I stopped by the Ottawa School of Art gallery as I was wandering through the market again yesterday (primarily to return a book I’d bought, but I happened to bring a camera with me) and stumbled on Christos Pantieras’ amazing installation called “AM I WORTH IT” – a bajillion letter tiles cast in cement, then grouted with loose fine sand. Periodically words seem to crawl out of the background, you’re invited to walk around on the tiles and take it in from different perspectives. Really loved this work – I wonder what will happen to all the cement letters when he’s done!?
David Egger’s The Circle is a fun take on a fictional evil version of Google, a company obsessed with knowing everything to the point where it actively villifies privacy and anonymity. Our protagonist Mae takes a job at the tech giant and is slowly indocrinated into their crazy kool-aid corporate culture. The prose was snappy and the pacing was pretty great – it’s a very readable and clever take on privacy issues and how readily we’re willing to trade off our rights for security and service personalization. I really enjoyed this one and have recommended it to friends.
Hard to have too much discussion about the mechanics of the book without spoiling things, but Mae is subjected to a kind of “slow boil”, where she’s willing to give up more and more of her privacy for nifty benefits like real-time healthcare monitoring and office prestige. At first the trade-offs are sneakily sensible, Eggers decribes cameras saving lives in conflict zones, and kidnap-proofing babies with microchips. By the third act she’s deeply embroiled in transparency culture, but I felt like Eggers lost me along the way – I had hoped he’d continue to rationalize away her resistance but at one point she chugs the kool-aid with such gusto it’s difficult empathise with her decisions through the rest of the novel. In fact, Eggers needs Mae to make a series of ridiculous decisions to let The Circle’s menacing master plan unfold, so I get why things unspool the way they do, but I think there was a missed opportunity to seduce the reader into playing along a little further than he did.
The only ‘voice of reason’ in the novel is her semi-paranoid survivalist ex-boyfriend, which I think was a clever calculated move by the author to make rational arguments feel a bit over the top and easy to dismiss. In fact it’s hilarious how insular and co-operative Egger’s world for Mae is – even the most innocent products offered by The Circle would have real-life modern-day privacy advocates storming the barricades with wirecutters to shut the whole thing down.
The book has inspired me to consider a bunch of privacy-themed art projects, but it’s been a busy summer – I’ll see if I can get any actually done. 🙂 Online privacy is something I think about often and there’s so many discussions we need to have about what we’re okay with as a society.
At this year’s inaugural Ottawa Zine Fair I was delighted to meet the charming Andrea Alefhi from New York who edits and publishes “We’ll Never Have Paris“, a tiny (only 4 x 5.5”) but incredibly curated zine of short stories and essays loosely arranged around the experiences of people displaced between the east and west coasts of America.
I’m clearly going to have to order and read all the previous issues because this Zine spoke to me in a huge way. I’ll admit I’m probably biased because like so many of the writers, I’ve also hopped around between coasts and felt very far away from home. But impartially, the writing in this book is consistently exceptional and I was caught up in all of the essays.
A few notable highlights include Jaime Borschuk’s hilariously guilt-steeped admission of accidentally running down an endangered California Condor on a birthday yurting trip gone awry, a poignant look at a pre-Youtube viral VHS discovery that becomes an obsession for a whole town by Dave Cole, and Joshua James Amberson’s identity crisis behind the wheel of his 1988 Ford Mustang 5.0.
“We’ll Never Have Paris” issue 13 is 48 pages, features 7 short works, and is available to order on their website www.wellneverhavepariszine.com
On a lark (mostly because there was an astronaut on the cover) I borrowed the graphic novel “Celeste” by I.N.J. Culbard from the library. The premise is really clever – it follows three people who suddenly discover they’re the only people left on the planet. There’s a particularly lovely Powers-Of-Ten opening that starts at the edge of the universe and slowly zooms into earth.
The setup and the settings and characters are all really interesting, but the third act of the storyline (in all three character’s storylines) just went totally over my head. I have the feeling that for the artist the ending is full of meaning, but I found it really difficult to make any sense of the abstract narrative that unfolds. I felt like maybe I could hit up the internet for some answers, but discovered that I’m not the only person who found it confounding.
I wasn’t in love with the art (it was well executed, but the style didn’t appeal to me), and you could make some valid criticism that the nudity felt a bit gratuitous, but I’d still recommend it for the experience of reading a storyline that doesn’t go anywhere you think it will. It felt a bit like an unsatisfying dream, and that was weird to get from a book.