Lance Blomgren is a writer, artist and curator based in Dawson City. He currently acts as Director of the ODD Gallery and Residency Program at the Klondike Institute of Art & Culture. Blomgren is the author of a number of book projects including Liner (winner of the bpNichol Chapbook Award) and Corner Pieces (a collection of fiction, public text projects and urban proposals which was shortlisted for the ReLit Award in 2005). His debut novella, Walkups, has just been released as an expanded new edition by conundrum press. Walkups was also published in French by Èditions Adage and Èditions Maelstrom (Brussels). A draft of Blomgren’s speculative research project, Operation Northern Shield—an investigation into the possibility of new settlements in the Canadian arctic—was recently produced for the Centre de recherche urbaine de Montréal.
1. The North
The arctic, or even the sub-arctic—my new home—is a place defined by a can-do, improvisational, and often innovative approach to getting things done. It’s also a place where the mere act of physically moving around can seem like an extreme sport. The vast unpopulated space, “Larger than Life” as the Yukon license plates attest, reminds the newcomer that the North remains not only geographically out of bounds but perhaps beyond the bounds of reason or reality, beyond the idea of civilization itself. It is, as representations of the arctic often suggest, a half-imagined fiction. The white landscape creates a perfectly defeatured backdrop on which we can envision Santa and his harem of elves, Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, or talking polar bears that devote themselves to chaperoning young princesses on journeys of destiny. The North is the lure of escape (Frankenstein’s monster) and the perils of escape (Christopher McCandless). It is the clean slate of the imagination, brought swiftly and regularly to earthly necessity: food, heat, trade, companionship, survival. In representation, as well as reality, the North remains enchanting and sublime, liberating and sobering.
2. Resisting Nostalgia
In Fall 2008, Martin Kippenberger’s METRO-Net installation in Dawson City was dug up and dismantled. One of three subway station entrances constructed during his lifetime, this work was part of a planned global network of subways to nowhere that were “useless but not senseless.” The Dawson METRO-Net was one of the few things I knew about the town when I arrived. The installation, built with timbers to resemble the entrance of a mine, had fallen into disrepair, and the owner (also the builder and co-designer) had decided to sell it. For a while I felt pretty depressed. One of the charms of the town seemed lost, its connection to contemporary art and the larger cultural sphere severed indefinitely. In the deep chill of last winter, a wake for the piece was staged and final memories recounted. The mayor of Dawson beatified Kippenberger as the municipal patron saint of the arts. This summer, however, I was excited to learn that METRO-Net was actually still in town. Throughout the winter it had been refurbished in preparation for shipment to its new home in Seattle. In July, the owner of the piece gave his own farewell speech and a second round of toasts went around. METRO-Net’s sudden rebirth was a heartening reminder to be able to let things go, to accept the inevitability of change. The second goodbye was not so distressing. Kippenberger, I learned, originally thought the installation was in Alaska—he was not concerned with the works’ longevity or specific location. And, as the owner announced, plans for a new METRO-Net on its original site are in the works.
3. Solitary Sex
Although masturbation can by no means be considered specific to any area or culture, one might argue that wanking plays a larger role in the North, especially in light of the limited social venues and sparse population. As one friend said recently, being a single woman in a town like Dawson meant you could have a number of partnering options, but ultimately the pickings would remain slim: “the odds are good, but the goods are odd…best to have a spank bank.” Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation by Thomas W. Laqueur, though, has nothing to do with the North. Published in 2004, this book makes clear that the solo sex act has held drastically varying levels of importance in the history of western culture. While 12th Century paintings exist that depict nuns masturbating while reading scriptures, by the Enlightenment the act of self-pleasure had become viewed as self-pollution, a serious socio-spiritual transgression against both church and state, and an alarming medical horror. From this singular focal point, Laqueur delivers one of the most detailed and absorbing studies of the birth of modernism and the ingrained legacy of the history of masturbation on our present notions of self and community.
4. Poker After Dark
When I first saw poker on TV, I found it intolerable—and not only because I didn’t play the game. It seemed neither a match of wits nor brawn, certainly not a sport. However, soon I was hooked. The players themselves often seem to represent a series of types, not unlike wrestling, with many taking on the easily discernible protagonist/antagonist roles of Cowboy, Businessman, Sex-kitten, Club-kid or Gangster. Generally the players are physically unattractive in appearance, at least by TV standards. There is little dialogue, virtually no movement and, in the case of Poker After Dark, little play-by-play narration. Much of the program is silent. Like a soap opera, each episode of is serialized over the span of a week. The players often appear exhausted, bored, or both, and the narrative tension soon relies almost entirely on the plot device of dramatic irony. The camera zooms into their damp, shiny faces to locate any hint of foreshadowing, which it only occasionally finds. The suspense and waiting—like the drawn out slow change of the northern seasons—is riveting.
The brain-child of Dawsonite and icecubicle.net founder Meg Walker, International Freezer Appreication Day is an online holiday that celebrates one of the most important, and overlooked, inventions of the past hundred or so years. Celebrated on August 7, this holiday provides a moment of thanks and reflection on our reliance on these artificial sub-zero weather makers. To be cool, its gotta be real cold.
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