Litstrips

1984

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell vs Litstrips

In the fall of 2013 I took Writing 326 at UVic which is a course in transmedia, media which crosses multiple platforms with a focus online. I wanted to see if I could make art out of something that is essentially artless. I wanted to take something bland, boring, and banal and attempt to inject some semblance of meaning into it.

Bitstrips. Some love them, most hate them, why?  These intrusive little polarizing comics place what Martin Heidegger called “average everydayness” upon a public pedestal and attempt to bathe these moments in attention.  The mundane and the inside jokes clog our newsfeeds and attempt to pass themselves off as worthwhilewhen they have about as much charm and intellectual value as clumps of drain hair. Therefore, I decided to take something with no cultural value and inject it with one of the most sacred institutions of art, literature.

projectmayhem

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk vs Litstrips

I was so intrigued by the backlash that occurred when Bitstrips gained popularity. Why do we have such a negative reaction to such a benign and fairly innocent format of expression? First we must address the burgeoning attention economy. The internet is frothing with so much information as we navigate it. The time we choose to allocate toward a post, a video, or a status update is becoming rare, and therefore, a commodity.

ataleoftwocities

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens vs Litstrips

When we spend time poorly online the reaction is akin to losing  a $10 bill on the way to work or getting stood-up by a friend; a complete and total waste. The reaction to Bitstrips is similar. As there is little to any value to be gained from learning what people ate for breakfast, how much they hate their job, or what ambiguous event they’re counting down to, there is just as little learning about it in cartoon form. Aren’t cartoons meant to be a source of humour, or action, excitement and certainly pathos?

mersault

L’Étranger (The Stranger) by Albert Camus vs Litstrips

We must then ask ourselves, what makes something funny? That is a philosophical debate about as massive as “what is art,” or why? For simplicity’s sake, I subscribe to the Incongruity Theory of Comedy.  The simplest form of humor is the reversal of expectations. Person goes for a walk, person reaches destination = not funny. Person goes for a walk, then that person slips and falls down = hilarious. Comedy is built on the foundation of the fulfilment of a promise of the reversal of expectations (this is a very baseline simplification and entire books have been written on the matter). Bitstrips attempts to show us an incongruity, yet they’re far too predictable, fulfill our expectations of everyday life, and therefore are not artful.

holdencaulfield

The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger vs Litstrips

A person who hates job, you don’t say? A person is counting down to something ambiguous, who cares? A person bought a lovely meal at a restaurant, worst. post. ever. Bitstrips built itself on a foundation of fulfilling expectations of everyday life without reversing said expectations. I found this fundamental failure compelling enough that I had to find a way to give them a second life.

 

the picture of dorian gray

“Putin on the Ritz” The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde vs Putin vs Litstirps

I was also inspired by Teju Cole’s Seven Short Stories about Drones, in how he repurposed lines from literature in order to call attention to the atrocities of drone strikes. I decided I could satirize current events, mix them with literature, then put them into Bitstrips in order to skewer them. At the time, Vladimir Putin was making headlines for his human rights violating stance towards homosexuality. Rob Ford was also in office in the city of Toronto, making headlines for his antics and substance abuse.

robford

Ulysses by James Joyce vs Rob Ford vs Litstrips

Bitstrips are more irrelevant than ever. Their only claim to relevance came in the absolute outrage and vitriol we spewed at one another before realizing we could block them from Facebook newsfeeds. I decided to take something timeless, something revered and insert it into something that time will inevitably forget. Quotes from our beloved literature crossed with average Bitstrips situations and often mixed with timely figures and current events. That was Litstrips.

The Great Gatsby

 The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald vs Litstrips

And like their inspiration, Litsrips never really lasted in relevnace. Perhaps I didn’t properly promote them but I think that they were doomed to sink into obscurity alongside the app that spawned them. Chuck Palahnuik even retweeted the Project Mayhem one after I tweeted it to him (which made me giddy like a nerd on game day). Internet fads come and go at such an exorbitant speed, they’re often over before you hear of them. The dead horse is already so beaten you’ve generally just found your best blunt object by the time people are three horses away.

The internet evolves, the extinct are long forgotten and we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

xanadu

Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge vs Rob Ford vs Litstrips

dostoyevsky

 

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky vs Vladimir Putin vs Listrips

for more visit http://litstrips.tumblr.com/

The Janion Building

A short film I made at UVic this semester.  Social commentary on the continuing conversion of heritage buildings into condos with store front.

Flight 009

 

flight-009   Click the thumbnail to enlarge.

These were a part of Wolf/Sheep’s Halloween stunt last year.  The video was edited by Arya Hawker, and shot and directed by Wolf/Sheep members Erik Van Kobra, Elisa DeVille, Genghis Shawn, and Sarah Savage while bored and stranded for the night in The Seattle-Tacoma Airport on the way home from a trip to New York. What they created was a very believable, compelling, and fun recreation of The Blair Witch Project set in an airport.

The article was written by yours truly under the pseudonym “James Smyth” (my middle name, my mother’s maiden name, and an alias I’ve used for years). The gang asked me to write something based on the video that they had created. My mind raised on comic books and fiction immediately asked itself about the history of Sea-Tac. I looked up the history of crashes at the airport. I used the real life people; I did it in the most respectful manor I could. I wanted to create something grounded in reality. Reba Monk was a real life flight attendant and hero who died saving people at Sea-Tac. Heather Jones is a fictional character, although the story of the flight she was supposed to have been on is quite real.

Kyle Dark designed what I wrote to look like a real article and we released it on our social feeds with little to no explanation. A week later on Halloween we released the video and set all of our Facebook profile photos and banners to black.

Wolf/Sheep

http://wolfsheep.com

http://www.youtube.com/user/TheWolfSheepArthouse?feature=watch

Arya on Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/aryamultimedia

Rudy Eugene

By Genghis Shawn
Zombie from Gaza By Genghis Shawn

I think tonight I’ll stay at home

And draw a bath

A cozy place to sit and contemplate the wrath

The pitter-patter of the faucet drips

And I count by math

I lick the salt off my finger tips

‘Til it drives me mad

The digits stick to my tongue

And I begin to add

One plus two plus three

Really too bad, too bad

Naturally, I must find what I need

In the streets to understand

I pick the flesh of his eyeballs from my teeth

‘Til it drives me insane

I lick the salt off my tips, I, Zombie.

Cease & Desist

ceaseanddesist-slide2

photo credit: wolfsheep.com

-originally published on wolfsheep.com July 2013.

There’s an idea in this world: an idea that one group can tell another how to act, how to think, how to feel. An idea that one group is synonymous with the lesser. This is a world where corporations tell us it’s unlawful to share the intangible. It’s also a world where people think they can tell us who we can and can’t marry. If we are truly to be equal, then the powers that be must Cease & Desist.

On July 5, 2013, Wolf/Sheep Arthouse in conjunction with Lab Salon presented Cease & Desist, a night of art, music, culture, and drag queens at Lucky Bar in Victoria, B.C., as a part of Victoria’s annual Pride celebration. Cease & Desist served as the launching point for new creative movement spearheaded by Wolf/Sheep founder Erik Van Kobra.

“I started playing around with basically what appeared to be public domain resource materials and mixing it with blatantly copyrighted stuff. I started with fashion houses and large well known brands because [they] stood out. I found the contrast of the two things really visually appealing. The ridiculous thing about it, is the design end is so basic, it’s not even fucking funny,” says EVK.

The art of Cease & Desist is a melding of iconic corporate logos of fashion and design with the hedonistic and decidedly non-glamorous world of pornography. The copyrighted logos of brands such as Ferrari, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, and others contrast as they lay over images of women and men often in the throes of orgasm and exhibitionism. The point of the art isn’t purely a shock and awe campaign. EVK hopes to play with peoples conceptions about what is art and what is considered offensive.

“I think people are less quick nowadays to be offended. They’re more apt to be offended privately. I think they want to be thought of as accepting and cool and liberated and enlightened. The reality is, is that they live inside of a shell created for them. I think things like corporations have almost the same attitude.  ‘We’re for people. We have people in our ads. We’re real. We’re making stuff for you. Just behave. Behave by our rules. Don’t steal. Buy our shit and you’re our friend,'” says EVK.

We live in the social networking age. Millions upon millions of users share images online through image sharing sites such as Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, and others. Images and memes are shared over, and over, and over, and over.

“On Tumblr, all bets on copyright are off. But how so?  How can you build a business around what is obviously blatantly copyrighted material on their part? The way [corporations] look at it, there’s 1 million or so 14-year-old kids sharing their shit on a platform like that, it’s free advertising.  The minute someone thinks about it, takes it seriously, say me or you or someone else, it’s a problem,” says EVK.

Cease & Desist was born out of the idea of pushing copyright to the limits where EVK might receive actual cease and desist letters from companies for using their intellectual property. Companies such as Napster, Megaupload, and The Pirate Bay have all been taken down by corporate bullies who didn’t agree with people giving away for free what they saw fit to profit from. The fashion industry, the music industry, and the creative industry all appear to be for creativity, when in reality they’re just trying to hold everything back and in line with their profit margins.

“We truly do live in an appropriated world. Our society thrives off of it. But the fact that someone out there owns that appropriated creative drive is stupid. It’s almost redundant. They shut down Napster, they shut down The Pirate Bay, they stop people from sharing things they don’t physically own. What is the point, where does it end, where does it stop, where do you start, how do you regulate it? Let it go, just let it go. Let [same sex couples] get married.  Who fucking cares?” says EVK.

Erik had been working on the art that would become Cease & Desist for quite some time before he was approached by Doug Macneil with the idea to promote a different kind of Pride event.

“When I moved over here I tried to go out, get involved in the scene or get involved in going out, it was done. I saw it so many times over and over again. To me I felt that Victoria – I’m not attacking anybody – because of what I had seen living over in [Vancouver], is that everybody is behind. I felt that if I could find somebody that was willing to bring it up to more of a speed that I enjoy, that’s where I wanted to go with it. That’s why I approached Erik,” says Macneil.

Doug wanted a different kind of Pride event. A far more aggressive event removed from the familiar tropes of Pride. One that freed itself of the labels and preconceived notions within a community. Not a gay event, not a lesbian event, an event that was all inclusive where any and all can celebrate Pride in a non-traditional Pride venue. The result became Cease & Desist.

“The idea right now within the gay community is a real civil liberties discussion. Why are they not entitled to the same rights as straight people? Why are they not entitled to the same happiness and unhappiness as the rest of us, even though it is very touted and explicitly stated in the majority of our society that they’re entitled to equality,” says EVK.

Cease & Desist at its core is about liberation. Be that the liberation of copyrights, sexual liberation, or the liberation of all preconceived notions of what it is to be gay or straight.

“I think that segment of society speaks pretty loud, and the artwork does the same thing. I don’t think that any of us are oblivious to it. It’s a fact. It’s generally in your face. The first knee jerk reaction is that people get offended by it. Beyond what they think, what they truly believe. ‘No, no, no, sure. Let those people be the way they are, until I have to see something I don’t really want to see,’ and I think sex a lot of the time is the first knee jerk icebreaker for that one. You really jump on a line. Either way, I think it’s enticing,” says EVK.

Doug brought in some of the most talented and androgynous drag queens that Vancouver, B.C., has to offer for the July 5 show.  The night was hosted by Kamelle Toe, a stand up comedian who commands attention. Other performers included Raye Sunshine, Mantra MMX, as well as DJs Kasey Riot, and Victoria’s own Monolithium.

“I want to bring a little piece of my home and a little piece of my imagination and to go down the rabbit hole with Erik. It’s been tons of fun with the Wolf/Sheep guys. I have gay friends who have gained a lot of respect for what something serious as this can do,” says Macneil.

The July 5 show was a flurry of androgyny, neon, glitter, and culture. The brick walls of Lucky Bar wore the neon Cease & Desist artwork proudly. Kamelle Toe delighted with her humour, Raye Sunshine exploded on the stage in a spot on Rouge costume from the 90s X-Men, Mantra MMX exuded androgyny, and Kasey Riot and Monlithium provided the beats.

“Cease & Desist isn’t going to be for just Pride only, but this time around we thought this would be the time to push the boundaries of the scene in Victoria and give the masses something they have never seen or heard before. Hopefully that comes to a bigger thing down the road. It doesn’t need to be a Pride event,” says Macneil.

Cease & Desist is series of art by Erik Van Kobra and a clothing line by Wolf/Sheep. What it really is, is a movement, a glittered coated fist of solidarity pumping in a nightclub. It’s a reminder that we need to push boundaries, we need to question norms. If we cannot be counted equally, if we lose the freedom to share information, what are we?

“I as an artist should have the same rights as you as a gay person, and we don’t. There’s inequality there and I think that’s unjust,” says EVK.

The CBC: Money and Apathy VS. Creativity

CBC VS Wolf/Sheep Remixed by Kyle Dark

photo credit: wolfsheep.com

-Originally published by wolfsheep.com May 2013

WHY CANADA’S PUBLIC BROADCASTER HASN’T SEEN INTERNATIONAL SUCCESS

Name an internationally successful Canadian TV program. You can name dozens of great shows, but like Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip, they’re only big here. Now name an internationally successful British show. Stop, that’s enough. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) would have us believe that it all comes down to funding. But there is something bigger at work. Is there something rotten in the Canadian dream, in our own apathetic disposition towards ourselves in the global community?

According to the April 2011 Nordicity Report Analysis of Government Support for Public Broadcasting and Other Culture in Canada, in 2009 citizens of the United Kingdom paid $111 per capita towards their public broadcaster, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In Canada, we paid a paltry $36 for ours. That’s over 60% less than the average $87 paid between the 18 western countries that were analyzed.

Why has the CBC failed to make programming that has transcended Canada and become ubiquitous in homes around the world? The BBC has created programming for decades that live in the global consciousness. Dr. Who, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, Sherlock, and Little Britain are all original BBC programs that became international phenomena with massive cult followings. Dr. Who alone has spawned numerous spinoffs in its 50 year history.

In Canada, we have had many, many in-house successes produced by the CBC that are a part of our national identity. The Kids in the Hall, 22 Minutes (formerly This Hour has 22 Minutes), George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight (formerly The Hour), The Rick Mercer Report, Royal Canadian Air Farce, and Hockey Night in Canada are just a few to name from my generation.

Are there fan conventions around the world with children dressing in Don Cherry suits, with friends who drew the short straw dressed as Ron MacLean? Are there children across the globe dressed in Dr. Who suits and friends as his various companions? Will there be Who fans for decades to come? Absolute`ly. Are we Canadians, and specifically our public broadcaster, unable to find a way to make our culture palatable and present it in a way to show the world how truly great it is?

John Threlfall is the former Editor-In-Chief of the Victoria, B.C., arts and culture paper Monday Magazine. He has been a listener of the CBC for over 30 years and from 2002 to 2007 he was a recurring guest on CBC Radio One’s Definitely Not the Opera with Sook-Yin Lee where he was referred to as their “walking encyclopedia of pop culture.” He currently serves as the Special Projects and Communications Officer for The Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Victoria in B.C.

“This is where the CBC often missteps, is that they’re trying to give us a unifying Canadian image of, ‘this is what the Canadian experience is.’ Whereas Canada is really founded on regionalism,” says Threlfall.

The CBC adheres to its mandate from the Canadian Broadcasting Act of 1991, which states that, “the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as the national public broadcaster, should provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens, and entertains.”

By all means their product does just that. The CBC strives to create a unified image of the Canadian experience on television. Canada is a vast country with many different and varied regions. The experiences of myself on the west coast to someone on the Prairies, to Ontario, to the Quebecois, to the Maritimes will all be radically varied. If we can’t agree on one Canadian image to represent us, how can our programming here be successful enough to go beyond our borders?

“That’s why I think you have regional successes. Like The Beachcombers, not that it’s a brilliant show, but [it] was really successful on the west coast. CODCO was very successful in Newfoundland. King of Kensington was huge in Ontario. I watched King of Kensington when I was growing up and it didn’t really work for me because it wasn’t my world. I think that’s probably part of the problem. You’re trying to go for this unified Canadian image that doesn’t really exist,” says Threlfall.

Look at the images that are put before us as being The Canadian image. Arguably our biggest export to the United States via the CBC has been Bob and Doug McKenzie. We all know ‘hosers’ like Bob and Doug who want to sit around, drink beer, and talk about hockey. Is there anything wrong with that? No. Is that the image that we as Canadians as a whole want to portray on the international stage?

What is it about the British image that is so much more palatable? Is the image of the tea sipping, distinguished accents, foppish attire, watching football and grabbing a pint any better than the maple syrup swilling, slack-jawed and awed (yeah, eh?), plaid sweater clad, watching hockey and drinking a Molson image of a Canadian?

We can’t keep presenting stereotypical Canadians and expect different results. Look at more contemporary non-CBC Canadian shows like Corner Gas or The Trailer Park Boys. Canadians are shown as bumbling and entrenched in their stereotypes. We’re expected to enjoy it simply because they are this idea of what a Canadian should be.

The CBC produces quality television that we enjoy at home. In Britain, there was no mandate for the BBC to create programming that would garner success outside of the UK. Nonetheless they have, so why can’t we? Unfortunately, you must look at the money.

The 2012 Federal Budget saw $115 million in cuts coming to the CBC over the course of the next three years. These come on the heels of a history of massive cuts that stem back to the 1990’s. The 10% cut will push the CBC’s budget below $1 billion. Compare that to the BBC’s 2011/2012 Annual report where they are to receive £3.6 billion ($5.5 billion Canadian) from household licensing fees and £279.4 million ($430.5 million) in government grants.

The CBC simply has no room to take risks on programming. If they are to continue to inform, enlighten, and entertain, they must put what little money they have into programming that is guaranteed to see a return. We live in an era where many television shows are taking on cinematic qualities and becoming post-modern television. The runaway success of shows such as Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, The Walking Dead, and the BBC’s Dr. Who are unparalleled. Imagine if we could create a Canadian program on that level. Not with this government, and not with a history of budget cuts to the CBC.

On April 29, 2013, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cabinet put forward a new budget bill. Bill C-60 would give the Government an unprecedented say in collective bargaining with Crown Corporations. Harper would have a say in who works for CBC and how much they make.

“We shouldn’t be beholding to the Federal Government who hold the purse strings of the CBC, it should be the other way around. CBC should create the best content possible with the best Canadian talent possible and hope that the Federal Government just supports that,” says Threlfall.

To be clear, the CBC is Canada’s public broadcaster, not the state broadcaster as Sun News and Ezra Levant would have you believe. It is the Harper Government’s new budget bill that will see the CBC staffed by government approved personnel and further unable to take risks on programming.

Canada was founded in the spirit of colonialism. Everything is imported, from all citizens that came after the First Nations, to many of our products, to our television. We hardly ever look in to our own national identity. We the voters have the power to change that. Would we not want to put more money into the broadcaster if it meant that we would see returns such as quality programming?

We live in the YouTube era. If YouTube has taught us anything it’s that captivating programming can be made on a shoe string. If CBC continues to not take risks, won’t it just cautiously burrow itself into the ground? Do we want our public broadcaster, the broadcaster of our people, to be overtaken by corporations that will decide which American shows we will watch?

In 2008 the CBC lost the rights to the Hockey Night in Canada theme song, The Hockey Theme (not to be confused with the late Stompin’ Tom Connors’ classic The Hockey Song) which served as the theme since 1968. It was the audio cue for generations of Canadians that hockey was on. That theme is now in the hands of a private corporation. It no longer belongs to Canada’s public broadcaster, and therefore the public.

In 2014, the contract for Hockey Night in Canada between the CBC and the NHL will come up. It is a forgone conclusion that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will want to shop the multimillion dollar franchise around to other networks with war chests of cash much, much deeper than the budget of the CBC.

None of this is to say that the CBC does not produce ground breaking and powerful programming for us. Listen to Q with Jian Ghomeshi on CBC, it’s a masterful blend of pop culture, world issues, and philosophy. Watch Rick Mercer, the fact that he’s Canada’s Jon Stewart is a compliment.

Hockey will go on. The CBC may even go on. But unless we Canadians find a way to be less apathetic towards our national identity, unless we put more money back into the arts, we’ll continue to lose ourselves in the swathing sea of international programming and content.

I am Become The Black

I am Become The Black

24 x 36 mixed media on canvas by Joshua James Collis available at Wolf/Sheep Arthouse email we@wolfsheep.com. The poem is a selection from my new chap book The Book of The Black also available at Wolf/Sheep