My first stop in getting my bearings within Vancouver’s art scene was naturally the Vancouver Art Gallery. There is currently a pretty rad exhibition on art, hip hop and Aboriginal culture which features skateboards carved to resemble snow shoes and Nikes stitched into first nation inspired masks. What really grabbed me, however, was art from the museum’s general collection; a wall of framed words hung slightly higher than eye level, by local artist Steven Shearer.
I was instantly drawn to Shearer’s Poems, repeating select phrases aloud. Each one was so delightfully grotesque it made my memories of morose teenage headbanging bubble to the surface with uncharacteristic joy. I like the effect the words have on me, they are evocative and shocking – and yet this very effect is made so by the literary ingredients of verse, such as assonance and alliteration. Thus composed, I enjoy the way such vulgarities roll of my tongue. Visually, the text is displayed for the perfect impact; bold white capitals screaming from a black background. Individual words jump out at you, SCATOPHAGUS, DISCHARGE, ROT MUNCHING, PUTRID, CADAVERIC from within the overwhelming message.
I wanted to list for you some of the truly great lines, but each one is as good as than the next. Singled out they are awesome, but together they are epic.
“His mural, billboard, and poster poems inspired by scatological and blasphemous Heavy Metal lyrics and song titles present visions of the nihilistic sublime that would be disturbing if they weren’t so entertainingly hyperbolic.” Lupe Nunez-Fernandez. “Steven Shearer at Ikon, Birmingham.” Saatchi Gallery. Spring 2007.
As poems they are aleatoric, using the cut-up technique popularised in literature by beatnik William S. Burroughs, and used in music by Bowie and Radiohead, to add the element of chance to the final creation. I love the concept of taking an existing text and extracting and rearranging words to create a new meaning. Burroughs said, “When you cut into the present the future leaks out.” Yet here in glorious irony, it is being used to find the divine meaning in the ‘obscenities’ of Heavy Metal.