More than a year after the world’s economy teetered on the edge of collapse, it’s difficult to read a magazine or newspaper without being reminded that we’re still in trouble. But for those longing to ditch the bulletin of the apocalypse in favor of a more hopeful headline, something winsome this way comes: Papirmasse, an art magazine cum old world broadsheet cum boho time capsule founded by Albertan painter Kirsten McCrea. Last January marked the beginning of McCrea’s “grand art experiment,” an art-by-mail monthly that arrives unbound and uncomplicated, just a folio of limited-edition prints with stories, poems, and interviews on their backsides. When I ask McCrea for a simpler description of her very ambitious project, she fails beautifully: “It’s a meeting point between a book of fine art prints, a magazine, a gallery visit, and a pulp novel. It engages in multiple ways.”
The genesis of Papirmasse dates to the spring of 2008, when McCrea graduated from the art program at Montreal’s Concordia University and returned to her native Edmonton to save enough money to paint full time. While working in a restaurant, she noticed that the walls were covered with paintings by an artist she knew. They were beautiful — and each one had a price tag of $2,000. Then McCrea thought back to her previous job, going door-to-door soliciting donations for Amnesty International. There, she recalled, it was amazing to see how many homes had completely bare walls. From this collision of unsatisfying circumstances — exorbitant art or no art at all — Papirmasse was born.
Right away, McCrea knew what she wanted: to make art for everyone. She chose the name Papirmasse after stumbling across the term in a printmaking class — in Dutch, it means “pulp,” calling to mind both the soft wet fibers used as the base material for paper and the mass culture art for which she hopes to cultivate a taste, a demand, and an audience. In keeping with her mission, McCrea knew she’d have to expand her repertoire of art-making techniques in order to produce the project. “I started thinking about offset lithography,” she says. “It seemed to be a good alternative to paintings and prints. If I could get machines involved, I knew I could keep the price down.” And while she clearly understands the importance of web publishing (she hosts much of Papirmasse‘s content on her own impressive website, www.hellokirsten.com), McCrea has no plans to downsize her print production: “People who subscribe are really excited about getting something like this in the mail.” (more…)
Over at eaves.ca, David Eaves raises some interesting and important questions about journalistic citation, after The Walrus quoted his blog in Gil Shochat’s “The Dark Country” (January/February 2010) without noting the exact source in the piece. In his post, David mentions his perception that journalism operates collaboratively, and cites our oversight as an exception to this rule. As the editor of the piece, I saw the decision a bit differently.
First, my personal experience is that most media enterprises jealously emphasize their original contributions to stories, and try to mask the fact that a sizable chunk of their content originates with competitors (even ones working in other media entirely). I’ve always found that mindset a little craven, mind you, and I do think it’s changing in the Internet/death-of-print-media age.
In this case, it wasn’t a question of being proprietary. As a monthly magazine, we don’t face the same competitive pressures as, say, a daily paper that doesn’t want to highlight that it has been scooped. Plus, we’re fans of eaves.ca, and would generally want to drive traffic there. (Disclosure: David and I know each other a little bit.) It was more a question of how including that information would affect the flow of the narrative, and what readers needed to know for the quotation to have its intended effect.
Going back to reporting classes in j-school, I’ve always tended to think of citation in journalism, by contrast with academic work or blogging, as primarily a question of relevant detail, more than of fair dealing or reader enrichment, as David casts it. Note that expert commentary of the kind David’s quotation was providing often appears without much context, partly because many stories would otherwise get bogged down in dreary repetitions of “reached by phone in her office, Professor X said…”
Insofar as I was making a conscious decision as an editor, I would have been asking myself whether mentioning eaves.ca bolstered the authority of the quotation or added narrative value. Ultimately, I concluded that David’s credentials were all readers needed to know. In hindsight, I might have chosen otherwise, in part because the quotation wasn’t a spoken one, and in part because this is a rare instance where the source actually ended up caring.
David also asks in his post why The Walrus hasn’t linked to his blog in the online version of the story. “When The Walrus doesn’t link to others, it is a policy decision,” he writes. “They believe in the myth that they need to keep people on their website — which means they also believe in keeping their readers away from the very material that makes their stories interesting.”
Ouch! We definitely don’t believe in that myth. We’re simply a monthly magazine first. We don’t go in and insert links into our magazine pieces because we don’t have the resources, and because the decisions about what and where to link would be difficult and time-consuming to navigate, especially given that we rely on freelance writers, who might have opinions about what should be linked to or not. It’s certainly not policy.
Generally speaking, we want to do anything that will help us be part of the public conversation on the issues we cover — in fact, doing so is part of our mandate as an educational publication. And we’re well aware of the value of linking to and from other publications. We do plenty of linking on our blogs, and the magazine’s Twitter feed (not to mention my own) is generally abuzz with links to and from other media.
It’s more that until a literary journalism–loving Web 2.0 billionaire shows up to bestow an endowment upon us, we’re limited in what we can accomplish. (If you are said billionaire, please click here.)
Few people these days can still excite my interest on climate change. The topic has been excessively reported, argued to death, and converted into more than a few apocalyptic box office hits. This week we’ve been hearing about it even more, throughout the fifteenth United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen. Many observers expect this round of climate talks will be different, with U.S. support influencing China and India to join an accord — at last overcoming the three powers’ notorious reluctance to engage on such issues. The anticipated result of the eleven-day conference will be a new climate treaty to enhance the Kyoto Protocol that’s been in force since 2005.
Why even the debate? First and foremost, because we remain far from any pervasive agreement about the immediacy and impact of climate change. While some scientists argue that environmental catastrophe will soon result from carbon dioxide emissions, others believe that this has been drastically overstated. Moral and political discussion is another hot topic. Supporters of climate change resolutions often approach the topic with moral indignation and a doom-and-gloom mentality, but also the firm belief in a worldwide commitment to curbing carbon emissions. The opposition posits that the costs of climate change policies far outweigh their environmental benefits, and may reallocate resources away from more immediate global concerns such as poverty and health.
Last Tuesday, four well-informed and passionate experts had it out on this very subject — i.e., whether “climate change is mankind’s defining crisis and demands a commensurate response” — during the fourth instalment of Toronto’s Munk Debates. Their lively discussion focused on policy priorities and public will.
The pros, Elizabeth May and George Monbiot, began the debate with a decided advantage. Among the 1,100 people in attendance at the Royal Conservatory of Music, a pre-debate poll showed that 61 percent of the audience supported the resolution, while the remaining 39 percent voted against. However, 79 percent were open to changing their vote. Lord Nigel Lawson and Bjørn Lomborg argued the con position. (more…)
Exclusive desktop wallpaper by Adam Makarenko from the January/February 2010 issue of The Walrus
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Tonight at 8 p.m. EST, TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin presents a debate on the subject of censorship. The program, titled “Censorship and Forbidden Reading”, will include a discussion of Nick Mount’s article “What Thunder Bay Burned,” from the January/February 2010 issue of The Walrus. Guests on the program include Carissima Mathen, associate professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of New Brunswick, Joanne McGarry, executive director of the Catholic Civil Rights League, and David Kent, president and CEO of Harper Collins Canada. The panelists will discuss questions such as when does knowledge become dangerous, and who decides when there is a threat?
Hawksley Workman has always been something of a Canadian secret. Over the past decade, the Juno Award–winning singer-songwriter has released ten critically acclaimed albums on which he played most, if not all, of the instruments. He has produced records for the likes of Tegan and Sara, Great Big Sea, and Serena Ryder, and plays shows to consistently packed houses across the country. Musically, the Huntsville, Ontario native transcends definition and expectation. On the same album, you might find soft acoustic ballads, sexually charged rock, and glam-cabaret numbers, all enhanced by Workman’s soaring voice and nuanced lyrical sensibility.
Despite his seemingly endless store of hummable tunes, Workman’s name has scarcely risen above a whisper south of the border, leaving his legions of Canadian fans simultaneously puzzled and eager to keep him to themselves. This month, however, the secret is out, as Workman has just released his ten-year-old debut album, For Him and the Girls, in the States. Canadian fans needn’t feel cheated: Workman will soon release his eleventh and twelfth albums. Meat will be out on January 19, and Milk will be digitally released over a five-month period beginning in the new year. In addition, Workman will embark on a twenty-two-city national tour in the spring.
In the midst of preparing for his big year to come, Workman was kind enough to sit down with me and chat about his upcoming albums, the limitations of genre, growing up in rural Ontario, and more. What resulted was a fascinating glimpse into the mind of one of Canada’s most hardworking and gifted musical virtuosos.
You have two new albums coming out in 2010, and one of them, Milk, is set to digitally release all the music before the physical product actually comes out. Why did you choose that strategy?
Now that I’m without a major label (which is a blessing), we just decided that we would do things unconventionally. It’s hard to know how to play the game anymore — there are no rules. For a while, it was sort of our standard idea that [illegal] downloading was somehow helping [the indie musician's] cause. Now I’m not so sure. I’m starting to feel the pinch of it. But using the internet as a way to sell music is incredible.
You’ve always had a very distinctive, cryptic web presence. Your Twitter account and mass emails are full of riddles and ambiguities that really draw people in.
A lot of people I know have decided to embrace the internet in its entirety, and I don’t know if I could go quite there. So I meet in the middle and just do what I feel comfortable with. Twitter seemed like my kind of thing. It’s 140 characters, sort of like Polaroids.
That’s a great way of putting it, because I find that your music is characterized largely by its use of imagery and atmosphere. Your lyrics are much more rooted in poetry than narrative. Is that intentional? Do you generally find yourself gravitating toward depicting a series of images rather than a linear story?
I’m a horrible storyteller. It’s my nature to speak in images. I live in a rather cloudy, constant state of observation, which is a hassle for anybody who’s with me. What happens is a convoluted clump of images ends up being the song. It’s not very tidy. I used to beat myself up about it. I always wished I was a songwriter who could tell a story, but I think I’m more of a songwriter who paints a dozen or so pictures.
Along with being visual, your music is very whimsical. Do you find music to be an escape through which you can shape an idealized world?
I do, now that I think of it. My first couple of records were very idealized. I was a kid who never really experienced anything, so I was trying to write from a place of, “What if I had these experiences? What if I had these great lovers? What if I’d been to these great cities?” And what’s interesting is that when you live a little and you have these experiences, the fantasy kind of morphs into a complicated reality. You don’t realize when you’re young how horrible it can all be.
This growing awareness of the world’s harsh realities is especially apparent on 2006′s Treeful of Starling.
You’re right, Treeful was my big political record. I tried to be elegant about it, because a lot of the political songs that have been written post-Vietnam have not really lasted. “Born in the U.S.A.” has a real shelf life. I’d love there to be more political music. I wish people were speaking out more.
This month, you released your first album, For Him and the Girls, in the States. It came out domestically back in 1999.
Yeah! Why did you pick that album as your American debut?
I’m one of those artists who thinks the story of my career makes a little more sense if you read it in order. [Meat and Milk] would confuse a lot of people who thought they were coming to me for the first time. But I don’t know how I’m going to draw the parallel between what I was ten years ago and what I am now, because there’s just a lot of life between now and then. Nobody tells you that things are so difficult. They don’t teach you what you really need to know.
Do you still feel good about For Him and the Girls?
Oh, yeah. It’s a scary record for me to listen to. I hear a very young and naïve, very strange fellow on there, who had never been on an airplane, who had never been anywhere, who had never had a real relationship. It’s like time travelling. I don’t even know how I made that record. I broke a lot of rules, and I don’t even remember quite how I did it.
What else can we expect from the new albums?
Both records are cohesive, but they don’t sound anything alike. Milk is an electro Europop record produced officially by a Swedish dude, [Martin Trome,] which I’ve never done before. Thematically speaking, the records are funny because they were written between the end of a devastating relationship and the beginning of an absolutely brilliant relationship. I don’t know how to say that in code; I’m going to have to work on that. I usually try to avoid bringing that kind of stuff to my public life, but it’s kind of inevitable.
Especially when you’re doing something as personal as songwriting.
Somebody said the other day, “How well do people know you just based on your music?” They know me pretty good, because I find it pretty hard to fib in songwriting.
Well, in the early years of your career, you received a lot of press accusing you of developing a false persona. You published a series of personal ads in Toronto’s Now Magazine devoted to Isadora, your fictional underwater muse. [These ads were later collected into a book of poetry, Hawksley Burns for Isadora]. Then, there was a controversial biography on your website [which has been removed] in which you claimed to have tap-danced at a Dutch academy and made a living as a lake ice-cutter. Journalists raised quite a stir about these embellishments.
In the early days, I felt uninteresting to myself. I was a kid who grew up in rural Ontario. I never really fit into my surroundings, but I also really fit in. I grew up a hick and I still am one, but I also had a certain desire for refined things. Journalists definitely felt like I was trying to pull one over on them…People were saying, “Hey, we know you’re a rural kid who grew up pushing cars out of snow banks. You’re not pulling one over on us, you faux feather boa wearing…” But people are completely willing to buy into the artifice of David Bowie or Bob Dylan or any of the great artificials. There’s a certain unproductive nature to it, and I think our culture can use all the help it can get at the moment. That kind of glib dismissal just for the sake of hearing one’s own voice is a bit sad.
You’ve done a lot of collaborative work to boost the careers of other Canadian musicians: you’ve produced albums for Tegan and Sara, Sarah Slean, and most recently, Hey! Rosetta. Do you feel that this collaborative initiative is an important part of Canada’s music culture?
I’ve always wanted that. I’ve always felt like I was a good hub on a wheel that had a lot of very interesting spokes on it. Everyone I’ve worked with has had a remarkable amount of staying power, and I’ve been a part of their careers at a very early time. To think of the people I’ve been able to make records with is a bit of a mind-blow to me. Working with somebody like Slean, for instance. She’s absolutely brilliant. Tegan and Sara, they were eighteen when we made their first record together, so they were so energetic and ready for anything. With Hey! Rosetta, my job with them was to stay out of the way and keep reminding them how good they are. Most of my collaborations now are songwriting, which is, in a way, the most exciting. I realize that I’m getting older and more funny-looking, so my chances of being on MuchMusic are getting slimmer, but it’s interesting for me to write songs for these kids who are doing that.
This communal aspect of Canadian music seems to be something you’re deeply invested in, from the collaborations to your frequent participation in folk festivals.
It’s everything. I think it’s because I grew up in the church. I learned so much of the nuance of writing music and performing music by going to church, realizing that the best part of it was singing and the sandwiches afterwards. When I was in my early teens, I thought I’d go either way — that I’d either be a musician or a preacher. They both involve music and community, which spoke to me at a very young age.
Do you feel influenced by the Canadian folk tradition?
Absolutely. If you’re including Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Bruce Cockburn, and Neil Young into that, our folk traditions have inspired and influenced the whole world…It’s because of our observational nature. Americans shoot first and ask questions later, and that’s not the best way to write great music. Canada is all nuance and survival, because it’s too easy to die here. The seasons will kill you. The winter will kill you. The mountains will kill you. Consequently, we’re on our creative toes to keep us warm and safe. I think we sit inside and look out at what’s going on. Then, we have a big, loud teenage brother to the south that does things that embarrass us. Our cultural disposition is very strange, but it has allowed us to develop a refined ability to make songs.
It seems that one of the more limiting aspects of the music business is the idea of genre, and any article that’s written about you will classify you differently. How do you feel about being put into these categories?
Genre is something I’m fascinated by, in that it usually comes with a hairstyle and fashion attire. On the CBC’s website [recently], they described me as hip hop, and I thought, “Well, that’s interesting.” I mean, hip hop is what I listen to almost exclusively now, but I don’t know if I’m a hip-hop artist. When I was young, I was just under the impression that there was good and bad, not that there was a need to define it.
Which of your songs are you most proud of?
If I made the list it would be embarrassing. There are some I’ve written that I think are intimidating, like “Don’t Be Crushed” or “Ice Age.” They’re really good, and I don’t know how to do that. There’s a certain astrological alignment that has to happen. I can write a good song any old day of the week, but something that has that kind of weight to it, that’s not just me. That’s having something a little more special.
You’re participating in the CBC’s Great Canadian SongQuest, for which you wrote a song about Algonquin Park. Are you happy with how it turned out?
Yeah, it’s pretty kooky, but it’s fun. You only are who you are when you write. If you’re going through personal crisis, that’s what ends up on the record; if you’re disengaged with your career, that’s what goes on the record, and it becomes such a human experiment. So unfortunately — or fortunately — I was sick and a bit depressed when I wrote that Algonquin Park song. Maybe that bleeds into it. It wasn’t the song I was expecting to write, but it’s what got written.
(Photo by Ivan Otis)
Tonight at 8 p.m. EST, TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin presents a debate on Roger Martin’s November cover story for The Walrus: “Who Killed Canada’s Education Advantage?” The program, titled “Healthy But Stupid,” will feature Martin alongside other guests including Bill Robson, CEO of the C.D. Howe Institute and friend of The Walrus, Matthew Mendelsohn, director of The Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation, Hugh Mackenzie and Sheila Block. The debaters will discuss the questions provoked by Martin’s article, such as where should governments spend money, and which social programs are the most important to policy and the electorate? Check out TVO’s website for more information on tonight’s program.