Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Guest Post: Madison Grenley on The White Stripes

This month, I'm excited to post an article written by my good friend, Madison Grenley, one of the leading critics in the field of identity, metafiction, and gender performance. Recently challenged on the value of Meg White as a drummer, Grenley wrote a brief defense, incorporating her interest in authentic expression and the unity of form and content. Watch for the article in the forthcoming issue of NettleDrum Magazine. Enjoy!

Kicking Up Dead Leaves:
Authenticity and the Musical Contribution of The White Stripes

by Madison Grenley, B.A., M.A., Oxford Graduate, TA for Dr. Sisiphys M.D.

Published by the University of Windsor's Music Department
on the back of old sheet music because fuck the university
if you put money into your programs and faculty instead of new useless infastructure(sic)
this wouldn't happen
c. 2014
The White Stripes are a two piece band featuring Meg White on drums and Jack White on guitar, piano, and various other messed up instrument-hybrids that are cool as shit. Easily identifiable by simple and driving drum lines, raw vocals, and blues-inspired guitar riffs, the Stripes garnered national and international attention in the early 2000s, winning two  Grammy awards. Their weird framework narrative, where married couple Meg and Jack are cast as brother and sister, matched with their candyfied childhood swirl of red, white, and black, defined their image and added to their charismatic performance style and noteworthy musical talent.
Rolling Stone Magazine listed Jack White as #17 on their 2003 listing of greatest guitarists, above such rockers as Frank Zappa and Eddie Van Halen (Rolling Stone). Jack White’s influence during the early 2000s is reflected by his appearance alongside Jimmy Page and The Cliff, I mean The Edge, in the 2009 documentary "It Might Get Loud".  Throughout the film, White focuses on the "real" aspects of music: he has his son play an electric guitar by stepping on the strings, telling him to "[p]ick a fight with [the guitar] and win the fight" (“It Might Get Loud”). For White, the increasing amount of technology involved in the production of rock and pop in the 1980s and '90s was killing the creative spirit of the art form. He plays a song by blues singer Son House to illustrate the power of honest and raw music: "It didn't matter that he was clapping off time...the only thing that mattered was the attitude of the song." Authenticity isn't based on the veneer of sound production or even the capability of the musicians; the soul of a song, what it is expressing, is the most important aspect of any song, or any musician.
This brings us to the core of the White Stripes' sound: Meg White. “She's the sound,” claims Henry Gilles in a brief 2014 interview, Jack plays blues. He's not the [W]hite [S]tripes”.
Jack attributes the band's direction and stylistic choices to her "play[ing] like a little caveman, like a little child" ("It Might Get Loud").  Cultivating this aspect, Meg lays down a solid driving foundation for Jack's crazy vocal and instrumental antics; if Meg had strayed into drumming decadence, the whole structure holding the White Stripes together would have fallen apart. After all, they were "hailed for bringing a refreshing simplicity back to rock & roll" (Rolling Stone).
Ultimately, what the White Stripes bring to the rich and varied music scene of the past fifty years is a focus on an authentic and unprocessed sound that hearkens back to the anti-establishment blues of the 1920s and 1930s. Using their respective musical abilities, Meg and Jack White explore the "importance of rock's abrasive and experimental nature" combining simple heartbeat drumming and exploratory instrumental and vocal work (Rolling Stone).
Pawn to H4.

Works Cited
Gilles, Henry. Interview. Facebook, INC (fuck you, Facebook). 25 Sept 2014.
Rolling Stone Magazine. “WHITE STRIPES: Biography.” Ed. Jim Macnie. Web. 25 Sept 2014.
“It Might Get Loud.” Dir. Davis Guggenheim. Featuring Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White. 2009.
Web. 25 Sept 2014.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014


Here's an article that was printed in the Reborn Lantern this month! (you can access the full issue at

by Brittni Ann Carey

Fall's a time of contemplation, the turning from the glory and freedom of summer to preparing for the oncoming cold, for watching leaves turn and spiral onto the sidewalk. Is there already frost in the air? Seasons. God has made everything beautiful in its own time.

There's a point in Ontario, made of sand. Soon, that point, the southern-most part of Canada's mainland won't be there anymore. The contrary currents around Point Pelee will wear it away.

In our culture of instant gratification, waiting seems like a waste of time. If something is worth having, why wait? Life is short. Opportunities pass. But can we slow down long enough to appreciate what we have in each season? Because in a blink, it's going to be gone.

As Christians, we're in a season of waiting. Waiting for God's kingdom, which is infiltrating this world, to come fully through and in Jesus. But we're not in a place of idle waiting. Jesus says "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).

How does Jesus show his love? By reaching a hand out to the leper, by sitting with a woman at a well, by eating with tax collectors and 'sinners', by telling the crowds "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3).

This life isn't meant to be a comfortable waiting room where we sit benignly until heaven appears: instead, God calls us to be co-participants in the kingdom, building a community of people who reach hands, share meals, sit with, and tell everyone with our lives and words that Jesus loves them.

The fact that seasons don't last - the summer, the landscape of our lives - it can be discouraging. Grass in a field, that's how transient, short, and fragile this life is. But the temporal things, those are beautiful because there's only a short time that we have to experience them before they're only a memory.

And even more beautiful is the thought that outlasting all these things, all these pains, and joys, and experiences, is God's love. A present and active force that forms our lives and gives us peace and purpose in the ever-changing landscape of time.

What season are you in?
Where is God pointing you?
Let our seasons be full of fruit and truth and the love of Jesus.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Andrew Verhoeckx: Transcending Tradition and the Search for a New Visual Language

Andrew Verhoeckx
In order for art to be more than the product of a cathartic exercise, an artist must consider the audience.  Be it in music, writing, painting, or any other art form, an artist must be familiar with the social context of their work.  There is a cultural nomenclature of signifiers, and when an artist chooses to incorporate a piece iconography into their work, they must consider how that symbol functions within the nomenclature of signs.  For artists who are Christian specifically, there is a temptation and desire to draw upon the iconography of their faith.  The inclusion of such iconography can serve to alienate audiences who do not prescribe to Christianity and lock the work into a closed reading.  The challenge for an artist who is Christian is to develop a personal iconography that reflects their beliefs, but also allows their art to engage in a dialogue with people from all walks of life.  Such was the challenge faced by Andrew Verhoeckx as a young painter.  Eventually, though, Verhoeckx managed to find what he calls a “visual language” that allowed him to express his faith in a manner that allowed people from all walks of life to engage with his work and find their own meaning in it.

A section of Touch of Gold.
Verhoeckx recalls that as “a young artist trying to find [his] voice or visual language, [he] went for what came naturally.”  This involved paintings with an iconography rooted firmly in his faith.  The result was “a lively debate in [an undergraduate] class regarding [his] work”.  Verhoeckx notes that “the straight forward visual language of Christian themes was too much” for some.  This was a frustrating process because other artists were able to express themselves by using overt signifiers and others did not take issue with this.  In a world not far removed from the Civil Rights era, and firmly rooted in a time where misogyny, homophobia and Islamaphobia impede social progress, members of marginalized groups often draw on overt iconography to make a political statement.  For Christians whose faith is associated with the dominant culture, an overt expression of faith is not read as a political statement, or simply an expression of one’s faith, but instead is often seen as an extension of the dominant culture and thereby read as an endorsement of oppression.  Such is the manner in which the contemporary nomenclature frames iconography related to the dominant culture.

Rear End
Verhoeckx has some guidance in this respect.  A professor spoke to him about the visual language Verhoeckx had been using.  The professor encouraged Verhoeckx to draw on his passions for cars to develop his visual language.  Verhoeckx, whose father had worked at the local Chrysler plant for almost his entire adult life, had developed a love of cars in his youth, a love that carried into his adulthood.  At the age of 12, Verhoeckx prayed for what many 12-year-old boys might pray for: a sports car.  By the time Verhoeckx was 17, his prayer had “miraculously arrived as a neglected, abused and rotting Plymouth” Barracuda.  God did not deliver a brand new sports car to Verhoeckx; Verhoeckx had bought a dilapidated wreck of a car that was over twenty years old.  It would take several years of reconditioning, but the car would eventually be restored.  This process was a spiritual one for Verhoeckx.  The restoration of the car mirrored Verhoeckx’s own spiritual restoration which he achieved through his faith.  His professor had encouraged Verhoeckx to dig deeper, and it was at this time that Verhoeckx chose to speak of his faith through his love of cars in a series of paintings he titled Street Spirit.

In The Middle
The beauty of the Street Spirit series is that it uses a visual language that speaks to a multiplicity of people.  The automotive industry has been associated with the working class since Henry Ford introduced his first assembly line, so for a person from the working class, the paintings serve as a representation of their life experience.  Likewise, automobiles are closely linked with Americana iconography.  The automobile has become synonymous with American culture, and so serves as a democratic signifier that gives an entry point into the paintings for many.  By placing overt Christian iconography to the side, and channeling his faith through an experience shared by many, Verhoeckx found a way to communicate his faith in a manner with did not alienate viewers and instead invited them to engage with his work.

For many, form is as important as content, and to communicate this vision, Verhoeckx chose to embrace Photorealism.  This choice in form would generate an issue akin to the one Verhoeckx faced due to his faith.  In an art world that had been under the tyrannical rule of realism for centuries, many Modern and Post-Modern artists had sought to shed the shackles of realism.  Expressionists like Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollack and Wassily Kandinsky had rejected realism and all forms of traditional iconography.  Artists who embraced realism or a more democratic visual language were viewed a kitsch, and so the likes of Norman Rockwell have been excluded from the walls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other galleries in favour of Modern and Post-Modern artists.  Photorealism, though, which embraces traditional methods, is the only style which can communicate the message Verhoeckx envisions.  In his Artist’s Statement, Verhoeckx expresses his admiration for the “way paint embraces the cast or forged steel” and how “oil can transform steel from cold and dead to lusciously wet, warm and soft as a living being”.  He notes that the “parallel between cars and humans is remarkable in the way they functionally mimic each other.”  The engine, for instance, can be seen as the heart of the car: “it breathes, pumps and brings out the personality of the car.”  It is this insight that Verhoeckx wants to share with the audience.  He wants them “to feel the wet cast steel, to feel the warmth of the engine, to feel the rumble of the exhaust against their body.”  Verhoeckx wants to “generate life in [his] paintings”.  When one looks at a painting like Valley or In The Middle, one can see how the cold steel is transformed by the oil into something organic; something living.  There is no other style of painting that could present this vision to the viewer as effectively as Photorealism.

Under the Clouds
For many artists, once they have found a niche, many work within the restrictions of that niche.  Pollack did this with his ‘drip paintings’, Rothko did this with his ‘multiforms’, and even within Photorealism painters often trap themselves within a certain style: Will Cotton paints portraits/desserts, Chuck Close works exclusively on portraits, Robert Bechtle and John Salt focus on cars, Don Eddy has painted a variety of store-window displays, Charles Bell paints toy displays, and Robert Cottingham paints outdoor signs.  Verhoeckx, though, has branched outside of his comfort zones and has found different methods to both express his faith, and demonstrate the skill required to create Photorealist paintings.  A series Verhoeckx has titled East of Eden features a painting titled Under The Clouds.  It is a painting that expresses his first experience with God.  Verhoeckx recalls that as a child he looked up into the clouds one day and saw God and that God “reached down that day and [Verhoeckx’s] heart… was filled with unbelievable love and peace which has never been matched since.”  Verhoeckx describes this experience, not as “a one way interaction but mutual exchange of spirit beings.”  The painting depicts a building surrounded by trees as it rests beneath a clear blue sky with a few white clouds high above.  For Verhoeckx, this is a piece of deeply personal Christian iconography that expresses the way in which God first manifest himself to Verhoeckx, but for a viewer who looks upon the painting, there is no overt theological message.  The iconography of the painting, the trees, the building, the clouds, all speaks to a symbiotic relationship between humanity and nature.  The building is surrounded by trees, and covered by clouds, and exists in peace and harmony with the natural world.  Perhaps this can be a metaphor for how people with different beliefs can co-exist.  The painting can simply be admired for its technical skill and natural beauty, or it can speak to how humanity interacts with the natural realm.  There is no overt message to take, and so Verhoeckx successfully finds a way to speak of his faith in a manner that defuses the social stigma related to it.

Dominae Saecllum
Dominae Sacellum functions in a similar fashion, but allows Verhoeckx to share his faith with another artist at the same time.  The painting is based on a photo Verhoeckx took of St. Patrick Cathedral in New York.  The building is itself a piece of art.  Its architect used his skill to express and build a monument to his faith.  Verhoeckx’s photo frames a small portion of the building that excluded any pieces of religious iconography.  The viewer, then, can simply admire the architecture of the building without having framing it as a strictly ‘Christian’ work.  For Verhoeckx, the painting can be seen as a homage to another piece of work that expresses faith, and one that speaks to interdenominational dialogue given that Verhoeckx doesn't identify as Catholic.  Two artists of different denominations are featured in the same work, but the end product is devoid of any overt pieces of Christian iconography, allowing Verhoeckx to engage in a conversation with the architect’s expression of faith and share that conversation without force-feeding his faith to the viewer and allowing them to define how they want to see the work on their own terms.

New World
The beauty of Verhoeckx’s work is how inclusive it is.  Verhoeckx draws on universal iconography that gives all viewers an entry point into his work and allows them to admire the craftsmanship of his technique.  This is especially present the works featured in East of Eden.  The painting New World, for instance presents an evening cityscape that features no less than three languages on the city’s electric billboards.  This co-mingling of cultures and language demonstrates the inclusive nature of Verhoeckx’s work.  Regardless of faith, language, ethnicity, gender/sex, perceived race, or any other form of classification, viewers can engage with Verhoeckx’s work through a neutral iconography and discover their own meaning while simultaneously bearing witness to the strength of Verhoeckx’s faith.  Just as John Coltrane found a way to express his faith on his album A Love Supreme without overtly employing manifest Christian iconography or signifiers, Verhoeckx finds a way to express his faith in a manner that is inclusive to all who might view his work.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Noah and interpretation (spoilers!)

Photo from
"Noah" is this year's Biblical blockbuster. One shows up every once in a while, presenting us with radical interpretations of the stories that those growing up in the church, and in the Christian-influenced West, think we know like the back of our hands. "The Passion of the Christ", for example. Remember the controversy surrounding that film? Despite attempts to incorporate historical context, including various languages, "The Passion" was criticized for its graphic violence, anti-Semitic undertones, and rushed resolution. It did, however, spark numerous discussions.

Noah is a similar kind of film; it may also be criticized for the graphic violence and the difficult relationship that is set up between Noah and God: for half the movie, one begins to wonder if Noah has actually become crazy, as he waits around with a knife to kill his grandchild because he believes it is God's will. SO MUCH PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAUMA this family goes through. For the first time, Noah getting drunk in the post-flood world makes sense to me.

We could talk about how this is Biblical or how this is not Biblical and all that, but since that wasn't the intention of making this film, let's talk about creative interpretation instead. Every choice in this movie was one that made sense thematically within the film narrative. The rock angels act as a kind of parallel to humanity: a spirit in a earth-bound body that have "fallen"; the redemption of humanity is foreshadowed by their forgiveness and following communion with God once their earthly bodies are destroyed. The warlord who sneaks onto the ark is an embodiment of sin, showing that humanity still carries the terrible potential for evil with them. Like Noah says, his family is no different than anyone that dies in the flood.  Noah interprets this to mean that God wishes them all to die out, to leave the innocent animals free and safe in the new world. Methuselah, well, I'm on the fence about him: as a kind of mystic, he does act as a catalyst for the plot and perhaps manifests another part of God's will (a trickster?), but I was afraid he was going to eat everyone. Anyways. Back to interpretation.

Interpretation itself is key to this film on so many levels. The filmmakers are interpreting the Biblical narrative and creatively expanding on what the text only hints at. They engage with the difficult questions, the most difficult of which is probably, where's God's mercy in the flood narrative? Noah is also faced with the difficult and relateable task of discerning what it is that God wants him to do. Think of his first vision of the flood: there is only one word to accompany the strong images that he must interpret in order to take the next step. He interprets the mountain as Methuselah, the bloody earth as humankind's corrupting sin, and the flower as new life. The vision is only a part of God's plan. Noah must travel on before God gives him the next part of the vision. It's when Noah begins to interpret God's will in a way where his own certainty becomes more important than the nuanced plan that God has for his family that things start to go sideways. Even Ila's interpretation of God's plan for Noah that reconciles him with his family is only one way of looking at the events - it is not accompanied by heavenly choruses or bright lights. There still may be other reasons and purposes for Noah's involvement in the flood that God has not made known yet. (placing this film in a post-modernist vein, where many perspectives are engaged to negotiate meaning).

In "Noah", the "correct" interpretation is very rarely set forth in definite terms. The voice of God does not boom through the film. People like Noah, like us, have to take into consideration all the voices and images and compare them to what we know of God to figure out what on earth it is that we're supposed to do next.

As the audience, we also are in a role of interpretation. For myself, despite the very pessimistic view of human nature and the near despair that Noah reaches as he tries to drink away his shame, the mercy of God is apparent in the film, even in the midst of the gruesome and terrible wickedness and death that stampedes through Noah's story: even when we would kill, God will save. Even when we would destroy, God will rebuild. Even when we would desire revenge, God will provide forgiveness. Even when we would die from guilt, God will reconcile.

"Noah," uses the framework of the flood narrative to explore the questions that we ourselves struggle with in today's world: how do we know what God wants us to do? How do we reconcile God's mercy with his justice? Is humanity corrupted beyond saving? How do we deal with evil: do we become wicked to drive out wickedness, or do we love in spite of it? Although I will probably not watch the film again (too much psychological trauma!), it gave me plenty to think about.

For another perspective on the film, check out Nate's blog for an engaging and intelligent look at "Noah" in terms of art-making:

Friday, 28 March 2014

Arts and the Church

The March/ April edition of "Reborn Lantern"
 is available online!
To read about my visit to The Metropolitan Museum of Art and musings on art and the church, check out pg 14-15.
Comments are welcome!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

What English Language and Literature Grad students do in their spare time: meet at a coffeeshop to discuss a novel that they chose to read for fun. That's right. Reading can still be fun. And despite the fact that none of us really have time to pursue written works extraneous to our coursework, there we were. Discussing Slaughterhouse Five, one of the most messed up and wonderful books out there. Here are some of our thoughts on this novel that refuses to glorify war:

The structure of the work is post-modernist, reflecting the fractured mind of the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, who is suffering from PTSD. The first section acts as an introduction to the narrator's writing process as he himself tries to write the great "Dresden novel". He is not able to proceed into that realm alone, but creates an alter-ego, Billy Pilgrim, as a coping mechanism to explore what he experienced, while allowing himself to remain at a safe distance. The trauma of the events of war affect Billy Pilgrim to the point that he invents an alien race (inspired by Kilgore Trout) and his abduction by them to cope with the chaos and "unpleasantness" of war. It was suggested that his time in the Tralfamadore zoo could be equated with his time in the POW camp, where he was separated from the toxic atmosphere of the front. Alternatively, this could also be Billy's fantasy, paralleling his domestic life with his wife after the war. Another suggestion was that the zoo represented a kind of Edenic state of innocence, where Billy is naked and unashamed. Animal imagery is also present, in the zoo where Billy is displayed in a cage; the only time Billy cries during the war is when he sees the pain the horse pulling his cart is in. The strongest relationship Billy seems to have (apart from with Montana, perhaps, even though she is part of his fantasy) is with the dog Spot who dies ("So it goes"). The repeated chorus of "so it goes" in the novel echoes the Tralfamadore acceptance of all events in time as inevitable, knowing the time and circumstance of their own demise, as well as the dead voices of Billy's comrades. This could be another coping mechanism for both Billy and the narrator. Images of childhood, introduced by the subtitle "The Children's Crusade", is everywhere. Billy is called a child by his daughter in his old age for his "crazy" behavior. Cinderella is evoked. Billy's jacket is too small for him, perhaps showing that through war he has outgrown his innocence - the jacket becomes animalistic as it hangs over him in the hospital, something brutal and ominous. The best part of how the novel is structured from my perspective is how Vonnegut plays with the Tralfamadorian concept of all time happening at once: he integrates touchstones into scenes that foreshadow or remind of other events. For example, one of the soldiers that Billy travels with for part of the novel believes he and two scouts are the "Three Musketeers", a romantic image that disappoints and ultimately ends in death. At another point, Billy's wife is eating a "Three Musketeers" chocolate bar, a reminder that the war is happening NOW, at least for Billy who is reliving his life out of order and all at the same time. Vonnegut succeeds in portraying war in all its unpleasantness without allowing it to be glorified: this theme comes to a head in the scenes that contrast the British soldiers who live in comfort outside of the actual conflict who believe it to be a "gentleman's war" and the American soldiers from the front who are without "proper hygiene" and who throw up all the rich foods that have been laid out for them.

We discussed many other aspects of the novel, but these were the highlights! Next month we're meeting to discuss The Alchemist. Feel free to continue the discussion in the comment section!

Friday, 28 February 2014

Exposition is a Hungry Monster eats up many of the scenes I try to write. Maybe I should try starting in the middle of things, after the inciting incident, where people are interested enough to actually care what the hex is going on. At least, that's what Richard Rose of Tarragon Theatre suggested during a talk back today via relating his experience with King Lear. And although I very much agree that excessive exposition in a story/ script/ whatever can kill something that actually has a lot of potential, I can't seem to get away from indulging it.

The problem with writing a story, or a script, or a life for that matter, is that something has to happen. And how do you reach that moment of happening, or even that healthy habit of action, what is strong enough to bring that happening into being? Certainly not my lazy gel of body, soul, spirit that would rather stay in bed half an hour more than get up, make a decent breakfast, and get to school five minutes before class starts. It's the worst, checking the clock twenty minutes after rolling over, throwing on yesterday's clothes, grabbing an apple from the fridge, and having to apologize to your students for showing up after they've been sitting there for five minutes with nothing to work on and an uneasy silence filling the room. That's the best I can do these days, besides talk, or walk downtown in a sweater, and then have my friend feel bad for me and lend me a proper jacket. And that's just the everyday occurrences. When there's a whole 'nother world with different rules and new technology and fun backstory, or even just presenting two characters and their complicated relationship, how can I render it without using exposition?

Exposition is a hungry monster. It's going to eat me out of house and novella unless I can cage it up for later, when people might actually care to feed him some attention.

Friday, 10 January 2014