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2014/04/28 / Shanan


If you can’t say anything nice…

Image above: Mike Mills, Sentimentality poster, part of Humans 03 collection.

Mike Monteiro may the bridges i burn

Mike Monteiro, May the Bridges I Burn Light the Way. Acrylic on paper, 2010.

stefan sagmeister trying mixed media graphic design

Stefan Sagmeister, segment from “Trying to Look Good Limits my Life,” 2004. Part of the typographic project, 20 Things I Have Learned in my Life So Far (Abrams), via Brain Pickings.

ed ruscha another hollywood dream bubble popped

Ed Ruscha, Another Hollywood Dream Bubble Popped, 1976.

jenny holder protect me from what i want truism

Jenny Holzer, Protect Me From What I Want, Times Square billboard from Truisms, 1977-79, via Phaidon.

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2014/04/22 / Shanan


I love looking through old books and have especially always had a thing for the hippie-ish publications of my parent’s era.  Their basement is still home to Whole Earth catalogs, Ina May Gaskin books, and slim, hand-illustrated guides to building your own saunas – and thank the lord for that. Now that our family is out of the city and doing the odd quaint country thing like making maple syrup and pickling home-grown vegetables, I find that these books (many out of print) actually contain practical information relevant to aspects of our lives as they are now.  I mean we’re not constructing any saunas yet, but… give us time. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover another fantastic old magazine series that I’d never heard of before, carried at our local library.  It’s called Foxfire.


Started in 1966 by Eliot “Wig” Wigginton and his high school students in Georgia, the class conducted interviews and wrote articles about the lifestyles, traditions, and knowledge of local citizens.  The magazines were gathered into Foxfire anthologies and now, I’m reading about making wagon wheels and moonshine from elderly Appalachian gentlemen.

foxfire-journal-2 foxfire-journal-6

The mixture of practical skills and oral histories on beekeeping, weaving, midwifery, community gatherings, and “more affairs of plain living” feels quite far removed from the majority of my life experience… and yet it speaks to me in a way that’s so refreshing and inspiring, and utterly without airs.  I’m certainly a fan of Kinfolk and all that, but this sh*t is the real deal.


Turns out that Foxfire has continued to thrive and lives on not only as a bi-annual publication, but as a teaching philosophy, museum, and foundation.  You can find more information here.  And if you can’t find any issues at your library, there are quite a few floating around on ebay (I’m going to start collecting them, so… please hold off on the hippie lit bidding wars).

Images in this post taken by The Symmetric in some lovely natural morning light. Just as it was meant to be, no?

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2014/04/16 / Shanan


Sometimes I use Pinterest for collecting ideas and images and objects that feel fitting of a particular theme… it’s not practical, just more about conjuring up a mood from disparate things and seeing where, from a visual vantage point, it may lead.

I was reminded of a few boards I have going and thought I’d do a little virtual collaging (a process which is surprisingly therapeutic…).  The theme today is…


1.  Nomad necklace by Djurdjica Kesic, made from recycled timber, 18K gold, linen thread.

2.  Hunter perfume by MCMC Fragrances, via Cisthene.

3.  Marcel Dzama, You Gotta Make Room for the New Ones, 2005. Ink and watercolour on paper. Courtesy of David Zwirner Gallery.

4.  Kate MacDowellCasualty, 2009. Hand built porcelain, glaze.

5.  Calf-hair Chelsea boot in warm caramel from Madewell (last season).

6.  Furniture combining cast aluminium and wood by Hilla Shamia.

7.  “You are Going to Die” article by Tim Kreider for the NYT. Illustration by Daehyun Kim.

8.  Tiny colour block Legacy bag by J.W. Hulme.

9.  Encyclopedia of Flowers, Flower Works by Makoto Azuma, photographed by Shunsuke Shiinoki, published by Lars Müller.

10.  Natural gift wrap ideas from Artifact Uprising.

11.  Katherine Wolkoff, Deer Beds, 2009. Photograph.

(oh ps, are you following The Symmetric on Pinterest?)

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2014/04/02 / Shanan


Sometimes it seems like a lifetime ago, but I spent four years during my mid-twenties in New York City – attending art school, working odd jobs, eating way too many bagels and korean noodles, walking everywhere, crying over boys, and cementing some pretty incredible friendships.  I even hung out at the Cafe Grumpy in Greenpoint before it became a chain and went all Girls.

It was one of those formative experiences that will always be a part of me, and lately I’ve really found myself missing the city and its unique energy.  Good thing I’m heading to NYC, oh, ah… TODAY.

In honour of my visit, I’ve compiled a personal top 6 list of evocative films set in the Big Apple.  Major caveats: it’s in no real order, and doesn’t adhere to any particular aesthetic criteria or even represent my opinion of the ‘best’ movies to take place in NYC.  Let’s just say that these picks all conjure some kind of specific sense of the city for me, whether accurate or imagined.

Taxi Driver. Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Manhattan.  If you’re expecting these, you’ve come to the wrong list, my friends.

Image above:  “I’m so embarrassed, I’m not a real person yet.”

1. Frances Ha (2012)   Present-day NYC through the eyes of the struggling 20-something creative, shot in beautiful black and white.  At the film’s most exhilarating, the “undate-able” Frances runs through the streets to the soundtrack of David Bowie’s “Modern Love” (in homage to a scene from Leos Carax’s Mauvais Sang, in case that sort of thing matters to you).  At its mostmundane, she lounges on her fire escape and chats with her best friend. It’s pretty much perfect, really.

the warriors nyc film still

“Can you dig it?”

2. The Warriors (1979)    I’m fairly sure I never in a million years would have watched this movie, if not for my dad insisting when I was in junior high.  A cult classic about fictional NY gangs, the Warriors are framed for murder and over the course of a night they must traverse the city, make it past the many other hostile gangs and the police, and return to their home base of Coney Island.  It depicts NYC at its most campily inhospitable and, from a kid’s perspective, I assumed the city was just one giant mess of graffiti, dangerous subway platforms, and creepy men in leather vests.  Image from Pyxurz.

muppets take manhattan nyc film still

“I’m staying!  You hear that, New  York?  THE FROG IS STAYING!”

3. The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)  Broadway dreams, showbiz clichés, low-paying luncheonette gigs, purse snatching in Central Park, lunch at Sardi’s with Liza Minnelli, Mad Men as enacted by frog puppets… it is all here, and it is hilarious.

nick and norah's infinite playlist nyc film still

“We didn’t miss it. This IS it.”

4.  Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008).   A long night spent traipsing around NYC, accompanied by a great soundtrack (Chris Bell, Band of Horses, Bishop Allen), culminating in a kiss at sunrise in Penn Station, is a night well-spent.  The sense of possibility, excitement, sweetness, and (mostly) innocent adventure just feels quintessentially New York, to me, in the way that I once experienced it.

kids harmony korine nyc film still

“Don’t you know tricks are for kids?”

5.  Kids (1995)   Ick. To this day I’ve not seen this movie in its entirety, but if ever you needed a skin-crawling cautionary tale involving unsupervised, amoral urban teenagers, this is it (basically the polar opposite of #4).  It may very well be the reason I never did drugs, didn’t lose my virginity til I was 19, and was kind of afraid of New York City til I actually moved there.  Feels like it deserves a spot on the list, though, for its ability to elicit all these strong responses, even now.

baby boom nyc film still

“You see, that’s the funny thing – I can’t have a baby because I have a 12:30 lunch meeting.”

6.  Baby Boom (1987)  Shout-out to Sarah Stringer — girl, you know what I’m talking about.  Diane Keaton might justifiably be mortified were she to realize that children of the ’80s view this as her iconic NYC film character moment.  Sorry, Annie Hall, but we have an eternal soft spot for J.C. Wiatt.

Work-aholic female business exec is faced with caring for an unexpected child, loses her job and leaves Manhattan for small-town Vermont, then launches her own empire making organic baby food.  So, it’s basically the story of my life.  Just kidding.  All the “Big City” tropes of the late 1980s are here – power-lunches, city apartments full of black leather and chrome, big shoulder-pads, and tiger moms with even bigger hair, hanging at the playground while discussing their toddler’s resumé submission to the coveted Upper East Side pre-schools.  But will J.C. give it all up for a slower pace?  Lean in, ladies – this one’s practically a classic.

Is there any other city on earth that’s been the source of such a wealth of cinematic inspiration?  What NYC films have resonated with you?  (and don’t let my avoidance of the high-brow stop you from going there)

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2014/03/28 / Shanan


I don’t get the opportunity to see a ton of contemporary art in person these days, unless you count the rotating landscape paintings in the lobby of the Collingwood Library.  Sorry, but… no (I’m sure I’ve now offended a host of locals).  So I was really excited to catch the winter exhibition at the MOCCA in Toronto, Misled by Nature: Contemporary Art and the Baroque.

The show features a series of immersive environments that deal in material excess and culturally-constructed views of nature, with showpieces by David Altmejd, Lee Bul and Tricia Middleton.  The work is, perhaps, not to everyone’s tastes but it resonated with me on an incredibly uncomfortable, tactile level.  And it reminded me why I used to make art, and how I (secretly) hope that that chapter of my life will never be completely over.

Image above: Why yes, that is a decaying giant with a mirrored staircase emerging from his head. David Altmejd, detail from The Holes, 2008. Wood, mirror, glue, plaster, foam, metal wire, epoxy clay, epoxy resin, paint, horse hair, synthetic branches, synthetic flowers, pine cones, glass beads, quartz, quail eggs, glitter and snail shells. Collection of the National Gallery of Canada. Photo from Monochromatic Axonometric.

MOCCA David Altmejd the holes installation

Installation view of The Holes, photo from MOCCA.

David Altmejd MOCCA Leanne Simaan

The giant’s innards, shattered crystals, flowers – another detail. Photo by Leanne Simaan, Art Toronto.

Lee Bul MOCCA chandelier

This was kind of a revelation to see in person.  Eerie, darkly sparkling, deft yet so heavy and full of dread.  Lee Bul, After Bruno Taut (Negative Capability), 2008. Crystal, glass and acrylic beads on stainless steel armature with aluminium and copper mesh and chains.  Photo from MOCCA.

Lee Bul Leanne Simaan

Photo by Leanne Samaan, Art Toronto.  I featured another of Bul’s chandelier-like sculptures in this post.

Tricia Middleton MOCCA misled by nature

Tricia Middleton, Embracing Oblivion and Ruin is the Only Way to Live Now, 2012. Mixed media installation of insulation foam, wax, glitter, string and miscellaneous objects. Photo from MOCCA.

Tricia Middleton installation view Mocca arttoronto.ca leanne simaan

Inside the igloo-like structure. Photo by Leanne Simaan, Art Toronto.

Misled by Nature is at the MOCCA until April 6th and also features the work of Mark Bradford, Yinka Shonibare, and Bharti Kher.  It was curated by Catherine Crowston, Josée Drouin-Brisebois, and Jonathan Shaughnessy.  Here’s a review of the exhibition from Canadian Art.