The Vancouver Special comprises artists’ publications produced by the newly founded Charles H. Scott Gallery/Emily Carr Institute Press in Canada. In issuing these four natty tomes, each radically different in form and content, the series’ editors, Christoph Keller and Kathy Slade, have sought to seek out an international ‘reading’ audience for Vancouver-based artists.
Modern Optical Experiments in Typography: Univers Ultra Light Oblique (1968), by Tim Lee and Mark Soo, is a beautiful brick of a book. Focusing on the year 1968 (which, among other notable things, was the last year that LSD was still legal in the USA and when Dan Graham wrote Eisenhower and the Hippies), the book’s leaves are completely blank except for four pages, each printed with one of the words ‘think’, ‘fast’, ‘hip’ and ‘pies’. This publication is self-reflexive in nature, in that it draws attention to the conceits of its own materiality, in terms of its design, by using the typeface Univers both as title and as content, and also in terms of its functionality: why is it blank? Can I use it as a notebook?
In reflecting on a tertiary character from Vladimir Nabokov’s 1962 novel Pale Fire, Sydney Hermant has produced Aunt Maud’s Scrapbook, creating a new life for the eponymous Aunt Maud by patching together incidents from the novel’s narrative, Nabokov’s biographical details and historical events that took place during the writing of the book. When seen together, the pages’ surfaces draw the reader into a flat flux of tiny detail and memory.
In its own words The Music Appreciation Society has two basic tenets: ‘to be thoughtfully choosy and to be into music’. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada is a compilation of tracks produced by local artists who both make music and utilize it as part of their practice. Rather than aiming for a survey, or an almanac of independent Vancouver music, this CD instead celebrates and crucially ‘sites’ the city’s frisky music scene, presenting a wide variety of bands including UJ3RKS, the legendary New Wave band that had among its members Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham and Ian Wallace.
Which leads us to This is the Only Living I’ve Got (Don’t Take It Away From Me): The Rodney Graham Songbook, a bumper compendium of, as is stated on the cover, ‘all of the words [and] most of the chords to 39 of the songs’. This book functions not only as an invaluable archive to perhaps the least accessible body of Graham’s work but also as a real live play-along songbook, so that you too can actively participate in ‘Rock is Hard’, ‘Getting it Together in the Country’ or ‘The Ballad of E.A. Poe’. Since the late 1980s Graham has developed work that meditates on and fiddles with our cultural perceptions of music; this publication acts as a punctuation mark to this study, unpacking and ‘fixing’ the act of his music into book form so that we have the opportunity to examine it, in rather the same way as we might spend time look closely at Graham’s work in a gallery context.
While Vancouver Special is a series of odd siblings, somehow they all manage to get on. Perhaps, after all, there is something in a city that permeates or pricks its artists.