Book Review: Curationism: how curating took over the art world and everything else



David Balzer, 137 pgs, Coach House Books,, $13.95.


That David Balzer set out to write a book about art is certain; whether he also meant to reveal himself as an astute cultural psychologist remains to be seen.

In Curationism, Balzer takes us through a dense whirlwind of cultural-historical touchpoints explaining the emergence of curatorial practice as we now know it, detailing the curator’s evolution from an agent in service of the institution to tastemaker and integral player in proliferating the institution’s brand and existence. The text finishes with an exploration of the professional future of the role in both art commerce and the cultural landscape beyond.

Much of modern curation, Balzer suggests, is mastery of illusion by way of value impartation, a component of the role that has grown since the 90s when capitalist sentiment and the economic instability of the 90s heavily shifted public focus to value.

A thorough analysis of curationism is amiss only insofar as Balzer neglects to fully dissect curation as it applies to our own lives. In an animated conversation with famed curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, the author opens the book pondering a fascinating assertion: that the loss of individual identity and the desperate yearning to reclaim it are behind the curatorial impulse that dominates our performance in the digital and physical realms.

Balzer seems to insist that personal connection to and application of curatorial practice is inseparable from our modern understanding of the phenomenon. Yet he decidedly focuses his study at a macro level where institutions and brands are concerned: brief discussions of connected ideas like carefully tended-to music libraries and the Normcore movement function as millennial bait for an idea that, regretfully, is not fully consummated. Despite Balzer’s decidedly scant coverage of nascent lifestyle connoisseurship, Curationism shines for all its diligence otherwise. (Lydia Ogwang)

Zine Review: Vagina Horror



William Brown, Ohme Made Books, price not listed


If you (like me) enjoyed Mad Libs as a child and (like me) still laugh at jokes where genitals are the punch line, you will enjoy Vagina Horror.

The day-glo cover of this quarter-size zine conceals 32 pages of random facts with one key noun blanked out, and the subtle suggestion to replace it with “penis” or “vagina.” Example: “[Vagina] Island is located between the tip of S. America and the top of Antarctica.” Second example: “The position your [penis] sleeps in may provide clues to your personality. If your [penis] sleeps curled up, you’re most likely shy.”

Each “fact” is accompanied by a line drawing resembling mid-century clip art, like the ones used to jazz up school newsletters and church bulletins before everyone got computers. I also liked that the “Horror” in the title on the cover is supplied by the type of neon sticker you used to find on VHS boxes at video rental shops, so the title effectively says “vagina HORROR” — emphasis on the horror. I hope William has zines incorporating, “Be Kind, Rewind” and, “Sorry, I’m RENTED” stickers, too. (Mary Green)

Book Review: According to Plan



Rob Kovitz, 669 pgs, Treyf Books,, $33

Got any plans this weekend? Next week? For the next five years? No? No sweat, friend; Rob Kovitz has enough plans for all of us. In his new book, According to Plan, Kovitz skillfully edits excerpts from film, television, literature and newspapers, all having to do with “plans”. Having created his own publishing outfit, Treyf Books, Kovitz is known for this juxtaposition-style of book, identifying as an author-artist.

This style of book was completely foreign to me, and admittedly, a little overwhelming. Although there is structure to the book, each section laid out in chapters used the copying and pasting of quotes and unsettled my type-A personality — the part of my brain that was trying to fit this style into the traditional format of continuous words.

Personal qualms aside, I did manage to appreciate the book. Kovitz has brought editing to the forefront and turned it into an art form. While initially I was searching for even a paragraph written by the author in order to really hear his voice, I slowly realized that the quotes he used, and how he used them, were his voice. Even his bio is a list of quotes.

The sheer amount of planning that went into this hefty tome is incredibly impressive, and is quite notable as one reads through the various sections. Kovitz has managed to execute a hybrid genre, combining literature and design to make an elaborate collection of information on one deceptively specific subject.(Carissa Ainslie)

Tying in Diversity with Twine Games


Above: Twine designer/writer merritt kopas

by: Soha Kareem

I grew up engrossed in video games. I remember hiding behind a pillow, navigating past two-dimensional monsters exploding with pixelated blood in Doom II and heroically defeating monsters to rescue Princess Zelda in The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. I bonded with my siblings, cousins, and childhood friends over countless hours of multiplayer games that required both teamwork and brutal deceit. As an adult, I now find myself contemplating games academically and psychologically, attempting to situate titles in broader social contexts and meanings. Unfortunately, as an Iraqi-Palestinian queer woman, there isn’t much room for folks like me in the games I grew up admiring.

With each year that passes, video game critics often speak about the lack of diverse representation in blockbuster-budget video game narratives. A quick scan of most commercial titles shows characters that are mostly white, straight, able-bodied, cisgender and male, tasked with acts of violence and dominance in order to complete the story. The mantra of critics is clear: since gamers themselves are a diverse demographic, video game developers should work to represent more diverse voices.

Zine Review: Two Astronauts



Zine, Neal Armstrong, Devon Marinac, Issue One,, $5


Try to suspend disbelief all you want — you’re not going to get any weed to grow on Mars. Sure there’s the Martian north polar ice cap and the prospect of ice deep underground, but the Mars rover has yet to turn up any liquid water at all, let alone enough for a lush, moist ganja forest on the red planet. Be that as it may, terrestrial weed smokers will dream their dreams of an interplanetary crop.

Two such dreamers, Neal Armstrong and Devon Marinac, let their imaginations take cosmic flight in Two Astronauts. Mashups of hazy analog and digital collage art are interspersed among a narrative timeline titled “Interstellar Truthbuster: The Secret History of SpaceFarm.” The story traces the development of Lunar and Martian agriculture (including weed) from 1958 to 2020, including Armstrong’s placement of the “Canadian ‘Weed Leaf’ flag in the lunar dust.” The collages alternate between pixelated color and blurry black and white prints. Random, hand-lettered words and scrawled lines weave between magazine and paper clippings piled together into loose anatomical forms. Other images take on the distortion of television signal interference. There doesn’t appear to be a direct connection between the collage art and the SpaceFarm story — at least not one I can detect without a joint in hand.

Two Astronauts is a disorienting mixture of glitch visuals with an amusing premise for a story. There’s lots of fun, druggy incoherence to be had here. (Joshua Barton)

Book Review: Gender Failure



Rae Spoon and Ivan E. Coyote, 256 pages, Arsenal Pulp Press, $17.95


Gender Failure is a collaborative effort between accomplished performer, educator, and author Ivan E. Coyote, and multigenre songwriter and musician Rae Spoon.  The book collects poignant essays, heartfelt lyrics, playful illustrations, and intimate performance photographs, and originated two years ago as a multimedia performance the authors took across Canada.

Coyote and Spoon—who both use the pronoun they—ruminate on their lifelong experiences of repeatedly failing to fit neatly into the gender binary and their attempts to move beyond its rigid confines. Their earnest reflections and complimentary writing styles give the collection great momentum. Those familiar with Coyote’s charming conversational storytelling will not be disappointed; moreover, a vulnerable side of Coyote not seen in prior works is revealed here.  Throughout the book, they bravely recount the very private experience of getting top surgery and detail the challenges and frustrations of being at the mercy of the Canadian medical system. In one essay, an excerpt from a psychiatric evaluation of gender is included for reference, and it is both mindboggling and infuriating for its circular logic and sexist stereotyping.

Fans of Spoon’s first published work, First Spring Grass Fire, will enjoy the artist’s second foray into memoir. Notably, Spoon explains the tough decision to retire from gender altogether after a period of identifying as transgender and male, ultimately choosing to relinquish gendered pronouns in favour of using they. Coyote and Spoon’s perspectives will be refreshing and thought provoking for both trans-and cisgender readers alike, pointing to the fact that the dominant two-gender system is deeply problematic and requires serious overhaul. This book is not to be missed. (Melissa Hergott)