For my money, Montreal is the best city to live in this side of Paris. Especially in the summer. But for all the mass festivals, street theatre and vibrant energy of the city, sometimes we need a reminder of that very specific ‘je ne sais quoi’ which makes Montreal so unique.

For around one-thousand Montrealers on a Tuesday morning in late summer, it came in the form of a live performance on a street corner by Montreal legend Patrick Watson.

The surprise performance was part of a series of impromptu sets at newly installed street pianos across the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough. Watson was helping to christen a pilot project to install public pianos on busy street corners across the borough. The brainchild of the never boring Projet Montreal administration, who control all the seats on the leftist Plateau’s borough council, the pianos will allow citizens to assemble in the streets and create unique and memorable experiences outside of the arena of major festivals.

I only found out about the performance by chance on twitter, and was lucky enough to make my way to the corner of Marie-Anne and St. Denis a few minutes into his set, which was also live-streamed on the web.

I found a tightly packed crowd spilling onto nearby steps and roofs, enchanted by the hauntingly soulful sound of Watson’s voice, accompanied only by the piano.

He played about three or four songs, followed by an encore, and the rapt silence of the street corner was broken at the end of each song by deafening applause.

Watson is a homeboy, who lives in the neighborhood, and said he was a few drinks in at a local watering hole when his companion, city councillor Alex Norris, asked him if he’d play the set.

“We were having a few drinks and he said, hey, want to come play piano in the streets? I was like, ‘yes, sir!'”

Watson goes on, “I love improvised moments, on the spot. When we started this band we did little weird shows in lofts and weird theatres, that’s how I started and I prefer it that way to organized concerts. People are a lot more generous in those moments. People don’t have any expectations. It’s always people’s favourite moment because it’s not a controlled environment and people join in and laugh.”

“People are so hung up on big politics, I think implicating yourself in small politics in your cities is a much smarter way to make a difference in your life. On the small scale, in a city council, you can understand the dialogue and see the choices they make. Your vote matters more, and can have a bigger impact on your society and where you live. I think it’s important that people start thinking about the small scale again. For me, getting involved in small things like this in my city is more important than playing a show for the Prime Minister. This has more value than the big scale.”

He’s asked if he thinks a performance like this will give a spark to children to take up the piano, and music in general, “Oh no, don’t do it! They’re going to stick you in a van for sixteen hours! Don’t go in the van! [laughter] It’s not funny! Music is a strange bug, I don’t think you ever pick music, I think music picks you. I think music should be a part of every kid’s life. It teaches patterns, math, discipline. I think it’s good for children to be involved in music when they’re young, it doesn’t mean you have to be a musician, because that’s a bad idea! But just to play music. You know before recordings there was someone in every family who played music, and they sat around and played music together. I wonder if that was better.”

“Then your grandmother would be playing music, and you’d have to sing, and then you’d get the feeling I get when I play. Maybe I’m hogging it all for myself, and stealing something from people that they should just do themselves.”

Maybe with these pianos we’ll recapture some of that magic? “That’d be awesome! The grandmothers can come out and rock and roll!”

I ask him about his support for the student strike, which he went on CBC radio earlier this year to support. He says it’s tough for him to say he supports it, because he thinks it’s a symptom of a broken system.

“I’m for making education as cheap as possible, within our means. If that means we have to change how our economic structure is built, that should be the dialogue, more than trying to force water out of stones.

The one thing I feel very strongly about, which I think is a total failure, is that we just give away our natural resources. Countries like Sweden and Norway, which have nationalized their resources, have the right idea. I don’t think anyone should own those things. It’s a bad concept, it’s selfish. I mean, there are countries in Africa that take more royalties on resources than we do! It’s embarrassing. If I was going to march in the street, I’d do it over that more than anything, because I think that would fix so many other problems. Marching for the students is like marching for the symptom, and I’d rather be marching for the root cause of our problems. I’d rather go up the pipeline to find the causes, rather than fighting the effects at the bottom of the pipeline.”

Forget The Box: Obviously you’re a big fan of the project of putting pianos in the street, which is being done by Projet Montreal, so do you support Projet?

“I think they’re really courageous people. They get hate calls, I know Alex [city councillor Norris] gets hate calls late on a saturday night, because of parking meters and trying to get rid of cars, but then everyone whines about climate change and the environment. We have a government which is actually doing something for the environment, and everyone whines about parking spaces. But they stood their ground, and I really respect them having the courage to stand their ground and make changes that everyone demands all the time. Then those changes happen, and people go “Oh, why do you make my parking meter more expensive?” Well, so you don’t use your car!

I have a lot of respect for the courage they have to make the changes they’ve been making.”

FTB: Obviously we’re in the midst of a provincial election, so who are you voting for?

I like Quebec Solidaire. For me they’re the most well spoken, and a lot of their ideas appeal to me, like the issue with resources I was mentioning. I’m not a huge fan of separating, just for the sake of separating. I think that separation is a question we reach once we’ve built Quebec into a stronger society, and decide if that’s the right course. I’m not against it either. I just think people use separation as an excuse, they think everything is going to be better if we separate, when those changes they want, we can do now. We don’t have to be sovereign to do them. Until they can prove to me that they can make those changes now, I don’t think we’ll be able to make them if we separate either.”

I grab Luc Ferrandez, the borough mayor of Plateau-Mont-Royal, and the architect of this project, to ask him a few questions about his street pianos.

FTB: It’s a really novel idea, putting pianos on the streets. Can you tell me where the idea came from?

“New York. New York and London have already done it, but they did it on a much more controlled basis, in festivals and things like that. To just put them on the sidewalk like this, I think we’re one of the first. The idea is to make little events all around the borough that make you go out on a daily basis. You don’t need big festivals. You want to go out and meet your neighbors on a daily basis, that’s why we put some ping pong tables in Parc Laurier, and some exercise machines outside in the park, the kind you would normally find in a gym. We have little markets going on all over, we’re even doing karaoke nights in the park. Little events that make you want to go out and interact with your neighbors. Most of these ideas exist somewhere else, we’re just picking them up and implementing them here.”

FTB: How long will the pianos be out here?

“They will stay for a month. We’ll see if it works, if it’s vandalized. If it isn’t vandalized, we’ll bring it back next year for longer. Anywhere where people volunteer to take care of the piano, without too many residents around, we’ll put a piano there. It only costs $350, so why not? How much do you think it was worth for this event this morning? It was worth thousands of dollars. A little moment of peace. I said to Patrick Watson, in the last fifty years there has never been so much love and humanity on this street corner.”


**Warning: Some of the photos in this article err on the NSFW side… but I was at a nude beach after all**

Given the fact that Montreal is an island, one thing it is seriously lacking in is a soft, sandy beach for tanning by day and all-night beach parties complete with the most liberating summertime activity of all: skinny dipping. Sure, there’s the wimpy man-made “beach” at Ile Notre-Dame, but you can tell the scratchy sand was just brought in on a giant truck, the water is so murky and unappealing and it’s always overcrowded with screaming children.  There are a few notable pools and secret swimming holes scattered throughout the island, but none come close to the sublime paradise of Oka Beach on the shore of the Lake of Two Mountains.

Getting There:

Oka National Park  is easily accessible by car, at about an hour’s drive out on highways 13 and 360. However, if you’re vehicular-challenged like me and pretty much all my friends, two wheels will get you there almost as easily. You can opt for the 50 kilometer bike ride along the scenic Route Verte, part of Quebec’s intricate system of cycling trails.  Instead, we chose to take the AMT train to suburban big-box wasteland of Vaudreuil. After that, we biked about 10 kilometers to Hudson and took the ferry across the lake to Oka for a total cost of $9. After that it was only about a 20 minute ride to the campsite, through the tree-laden path to the National Park.

No Tan Lines!

The beach at Oka has two distinct sections: the family-friendly side near the campsite that is littered with brightly-colored umbrellas. Finding a prime spot can be difficult, especially during summer weekends as the sandy real estate becomes densely populated with towels and suntanners. A short walk to the left of the main beach is where the fun begins – there’s a magical yellow pole that welcomes you into a public space where it’s completely legal to remove your clothes and frolic in the sun, sand and surf.

You’ll know you’ve reached the nude section of the beach when you spot boats and jetskis docked near the shore, as they are not permitted to park on the main beach. Another dead giveaway is the buck naked middle-aged men with leather skin tans that proudly walk the shoreline, stealing glances at the swimmers and sunbathers. One of the best things about a nude beach is no tan lines, but make sure to pack plenty of sunscreen so you have enough to cover all your bits for the nude beach – nothing hurts more than sunburnt nipples.

Beware the Rustling Bushes

When I mentioned to a friend that I was spending the weekend at Oka, she told me last time she was on the nude beach, she was openly propositioned by a man who asked if she wanted to have sex with right there on the sand. “It really put a damper on my nude frolicking,” she lamented. I wasn’t going to let any of those unabashed perverts ruin my naked fun… but luckily I didn’t encounter any of them. I did see many groups of happy people of all ages in various states of undress. Every once in awhile, my eyes would drift to the tree-lined edge of the beach where I would see a rustling in behind the leaves that I was pretty sure wasn’t the racoons that roamed the campsites when darkness fell.

Do Not Feed The Raccoons, As They Will Eat Anything

Camping facilities were standard at the National Park – we opted for the cheapest type of site without electricity. I noticed signs throughout the park that offered the standard “do not feed the wildlife” refrain, and as such we tried to keep a very close watch on our food… however we soon learned that hungry raccoons will eat almost anything.

After having a little too much to drink, one of my friends threw up all that excess liquor into a clearing at the side of our campsite. When the raccoons arrived that night, they must have been intrigued by the vomit’s sweet smell, as they proceeded to chow down. Word to the wise – if you thought raccoons were crazy, you’ve never met a drunken raccoon. Luckily we had consumed the rest of the booze and with our food safely stowed away, the raccoons stumbled off into the night to look for more puddles of alcoholic vomit.

Photos: Top by Jessica Klein, others by Marlon Francescini.


Today marks the opening night of something new in the nation’s capital—the likes of which the city has never seen before. This year in conjunction with Capitol Pride, the Cirque Bizarre boutique festival will boast four days of events, most of which will be taking place in the infamous Ottawa Jail Hostel. The House of SAS team have occupied this historic site and are turning it into a 1930s circus-themed extravaganza.

The real surprise of this mini festival will happen on Friday night as the miscreants of the Montreal nightlife institution GAYBASH will descend upon Ottawa for the first time. In fact it will be the first time Tyler and Sal take their glamorous dumpster baby of a party beyond the borders of Quebec. Anyone who has had the pleasure/horror of attending one of the terrible twosome’s parties can only help but wonder if such glorious madness can exist off the island of Montreal or if it will just crumble into sparkly dust like a unicorn no one believes in.

GAYBASH will be an injection of the truly bizarre that Ottawa doesn’t know it needs—much like an unexpected enema washing away the endless boredom of day to day life. We believe in unicorns and we believe in Tyler & Sal.

The lineup for the night brings together some of Montreal’s biggest names such as SHAY DaKiss and B’UGO. Headlining the event is international sensation Cazwell, who is making his way from NYC. Tyler & Sal have also decided to fill a few vans full of their loyal followers, and ship them over.

A rumour is even spreading that Roze and Rhonda (the internationally ignored celebrities )of STILL NOT FAMOUS will somehow make an appearance. This will be difficult—but not out of character—for the pair as they are never invited anywhere important, and seem to miss the party even when someone forgot to take them of the e-vite list. If it does happen, we will be surprised they got their act together enough to leave the house, let alone the province.

Either way, nothing can ruin this night of d-botch that many are waiting for with gin-soaked baited breath. It promises to be something new for Ottawa, something of an adventure for the GAYBASH crew, and definitely not something to miss for the rest of us. So dust off that top hat and we’ll see you in Jail.

For full event listings and tickets, check out their website.

Photo by Chris Zacchia. For photos from previous GAYBASH events, check out our Facebook photo gallery.

Across North America a new trend is delving into the massive failure of capitalistic projects in the age of austerity and may in fact represent, to a larger extent, the downfall of the American Empire… I am of course speaking about the ubiquity of vacant malls and the many blogs dedicated to them.

In deserted, abandoned, “one horse” cities, they are a sad reminder of the once great state of the capitalist bulk and decadence left behind in the structurally sound, but culturally inept, enclosed shopping mall.

These malls are littered with vacant lots of shops long gone bankrupt, where the only thing left behind is the grey wall-to-wall carpeting still imprinted with soles of customers that haunt the place of a once great shopping experience.

The Internet is full of sites dedicated to their unique box architecture and their subculture – shopping fiends in search of the best buy.

Let’s look at a few outstanding blogs dedicated to these Goliath structures of mass retail that turned into sore reminders in the form of Ozymandias type monuments:

Mooklife/Ghost Mall
It’s best to start locally, I always say. Montreal, has one the most legendary vacant malls in the world – I am of course talking about the Decarie square. Since it’s inception there were high hopes for the mall, built right off the Decarie auto-route, it was a feature of the new enclosed mall shopping experience that was pushed at the late seventies early eighties. Unfortunately for the mall it has changed hands, ownership wise, and it`s been the kid in a custody battle between the city of Montreal and Cote-Ste-Luc..well at least there’s a dollar cinema!

They come for the sales but, most of the time, they ended up getting more then they bargained for, including serious bacterial infections, depending on which under maintained bathroom used.
Many malls, especially ones that were based on the Costco/Walmart model destroyed the local store, but now, these malls are fighting for survival, trying to drum up business and stave off inevitable death. A lot of these malls have turned into bargain basements with little or no maintenance, basically just concrete decrepitude and dereliction. None more so then the Decarie square:

Mooklife, a blog located in Montreal, really has the sense of humor to delve into this disaster by the auto-route. The pictures are funny, the captions are pretty hilarious too. At times I felt like I was reading Vice magazine. He got to the point of what plagues the Decarie square, and dissects it with the wit of a sharp scalpel.

Reason/Malls of a certain age

A few years ago Reason published an amazing article on the state of malls, specifically enclosed malls in the United States and how they were dying because of bad foresight on the economy and changes in shopping patterns.
I learned so much from this post, for instance, I did not know the startling figures of desolate malls compared to their more successful counterparts. And did you know malls are cannibals? – sucking out the life force of other malls by moving within close proximity? It`s all true. Check it out!

Deadmalls is the ultimate site dedicated to stories about failed malls. Or just personal experiences walking through dead malls. My personal; favorite is about a mall in Toledo where half was hacked away, leaving only half a mall after a development group ran out of cash. These are of course hard times, so site keeps getting bigger and bigger. It has a great index where you can look up any state.

Also check out these videos about the landscape around abandon malls:

Greg Shall is a photographer from Minnesota who dictates his time taking photos of dead or dying malls.

Many sites on the internet are dedicated to abandon mall exploration. Malls can be great urban hubs of exploration, especially those badly maintained and for the most part forgotten. Check out this video of an exploration through a former mall in Toledo:

Photo courtesy of, and

This weekend I saw a very interesting post on Forget the Box co-founder Jason C. McLean’s Facebook wall in which Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello criticized republican Paul Ryan for listing Rage as his favourite band. Tom claimed that Ryan is “the embodiment of the machine our music has been raging against for two decades.” While there is no doubt that Rage’s politics are well-known and far to the left, this makes me wonder what liking a certain type of music or band has to do with one’s political views?

I know a lot of people who love Rage Against The Machine, some of whom are conservative (myself being one of them). And while I do not agree with most of Rage’s political views showcased in their lyrics, I think it’s tough to deny that the music itself is top notch, influential and just overall good. And that’s the point.

Does there come a point where artists like Rage can recognize that their music is just so good that political elites such as Paul Ryan happen to enjoy it? Think about it. Not very many bands out there openly acknowledge a right-wing stance, yet a lot go to great lengths to make their leftist stances known. In any case, one might argue a good majority of bands strongly support the left. Except for, um…


But aside from this, what’s really so difficult to comprehend? Rage Against The Machine is a good band. I’m sure many would agree. So is it hard to understand why Ryan may happen to like them? Maybe the man has good taste in music? But aren’t conservatives supposed to be against art? It’s these little things that demonstrate the media party’s bias.

Imagine if Ryan had said he didn’t like Rage Against the Machine because of their lyrics and political views. Guaranteed you would have had MSNBC and left-wing pundits claiming Ryan hates good music, and that he can’t put political views aside for the sake of art. There is no doubt a double standard that is very evident.

This, however, is even more shocking. And relevant.

Richard is referring to the Republican who said that legitimate rape rarely results in pregnancy. While Todd Akin’s comments are most certainly absurd, the complete lack of professionalism shown by Cheese is staggering. To say, “This is my page, and if you don’t like it, then go listen to the Republican party’s pro-life lounge singer. Oh wait, they don’t have one, because they’re a bunch of fucking wingnut cavemen,” is too ridiculous for words.

Stay classy, left-wing artists. No denying you’re talented, but you’re also more obnoxious than supporters of Al Quds day.

Based out of London, Ontario, Sunflower Skins is a collection of cut and paste self-published books that aim to delight, educate and challenge the reader.  I recently spoke with the brainchild of Sunflower Skins Britani Sadovski, and we chatted about life in the DYI publishing community, her inspirations and where she sees Sunflower Skins headed in the future.


Stephanie Laughlin: Tell me about the origins of Sunflower Skins

Britani Sadovski:
I began self-publishing before university, and the early chapbooks reflect my poetry-entrenched literary upbringing. My first Sunflower Skins projects were free, an attempt to inspire shared literature and guerrilla art; I still maintain the free-press mission with the Bulimic Beluga project and put lots of love into each book I make.

I work exclusively with my partner Thom Bacchus Roland, whose writing can be found here.

SL: I’m particularly interested in what inspired one of your books “the future of bullimic beluga whales”

BS: “Bulimic Belugas” originally started as an idea for a zine, but I quickly found a required monthly format to be too limiting for the direction I wanted to take my art. Instead, inspired by riotgrrl liner notes, Courtney Love’s early band posters, and Kathy Acker’s versions of cut-up technique, I created my own “self-help book” using some black humour and real statistics on eating disorders. More people need to be able to talk about bulimia, depression, and anxiety disorders. The absurd approach at least seems to get their attention.

 SL: Are you part of a community of DYI publishers?

BS: As a teenager I realized that traditional publishing was not for me. In general I don’t like big box business, and books are no different; I love local bookshops, the owner’s knowledge and intimacy with texts of all kinds. At 18 I found The Grove Press Reader which changed my approach to writing, for whom I wanted to write, and informed my ethics concerning the publishing world; Barney Rosset’s dedication to fighting censorship, as well as working closely with writers and their original texts, greatly inspires me to maintain full control over my art and to work without boundaries. My partner Thom Roland and I write, format, print, and bind all of our books ourselves. Both of us have blogs for comics, short stories, fragments, and essays. We decided to create the literary, socially-just world we want that we don’t find in London, ON.; though we’ve set up our headquarters here to expand publishing and distribution, we’ve found more of a community online, of like-minded individuals who publish their own comics and essays on blogs.

Sunflower Skins creator Britani Sadovski

SL: What’s the reaction to your work in London, Ont? Have you shown your work in other places?

BS: I’ve sent Bulimic Beluga books to friends around the world to distribute in local libraries, coffee shops, bookstores, and anywhere else they want. Contributing to zine libraries is a favourite activity! This past winter a fellow writer took books with him on a trip to Turkey, leaving some scattered in airports along the way; another friend, a Pure Poet, took a bunch to Washington, D.C. campuses and even he left a few in the aquarium.

 I’ve had many people approach me, both in person and online, about my mental health writing, sharing personal stories about medication, trial treatments, relationship troubles, and social triumphs; the opportunity to connect with my readers and inspire conversation and new ideas encourages me, for I want a more accepting, honest world.

 SL: How do you see Sunflower Skins evolving ?

BS: I have a couple of books currently available (a photography-based comic book and a double-feature horror chapbook shared with Thom Roland). I’m currently working on a collection of Stupid Children Stories, a hand-bound book of mixed media: short stories, photography, and childhood drawings.

As we continue distributing free beluga books to encourage mental health discussion, Sunflower Skins embraces a mindful, purposeful-play lifestyle in order to explore issues in a non-threatening environment; I play with Lego, plastic dinosaurs, Giant Microbes, and various other toys to focus on the absurd in my comics, whether it’s making literary jokes, socio-political observations, or completely silly dino scenes. I also make comics starring live spiders and take great pleasure in connecting with the natural world.

 SL: Anything specific you’d like me to mention in the article? Upcoming book fairs, etc…

BS: Feed the Whales is an important cause! I’ll send as many books as people want to anywhere in the world; free press for all! You can also support Sunflower Skins and Bulimic Belugas by spreading the word through t-shirts, buttons, or even little handmade plush whales.In December 2012 we’ll be taking the Bulimic Belugas to DisneyWorld! Blub blub!

Find me on Twitter @sunflowerskins

Robert Hughes, the Australian born art critic and writer passed away this week at the age of 74. He was by far the best critic of our time dedicating his life to expressing the unwavering truth about art. He seldom got it wrong and never stooped to sugar-coating mediocrity. His writing was on par with the best of them and he played with language like a well versed poet. His books include: “Things I Didn’t Know”; “The Shock of the New”; “Rome: A Cultural, Visual and Personal History” and “Goya” to name a few.   

It is not right to belittle his achievements by inserting my own opinions, take on his life, or attempt matching his Shakespearian writing skills because I cannot and I shan’t do that. So, for this article only, I will share with you some of his wisdom on art:

“The basic project of art is always to make the world whole and comprehensible, to restore it to us in all its glory and its occasional nastiness, not through argument but through feeling, and then to close the gap between you and everything that is not you, and in this way pass from feeling to meaning. It’s not something that committees can do. It’s not a task achieved by groups or by movements. It’s done by individuals, each person mediating in some way between a sense of history and an experience of the world.”

“The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.”

“What does one prefer? An art that struggles to change the social contract, but fails? Or one that seeks to please and amuse, and succeeds?”

“So much of art – not all of it thank god, but a lot of it – has just become a kind of cruddy game for the self-aggrandizement of the rich and the ignorant, it is a kind of bad but useful business.”

“It seems obvious, looking back, that the artists of Weimar Germany and Leninist Russia lived in a much more attenuated landscape of media than ours, and their reward was that they could still believe, in good faith and without bombast, that art could morally influence the world. Today, the idea has largely been dismissed, as it must in a mass media society where art’s principal social role is to be investment capital, or, in the simplest way, bullion. We still have political art, but we have no effective political art. An artist must be famous to be heard, but as he acquires fame, so his work accumulates ‘value’ and becomes, ipso-facto, harmless. As far as today’s politics is concerned, most art aspires to the condition of Muzak. It provides the background hum for power.”

“The auction room, as anyone knows, is an excellent medium for sustaining fictional price levels, because the public imagines that auction prices are necessarily real prices.”

“It is hard to think of any work of art of which one can say ‘this saved the life of one Jew, one Vietnamese, one Cambodian’. Specific books, perhaps; but as far as one can tell, no paintings or sculptures. The difference between us and the artists of the 1920’s is that they they thought such a work of art could be made. Perhaps it was a certain naivete that made them think so. But it is certainly our loss that we cannot.”

“The new job of art is to sit on the wall and get more expensive.”

“One gets tired of the role critics are supposed to have in this culture: it’s like being the piano player in a whorehouse; you don’t have any control over the action going on upstairs.”

He was wrong about the last statement, because Robert Hughes had tremendous effect on our culture and opening our eyes to a different vision as to what art can be. He will be truly missed.

Robert Studley Forrest Hughes, 28 July 1938 – 6 August 2012.

Looming on the skyline of London as you head east to Stratford is the Olympic Orbit designed by Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond. This horrid tower twisting up made of cold brutal steel, supposedly represents the spirit of Londoners as well as the harmony of the games. It does nothing of the sort.

It is so horrific that Jonathan Jones, The Guardian’s art critic tried to rationalize it by associating the binge drinking, brain cells killing, over indulgence behaviour to its design, quote: “a drunken party animal of a building” and “Colossal and imperfect, Anish Kapoor’s sculpture at the Olympic Park is the body of us all”.

No dear Sir, I take offence of such outlandish characterizations, and I take offence of Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond assuming us so feeble minded that we would believe whatever they touch turns into gold.

The problem with major sporting events like the Olympics is that they create a frenzy of publicity and dare I say pointless hoopla by the hosting nation, who understandably are looking to profit financially and build up a reputation. However this coincides with swarms of bad decisions which end up costing more than budgeted.

The cost of London Olympics this year has been reported as $14.46 billion, which is significantly more than the naively hopeful 2003 bid figure of $4 billion. This figure might come as a shock amidst UK Conservative PM David Cameron‘s call for more austerity and the subsequent cuts that have affected all public sectors across the board. This kind of mentality boggles the mind. Is reputation and superficial national glory more important than health, security and education? Do we need better teachers, doctors and researchers or people who can jump, lift, and throw?

I am a supporter of better health, I do on occasion enjoy a sporting event, and I am in astonishing awe of physical excellence and ability; however we have bigger problems than nationalism and London’s reputation which frankly would not be affected by the Olympics. The greatest dangers we face include climate change, poverty, unemployment, disease… and UK would rather spend the money on these overpriced competitions. If we are to survive we need more thinkers not bunch of sprinters.

Frankly when I watch a football match I do not think I might excel at the sport, and thus go out on a field and play, so the nonsense about Olympics promoting better health is hogwash. As for unity and promotion of peace in the world, I’m afraid you would have to get rid of the competitive part in the games, because in that stadium opening night there won’t be one flag uniting the world, but division between the nations and different cheers of national pride in multiples of languages echoing from each corner.

People of East End of London who have been so affectionately praised as the poorest in the city by the mayor Boris Johnson won’t be benefiting from these games, the private companies who have been contracted by the government to presumably and as it turned out unsuccessfully keep the costs down will. The private security firm G4S has already displayed what happens when money comes in by the bucketful and ethics go out the window, things have gone so awry that the government had to deploy the army to help out.

And let’s not forget Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond who have taken care of the art. The tower has nearly cost $40 million, $10 million of which came out of the taxpayers’ pockets, the rest was paid for by the steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal from the ArcelorMittal steel company, hence the tower is called ArcelorMittal Orbit. Don’t for a second think that this venture was for the love of art, or the love for the games, Lakshmi Mittal has kindly offered to charge visitors nearly $30 to go up the tower. And what do you get when you reach the top? Nice view of London? Surely a request for your money back; because what you will see up there won’t make you feel special, or optimistic about life, what you will see is the city of London being swallowed up by immoral private companies.

So maybe Jonathan Jones was right about one thing, and this squirming, twisting, ugly metal structure is our bodies which we have allowed to succumb to this horror by the hands of our politicians. “Heard about the guy who fell off a skyscraper? On his way down past each floor, he kept saying to reassure himself: So far so good… so far so good… so far so good. How you fall doesn’t matter. It’s how you land!” (La Haine, 1995)

Earlier this week Ansar Dine and MNLA, a Tuareg sect who are separatists, attacked some of Timbuktu’s oldest mosques and heritage buildings armed with pickaxes whilst shouting “Allah O Akbar” which means “God is Great” in Arabic.

The group have links to Al-Qaida and see the Mosques and Shrines to the Sufi saints as against Sharia Law, and so they say it is their duty to destroy them, presumably to advance their own radical, extremist take on the religion.

In Islam there are strict prohibitions when it comes to depictions of human and animal figures in holy places and in art itself; so most mosques are decorated with geometric and arabesque shapes, which have come to define Islamic Art in western conscious. However, as with any religion, many have interpreted the Quran in different ways and you see these figures appear in different regions.

The enforcement of Islamic law and interpretation of the Quran by different nationalities have roots in the ancient cultures that predate the Arab invasions of around 630 AD, and this is why every Muslim country has its own identity and way of dealing with the religion.

The Arab leaders and appointed heads of state were very adaptable when it came to learning and taking up the customs of the ancient cultures in their occupied countries, despite the popular belief that they ruled by the sword.

There is no doubt that the invading armies had captured their territory with force, killing anyone who stood in their way, and they did indeed burn down many buildings, books and artefacts; however once in power they soon realized that to govern they could not keep up the scare tactics, otherwise they would have had much resistance from the public.

Through the surviving evidence from around the world one can clearly see that the newly appointed Islamist leaders changed much of their approach when in power. There are mosques and palaces with paintings and structures that clearly go against the modern teachings of the Quran. There are bathhouses with Roman inspired architecture and artwork depicting people enjoying wine and pleasures of the flesh during the Arab rule.

It is only as time went on and pressures from the wars started to take their toll that a stricter and extremer Islam started to become popular amongst the leading figures, and the fear once again started to be the tool they used to keep people in check.

Religious identity is not the same as cultural identity. Certainly religion is not a culture. Art from different so called Islamic countries differ tremendously, which I would agree might seem subtle to western eyes. One would have to travel to different regions of the Middle East and North Africa to discover these differences, because what we see in the museums and galleries are shaped by our perceived notion that Islamic art has a unifying theme and concept, otherwise we cannot assign them a wing or a space just to seem enlightened.

In backlash to us romanticizing art from those regions as Islamic and labelling them all with a same cultural identity, the hardliners are abusing their new found fear mongering methods to destroy what is left of those ancient cultures that once existed in the region, and terrorizing the people.

The Taliban destroyed the priceless Buddha sculptures in Afghanistan, the Mullahs are destroying Persian monuments, Ansar Dine and MNLA are destroying Timbuktu’s heritage buildings; what is next, the Muslim Brotherhood destroying the Pyramids?

It is only when we stop trying to be politically correct; it is only when we stop glamorizing religion ideologies as sacred; it is only when we stop defining people by their beliefs in God that we can escape the shackles of prejudice and start looking realistically at the problems we face from the fundamentalists.

Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, and yes one must not live in the past, one must be innovative and progressive in vision to survive. If we carry on ignoring the issue of religious radicalism in any form, be it Judaism, Christianity or Islam, and pass it off as cultural differences we will have a bleak future to look forward to.

The anticipated summer months have again arrived with us in the city, and with them come not only the park-lounging appropriate weather, but also a plethora of culturally based festivals and activities. Events such as Jazz Fest, Osheaga, and the Just For Laughs festival draw in massive crowds every year to experience summer on the island. For the audience craving something less produced, more artistic and without massive corporate sponsorships, the 2012 Infringement Festival is an alternative option to experience culture in Montreal.

For those who haven’t yet experienced what the Infringement festival is all about, it is an interdisciplinary festival that was created out of Montreal in 2004 and has since spread to both Canadian and American cities alike. The festival was founded upon the effort to reclaim artistic freedom for the community and avoid corporate branding affecting the work being created. A strict emphasis on inclusive practices is in place, making sure no type of artist is denied the ability to participate, charged a registration fee, or has their work censored.

Throughout the 10-day run of the festival, audiences are exposed to any and all types of artistic works with controversial and activism-based themes. Visual arts, spoken-word, theatre, music, and much more take many different forms at various expected and unexpected Montreal venues (such as “alleyway behind Biftek”). Just by browsing through this years list of artists shows how truly eclectic and unique this festival has become.

With the festival not operating under one notion or ideal, but the encouragement of difference of style and opinion itself, the audience has the opportunity to immerse themselves in a vast variety of expression. If you’re looking to experience uncensored and uncompromised artistic performance in combination with the already inspiring Montreal summer, the 2012 Infringement Festival is promised to be an eye opening adventure.

 The 9th annual Montreal Infringement Festival kicks off tonight with Chorale du Peuple & Mr. Parker Québec, Mille Rosado and Jeremiah Wall @ Barfly, 4062A St-Laurent (PWYC).

For the full schedule and more, check out the festival’s website and Facebook Page

Infringement Poster by Jean-Frédéric Noël
Picture courtesy Optative Theatrical Laboratories

Pheobe Greenberg, founder of the DHC/ART foundation for contemporary art, backs another remarkable project: Old Montreal’s smart building for art, the PHI-Centre. The four-floored, redefined historical building opens its doors as an interactive and collaborating centre for the arts. With the technology and capacity to house a variety of events from film screenings, to music concerts, to artist talks, the space presents itself as helping to “make Montreal a global hub for arts and creativity”.

The opening show “AMENTIA: A Moment of Insanity” delivers in many aspects of the PHI Centre’s vision: evolving, open-ended and interactive. Artist Jean-Francois Mayrand’s project centers around each viewer’s reactions and interactions with a madman (portrayed by actor Gaetan Nadeau). Unfolding in a three-screen walled room, each individual is invited to enter a “dialogue of gestures” that progresses in response to the viewer’s movements. The experience is then mapped into an ink-blot like print and offered for purchase.

While the aura around the secluded darkened room added hype to the experience, the building itself is truly worth writing about. The space is striking, the art is commendable and the potential is grand. With the most advanced technology and entirely versatile space, the PHI Center truly holds the potential to develop as Montreal’s artistic hub.

And pulling at our principled, progressive heartstrings, the PHI Centre further promotes environmental awareness. The center is aiming for a gold standing of LEED certification, an international grading system for the design and construction of green, sustainable and energy efficient buildings.

With a new and innovative business model, the PHI Centre has been undergoing what was termed an “incubation” period of trial and development. This offers locals a wonderful chance at engaging with the development of the space. Chris Clark, the community manager for the Phi Center, noted that rather than offering up the space for independent rentals, the center would ideally like to incorporate themselves in the process of planning events. Such collaboration provides the center with the chance to develop as the core of Montreal’s artistic community.

Most curiously, I am eager to see what crowd the center will entice. Without a formal press conference, the center portrayed their community-oriented, conversational and accessible intention by presenting the opening night of AMENTIA to a local line-up of bloggers. The space held an easy-going and laugh-filled evening that I unofficially consider my initiation into a group of interested and engaging people, which I further imagine is what the PHI Center intends for its future.

But with their upcoming incubation period, the space will slowly delineate through its events and visitors. Being an emphatic dreamer, I am still hung up on the idea of Montreal’s unfulfilled potential, and look to the PHI Center with naive and enthusiastic eyes. Ideally, I would love to see the center truly develop into an artistic hub. But my idealistic, rather than realistic, perspective prevents predicting what type of frequenters would determine such a space. The young and offbeat; the mature and established?

Luckily, I have not been presented the task of determining the PHI Centre’s business plan and subsequent demographic. But in contributing what will be the beginning of a long and diverse discourse centering around the space, I feel my words play a part.

And so I present, with the meager power invested in my words, an indeterminate and diverse space to be filled by those attracted to the promise of art as an open-ended community. I present the PHI Centre as that promise and the reader, consequently, as its answer. Check it out. Tell me what you think.

Is there a better way to spend your Wednesday night than at Casa Del Popolo drinking in the tunes of three diverse bands and also perhaps some fine frosty beer? I think not! You’ve had Monday and Tuesday to recuperate from any weekend damage you may have incurred, and are likely suffering from a bout of cabin fever after lying low for two days. Trust me, I know how these things go. The only way to remedy that stale boredom is to get your up-for-anything asses over to Casa Del Popolo tonight!

Oliver The Great

The line-up features Montreal-based bands Drama Culture and Oliver The Great, with Hollis & The Widows joining them from Toronto. A little folk rock, a little alternative and a little grunge, each band shares similar elements without blurring the lines that distinguish them from each other.

The show gets started at 9pm with Drama Culture opening, followed by Hollis & The Widows and Oliver The Great. Cover is an affordable $5, leaving you plenty of change for a few cold bevvies.

See you there!