Monthly Archives: January 2010

Book Pitch: Seasonal Shift

Last year I took a drive to the bucolic King City, which is just above Toronto. I went there with a mission: to see millions of dollars worth of art. How did I do it? I snuck onto a farmer’s field; ignoring every private property and trespassing sign around. Why risk fines and potentially well-placed buckshot?  I did it because that farmer’s field is an outdoor gallery housing one of Richard Serra’s earliest pieces.  Oh, and I thought it would make a great book.

So what’s all this illegal trespassing fuss about, and who is Richard Serra? Richard Serra is a world-renowned sculptor whose monumental pieces are worth millions of dollars. However, one of his earliest and most significant works, Shift (1970-1972), is wasting away in King City. Shift is an undulating wall made up of concrete wall-like sections that fall and rise with the contours of the field. It is like the fossil remains of some kind of prehistoric beast, but what it really represents is two individuals separate paths through the field. Some folks leave breadcrumbs to mark their way, Richard Serra leaves tons of concrete.

A piece of SHIFT

But seriously, viewing shift is an experience. It makes you rethink your relationship with space. What’s more you can walk on it, climb up it, and touch it. When was the last time you did that at MOMA? I really want to make this piece known, because it is not only stunning, but it is also endangered. Shift has consistently been under the threat of being destroyed due to urban sprawl.

Here's an idea of the scale of the piece

I want to do a book that will be a visual tour of this remote and forgotten treasure of Canadian monumental art. The book I have in mind will be titled Seasonal Shift and will be equal parts art catalogue and coffee table book. Seasonal Shift will be divided into five chapters or sections. The first chapter will be a brief history of the creation of Shift. The final four chapters will correspond to the four seasons in this order: Spring, summer, fall, and winter. With its large size and full colour photographs, Seasonal Shift will be a book about an impressive piece of art and it will be an impressive piece of art itself.

The opening chapter will expound upon Shift’s unique beginnings and its relation to Serra’s later work. This chapter will culminate with the revelation that Shift is in jeopardy of being destroyed by urban sprawl. I believe that King City Councilman Cleve N. Mortelliti would be an excellent choice to write on this final point. Mortelliti’s article, “King City: Environment Art Work Revealed” is already an excellent analysis of the plights facing Shift. Mortelliti’s article is about his personal relationship with Shift, but it also points to how Shift and other monumental earthworks can be pivotal in creating a new kind of green urban planning. This green mindset would make the book attractive to readers interested in the global green and conservation movements, but it would also attract readers who are more locally minded. Readers who purchased books like Coach House Book’s GreenTOpia would be ideal readers for Seasonal Shift.

For the task of documenting Shift’s history and its changing beauties and nuances, my dream pick would be the art critic for the New York Times, Robert Hughes. Hughes is a famous and influential art critic, but he also did an excellent article in 2005 for The Guardian on Serra’s, The Matter of Time. This article, which was titled “The Man of Steel,” demonstrates how Hughes’ perspicacity and evocative imagery are both easily accessible and inspiring. He would ably illuminate Shift and its surrounding landscape for readers both familiar and unfamiliar with Serra’s work and the Ontarian landscape.

Over the course of the four seasonal chapters, Hughes and a photographer will document Shift as it and the bucolic landscape experience the changing seasons. The author’s journeys to the isolated Shift will be integral to the book. His observations will serve as a travel narrative and an art review, which will be accentuated by large photographs of the piece. Through a synthesis of image and text, the readers will feel as though they have shared in the experience of visiting the remote piece of sculpture.

Me looking shifty on...I can't do it

Seasonal Shift is a book for a variety of readers. As previously mentioned, Seasonal Shift will appeal to those interested in the intersections between urban planning, the environment, and art. It is parochial, because it pertains to a small Canadian township; but it is also international, because it centers on an art superstar. Seasonal Shift will appeal to the casual art fan, as well as the dedicated Serra scholar. It will also appeal to those interested in the Ontarian/Canadian landscape and its history; for example, readers who recently bought Mark Osbaldeston’s, Unbuilt Toronto may be interested in a book about neighbouring King City’s multimillion-dollar treasure. Moreover, the book could be tied into a short documentary, lecture series, or even tours of the site (this time legal tours), which could act as promotional tools.

Shift is an untapped gem in the world of Canadian and international art. It is a shame that most people don’t know about it.

Hoping the King City PD don’t read my blog,



This would make a great book, movie, comic, etc.

Why are there so many remakes, rehashes, reinterpretations, and remixes in the entertainment industry? Are the powers that be obsessed with a prefix or have they merely run out of ideas. I mean they brought Leno back for crying out loud! (See previous post-Ed.).

Well, I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand it anymore. Time for some new ideas, some ideation, if you like. I am constantly thinking of premises, pilots, and pitches. And, by golly, some of them just might be good.

Like this idea for a book or movie.

Edward Trelawny was a curious fellow. He is alternately described as a biographer, an adventurer, and sometimes a liar. He was born in either Cornwall or London, England in 1792 and had what he described as a “miserable childhood” there.  But the real excitement starts in 1819. It was in this year, after a failed stint in the navy and a failed go at marriage, that Trelawny met Lord Byron and Percy Shelley.

Now if you don’t know who those last fellows are, I suppose you might not be interested in this pitch, but it is more than likely that you do. Regardless, here’s a refresher: Byron and Shelley are members of the Big Six romantic poets (the other four are Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Keats). Their poetry is stunning and studied in every respectable academic institution. However, they are just as famous for their lives as they are for their lyrics. If there were paparazzo in the 18th century they were following Byron and Shelley. Both men were accused of licentiousness and deemed reprobate; scandal followed them like a lost dog. They were under the watch of the English government for a variety of reasons, most involved being in the wrong bed, but many were because of their radical religious and political views. Did I mention their stay at the Villa Diodati (the one time residence of another poetic giant: Milton) and the ghost story competition that spawned Frankenstein and Vampyre?

Needless to say, Byron and Shelley are giants of English Literature, and they are giant characters. They have stories worthy of several films and books (like the Julian Sands film Gothic, and Roger Corman’s super weird Frankenstein Unbound, and a myriad of books). However, Edward Trelawny is left out of these accounts, but his story is just as interesting.

Trelawny was known to be an outlandish, and dedicated member of Byron and Shelley’s Pisan Circle of friends, and he eventually became a noted biographer of this circle. However, nothing could have prepared them for his actions at Shelley’s funeral. Shelley drowned in 1822 at the age of 29 after an ill-fated sailing trip. There is, and was, a large amount of speculation and hearsay regarding this event. One story states that Shelley was “rubbed out” by English government operatives, others claim that Shelley and his friends swear they saw his doppelganger, an omen of death, days before he died. Regardless of the cause, Shelley’s death was truly romantic in fashion: he died battling the sea with a copy of Keats’ poems in his jacket.

His funeral was an equally romantic affair. His body had been discovered some days after the accident and was unsuitable for burial, so Shelley was burned on a funeral pyre on a beach. Byron was so moved by the scene  that he had to retire to his coach; Trelawny had a different reaction: he ripped Shelley’s heart out of the fire. Yes, that’s right, he ripped out his heart. That is dedication to a literary legacy.

But what happened to that heart? Did Trelawny keep it and preserver it? And it gets weirder. A short time after Shelley’s death, Trelawny went on to fight along side Byron and the Greeks in Turkey, and when Trelawny heard of Byron’s death in 1824, he was the first to attend to his remains. So, Trelawny is now two-for-two in terms of poets’ corpses. Moreover, Shelley was 29 and Byron was 36 when they died, Trelawny lived to 88! The average life expectancy was 50! To add to the moribund fascination surrounding these pillars of poetry, Trelawny’s ashes were buried next to Shelley’s plot, a plot that he had purchased for him. Can one stalk another person in the afterlife? My answer is perhaps.

A movie could tell this odd tale verbatim, however, it could also speculate just what Trelawny’s motives were in collecting his friends remains.  Did he do it out of a sense of worship or duty, like a medieval reliquary, or was it for something more sinister. The movie could be ambivalent about this, or more biased. It could delve into the supernatural or even fantastical b-movie and horror movie territories (maybe the key to Trelawny’s lifespan was his taste for his friends’ flesh. Cue spooky music and wild cackle). Either way Trelawny’s tale should be told. And entertainment, like the heart of a poet, should not be reheated.

Verily yours,


O Captain, My Captain!

The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien is over. Like Cory Devereaux, it went out in a glorious burst of hilarious flames. So, why am I so sad? You see, Conan was my best friend on television.


As a teenager I was quite the night owl, and Conan’s Late Show was always there for me. His blend of awkward lankiness and confident self-effacement emboldened my younger version. He was a paragon for awkward teens, so I emulated his mannerism and tried to incorporate them into my own.

Moreover, when I made my first big trip from the suburbs to New York (THE city), the first thing I wanted to do was go see Conan. I lied about my age, and I waited in line to get rush tickets. My friends and I were among the final people to be selected: my life’s dream up to that point was being fulfilled. It was a freakin’ Lifetime movie I tell you.

When Conan was announced as the Tonight Show host I was terribly excited and proud. My friend had graduated; he had achieved his childhood dream. Over the past seven months, I have only missed maybe five shows. And you know what? They were all glorious. In those episodes he set a high watermark that will never be eclipsed in my lifetime.

But most importantly, Conan was able to live his dream, albeit briefly, but nonetheless he lived it. He was the host of the Tonight Show and no one can take that from him. Kim Campbell will always be a former PM, and Conan will always be the former host of the Tonight Show. Scratch that, he will always be THE host of the Tonight Show!

Here is an excerpt from his final show. Obama, eat your heart out:

And all I ask is one thing…and this is…I’m asking this particularly of young people that watch…please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it’s my least favorite quality.  It doesn’t lead anywhere.
Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get.  But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.  I’m telling you.  Amazing things will happen. – Conan O’Brien

See you when I finally turn my TV back on in eight months, Conan.

Your friend,