Beyond the highly publicized and debated issues that pertain to Vancouver’s visual and physical space, mainly focused on the much publicized Downtown Eastside, there is a competition for sonic space that has gone largely unnoticed. Noise Pollution caused by the rapid development of condominiums dominates Vancouver’s soundscape, while the relatively minor sound intrusions of live music — in the streets, in public venues, or private spaces — is regularly restricted by city officials. This discrepancy exists largely as a result of Vancouver’s Noise Control by-law, which has a strong bias towards developer-friendly regulations, and shrouds musical/cultural sound policy in a cloud of ambiguity, hyper-regulation and selective enforcement.

In the spring of 2012, the City of Vancouver’s engineering department passed a revealing by-law. It stated that no longer could bagpipes or percussion instruments be played in the streets of the city. The engineering department claimed to have based their decision on “noise concerns”, but whether or not they were conscious of it, their disruption of legitimate street music was actually ideologically motivated. There is a trend in Vancouver toward anti-cultural and pro-developer policies concerning noise.

Vancouver's Wall Street

2013: THE YEAR OF EVICTIONS

After the predatory spectacle of the 2010 Olympic Games, a state of precarity and relentless eviction has become the norm in Vancouver. A landmark example was the closure of the Waldorf Hotel, and since then casualties have piled on top of each other like a sea of ivory in an elephant graveyard: VIVO Media Arts Centre, the Junction, ROYGBIV, Nowhere, Spartacus Books (temporarily reversed), to name just a few. Although each case is different, these evictions are a result of a pernicious mix of excessively high rents, restructured state funding, profit-driven renovictions, and an apathetic city council who turns a blind eye to slumlords and developer greed while maintaining an absurd regulatory protocol for cultural space.

old vancouver art gallery

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Dec 11 - BCHousing_Sequel protest - photo 1

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”).