Fillip 1 — Summer 2005

Jordan Strom

Learning from Los Alamos
The brain was saved for later
Leaning into Los Angeles
Leaping onto the back of the senatorial beast.
—Kevin Davies, Karnal Bunt

When the fashionable American interior decorator Elsie Mendl, upon first seeing the Parthenon on a trip to Greece in the 1940s exclaimed, “It’s just my colour: it’s beige!” she might well have qualified for honorary Canadian citizenship. Beige, as it has been revealed recently through Komar and Melamid’s epic phone survey project The Most Wanted Paintings, holds a special position as Canada’s favourite colour. What role Athenian smog may have played in Mendl’s assertion—or for that matter, Canadian pollster Ipsos—Reid’s role in nationalist aesthetics—is less relevant here. That beige is even a colour seems like an artifact of the nineteen eighties—certainly David Batchelor, or Takashi Murakami might consider it so.

If anything, beige—though historically loaded as any material pigment—is essentially blank. But this is not to its detriment for as Stéphane Mallarmé points out in Un Coup de Des: “the blank spaces, in effect, assume importance, strikes first.” If fillip, in part, means to strike a soft blow, to hit in a non-violent way as stimulant, it is through this blankness that a critical drubbing can be made manifest.

Yet, fillipics1 is not about numbskull invective or dire declamation. A fillipics as criticism is additive. It admires, what Thomas Y. Levin has referred to as the “physiognomic essay” of feuilleton journalism. Levin refers to the belletristic and diagnostic writers of Weimar Germany: the Joseph Roths, Soma Morgensterns, Siegfried Kracauers, and Alfons Paquets. The Feuilleton, at its best, was a form of visual cultural analysis by way of mass media broadsheet that sits in stark relief to the kinder-toy critique of today’s visual culture studies journals and hip culture magazines. In this sense Fillip also builds on Vancouver’s own tradition of critical art broadsheets like the pre-magazine era Vanguard (1972-78), Boo (1994-98), and Last Call (2001-02). These were broadsheets that carried forward nuanced and sustained criticism of contemporary art by local and international critics and artists.

What are the qualities of print that remain in the face of the virtualization of dialogue Commuter papers, with bibbed hawkers on every corner, offer shotgun copy for the space-time between commuter stops. It leads one to ask how free is a daily How free are three Is freeness a fillip or a caveat or indicative of what the publication is free of This past spring, the city of Surrey, on the outskirts of Vancouver, usurped all credibility from its larger neighbour when it banned the three new national dailies— 24 Hours, Metro, and Dose —from its curbsides. But was it “visual clutter” that was the problem or was it a subconscious decision of another sort?

Fillip appears to the ear to be a given name, in the manner of magazines, such as Charley or Lola, but instead is a broadside and homage to the murky legal jargon that governs so much of one’s daily existence: the undercurrent of codicils, injunctions, and secretarial caveats. Decons (Derrideans) are for the church what the museum guard is to the Parish.

A fillipics is about movement. The goal, it was once said of Gertrude Stein’s process, is “to keep a beleaguered line of understanding which has movement from breaking down and becoming a hole into which we sink decoratively.”2 Fillipics is the portion that projects out: the action made when one puts pressure with one’s index finger upon one’s thumb until the pressure is so great that the finger releases with a snap. Fillip projects the argument forward like Ignatz Mouse’s mortared brick to Krazy Kat’s fuzzy noggin.

Many of the discussions in this issue share a interest in relationship between movement and space. Salloum’s focus on transition and the theme of in-between-ness is similar to Brown’s invocation of Emirbayer’s “unfolding process, becom[ing] the primary unit of analysis rather than the constituent elements themselves.” John Massey’s triple film projection considers the disjunction between the aural and the visual via the en-route road trip. The issue of movement reoccurs in Hirschhorn’s declaration that he makes art politically (as active) rather than making political art (as object).

Marcel Duchamp said it was separation that was the operation. Today it’s the relation. But are these always necessarily distinct At this precarious moment, it appears that the conversation around relationality, with its various offshoots—dialogic practice, situational practice (as opposed to situationist), interventionism, etc.—has merged with art practices organized around place. This merging, in its most favourable circumstances, produces necessary situational and contextual knowleges. This is evident in Salloum’s approach toward Beruit and Lebanon and Hirschhorn’s glittery extensions of his project into the side streets of Paris and the Picturing the Downtown Eastside’s rare breadth of typologies of contemporary art.

The confluence of ink, wood fiber, and adhesives you hold loosely before you is a project developed out of a reoccurring lament over the demise of a reliable forum for discussions around art and visual culture in this city over the past few years. It is a project that sets out to examine the relation between art, economy, desire, history and criticism. This current publication began in the early summer of 2004 with a meeting of over a dozen artists, curators and writers in a Vancouver West End apartment. In many ways the project could have emerged from dozens of temporal circumstances and geographic locations throughout the city—among these the convergence of hastily arranged bar tables gathered together in the early mornings under the soft glow of Monica Lewinsky’s velvet portrait in the panelled Plato’s cave of Bosman’s Motor Hotel lounge.


  1. In classical literature, the Phillippics were a series of orations given by Demosthenes against Philip of Macedon. The name was later applied to the speeches of Cicero against Mark Anthony, Phillippic has passed into general use in the sense of an impassioned invective.
  2. William Carlos Williams and Louis Zukofsky,The Work of Gertrude Stein quoted in Peter Quartermain, Disjunctive poetics: From Gertrude Stein and Louis Zukofsky to Susan Howe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 103.
About the Author

Jordan Strom is a curator and writer based in Vancouver. He is Founding Editor of Fillip. He currently works as Curator of Exhibitions and Collections at the Surrey Art Gallery.

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