Upcoming show: The Keeper of Nothingness

My next solo show for the Afghan project opens at LE Gallery (here in Toronto) on May 10. It feels a bit early to be putting this post up, but I'm off to Scotland for 10 days!!

"The Keeper of Nothingness" is less about The War, and more invested in considering travel and liminality, of exchanging one set of norms for another and, importantly, the zones where these exchange takes place.
The title comes from a Tajik word that denotes those who tend mountain passes in the Hindu Kush, and I take it from Eric Newby's travel memoir, A Short Walk in The Hindu Kush.


Partial, and no title (a painting, that is)

Now done and with a Title (Ready State)

Maybe this piece is nearly done, but it's hard to be sure. It's def. 30"x40" 36"x48" though.
Interior of the C17, homeward leg.


It's Witches, all the way down

Ropey, old-man arms and plaid sleeves stretch out from under a tan ballistic vest as Gene offers up a cup of the care-package coffee he just brewed. Dense, wiry grey hair and supporting moustache compliment a slight southern drawl. With these features and the opaque, black coffee, Gene might have sprung from a screenwriter’s description of the chatty, avuncular guy you unintentionally sit next to at some Badlands truck stop – the halogen lights flickering at the pumps as a waitress slides your tuna melt across the laminate counter.
“Have you read any Calvino?”
“Embarrassingly, no.”
“Well, there’s a short story about children gathering around a fire. Its night-time and as Calvino tells it, flames lick up into the night, and as the story gets told both words and heat ripple across their faces. But behind them, the dark is cold and endless. And of course there’s a witch.
What’s important though, is the narrator’s lilt — his pitch and timbre; there’s pacing and tempo: all the things that make a good campfire tale. The story gets told again and again, to different groups of children. But if all the orator’s skills fall into perfect harmony, the flames will reach to his full height as he stands above the kids, seated on the ground. The flames spiral and the witch erupts from the logs and embers, taking a child into the flames and vanishing.”

Days later, looking south across Kabul’s smog-filled valley, Gene tells me another tale.

“A few months before you got here, we had a wire service photographer come out… He was AP, or maybe Reuters. He’d also been bouncing around the various camps and we did the same thing with him.”
“You made him too much coffee and stuffed him full of three-year-old Werther’s?”
“Yeah, there’s that. We also did the driving tour: Checked out the ANA, poked around in the Soviet wreckage, pointed to the CIA compound that you’re not allowed to know about. So he’s up here, walking around, swapping lens, but he’s also grumbling about something. After a while he comes over to me, acting like some sort of movie director, all worked up about the smog. “The light, the light” – he actually said this – “I can’t work with this light.” So we drive back down to Alamo and a day later he’s gone, unimpressed.”
“So, I heard this from another PA guy down near Helmand, that after the Reuters guy left Alamo, he headed down to the fighting. So he’s down with the Jarheads around Masum Ghar, trundling through the vineyards in a HumVee, and he’s complaining about how boring it all is — How this is the most boring assignment he’s been on. And that’s when they hit an IED. The Jarheads are all kinds of fucked up, and the photographer gets his leg blown off.”
“Really? Shit Gene, that’s…”
“Predictable? It’s a predictable fucking story. You just don’t complain about the quiet, especially down south. He shoulda’ known better than to complain about the quiet. You complain about the quiet and a witch will sure as shit jump out of the flames.”

For all the sadness and boredom, for all the death and waste, and beauty in this war, you can (mostly) be sure that those who live are glad to not be dead. And in that gladness, you can easily turn to humour and storytelling, and in the telling of those stories the occasional witch will arise.


This was the End

RotoZero is done. The Keeper of Nothingness opens at LE Gallery, in Toronto, on May 10.

Here are a few installation photos from RotoZero:


The birthday: This is for Craig, and all the others

Today being March the 17, and the Regimental (PPCLI) birthday, I've been thinking about a centrally important summation by Sebastian Junger, from the end of his book, "War".

"Maybe the ultimate wound is the one that makes you miss the war you got it in."


The short form, the poetic turn

Last summer, at the Humber Writer's Workshop, my friend Scott (not me, another one) made the cute assertion that poets must be inferior to prose writers because they can't even fill up a page and don't have the ability to connect sentences properly.

It seems unnecessary to say this, but having learned to write through poetic construction, I'll always get behind the succinct turn of phrase over the ponderous paragraph, and so, with that in mind: Kevin Powers.

Billed as one of the first pieces of literature to come out of The Iraq War, it's definitely a novel, but with a poetic understructure that reminds me of Ondaatje or Patrick Lane's "Red Dog, Red Dog". The latter, a favourite of mine, describes and meditates on growing up violent in Vernon BC, mid 20th Century. A bit tangentially, there's a review of Red Dog on Quill and Quire, where it seems the reviewer has little appreciation for the beauty of terror, misery and pointlessness.

Power's "The Yellow Birds" is as much a cathartic endeavour for Powers and other former soldiers as it is a contemplative attempt to offer to a civilian audience some means of accessing the beauty, terror, misery and pointlessness of The Iraq War.

I made the "mistake" of reading much of the book over several sessions at bars with pints. Well, not a mistake at all, but all successful war literature (when combined with booze) makes me nostalgic for the path cut short 2 decades ago. And as such, "The Yellow Birds" kept on hitting me hard.

Recognizing that I've laid out the qualifier that I'm hardly objective about the book (not that anyone who has ever known me would see this as likely), there were a few passages that really hit hard, resonating with middle-aged, beat-up-by-living me as much as my recollections of young-asshole grunt me.

"If I ever floated... out where the level of water reached my neck, and my feet lost contact with its muddy bottom, I might realize that to understand the world, one's place in it, is to always be at the risk of drowning."
"An embedded photographer snapped pictures of it all: a private snaking his barrel in a ditch, the dead boy, as yet uncovered, gazing thinly toward the blue sky that had cleared itself of clouds high above the orchard. I thought that he had no regard for the significance of what he saw. But now I think maybe he did. Maybe his regard was absolute."
"His eyes were closed. It was getting dark, but he didn't move. He waited, as if waiting for whichever last shadow would cause evening."


ROTOZERO @ YYZ Artist's Outlet

If you're in the area of Downtown Toronto from Jan.11 through Mar. 31, you can see the first (but hopefully not last) iteration of RotoZero at YYZ Artist's Outlet.
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Scott Waters: Contrails, 48″x72″, oil on canvas, 2012.
Throughout 2011 Scott Waters followed The Third Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry as they trained for and were deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan, for the start of Canada’s post-combat training mission in that country. ROTOZERO is a project created through the auspices of The Canadian Forces Artist Program, but whose central characteristic is one of contemplation.
ROTOZERO is less a document of a mission and more a consideration of how we recall and construct stories. Incorporating painting, photography, text panels, and found objects, it is an assemblage of tangible objects which act as proxy for the narrative drive — a narrative drive which, in this case, is based on the anticipation, boredom, frustration, terror, and sense of expectation that are markers of the training mission to Afghanistan.
SCOTT WATERS received his BFA from The University of Victoria, his MFA from York University, and served as an Infantry soldier in the Canadian Forces. Recent solo exhibitions include Rodman Hall, The Art Gallery of South Western Manitoba, and The Alternator Gallery. Publications include the illustrated memoirThe Hero Book (Conundrum Press), the anthology, Embedded on the Homefront (Heritage House), with features in Border Crossings, Public, and Legion Magazine. A two-time participant in the Canadian Forces Artist Program, Waters has received funding from The Ontario Arts Council and The Canada Council for the Arts. He was recently awarded The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. Waters is represented by LE Gallery, Toronto.
Scott Waters would like to offer a heartfelt thank you to The Third Battalion of The Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, especially Maj. Kevin Barry, Maj. Quentin Innis, CSM Rich Davey and Lt. Coady Summerfield. Without the battalion ROTOZERO would not exist. Without the help of these individuals, it would have been immeasurably inferior.