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Wednesday, 16 August 2017


Photo by Andy Stefansson. The dome of BC Place, Vancouver, May 12, 2017

The sound rolls out, billowing like a sail.

It has a fullness I have never heard. An expansiveness I have never felt.

It fills up the vast emptiness. It reaches up to the dome.

(Volume as a measure of sound; volume as a measure of space.)

The singer refers to the stadium as the “concrete temple.”*


Why do we create immense spaces for our gods?

So they can be big. So we can be small.

So we can know that emptiness is just fullness with nothing in it;
holding space for the immanent.

* The singer quoted was Bono. (CTV News. May 13, 2017) The event was a concert by U2. It is not my intention in any way to equate either of the above (or any other celebrity) with god. But the "temple" comment sent me in the direction of the overscaled architecture we have created for our gods. I was always told that the huge cathedrals of Europe (and elsewhere) were built for the glory of god. Now I am thinking they were built just as much for the smallness and the vulnerability of humans.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

the burden of the angel beast....

A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara is probably the saddest book I have ever read.

But it is beautiful; its core characters exquisitely rendered.

You meet them when they are young; incomplete and still unfolding. You fall in love with them soon after. Over the course of 800 pages, you grow up with them. You laugh with them; you cry with and for them. You feel you know them; have always known them.

And then you lose them. And it is heartbreaking. Breathtaking, but not in the sense of being awestruck. In the sense of having had the wind knocked out of you. Having taken a punch to the gut.


And Jude. Jude most of all.

The struggles of a soul, of a life spent teetering on a high wire strung between the angels and the beasts.* Between divinity and humanity. Between life and death.

Tightrope photo — Wiros from Barcelona, Spain -

For Jude, the question is always one of redemption. Can the loves and the friends and the parents of his adult life ever save him from the absences and the abusers of his childhood? Can he ever be clean; come clean? Can he be repaired? Can he be fixed?

Can he be truly loved in all his brokenness?

And is that enough?

     Burden of the Angel Beast, by Bruce Cockburn.

“For Medieval and Renaissance thinkers, humans occupied a unique position on the chain of being, straddling the world of spiritual beings and the world of physical creation. Humans were thought to possess divine powers such as reason, love, and imagination. Like angels, humans were spiritual beings, but unlike angels, human souls were "knotted" to a physical body. As such, they were subject to passions and physical sensations—pain, hunger, thirst, sexual desire—just like other animals lower on the chain of being…. Humans had a particularly difficult position, balancing the divine and the animalistic parts of their nature. For instance, an angel is only capable of intellectual sin such as pride (as evidenced by Lucifer's fall from heaven in Christian belief). Humans, however, were capable of both intellectual sin and physical sins such as lust and gluttony if they let their animal appetites overrule their divine reason.” From Wikipedia.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

(a poem for the work of non-being, of un-becoming)

I know, now, what I am craving; and it’s emptiness.
Maybe that’s what the finish line looks like in my head.
No room for anything but everything.
(Fewer words, longer silences.)

A hollowness within, that merges with the hollowness around me. 
The hollowness of the universe.

The thinning out of the self,
becoming nothing more than a translucent and porous membrane.
A bubble skin
containing only space,
where the space
is the point.

I am a smallness within the expansiveness that is god,

standing alone in a massive stone cathedral,
all Gregorian echoes
and Vermeer light.

I am losing my self in the work of non-being.

The nothing that is everything.

Wendy Stefansson

Thursday, 8 December 2016

the angles that animate....

Wendy Stefansson. Lioness and Cub. Stoneware. 1996

Decades ago, I carved one of my first three-dimensional artworks out of a block of clay. The piece depicted a lioness nuzzling her cub; and was based on a photo I had taken during a then-recent trip to Africa. I decided the work was finished while it was still in a fairly rough state. A sketch. The basic lines and angles mapped out, but few details. Evocative; not literal.

I glazed it with a “mystery glaze” my friends and I had inherited along with a large number of glaze-making chemicals from another ceramic studio which had closed. The glaze “broke” over the angles, and pooled in the low places; spread and bubbled like lava over the larger planes. It took on the look of stone. Molten. Solidified.

I loved the way the “lines” I had left in the carving — the edges of my cut marks — were preserved and highlighted by the glaze. I couldn’t have said why, but I loved the hard edges.

Wendy Stefansson. Lioness and Cub. Stoneware. 1996

Wendy Stefansson. Lioness and Cub. Stoneware. 1996


Other artists have rendered cats in this faceted way as well. Particularly the big cats.

Rosetta. On the Alert. Bronze.

Rosetta. The Leap. Bronze.

Julie Taylor and Michael Curry. Simba mask for The Lion King.
Mixed media.

Feline forms seem to fracture along fault lines. Excess shears away like slabs of sandstone, leaving only the essential.

There is a sense of violence barely contained. Lines and edges become the meeting places of opposing energies, held temporarily in equilibrium. Tension, held in suspension.

And in that moment, it’s the angles that animate.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

music box dancer....

Wendy Stefansson. Music Box Dancer. Photogram on silver gelatine paper. 2003

When I was a kid, my girlfriends and I all had little jewellery boxes that played music when you opened the lids. Inside, there was a tiny figure of a ballerina — always in a pink tutu, always en pointe — which would pop up and pirouette. Most of the time the music was from Swan Lake.

Behind the tiny dancer was always a small mirror. As girls, we would view our own images in the mirrors with the ballerinas in front of them. Standing between us and our reflections was this idea of what it meant to be a girl.


On March 8th, 2003 — International Women’s Day — Canada’s National Post newspaper published a fashion editorial about a look I believe they described as “ballerina grunge.” It was part ballet-inspired, part bohemian. Part wabi sabi — the beautiful in the imperfect, the tattered and the bedraggled. The elegant in the earthy. The feminine in the flawed.

I was working in the darkroom quite a lot at the time, and started playing around with the newspaper pages, using them to make photograms — a technique in which one exposes light-sensitive paper through or around a readymade object. In this case, the clippings.

Some of the images on one side of the newsprint lined up in interesting ways with images on the reverse. In one instance, a small image of a dancer overlapped with a closer-up image of the same dancer’s upper body and face. It looked like the music box of my childhood, but all grown up and a little bit darker. A little more fraught.

One of about a million moments in my life of reinterpreting what it means to occupy a female body in this world.

stage directions....

All of the photos in this post are from the CBC's video
of Alberta Ballet's 2016 production of Balletlujah.
I wish I could play it for you, but it seems to have disappeared
from the internet.

I wish you could see this.

The work is a single act from Alberta Ballet’s production of Balletlujah. The dancers dance to k.d. lang’s transcendent version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

The stage is empty. The scene is set.

Two young women circle each other, keeping eye contact. Tentative at first. Wondering. Searching. Risking and reckless, as love always is. Meeting at centre stage.

There is a man, achingly and quintessentially alone. He moves the way a cellos sounds; in long, lovely strokes. Deep and lonely.

His dance is an agony. A question. A grappling. He pivots around an absent centre, in what would be called a death spiral, if he were skating, and if he had a partner.

A man and a woman dance as if no-one else exists.

A young woman, full with maternity, strokes her belly. The single man reappears, on his back, kicking and spasming like an insect in death throes. He rights himself. Finds a rope to hang from, and swings from it.

The young mother returns to find him dangling.

A group of people converge, then disperse. The stage is empty again.

The two young women return; circle each other. Come together in their symmetry. Find their completion in each other; in a kiss.

Love is not a victory march.
It’s a cold, and it’s a broken hallelujah.

Leonard Cohen

Thursday, 24 November 2016

all wrapped up in it, and completely undone....

None of these photos are mine. I captured all of them from a
video posted by Gloria Franchi on
They accompany Leonard Cohen's song, "Dance Me to the End of Love."
They so beautifully and elegantly capture the feeling of the song.

Dance me to the end of love.

Leonard Cohen