Why I Love American Psycho

I’ve always loved Bret Easton EllisAmerican Psycho. Loved the book (even though any chapter titled Girls is almost impossible to read). Loved the movie; even staying in one Friday night to watch it on tv.

But I’ve never been able to properly explain why. Despite being the best social satire to emerge in the last 20 years, so many people can’t get past the violence. So it was with great glee that I read an interview with Ellis in the recent Paris Review that contained this gem:

American Psycho came out of a place of severe alienation and loneliness and self-loathing. I was pursuing a life—you could call it the Gentlemen’s Quarterly way of living—that I knew was bullshit, and yet I couldn’t seem to help it. American Psycho is a book about becoming the man you feel you have to be, the man who is cool, slick, handsome, effortlessly moving through the world, modeling suits in Esquire, having babes on his arm. It’s about lifestyle being sold as life, a lifestyle that never seemed to include passion, creativity, curiosity, romance, pain. Everything meaningful wiped away in favor of surfaces, in favor of looking good, having money, having six-pack abs, dating the hottest porn star, going to the hottest clubs. On the surface, like Patrick Bateman, I had everything a young man could possibly want to be “happy” and yet I wasn’t. I thinkFight Club is about this, too—this idea that men are sold a bill of goods about what they have to be in order to feel good about themselves, or feel important. No one can really live up to these ideals, so there’s an immense amount of dissatisfaction roiling through the collective male psyche. Patrick Bateman is the extreme embodiment of that dissatisfaction. Nothing fulfills him. The more he acquires, the emptier he feels. On a certain level, I was that man, too.

Finally, an explanation that pithily captures the entire book – which is still just as relevant now as it was 20 years ago.

Guo Fengyi @ Contemporary Art Gallery

Guo Fengyi, a Chinese artist who passed away in 2010, is not a well-known artist, to the point that she does not even have a Wikipedia entry. This is completely undeserved and hopefully will be rectified after her recent exhibit at Vancouver’s Contemporary Art Gallery.

Born in 1942, she spent most of her life not creating art. Then, one day she fell sick and started to practice traditional qi-qong medicine. This led her to visions that compelled her to draw. Her work was largely unnoticed until 2002 when she exhibited with the Long March Project.

Her work is all similar in style and fascinating to look at. All her works are paper drawings, frequently on scrolls, and using simple colours. Everything is a flat line drawing; there’s no attempt at shading or perspective. She hints at traditional chinese motifs and beliefs.

The scale of the work is overwhelming; some pieces tower fifteen feet over you.

You’re not supposed to take photos, but I did. Here are a few:

Architecture Notes from Vancouver

1.

Yesterday, Wen and I needed new mugs. Actually, it’s fairer to say that we wanted new mugs. We’ve had the same mugs for 10 years now and they’re showing their age – or perhaps, we’re showing our age and want new mugs.

Anyways, that’s all a digression. We went to Walrus to see if they had anything interesting and then headed over to Vancouver Special.

Imagine my surprise when, while cutting across 19th or some other suitably anonymous street, we found ourselves amidst a flock (gaggle?) of Vancouver Specials.

Before Vancouver gave the world the City of Glass

Vancouver condos

…it gave it the Vancouver Special. For the uninitiated, this is a type of single family home built between 1965 and 1985. Here are some snapshots of what this local contribution to the architectural pantheon looks like.

Vancouver Special

Vancouver Special

Vancouver Special

Vancouver Special

And here’s a map.

2.

It feels like the entire city of Vancouver is under development right now. A cacophony of condos sprout on the skyline, cranes hinting at pedestals and towers to come.

One strange phenomenon is the rise of the developer “park” – a lot of land that will soon be home to a condo and is temporarily converted (really, just grassed over) into a park.

Fake Vancouver Park

Fake Vancouver Park

Temporary Park

Temporary Park

Many thoughts go through my mind when I see these “parks”.

The first is the way they taunt you by saying “public welcome” – undoubtedly legal speak included to preclude trespassing.

Secondly is the utter lack of the previously mentioned public. I’d like to imagine that people can see past the feeble amenities (a bit of grass! a bench!) and sense what this truly is: an advertisement and a taunt; where you presently find a park will soon disappear and you’ll have to forage further for open space.

3.

What’s amazing is that this hubbub of activity is really just the continuation of a 25+ year old experiment.

False Creek used to be the industrial base of Vancouver, a mix of industrial and commercial spaces:

Screen Shot 2012-03-04 at 9.34.21 AM.png

Above: 1971 courtesy of M S Horne.

With Expo 86, an ambitious urban redevelopment plan was undertaken, and the entire north shore of False Creek was converted temporarily into a world stage:

10-DontMissItForTheWorldAerial-1024x681.jpg

Photo courtesy of Presentation Gallery

But the Expo was only temporary; the land was sold to Li Ka Shing who created Concord Pacific to develop the lands. (And, now you can see why he’s a billionaire and you’re not, with the ability to recognize the long-term potential of land like that).

Now, when you arrive at Vancouver’s airport you’re greeted by a sign for Concord, showing how they have single-handedly transformed what the city looks like (and not the unbuild properties just to the right of BC Place stadium):

Sign at airport for Concord Pacific

Whenever I see this sign I’m struck by the long influence of history on cities. The stage for today was set over thirty years ago and we’re just going following through on decisions made by folks long gone.

I also wonder about other Western cities where one private developer has had so much influence. Anybody know of another Western city built almost entirely by one person?