Nikki Reimer: On Expo Ernie & the Candahar Bar

It’s day three of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games here in Vancouver (can I type that without running afoul of copyright infringement?). I’m nursing a nascent cold that might have been picked up from too much carousing on opening night. Here’s what I’ve seen so far.

The spectre of protest vs. celebration has friends at each other’s throats and debates ranging from friendly to nasty on the streets and on Facebook. We’ve got pro-Olympics events, anti-Olympics events, Olympics-agnostic events, peaceful protests and property damage. As the Black Eye Facebook group notes, “Hosting the Olympics after slashing the arts is like hosting a dinner party with a black eye; your guests are bound to notice!” Which is true, however I don’t personally believe in castigating artists who participate in the Cultural Olympiad; I don’t buy into the idea that certain artists retain some vaunted mystical artistic purity because they haven’t taken money from VANOC. Sachi and Sina have already posted on the stance adopted by Vancouver’s poet laureate, so I won’t mention it here, nor will I bitch about Shane Koyczan any more than (ahem) I already have.

I would like to mention another spectre hanging over this Olympics, that of the last big corporate spectacle: Expo 86. Several local artists and organizations have come together to reframe and reinterpret that event in light of this cultural and historic moment.

Something’s Happening Here!

Thursday night saw an opening at Geoffrey Farmer’s Every Letter in the Alphabet gallery, a show that included posters from Jeremy Shaw’s Something’s Happening Here, a remount and remix of Expo 86 posters, flyers and coverage, Shaw’s own relay torch, and a certain little android named Ernie, displayed as Lot 422.

“At the conclusion of the fair, Jimmy Pattison, CEO and President of the Expo ’86 Corporation, paid 53,000 CDN for the acquisition of the ‘official’ Expo Ernie. Mr. Pattison was also given three of the remaining, non-functioning surrogates to be used for replacement parts. The fifth, partially-functioning Expo Ernie was presumed destroyed. This is the fifth Expo Ernie.”

As I left Every Letter and walked south on Victoria street, my gaze drifted up to the Olympic corporate sponsor Samsung’s billboard, backlit and glowing in the night. Underneath, another corporate logo: Pattison.

Candahar Bar

Friday night my sweetheart and I headed out on a city bus from East Van, through the surprisingly quiet downtown, and over the Granville Bridge en route to Granville Island. At first try we couldn’t get in to the Candahar Bar, so we wandered around the island in the rain, watched a Canada flag flapping off a light-festooned crane, and caught the cauldron lighting portion of the opening ceremonies by pressing our faces to one of the windows at Place de la Francophonie.

Candahar Bar is based on a project by artist Theo Sims and is curated by Vancouver writer Michael Turner. We’d missed Rebecca Belmore’s Indians Only, billed as an “opening intervention,” which I’m told consisted of the bar portion of the Candahar Bar being barred to anyone without an aboriginal status card, a brilliant and appropriate performance for the night of the opening ceremonies. We did get to hear Jeremy Shaw DJ the top 100 songs of 1986, which to me was like crawling back into the womb.

Finally, we caught up with our pals Liz Bachinsky and Alex Leslie, who will be curating the public art project BLACKOUT AT THE CANDAHAR till Feb. 28. BLACKOUT is an opportunity for the public to create their own erasure poetry from Olympics coverage. You got your beer, your texts, and your Sharpie markers.

Nikki Reimer blogs and plans arts events in Vancouver, where she is a member of the Kootenay School of Writing and a board member at W2 Community Media Arts. Her poetry has been published in such magazines as Matrix, Front, Prism, BafterC and filling Station. A chapbook, fist things first, was recently published by Wrinkle Press and a book, [sic], is forthcoming from Frontenac House. She has never been to grad school. (Photo: Rory Zerbe)

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