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Free Associating in Vancouver

On Saturday there was a ghostly cube made of sheer white fabric at the center of Western Front's Lux Ballroom in Vancouver BC. It was difficult to discern its dimensions because a cafe setting obscured it and one panel was covered in rippling projected images of writers reading their work, with audio piped in over speakers. The authors were in an adjacent room, shy of audiences but not cameras, apparently. Over the spoken words was the sound of laughter coming from behind the makeshift projection screen, where people were jumping around in an inflatable Bouncy Castle. On the other side of the room was a small area where other writers, in the flesh, delivered their work to small, appreciative clusters of people.

All of the commotion--the cube, the poets and prose stylists, the acrobatic flips in the Bouncy Castle--was part of the Unassociated Writers Conference and Dance Party, organized by Matthew Stadler, editor of Clear Cut Press; Jonathan Middleton, the curator of Western Front; and Seattle author Matt Briggs. Although initially conceived in response to the staid Associated Writers Conference happening across town, the loose-knit event wasn't a counter-event so much as an experiment in information sharing and a place in which writers and artists could commingle, display their books, read, listen, and drink champagne.

Matt Briggs delivered an introductory speech at noon, imploring the crowd to each write a letter on peach-scented stationery to a favorite writer from the Northwest--or as Briggs, Stadler, and Middleton preferred, "Northwest Pacific America"--and pin it to the location on a map where the work was first read. Mash notes, jottings, and thanks to Charles D'Ambrosio, Rebecca Brown, Stadler, and Proust ("He's a Northwest writer, isn't he?") were pinned to the board like specimens of irony and tenderness.

At day's end, Stadler spoke of a brand-new website born from the conference, www.bullettrain.ca, that Middleton was putting together to post events happening in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, "to encourage a mental bullet train." Then Matthijs Bouw, the cofounder and principal architect of One Architecture in Amsterdam, gave a short presentation in the cube (the castle was deflated and its husk was rolled off into a corner). He showed slides of various projects and explained his design for the conference, which made sense in context with his other brilliantly skewed and strangely practical projects. Particularly arresting was one slide of a rest-stop parking lot previously divided by signs for trucks and cars. Bouw redesigned it to say Hetero and Homo ("So homosexuals could fuck in the bushes and not get harassed or beaten up"). In the spirit of the conference Bouw suddenly said, "That's enough. Let the music begin," and abandoned the cube to make way for the band P:ano.

nate@thestranger.com

 

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