“That the world is out of joint is shown everywhere in the fact that however a problem is solved, the solution is false.” – Theodor Adorno
After years of political negligence, a failed architectural proposal, and prolonged economic recession, the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) is finally getting a new building at Larwill Park. A good dose of public elation, institutional relief, and civic boosterism has accompanied the announcement. But situated squarely within the double-edged contradictions of cultural production and presentation, the new VAG might be less a rebirth than a last gasp. To complicate matters, a wild spate of developer-city-state evictions of artist-run spaces have recently exacerbated the fierce symptoms of Vancouver’s rapid gentrification. And with the surprising yet decisive re-election of a BC Liberal majority at the provincial level, coupled with unilateral corporate control at the municipal level, the political and aesthetic status quo appears practically guaranteed. The VAG’s announcement in the context of ongoing neoliberal reforms and much decried cultural fragmentation and displacement, may yet be a “kiss of death” for Vancouver — sweet at contact, but fatal in the long run. Viewed critically, the announcement seems more sobering than joyous, more foreboding than fortunate.
The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology
Dir: Sophie Fiennes
May 5 at the DOXA Film Festival
Sophie Fiennes’ new film, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, follows Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek on a Virgilian tour through the labyrinths of popular culture. As in many of his seventy or so books, Žižek deploys the ideas of Jacques Lacan, Karl Marx, and Walter Benjamin to shed light on the intricate operations of ideology in cinema, TV ad campaigns, and popular music. Here, the emphasis on pop culture serves a two-fold purpose: it exposes the extent to which we denizens of a supposedly “post-ideological society” are entangled in the cobwebs of ideology, and it makes abstruse psychoanalytic and philosophical optics thoroughly palatable to large audiences (a tactic that in large part accounts for Žižek’s veritable intellectual guru status both inside and outside of academia).
For Žižek, following French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (whose revival in academic circles Žižek has played no small part in instigating), ideology is not merely a false screen that obstructs our perception of the way things really are. Reality, for Lacan, necessarily “takes on the structure of a fiction.” We understand the world around us and our roles within it primarily through fragmentary narratives that permeate the cultural sphere. As such, television, film, advertising, and the social networking sites to which so many of us are addicted teach us not just what to desire, but how to desire in an increasingly virtual world.
The yellow record label on OK VANCOUVER OK’s new food Shelter water LP reads: “CAPITALISM DOESN’T WORK AND IT MAKES YOU SAD”. That’s an unusual observation, isn’t it? Not exactly a call to arms: CAPITALISM SUCKS AND IT MAKES YOU PISSED OFF! No, in OK Van’s world, it’s sad, it’s tragic. What hope do we have for our children and the planet when our collective fixation with money & property blindsides our motivation to meet even the fundamental needs people have for safe food, affordable shelter and clean water? The marvel is that the folks in OK Vancouver OK meet adversity head-on with optimism, alternative vision, and stubborn resistance through Jeff Johnson’s poetic and heartfelt songs.
Solterra President Gerry Nichele (centre) with VP Mike Bosa (right)
EDITOR’S NOTE | On Jan 20th 2013, the Waldorf Hotel will close its doors to the public. For the last two years, developers have been quietly buying up property along the Hastings Corridor while building support from city councillors. The result has been a dramatic escalation in property values, followed by evictions and rent increases. While evictions are typically poorly covered by mainstream media, the eviction of the Waldorf has been making big headlines. This cultural space, however, has a backstory that links it to other evictions and to the broader neighborhood of which it is a part.
Vision Vancouver and the revitalization of East Hastings
For the past two years the real-estate industry has been aggressively acquiring property in the area east of Clark Drive on the Hastings Corridor. This forward march of developers into the east end, actively encouraged and brokered by Vision Vancouver, has brought dramatic increases in the value of property in the area surrounding the Waldorf. The price of the Waldorf property has increased $1 million in the past year alone. The blocks surrounding the Waldorf site are being consolidated by the Solterra Group, a large property development corporation, with the Waldorf site being the last piece of the puzzle. Solterra, who purchased a table at Vision’s recent fundraiser, is run by Vice-President Mike Bosa of the Bosa family of developers, also reliable Vision funders.
Across the street from the Waldorf is 1500 East Hastings. This past year, the entire block was purchased for $5.5 million by Sharam and Peter Malek of Millenium Development, who were bailed out by the City during the Olympic Village social housing betrayal.
Currently there is a debate raging about the pros and cons of Save-on-Meats in the Downtown Eastside. The latest is a polarizing sandwich token program to help feed the poor. According to the plan, restaurant customers can purchase tokens from Save-on-Meats and donate them to people in the neighborhood. Critiques have been made here, here, and here, as well as at The Mainlander, with Peter Driftmier’s “Beggars Can’t be Choosers” (Peter used to be a sandwich maker at Save-on-Meats).
The reception of these debates runs a winding path but gravitates to the falsely-posed question of whether people “like” or identify with the entrepreneurial genius behind Save-on-Meats: Mark Brand. “The frontier,” Neil Smith wrote in his New Urban Frontier, “represents an evocative combination of economic, geographical and historical advances, and yet the social individualism pinned to this destiny is in one very important respect a myth.” Mark Brand, treated as either a hero or villain of the urban frontier, enters the field of mythology and becomes a new Jim Green figure for our time, garnering a similar respect for balancing “social” and business concerns (if Green started in politics and moved into business, Brand seems to finish where Green left off and moves back into “politics”).
I.) In a time of periodic riots, enthusiastic uprisings and the rejuvenation of mass mobilizations of the oppressed, a new rebellious subjectivity has re-emerged onto the scene. For a moment in recent history no future appeared for this class of the excluded, because a common collective present was held captive by the rule of profit and the logic of disempowerment. Today, however, a new rebellious class is emerging that is recommencing a history of struggle. Simultaneously destructive, dynamic and creative, this project has advanced the capacity to unlock and forward a formerly inexistent possibility: a universally viable project for emancipation outside the regime of dispossession, acculturated lifestyles and callous self-interest.
II.) Contemporary emancipatory politics makes room for that which was formerly inexistent. The examples of this form of subjectivity are as numerous as they are brilliant: indigenous councils in Bolivia; the emergence of Syriza, the Coalition of Radical Left in Greece; tenant organizing from Shanghai to Vancouver; weekly student demonstrations in Quebec. In these instances, the new lexicon for political consciousness is immediately produced, formed through occupations, strikes and grassroots organizing. From the perspective of the struggle, the terrain of politics has shifted both at the level of praxis — in terms of the novel invention of new organizations and movements — but also with the medium of thinking the political conjuncture and its contradictions through mass mobilization. For those who have made it their priority to side with mass politics, the assumed inevitability of the class relation no longer appears inevitable. The long twilight of left-wing melancholia that has tainted potential militants with cynical nihilism and pious self-righteousness has lost legitimacy, insofar as greater numbers are determined to throw every molecule of their being into the dawn of communism’s rebirth. The historical project of emancipation is no longer held in by the seal of obsolescence, or worse, treated longingly with nostalgia. If there is any sort of critique of the market that has gained relevance, it is a critique sutured to an emancipatory project that is intent on abolishing the class relation and the existing state of things.
Yang Fudong’s highly-stylized, black-and-white film, Fifth Night (2010), best resembles a state of purgatory. Threadbare proletariat, ripped at the collar, drag themselves through a movie set that imitates a Shanghai city-square. Although the setting is dated to the 30s and 40s with vintage cars, plaid suits, and tramways, the temporality of the film is indeterminate. More like a nightmare, the film resists any historical specificity. Wandering nowhere in particular, Yang’s actors appear as they are imprisoned in a world not of their choosing. Not one of them possesses the capacity to speak. Dirtied by soot and grease, their bodies are marked by nights of labour and slowed by fatigue. Commanding an insubstantial weight, their poverty is extreme: they even do not own their own exhaustion. Despite their poverty their stature is monumental and their faces oscillate between the reserved and the searing. Counterposed to the rambling labourers, two elegantly dressed upper-class women are admixed with the setting. Despite their class position, they share the same countenance of the laborers: melancholic, distraught, wistful. Isolated from one another, each character treats their surroundings with a good mix of suspicion, contemplation and disbelief. Ultimately caught in solitude, these characters trawl themselves through the square with hesitation, or at times, stumble backwards in shock.