Signs of life

I’m sitting in a black beanbag chair, watching the projection of a record spin one of my favourite Vampire Weekend songs, and thinking about myself. The record is entitled Sounds For An Exhibit and is featured in a glass case next to the video installation. But when I close my eyes and lean back in the moderately comfortable bean bag chair, it’s easy to forget that I’m in an art gallery.

My narcissism is (kind of) justified. The most recent exhibit in the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, Ron Terada: Who I Think I Am, is all about identity. Ron Terada is a 42-year-old Vancouver-based artist, known mainly for his appropriation of street signs and word-for-word recreations or representations of these found objects. This particular exhibit easily blurs the lines of the-shit-you-see-on-the-street-next-to-highways and “high” art.

The first room is filled with baffling signage: most notably, a poster for a previous exhibition, Universal Pictures, which features a photo of a “Welcome to Vancouver” sign. A glossy photo across from the video installation shows a large sign next to what looks like a construction site with the fluorescent words: “See Other Side of Sign.” In the adjoining room is a neon sign in the shape of a star. It says “BIG” in the middle of the star. The star isn’t big. It’s moderately-sized, at best.
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I’m starting to wonder about Ron Terada’s idea of self-conception. There is no explicit reference to the artist — but in the other room his favourite songs play next to a poster for his own exhibit — that either references his own confidence in his music taste and a celebration of the design team of whatever gallery put on his last exhibit, or it is an elusive reference to self-representation. The piece in the next room seems to be more explicitly autobiographical. A series of black canvases inscribed with white text narrates the tale of a New York artist’s haunting account of the nature of art, art-world snobbery, self-destruction, and crippling isolation.

“In a way, I ruined my life, but I did a body of work, and for that body of work it was worth ruining my life,” the piece concludes, leaving the last canvas a mass of black space with only a few lines of white text. It’s clear this isn’t Terada’s own autobiography. Everything about the exhibit exudes a sense of play, a light-hearted tongue-in-cheek in juxtaposing a piece called “Big Star” with a purportedly self-identifying exhibit. He listens to Vampire Weekend. He hardly seems like the self-destructive artist who wrote: “And the only way I can make art is by taking drugs to ease the pain of the emptiness in my stomach, the emptiness of my life.” Yet, here are the words, neatly configured against the white wall, in an exhibit entitled Who I Think I Am.

Reading the text-based piece is almost an uncanny experience. Reading is a familiar and comforting process for me, something I like to do in the fetal position, in bed, with a cat curled up beside me and maybe some hot chocolate. This exhibit requires you to stand, physically move across the room, crane your neck and hurt your eyes if you endeavour to read it. It’s physically demanding to read, and reading white on black text is difficult. After a while, it’s almost dizzying. You can’t just look at this piece; you have to engage with it for it to make any sense at all.
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I find out later that the excerpted text is a chapter from the biography of Jack Goldstein, a conceptual artist who achieved fame in the 1980s until secluding himself well beneath the poverty line in Southern California. In true artistic form, his works weren’t really included in any kind of artistic cannon until after his death in 2003. He is, as such, the quintessential tortured artist, who romantically sacrificed everything for his body of work, and never saw the fruits of his labour.

What Terada has assembled in this exhibit is a collection of signs. Deviating from his representation of street signs, he’s given us a collection of the kind of signs that we all use to represent our own identity. Terada chose an excerpt from the autobiography of a tortured artist, a tongue-in-cheek neon sign, an installation of his favourite music, and advertisements for his art exhibits. I would probably choose an excerpt from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and my Facebook profile pictures.

UC student cycles and freezes for Haiti

On January 29, U of T student Andreas Kloppenborg plans to cycle non-stop from Kingston to Toronto in a charity effort to sponsor schoolchildren in Haiti. Kloppenborg will attempt to complete the 280 km trek — a route usually completed in three days — in 24 hours. The Canadian winter, which will be Kloppenborg’s biggest obstacle, inspired his cause’s name: Frostbike.

Kloppenborg, who has volunteered in the past helping other charities such as UNICEF, was inspired by the struggles happening in Haiti since its tragic earthquake exactly one year ago. January marks a year since the catastrophic event, and Kloppenborg thinks it is important to remember the devastation and to continue with support for the struggling country.

“I’ve been following the Haitian story closely,” explained Kloppenborg, “and things don’t seem to be getting that much better. I figured that cycling would definitely raise some money, and cycling really long and in the freezing cold would make a lot of money.”

FrostBike is directly affiliated with the Starthrower Foundation, a larger Canadian charity organization based on providing education to Haitian youth. Kloppenborg’s goal is to raise $1,320 dollars, the exact amount needed to fund two students. Starthrower Foundation is a very humble charity with a little school that currently has hundreds of Haitian’s waitlisted to attend.

Kloppenborg chose to partner with Starthrower Foundation in part because of its small size. “A small charity would benefit the most,” said Kloppenborg. “It will mean the most.”

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Kloppenborg has always been a cycling enthusiast. He spent the entire summer clocking in miles across bike routes in Europe, but his training for his upcoming venture only hit high gear this winter break. During the holidays, Kloppenborg was cycling over 220 km every week, along with consistent weight training. His training has slowed since the start of term to avoid leg injury.

Balancing training and academics has worked out nicely for Kloppenborg. “This month school is just starting up which is nice in two ways, people are more willing to help when there’s less school work, and it’s easier for me to train.”

During the charity cycling mission, Kloppenborg will not be alone with only snow to keep him company. Two of his friends, Diane Ashbourne and Chris Frankowski, will be riding in a car behind him. The car will be prepared for any emergency, and will be packed with a first aid kit, multiple jackets and socks, cycling shoes, a toolbox, spare wheels, and more.

So far the charity has raised $1,000 dollars and has been receiving support from both students and other charities. Lance Armstrong’s charity, Live Strong, donated wrist bands and other paraphernalia, and is now an official associate of FrostBike. Students from both U of T and Queen’s university have helped support Kloppenborg’s noble cause. Most notably, the UC Lit and U of T UNICEF are hosting a pub night on January 27 at O Grady’s.

To donate or find out more about Frostbike, visit

What’s that in my food? — Malt syrup!

Malt syrup

From malt to corn to golden syrup, our food is loaded with syrups. While golden syrup comes from sugar cane, and corn syrup obviously comes from corn, malt syrup comes from barley — an unusual source for a not-so-sweet sweetener commonly found in baked goods and breakfast cereals.

Malt syrup is produced using a process called malting. This is the same process used to create many foods and food ingredients, the most famous being beer. In places like the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe, beer is not the only popular beverage produced from malting. Malta, a soft drink consumed in many countries, is also produced from malted barley.

Malting takes place when grains are allowed to germinate for only a short period of time. Before their germination is complete, the process is interrupted, allowing for enzymes within the grain to cut its starches into smaller compounds, such as maltose. Because maltose is part of the same family of simple sugars (monosaccharides) as glucose and fructose, malt syrup, which contains maltose, functions as a sweetener.

Nevertheless, malt syrup is less sweet than other sweeteners. This difference is due to the fact that malt syrup is primarily composed of maltose, as opposed to other monosaccharides. Thus it is unlike sucrose, which is 50 per cent glucose and 50 per cent sucrose; or high fructose corn syrup, which can be as high as 90 per cent fructose but is most often 55 per cent fructose. Malt syrup is also unique because of its protein content, which is not found in other sweeteners.

Though many food additive syrups are currently the subject of much debate and criticism, malt syrup doesn’t fall into the same category. It is a safe ingredient, not to be feared on a food label.

Honduras: one year later

Since June 2009, Honduras has been hit with a wave of growing domestic violence. A report from Honduras released on March 31, 2010 from the head of the National Commission for Human Rights, Ramón Custodio, had noted that Honduras now has the highest murder rates in Central America, with 66.8 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. This is an increase from 2006 numbers, when Honduras had the third-highest murder rate in the region, trailing behind El Salvador and Guatemala. Today, it is ranked first. Hondurans are victims of criminal organizations and drug cartels. We must ask what has triggered the sudden spike in death tolls in this state. A sudden increase in murder rates is chilling to hear about, especially two decades after an era of civil wars and Latin American death squads. Even more chilling is the fact that these deaths come during the reign of a new government to power, led by right wing leader Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo, who came in power five months after a coup d’état hit Honduras. High death tolls and a coup d’état? The socio-political map in Honduras is looking much like Central America from 1970s-1990s.

In June 2009, the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya was ousted from Honduras, and replaced by a temporary military regime led by Roberto Micheletti. The coup was answered by widespread popular mobilization from municipal and rural communities who demanded the return of their elected president. This movement was met by military forces who arrested, detained, killed, and beat down protestors and community organizers. Opposition to Pepe Lobo, which consists of rural farmers, workers, intellectuals, students, and journalists, boycotted and denounced the elections — which occurred during a de facto military regime — and declared them illegitimate. A general boycott of the elections was declared by all those following the Resistance movement. Five months later, in November 2009, a contested election brought the right-wing National Party into power, with candidate Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo as president.

Fast forward to 2011. Today, Hondurans around the Aguan region have mobilized and voiced their opposition to the new regime of Pepe Lobo, who they say has been putting the concerns of those who have backed the coup over the needs of the impoverished communities in the North. In response, community activists from groups such as the United Campesino Movement of Aguan, the Campesino Movement of Aguan and the National Movement of Popular Resistance have been attacked and threatened by paramilitary groups and police forces resembling the death squads which once haunted Latin America. Groups such as Rights Action have been documenting the human rights abuses occurring to those in opposition to the new government of Pepe Lobo, including unsolved killings of community activists, arrests, disappearances, and occupations of communities by the military.

The situation in Honduras is looking very much like the Central America from which many Latin American immigrants escaped; reliving a history that once haunted the region. The increased death tolls come from an illegitimate state ruled by those who ousted a democratically elected president through the use of military force, and silenced the opposition movement through the same brutal tactics used by death squads during the civil wars in Central America. Resistance against the coup and the new government has mounted since the initial ousting of president Zelaya, with thousands from both the rural and municipal population rallying throughout the capital, Tegucigalpa. From these communities, the National Resistance Movement took form, and continues to oppose the illegitimate government. The Honduran government has also gone to such lengths as censoring the media in the country. From the beginning of the coup, the state shut down media outlets that questioned its leaders, asking whether the coup was legitimate, and documenting the process of the resistance. The response to media questions was censorship, arrests, beatings, and threats from the military in power.

I have tried to shed light on the issues occurring in Honduras, and to condemn the illegitimate government by discussing the disgusting methods it is using to silence community organizers, beat them, and kill them in order to preserve itself. Arguments in favour of the coup state that, by law, the military had a “legal” (if you would like to call it that) right to act in opposition to the president. Manuel Zelaya wanted to push a constitutional reform that would allow the president to be elected on two consecutive instances in order to prolong the presidency. This bill was rendered unconstitutional by the senate, whose members were largely against the president. Manuel Zelaya tried to push the referendum, handing out ballots to the public. The senate and the courts ruled this to be illegal, and took decision to act in ousting the president. With this, the Honduran state now legitimizes its government.

But in the end, how is a state legitimate when it kills and oppresses its civilians using forces resembling death squads? Furthermore, Manuel Zelaya was an elected president, who was just ending his term prior to the coup. In calls to the UN, Zelaya pleaded to be reinstated in order to finish his term. The coup was essentially a halt to the democratic process replaced by a hostile regime which continues to silence opposition. Simply put, Honduras is following a path similar to the harmful methods of Central American oligarchies of the twentieth century through its illegitimate and oppressive government. If this instance sets a precedent for further actions by the military groups against elected governments, Latin America may very well continue living the past it will never forget.

Science in brief

Why women find macho men sexy

A chiseled chin, strong jaw, narrow eyes, and thick eyebrows are the quintessential features of a manly man’s face. A recent study in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour found that women have sexual fantasies about men with these facial qualities, particularly when they are ovulating, and when their partners do not meet mucho macho standards.

The researchers suggest that this preference is due to the fact that masculine features signal high testosterone levels, but testosterone comes at a price: it impedes immunity. This means that testosterone handicaps men, and only those with robust immune systems can afford to have high levels of the hormone. As such, masculinity may function as an indicator for “genetic quality.”

But what if your face is slightly feminine? Are you forever doomed to the ranks of the unattractive? Well, no. “Pretty boys” are generally even more attractive. They appear more trustworthy, caring, sensitive, and are preferable as long-term partners.— Tu-Vy Dinh-Le

Source: University of Colorado at Boulder

Hey, doll face! Determining what makes a face look alive

A recent study published in Psychological Science has found that in order for a face to appear alive, it must be similar to a human face.

In the study, conducted by Thalia Wheatley and Christine Looser of Dartmouth College, pictures of dolls’ faces were morphed with photos of similar-looking human face. The researchers created a continuum of intermediate pictures that were a blend of human and doll faces. Participants then viewed these pictures, and decided which faces were human and which were the faces of dolls.

Looser and Wheatly found that the distinction between the faces of dolls and humans was made about two-thirds of the way along the continuum towards the human side, with the eyes being the most important facial feature in determining life.

The results suggest that telling the difference between inert objects and living organisms allows humans to reserve social energies for faces that are capable of interacting with us and forming connections.— Sherine Ensan

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Curry derivative protects brain against stroke and traumatic brain injury

A synthetic compound developed by scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies may have potential for treating neurological conditions such as ischemic stroke and traumatic brain injury.

While there is no available treatment for TBI, the current treatment for stroke, known as tissue plasminogen activator, or TPA, is only successful in approximately one fifth of cases. A novel drug to treat these conditions, CNB-001, was derived from the turmeric, a spice commonly used in curry. The compound initially proved effective in targeting several components of neuron damage in tissue culture models, and scientists subsequently moved on to testing in animal models.

CNB-001, which was tested in animal models of ischemic stroke and TBI, was found to prevent behavioural changes due to stroke, reverse the behavioural changes caused by TBI, and preserve the cell survival signaling pathways in both conditions.— Kimberly Shek

Source: Salk Institute

Go EFUT yourself!

The Varsity: What inspired you to choose “Political Identities in the Francophonie” as the theme for the EFUT Art Gala?

Jennifer Yee: Because of all the events that are happening Francophonie [global community of Francophones] right now, [this theme] is really making headlines, not just in French media but internationally. So many things are happening, from the ban of the burqa and the expulsion of the Roma people in France, the G20 in Toronto, the Black Bloc, and the earthquake in Haiti. Now, with some of the former dictators returning as well as with the Tunisia uprising, I think there’s been a real outcry from different populations of the Francophonie, and I wanted all those voices to be heard. Especially in Canada, where French is a second language, everyone experiences living in a dichotomy of having two official languages in some way.

TV: In the curatorial statement, you mentioned that the chosen theme reflected the current political climate and that as French-speakers, bilinguals, or Anglophones, we are integrated in a community which embraces two official languages. What drew you to this subject?

JY: I think being involved in EFUT [influenced me]. They’re such an inclusive club! I noticed it’s not just French speakers who go, but also English speakers and people who identify themselves as being bilingual. There’s a sense of inclusivity and I wanted have the same feeling [at the gala]. You don’t have to be a French speaker in order to be in this show. As an Anglophone, you experience French culture in some way and it does have a direct effect on your narrative of your own life story.

TV: Tell us about some of the artists featured in this exhibition.

JY: We have six artists, seven including myself, involved. We have a good range of students, from PhD to undergraduates from here at U of T, to OISE, York, and OCAD.
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Brooke, one of our artists, took a trip through the French speaking region of Western Africa and photographed her experience. She went by herself with a backpack and a camera to take these photos, whereas before, that was what you saw done only with National Geographic. There’s definitely something to be said about globalization, the western gaze and also a focus to what most of us here ignore, such as the ongoing effects of war, especially in the Congo.

Jay’s set of photographic collages talks about the expulsion of Roma people and the political implications that reside in kicking people out from a place they’ve called home. Marc’s piece was about the Black Bloc at the G20 and how French speakers were targeted while a police state was created here in Toronto.

Overall, everyone did a good job in responding to the call. I didn’t have to rework anything — they were just the ideas they had themselves.

TV: When people leave the exhibit, what would you like them to take away from it?

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JY: I would like them to take away that everyone is welcome in the French community, at EFUT, at U of T, and welcome to participate. I find when we have a call-out people usually need convincing to submit. If you make art, you’re an artist. I feel that people are very reluctant to take that term and should feel empowered. When people see this show, I hope they feel that they don’t have to be just on the viewing end but at the participating end as well.

TV: Given the successful turn out of such a great project, how do you feel about the overall experience?

JY: It’s definitely overwhelming. It’s a lot of work, but when you’re backed by a club, it makes it a whole lot easier. I think U of T has done a great job in creating a space where students can be heard. At the end of the day, I know I worked blood, sweat and tears into this show and I didn’t do it alone.

EFUT’s 3rd Annual Art Gala runs through February 19 at University of Toronto Art Centre, 15 King’s College Circle.


A good sport: Super Bowl skepticism

Upsets have been the dominant narrative of NFL post-season coverage this year, and that narrative hasn’t been lost on the players or coaches.

One of the biggest upsets of the playoffs came before they even began — when the Seattle Seahawks won the National Football Conference Northwest Division with a 7–9 record. They became the first losing team to make the playoffs in NFL history, a remarkable (and largely unforeseen) feat.

The Seahawks took the approach, as articulated by several of their players, that the only thing worse than being the first playoff team with a losing record would be to lose to that team. The Seahawks trounced the New Orleans Saints — the defending Super Bowl champions — in Seattle, and pulled off one of the biggest upsets in recent playoff history.

The Seahawks’ had a remarkable year, despite the fact that their path to the Super Bowl was interrupted by the Chicago Bears last weekend. The Chicago Bears fell to the Green Bay Packers yesterday afternoon, which effectively ended their chase for the Super Bowl as well.

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Any conversation about upsets has to centre around the New York Jets’ performance this postseason, though. The Jets came into the first round against the Indianapolis Colts with a massive bull’s-eye on their backs after head coach Rex Ryan called the rivalry “personal.” The Jets pieced together a good enough game, capitalizing on key mistakes by Peyton Manning, and pounding home the winning field goal with no time left on the clock.

The Jets went to New England the next weekend to play the dynastic Patriots. The week prior to the game featured a lot of public chatter, most of it by Ryan, about the importance — and yes, personal nature — of the game. When it came time to play, the Jets flat-out delivered and wound up winning 28–21 in a game that they had greater control of than the final score suggests.

They fizzled out this weekend against Super Bowl favourite the Pittsburgh Steelers who will be playing the Green Bay Packers in two weeks.

Playoff upsets pose interesting questions about the nature of the sport. The goal of each team heading into a season is to win the championship, but the winner of the championship depends more on the one-month playoff period than the regular season.

In the NFL’s short playoff series, factors such as momentum, luck, and injury can do more to determine the outcome than which team is better. That is not to take away from teams that post big upsets, but it’s a self-evident fact when a six-month season’s final outcome is determined in a compressed time frame.

But after all, isn’t that the fun of the playoffs?

Campus Stage: Homicidal hilarity

Two seemingly harmless old women are actually stone cold killers — this is the premise of Arsenic and Old Lace. Written for the stage in the 1940’s by Joseph Kesselring and adapted to the screen around the same time, it was first performed on Broadway, and, more recently, performed by the Victoria College Drama Society.

Who doesn’t have the occasional oddball in the family? Did they ever murder someone? Well, Mortimer Brewster, the protagonist of the story, has a family filled with eccentric characters with homicidal tendencies. Victoria College’s Drama Society did a superb job adapting this retro play without making it feel old, with the cast of around a dozen students and alumni overacting just enough to make it clear that murder doesn’t always have to be so depressing without too much over-the-top cheese.
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The plot centers around a love story involving the two characters who are not totally off their rockers, and the characters are played with reassuring normalcy. The play is all about comic timing and physical comedy, which the actors exhibit throughout. Michael Mackinnon, as Teddy Brewster, and Michael Welch as the evil assistant, Dr. Einstein, played their roles with relish. Teddy Brewster, a delusional who thinks he’s Theodore Roosevelt and plays the role with a perfect deadpan. Michael Welch as the doctor nailed a comedically-over-the-top German accent and maniacal giggle. The old ladies played by Gwyneth Hodgins and Nora Boydell, embodied the comedic physicality necessary to their roles, and were absolutely hilarious.

Things heat up as Mortimer discovers that his aunts have killed 12 men who have stayed at their house. They rent out rooms, and happily explain that the dead bodies in their window seat are poor souls that they have “put out of their misery” — by promptly serving them wine with arsenic. So, when Mortimer’s brother, Jonathan comes home and tries to stash a body of a man he has killed in their cellar, he finds killing certainly seems run in the family. The sinister facial expressions of Jonathan (Matthew McGrath) were alone worth the cost of admission.