelson Mandela

I’m also weekly at Looking on the Bri Side and every few months, Catnip and Catnaps.

13 Jan 2015, 7:44pm

New Telemetries

I’m seeing slower. Trying to break my habit of quick-quick identifying and filing away under misc, figuratively and literally.

Instead attending to and seeing patterns to light, news, people. Calm the inner chatter. Being sick helps. Remember the old fundraising ad for the heart and lung society: If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.

The body naturally makes 4 litres a day of mucus when healthy. We just don’t need to notice until we’re sick. It prevents ulcers in the stomach and mouth, make for some of the more pleasant of slippery slopes.

This congestion ——despite the hack out a lung, abs are getting sore from this workout—— is psychologically the best in a few years. My dad had a do not intervene medical order so he died by drowning in the hospital as his lungs filled with phlegm. That took a few weeks of him wasting into skeletal. A side-effect he didn’t anticipate is how it would effect me. But him willing himself to die wasn’t about me. Anyway,

I spent a lot of last year, well, every year for a lot years, feeling I was in a headlong fall or run from night dreams to ready for bed again.

I felt in an uneven match against time and resenting how little I had. Every day was a scarcity or poverty of time to fight. I could have fun in the run or just be worn out but I’d try to jam in as much as I could before I dropped.

Part of that if from a good place, from a life-wish, a desire to let myself learn about everything. Admitting limits is always hard and so many people do so little but watch TV. Someone has to participate in society to pick up the slack.

Part of that pressed effect comes from digital speed.

Am I any better for monitoring what thousands of humans are doing?

I consumed enormous amount of information at skim-speed to some benefit. I know about diverse stuff.

It also cultivates a sense of impotency and suckers into false urgencies of competing stories. The answer isn’t to lalalala but slow down and carve time.

A couple weeks into the year we’re extending of patterns from last year towards more structure.

If unacted on by outside schedule we’ll workaholic ourselves until we are drained.

So a change against the drain.

Last year we took to paying attention to electricity rates and running the dishwasher when the industries aren’t demanding the power. Instead of doing laundry whenever there was a particular item wanted, we settled on a regular wash day. There’s no need for me to race back and post daily. Instead of daily blog, a weekday food blog. I’ve added processing photos to a Sunday schedule.

For a lot of years when we eat a meal or sleep could swing by 3-5 hours. What if this were more regular? Now we’re running an experiment of what happens if the internet is turned off until after lunch. The day starts with reading on paper, talking, not checking what emails happened overnight as before. No wake-up-the-brain online scrabble. No drifting segue into whatever.

The day has discrete units. Greeting, rising, breakfasting, exercise, editing, eating, editing, check online. Free time, with slots depending on the day of the week. A time together mid-afternoon break. After 6pm supper, time together without work intruding.

It gives something of the feeling we had while vacationing. Something that some people call an organic rhythm. By doing less and having more downtime, we’re getting more done. We saw in a store a Fuckit List, instead of a BucketList and it is a freeing idea. There’s more gain than lost at this phase to give a good clean, nope, not happening. With wiggle room you ask to be persuaded and everyone wastes time.

If I’m going to stare into mid-space, better to do that alone. It’s better to stop than “multitask”. The more you do the less you get done of each thing. By stopping instead of switching, there isn’t the filler of busy-work out of the mistaken notion that if you keep moving you’re training yourself for being productive. From the mistaken idea that you don’t lose time getting back up to speed if you never stop. Change of speed is easier on the engine. “Change is as good as a rest” isn’t true for being catchy. Sometimes there’s an impasse and coming back at it fresh is good but that’s a different thing. Sometimes it’s discipline to push thru and sometimes it’s wasting time that could be used better elsewhere. Consider what priorities are rather than jump as if it were a speed test. Life is fleeting but that’s a reason to consider the value of options more than do any random thing.

I don’t feel I’m at such a high vibrate as I was. We’ll see how it continues to go.

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