First ride on a new streetcar

Nuit Blanche: Riding the new looooong cars on Spadina.


I was disappointed. From the outside, the streetcars look sleek but there’s less space inside than I expected. Aisles between seats are narrow. There were 16 seats in the segment we were in and half of those were a step up from the floor, sitting atop a box to accommodate the wheels. The design feels clumsy.

In these step-up seats, you sit facing fellow riders. There will be knee rubbing for riders my height and taller.

I can only think that the design is all about reducing the number of drivers, not improving rider experience. Because a single driver can haul more passengers, the 30 metre-long cars will arrive at stops less frequently.

The older articulated, two section cars have 61 seats and a crush-load (TTC terminology) capacity of 205. The new, 5 section cars have only 9 more seats, but the crush-load capacity goes up to 251 … more standing, less sitting.

Riders lost the comfort of padded seats around 1980, with the arrival of the models now being phased out. The new cars have hard seats.

If driving becomes automated, which seems very likely before these new streetcars wear out, we may see shorter cars, for service during off peak hours. An almost empty 30 metre long train at midnight seems wasteful. Smaller cars could be more frequent if they didn’t require an expensive driver. Security? Cameras, probably.

At night, the interior of the new streetcar is so brightly lit, it is difficult to see outside. The windows are big, so from outside in the dark, riders are lit up as if on stage. Why?

On the upside, newly laid tracks are very smooth and even the older streetcars run very nicely on them.

Nuit Blanche 2015

Cool, alright. Temperatures were above zero but gusts of wind through skyscraper canyons were so strong they were scary. Danica and I tried to cheat and started out around 4:00 p.m., in a bit of drizzle.

Nuit Blanche starts at sunset. When the Power Plant gallery opened, we got in to see an astonishing spectacle … 30,000 black paper moths clinging to high walls and beams. Outside, a colonnade of wind-inflated, fabric smokestacks danced crazily. Streamers at the top represented smoke. You know those bobbing King Kongs that draw attention to used car lots? Like that.

 For Nuit Blanche events, “you really have to be there,” as the cliché goes. Photographs don’t do much for projection displays of video. Even Quicktime movies would fail to capture the immersive experience of being in and around a spatial installation.

This is good. If Nuit Blanche could be televised, fewer people would get out into it. Mingling with the milling crowds is part of the show.

Easy copying has forced pop musicians to create concert events for their income. Nuit Blanche demonstrates that the other arts must also push into the event space. A newspapers asks, “is it an art festival or a street party?” Both, of course.

Dance, sound, lights, reflections, projections, mechanical movement and electronic wizardry. A 21st century expansion and extension of hippie Happenings … more mainstream now, and sponsored by a bank!


We used a TTC Day Pass to get around to Queens Quay, Spadina, Bay Street and City Hall. On streets closed to traffic, we legged it. Our 7 hours included a stop for dinner, but even if we had pushed harder, we could never have seen even half of the sites.

The crowd before midnight was a mixture of age groups, with young families and younger singles making up the majority. Behaviour that we saw was good.

Motorists gridlocked dedicated streetcar lanes at every intersection but we saw no traffic enforcement. That needs to change.

One of our favourite venues was 401 Richmond Street West, even though many of the studios and projects on display were not on the official Nuit Blanche list. We found galleries, workshops, videos and even a brainwave feedback display in there. That multi-storey building is worth a visit any time, but especially on Nuit Blanche.


My Memory Lane contribution

One of the Nuit Blanche themes tonight is Memory Lane, so I thought, “Why not?”


This is a 1960-something felt marker sketch that Gordon “Kit” Thorne dashed off in our back yard in Vancouver. It is a winter scene. See the little tracks in the snow? The figure is a heroic scale female nude sculpture I created in reinforced cement, dyed black. I was in my teens at the time, impressed with the work of Gaston Lachaise and, of course, with nude females in general.

kitI’ve mentioned “Kit” Thorne on this blog before and I am fortunate to have some small examples of his works on paper … things that were in my mother’s collection. The more I look at Kit’s work, the more I appreciate his skill.

Kit was an “old fashioned” artist in the psychedelic 60s, ignored by the local tastemakers of the day. None of that matters now. We can simply enjoy Kit’s work for it’s spontaneity and grace.

What crazy apes we are

When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.

Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens – Notebook, 1898

The Art Gallery of Ontario’s Camera Atomica exhibit reminds us of our insane history with nuclear technology. Photographs, documents, publications and moving images offer a long look back over the days of bombing civilians, across the years of atmospheric and underground testing and into todays world of nuclear reactors and radioactive waste.


We still have enough nuclear weapons stockpiled to annihilate ourselves and nuclear energy is far from safe, but the issue has become a museum piece.

Below are two of the video exhibits in the show. First, a fascinating display of the 2053 atomic explosions we detonated between 1945 and 1998.

Canadians are big uranium miners, so our Norman McLaren’s Oscar-winning 1952 film Neighbours was an appropriate part of the installation. You can watch it right here.

Neighbours by Norman McLaren, National Film Board of Canada

Salmo circles

My sister Joni lives in the Kootenays, in British Columbia’s Rocky Mountains. She is an able and knowledgeable practitioner of many First Nations ways and crafts. Our family has a long history relating to native arts and cultures, even though our own ancestors were of European stock … but that’s another story.


Joni has wintered in teepees of her own making, designed excellent beadworks, plays the native flute, sews buckskin and, most actively now, is involved with aboriginal friends in drum circles. They drum and sing together on drums they craft themselves. Pictured in the centre is one Joni made for me and Danica.

The big photos offer two views of a spiral drum path Joni has just completed … all by hand and all by herself. It looks like 4 concentric rings to me, but Joni calls it a spiral, so maybe that’s the way you move in it. My “baby” sister is only weeks away from becoming a senior citizen, but she shows no signs of slowing down.

The drum spiral is only one outcome of Joni’s ongoing work, shaping her immediate environment. A careful observer of nature, she is working out ways of improving her surroundings by planting native trees and flowers so that they can thrive without artificial treatment.

While many of us want to live greener, more ecologically responsible lives, Joni really walks the walk. “I’m learning how to fix the land without pissing people off. lol So far, so good… ,” she wrote recently.

Contemporary one-woman show at the AGO

The current AGO exhibit of Liz Magor (pronounced may-gore) makes me think about how much the meaning of the word “sculpture” has changed.


At the top of the photo illustration you see white cardboard retail boxes, tissue-lined and carefully packed with textile sculptures, each one unique. Cutouts of pointing hands (or actual gloves) draw our attention to details … often labels. There are about 5 dozen boxes, presumably arranged and lit with the artist’s assistance. Viewing is a bit like window shopping … you look with no intention of buying, but your attention is engaged by patterns, materials and ideas.

The show is very “thinky”, not particularly “feely”. Consider the arrangements of packing boxes and furnishings in One Bedroom Apartment(bottom of the upper picture). It’s a fairly deadpan presentation compared with an installation like, say, Keinholz’s Barney’s Beanery from the 1960s. (next photo)


Magor’s One Bedroom makes Keinholz look like a hopeless romantic. Her view is dry. We view from the perimeters. “Looks like our basement,” I said to Danica.

Visual beauty is not present in Magor’s work. It doesn’t seem to be a consideration. Keinholz said he was unable to make beautiful things, so he did what he could and made ugly things. Magor seems to point to things and stays neutral.

Magor received this one-artist show and $50,000 by winning the 2014 Gershon Iskowitz Prize. That may sound like a lot of cash, but the show represents decades of activity.

Liz Magor is a Vancouver-based artist, born in Winnipeg in 1948. The show’s title seems to derive from one of the textile pieces bearing the word “Surrender”. A pointing glove indicates a $525.00 price tag, with a $115.00 red tag beneath it.

I went for the OS X update


The download took over an hour and then installation about the same again. I am now running Apple’s latest, greatest OS X El Capitan (version 10.11). Free upgrade, of course.

I had to download and install a special “legacy” version of Java in order to keep using my old Adobe apps from Creative Suite 4. If I run into any surprise incompatibilities, I’ll come back and report them here.

El Capitan is supposed to run more efficiently, so I updated to take advantage for my aging iMac.

Everything starts with a nut

In this case, the nut was one Mr. Honda in post-war Japan. He was motorizing bicycles, for cheap transportation in his devastated country.

His first R&D consisted of flights to Italy, where he stuffed the pockets of his overcoat with motorcycle parts, transporting them home without paying extra for freight. Back in Japan, he made copies and modifications to the parts he had collected and applied them to his own machines. Some nut. “Here’s to the crazy ones,” as Apple used to say.

Mr. Honda felt that riding a motorcycle was the closest thing to flying. You see that belief expressed, even today, in Honda’s logo … a wing.

Ian liked this commercial and I do too. It is a tour de force of 3D software and editing magic.

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