Hunter and Cook Magazine, 2010

BP - Alex, you just opened a show at CSA Space in Vancouver.
You've been doing some intensely detailed pencil drawings
lately. Do you want to talk about them?

AM - I did a series of drawings in 2007 called "The Poetics
of Grey". They were all drawings of the work of architect
Arthur Erickson. Earlier, in about 2004, I did a series of
drawings of Berlin squatter caravans and shacks. So I guess
I've sort of kept drawing, but not series based. It’s a nice
thing to do. The look of them is very accessible. I guess,
in a way I am employing my talent as a draughtsperson but
only because it fits the ideas I want to convey at this
time. I keep a large archive of images, culled from online
sources, books and magazines. As I am doing work now that is
loosely based on investigations into the 1960s and 70s
re-visiting of the arts and crafts movement, I suppose that,
illustrative, hand crafted preciousness could be effective.

BP - Although I met you years ago in Toronto, your work
seems, like the Arthur Erickson pieces, tied up with West Coast
concepts, and you are from Victoria, so it makes sense you
would reference BC. How do people respond to this work when
you show it in Europe for example? Are there aspects of the
work which transcend place? Besides being well crafted,
there is a certain regional topicality to the work, and I wonder
how it works when you show it in places where people aren't
familiar with Arthur Erickson, or Vancouver Island Arts and

AM - Well, I did grow up in a Samuel Maclure designed house!
Most of the West Coast specific work I have made since 2007
hasn't been shown outside of Canada but I made some banners
recently for a group exhibition at the Hannover
Kunstverein. The banners were hand painted with slogans
appropriated from "Slow Islands Movement" a poem by Canadian
photographer and environmentalist, Nina Raginsky. They made
statements like; 'Explore your Core', 'Be Content with No
Event', 'Stay Close To Home, Grow Your Own'. Nina lives on
Saltspring Island and I imagined she posted this manifesto on a
notice board, perhaps as a reaction to the encroachment of
gentrification in Ganges, a town on Salt Spring. These
sentiments aren't particular to the Gulf Islands but perhaps, here
on the West Coast, a particular blend of spiritualism,
environmental activism and political awareness has contributed
to an atmosphere of moral instruction? The environmental
movement has many varied sources, historically and
philosophically, but Greenpeace started in Vancouver and its
message has spread almost everywhere. Maybe, this sort of

shepardist prescription is rooted in christian agrarianism,
which, when employed as a reaction to modernizing aspects of
the industrial revolution, might have set some of the moral
ground out here. Couple that with a colonialist desire to
maintain strict control over the production and exchange of
goods, meaning and belief. The reformative and ameliorative
quality of avant garde movements were intended to be
universal in their appeal but what might be particular to West
Coast modernism reflects an inherent suspicion, amongst our
historical avant-garde, of urban concerns. A lot of our
modernist art and architectural heritage seems to be infused by a
sort of religious naturalism. Maybe this is related to an
economy traditionally built on natural resources and tourism
instead of industrial manufacturing? Cultural production
here has always had to reconcile with our attitudes, be them
pragmatic or aesthetic, towards nature. Everyone's "caught
in the Devil's bargain" and they've got to get themselves
"back to the garden", right?  As far as references to
particular buildings, architects and places are concerned, I tried
to use these references in an oblique enough manner so as
not to force the viewer into any historical particularities.
The illustrative style of the Erickson drawings was a sort
of screen of nostalgia to look through and the dates
featured on the original 'Freedom Square' plaque were edited out
for my 'Provisional Structure' sculpture. In my most recent
exhibition at CSA, there are references to Frank Lloyd
Wright, William Morris, Austrian Alpine poetry, British Columbia
tourism, eastern mysticism, Arthur Erickson, Led Zeppelin,
Gustave Stickley, the Arts and Crafts movement, the San
Francisco 'Colourist or 'Painted Ladies' movement, Gothic
cathedrals and abstraction. So yes, I think there are aspects of
my work that transcend place.

BP – Kaboom! So why do you personally feel drawn to such a
Vancouver centric practice? Because in a sense it really is
deeply regional in terms of your sources and your concerns.
Why do you think that is?

AM- "Deeply regional" sounds a bit derogatory, no? But I
guess, In the context of Canadian art, its funding and
dissemination, the 'regional' has taken on a bit of a negative
connotation. I can understand why, as far as a certain push
towards international recognition is concerned, but
Vancouver's particular niche internationally has a lot to do with
the scene's focus on what happens and has happened, locally.
I am interested in the contention between the preservation
of idiosyncratic regional vernaculars and the homogenizing
forces of globalization. We have a culture of Real Estate
speculation here and I've always thought its marketing
aspect worked to smooth out difficult cultural irregularities.
Tourism has contributed in the same way. But to get back to
why I think I've used regional concerns and sources, its
been a more recent phenomenon, partially due, I imagine, to the
fact I've been based here for almost nine years now. I've
always been concerned with emotional and psychological
investment in architecture and my own identification with space
or place has figured into a lot of my work, so I suppose
this has expanded past my personal concern and begun to reflect
a broader one.

BP - I didn't mean regional as pejorative. I think that the
way artists operate on an international level in terms of
their ambition is a real problem. There is so much to work
with with what's around you, and many artists are more
concerned with working with what will work for their career.
Maybe that's too cynical but I see way more trends than I see
quality and work that is truly thoughtful. Your work is very
thoughtful in the way it can be seen as regional. Do you
think the fact that you've lived in a lot of different
cities allows you to have some distance or objectivity when it
comes to investigate what makes a city function

AM - I don't really prescribe to the idea of a city
'functioning successfully'. But, I am interested in a lot of the
conflicts that arise when a varied group of individuals all
possess different ideas of one particular space. My initial
interest arose out of the application of skateboarding to
the city. I began to apply these experiences in my practice,
investigating arguments over use valuation of architectural
features in public space. This went on to broader concerns
between distinctions of public and private space and the
prescribed behaviours for both. Perhaps, living itinerantly has
contributed to a distancing in my perspective of social
situations, a weariness of identification with any one scene.
I've developed a certain suspicion of over identification
with any one institutional, architectural or social
structure. It's leant me an objectivity, a certain hard edged
perspective of formal analysis, I suppose. But, in
contradiction, I also support historical architecture's
preservation. Which might make me a bit wistful and subjective,
almost poetic, but in a lot of my work I've sought to
complicate these notions. When a developer's motivation behind
preservation of 19th century architecture isn't from a genuine
aesthetic and historical appreciation but only to create a
backdrop for new 'cultural commerce zones', there is
something lost there. In conversation, I've often referred to
Vancouver's cultural amnesia as symptomatic of a sort of
development mentality that encourages "Brusselisation" (the
phenomenon of property owners letting historical buildings rot
with neglect until they are condemned to demolition by the
city). I bring this up because this concept not only applies to
architecture but also to our public infrastructure (our
street cars and inter-urban rail system come to mind). But, hey!
I'm not an urban planner, I make pictures, and I have a
hobbyist's, sideline interest in these issues.

BP - Why do you think Vancouver, which I think has less than
a million residents, has been such an important city when
it comes to conceptual art, and art in general? When I moved
here I was stunned by the open drug culture. It seems
bizarre to me that such a small city can have two such disparate
and highly developed cultures, on opposite ends of the

AM - Its because of the pedagogy. Halifax had a similar
situation. A community of artists and teachers who reached out
to other cities and individuals who at crucial moments left
and returned with new ideas. It often comes down to the
contributions of a few people in the beginning. But what has
contributed to the longevity is the input that more seasoned
participants have put back into the scene. The community is
so small here, we all end up in the same room most of the
time and there is a lot of feedback from senior artists.
There is a school of thought here, a consensus, but it doesn't
mean you have to go along with it and at least there is a
measure to work for or against. As far as your reference to
cultural specialization, It makes me think of how the West
Coast is often perceived as a place to pitch a tent, start a
commune or new religion or develop a life-style and
sub-cultural activities seem to just carry on here long past their
expiry date. In the same sense, I think there is a
burgeoning drug tourism here. BC is famous for its marijuana
strains and its cheap and available heroin. If you were an
enterprising young drug addict, dealer or artist,
wouldn't you want to move here?

BP - Well yeah, I mean I won't say which of those reasons
brought me to Vancouver. But I wonder, for me, I'm off in my
own scene not related to anything happening in Vancouver,
is it hard to escape the baggage or the success that's
associated with this scene? To be a conceptual artist in
Vancouver, it takes a real enterprising and ambitious mentality to
carve out a unique territory. I think it's something that
can be a comfort or a real cross to bear, to make work in
this city where so many people are working in similar veins
and like you said, hanging out in the same room. How do you
see younger artists reacting to Ian Wallace and Jeff Wall
and all these titans of conceptual art?

AM - I would hope that younger artists would react with
enthusiasm and curiosity about the place in which they find
themselves making work. The two artists that you mention, while
of great importance only represent a fraction of what has
happened here. There is a rich history of aesthetic
production here that is well documented and archived. There are
very many interesting trajectories to follow. Some artist's
practices follow closer to these trajectories than others,
in a sense creating schools around a particular senior
artist and often times this can stop short of anything beyond
formal or presentational strategies. While other practices
might be informed more theoretically by these trajectories, but
at the same time they don't come to resemble visually, the
works or methodology the artist admired.

BP - I'm wondering how predetermined your work is and how
much chance plays a part in what you're doing at any
given moment. I know right now you're really into the Victorian
Painted Ladies - but what if anything informs the direction
your work is taking? Are you actively researching images and
ideas or do you sort of let these things drift into your
consciousness and then sort out how you can turn it into work?
Because you described yourself the other day as an
appropriation artist, but in some weird way I don't see you in
that way. Even though the work is appropriated, it seems very
very personal, the opposite of the way that someone like
Richard Prince appropriates imagery, although I'm sure to him
it's quite personal, he represents an idea of "America" to
me. So what direction do you see yourself going in after
this last show?

AM - At certain times chance has played a huge part in my
work. Being in the right place at the right time was crucial
for the production of certain photographs and videos. For
example, "Giving the Story a Treatment" was a photo series
documenting a film production for "Battle in Seattle" a
Hollywood re-make of the WTC protests in Seattle. While I was
working as a bike messenger, by chance I rode by the set
(the film was shot mostly in Vancouver) and then I radioed
dispatch and asked to get routed to one of the buildings
located on set. I quickly bought a disposable camera, bypassed
security, made a delivery, then proceeded to walk around the
set and shoot photos. I'm involved in an ongoing process of
research and observation and I am comfortable speaking
anecdotally about my work because I have often, as in the case
of documentary style works, just wandered into my work as it
was unfolding in front of me.

Critical reception and discussion around my work,
feed back, has also greatly contributed to various directions in my work.
My memory drawings of houses I'd lived in brought up discussions of
architecture and movement through space. In turn I became interested in
Robert Morris's brand of tactile or "haptic" minimalism which
informed my "Homewrecker" video and "Found Minimalism" photos.
"Homewrecker", which I deliberately edited in a manner
denying a narrative reading (editing our crew's arriving at the
apartment, our drunken laughter, and the subsequent quick
exit after breaking a window and showering glass onto the
street outside) was none-the-less read as an investigation of youth
culture and rebellion. I only ever intended it to
be a formal investigation into use value and architecture!
I just happened to use a skateboard to do it. This
perception of my work led to "Poached" or "Open Air Cinema" or
even "Housewrecker". Works which attempted to complicate
conventional notions of youth rebellion and expose the framework
surrounding the production of images of authenticity. This
undermining of particular readings and expectations
culminated in my video "Free Room" where I cast very unexceptional
looking young people on an Ikea dressed set discussing
revolution. I was reacting to situations back then but now the
work seems like it might be starting to come from another,
personal and more introspective place. I still pursue the
same interests thematically; architecture and ideology,
anesthetized social revolutions, radical design and its
commodification. How histories of sub-cultural activities are
often borrowed and employed as an authenticating device and also how certain
architectures and social movements that may have been originally
in opposition to those activities help that process along.

I mentioned appropriation in reference to my work because I
tend to borrow a lot of imagery, be it documenting events in
public, recreating a found photograph, re-using dialogue
from films, producing sculptures of found objects in
different materials or re-combining found texts from street
posters. I'll continue to explore some of the same themes and
employ the same methodology but in the future I see myself
expanding my choice of mediums. I am in the process of making a
wood carving and would love to try my hand at stained glass
designs. Above all the ideas come first and I try to fit the
medium that I feel is most appropriate. This may result in
an aesthetically diverse production, one that may not be
coherently identified in a visual sense but I should hope the
concepts informing the work can help to tie it all together.