Thursday, 19 May 2011

Poo Font returns. It is now a book

You thought you had scrubbed it clean from the porcelain rim of your memory banks, but no - Poo Font makes an explosive return!

Yes, Arne Gutmann's masterpiece of typography has now been included in a self-published book.

All 26 letters of the alphabet in their original form are featured in all its excremental glory in Gutmann's debut book. B is for Book is totally disgusting and ready for inclusion in your personal library.

"I had always dreamt that I would (make a book) once I finished the font," he says. "I saw one of the features at the bottom of iPhoto there and thought, this is just for me."

For those out of the loop, Poo Font is a font made from poo. Gutmann discovered one day, 20 years ago, that he had a particular knack for producing fully formed letters of the alphabet thanks to a "really good" digestive system. Over the next two decades, he photographed each digestive offering with the intention of creating a complete font. As of March, that goal was achieved.

"(My wife) was getting kind of bored with it but now she sees that it's almost kind of a movement and we have to keep the train to speak," he says.

He's found through Google and Twitter searches that people are talking about his project but it has yet to go viral.

He has big plans for his little book. The three-by-2.4 inch book is merely for promotion, and Gutmann says plans are already underway for an expanded, coffee-table book-sized format that will include original photographs of the letters, the black and white true font, the punctuation and brief write-ups for each one. He plans to call it The Red Flag Book after a Seinfeld episode where George is forced to buy an expensive art book after taking it into a bookstore bathroom. He hopes to have it completed by the end of the month.

Gutmann's font, while disturbing, is a certain type of genius - not in the work itself but in the human reactions to it. Showing the book to people is an experiment in psychology where most react with utter disgust and frank curiosity. B is for Book proves that humans, as decent as they claim to be, will always be attracted to the weird and repulsive.

While some people have raised skepticism that Gutmann's letters have been doctored or manipulated, he claims that what you see is exactly as he found it.

"The only reason some of them look obscure is because the bowl of the toilet obscures the full amount, so I have to cut that off (with Photoshop) and use what's there," he says.


Eager Gutmann fans can purchase B is for Book for $20 through Gutmann's website, Who knows? It could be a collector's item one day.

And no, sorry folks, the book is not a scratch and sniff.

Who is Cameron Chu?

It's a Friday night and Cameron Chu, the Bearfoot Bistro's resident pianist, is making love to his piano., no. Get your mind out of the gutter. Let's say he's making that piano love. Better? The piano loves the room, with sweet, sweet jazz, rolling through the restaurant like a leaf riding on the wind. The patrons - they sit at their tables, enjoying their wine, yakking at their wives, boyfriends, whatever. Few of them, if any, are paying any direct attention to this amorous piano but once Chu lifts his fingers from the keys, there's a noticeable shift in ambiance. It leaves a void to be filled by recorded jazz numbers playing over the P.A.

It's not the same thing at all. Like all professional musicians, Chu knows how to command a room. A musician needs a certain kind of emotional intelligence, or instinct, to feel if the room is, y'know, "happening." Chu is always looking around.

"Every gig is different," he says. "If you want to stay working, you just have to be flexible. What I do here, I won't necessarily do somewhere else."

Chu's repertoire is massive - it's too big to even put a number on how many pieces he knows by heart. He plays show, swing, jazz, pop, reggae and top 40. He could play heavy metal if it were necessary but would prefer not to. The man is a professional musician win the purest sense - classically trained, astute and skeptical of modern pop.

"Regardless of what the gig is, you have got to be looking around, even if you're on stage," he says. "A lot of performers now, they have a set list and that's it. But a lot of the older performers, they had a set list but they'd watch the crowd. That set list gets changed on the fly."

Born and raised in Vancouver he studied - surprise! - piano music at the Vancouver Academy of Music. After completing that program, he earned a degree in biology at UBC but the ivory keys kept on a-callin'. He's played in dozens of bands over the years and has met some of the great jazz musicians: Ray Brown, for one, would steal his bass amp, preferring Chu's to his own. That was all part of travelling with a band - the circles are small and all the players travel along a circuit. Chu says great connections are made during layovers.

But Chu never warmed up to the travelling thing. He says he never felt settled. He never had the time to practice properly, so he eventually settled in Whistler, where he'd played in the 1980s. Opportunity presented itself in the form of a promising new restaurant - the Bearfoot Bistro. Fifteen years later, he's one of the restaurant's original team members.

And tonight, well, tonight seems like a good night. He's feeling a bit playful.

"I'm playing a bit more aggressive tonight," he says.

Righto, but...wait....what? In what sense? He's not rolling out Metallica tunes here. His fingers flaying those keys, heating the room with his warm, supple jazz can hardly be described as particularly aggressive...can it?

He nods. "It's a little bit quick paced. The last tune was a bit quick for this time. Normally I would save that for later in the night. Sometimes you just have to see what the room's going to do."

It's taken hard work, a lot of years - not to mention a whole lot of practicing - to get where he is. He practices three to four hours, every day.

"You need to master your instrument," he says. "Before you even get into the musicianship, you need to master your instrument. You should be commanding your instrument, not the other way around. You have to own the guitar you should be able to make that guitar talk. That guitar should not make you struggle."

The instrument - like the camera for a photographer, like the brush for the painter - should be an extension of the fingers. The way Chu manipulates those keys - So clean! So smooth! - It's a wonder Chu isn't playing some prominent jazz bar in Manhattan.

He could have gone to New York. The opportunity is always there. He knows plenty of people there but there's something about Whistler that a New York, a London, even a Vancouver can never provide. Call it quality of life. Call it a measure of security that a talented jazz musician, only one of a handful in town, can work on the regular. He's earned his reputation in town.

It's why the Bearfoot, an internationally recognized fine dining restaurant, calls him week after week. It's why his name appears in the music listings of this paper. It's why he's worth doing a story on. The man is worth the price of dinner at least.

A favourable truth

Hand it to Al Gore for inspiring a generation of environmental films that shame humanity into re-thinking our impacts on the planet. While it's (sort of?) working, An Inconvenient Truth and its dreary counterparts can be a depressing viewing experience.

Which makes Puppet State Theatre Company's adaptation of The Man Who Planted Trees all the more appealing in this day of heightened environmental awareness. Add the fact that the story is told through puppetry and you have yourself a different kind of tale.

"It's a positive environmental story, it's not the type of story that makes you feel bad. It's not doom-laden," says Richard Medrington, founder of and performer in Puppet State.

Jean Giono first published his tale of a tree-planting shepherd who brings a deserted valley back to life in 1953, under its original title, The Man Who Planted Hope and Reaped Happiness. In 1987, it was adapted as an animated short and won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

Medrington, a seasoned puppeteer, discovered the story in 2005 and adapted it to the stage with his colleague, Rick Conte. They used the shepherd's dog as the narrator, cutting out the anonymous man used in Giono's original, to round out the drama with humour and improvisation.

"We felt that it was a story that needed to be told and we were looking for a new show to do," Medrington says.

For the last five years, Medrington and Conte have taken the show to cities around the world, garnering rave reviews. The Sydney Morning Herald wrote in a review last November, "The language and cadence of the show is pitched at adults; there's no talking down to the audience."

In those five years, environmental awareness has increased in the Western world and as a result, Medrington says he has noticed shifts in audience appreciation for The Man Who Planted Trees, most notably from the adults.

"People are just very moved by it sometimes. People stand with tears at the end of it. (They) say so afterward, that they were crying," Medrington says.

He adds, "I think it's an extraordinary story that (Giono) wrote because it's so simple, but it had layers of meaning to it. I keep having revelations to it while I'm doing the show... and it's not always specifically environmental things that I get out of it, it's just general life lessons."

Medrington says that humour plays a big role in carrying the play, which might otherwise buckle under the weight of its own message. The dog is used to lighten the load.

"Any kind of performance where you press the same button over and over again, people get weary," Medrington says. "If it's hitting the same area of the human brain, you just get tired. You've got to have variety."

And variety it has. They use that to shape the story's dimensions while using sound effects and smells, such as with lavender floating into the audience. Medrington says he wants to give as much variety in the performance as possible, so nothing goes on for too long.

"We're still striving to get it right. We've probably done it nearly 1,500 times now and it's always different, the audience is always different, new things come and old things leave and come back again. We try to keep it fresh. That's the challenge for us as performers, having done it so often," he says.

Pray for a casino and maybe it'll come

A casino! In Whistler? What a novel idea.

There has been absolutely no talk about it from town planners, at least not that the public has heard, and any time the topic comes up in conversation people are vehemently opposed to the idea.

The main argument is that it doesn't fit the image that Whistler has created for itself - but what about it doesn't fit?

Whistler is a tourist mill and if we want to keep the turnstiles active there needs to be every variety of experience attracting visitors. This needs to extend beyond just family experiences. As Las Vegas knows all too well, families don't bring in the dollars.

That's not to say Whistler should become Sin City North in order to thrive, but it needs to start thinking outside of family-friendly-only programming. Whistler at present does not provide a whole lot for adults to do after dinner, except for nightclubbing, an activity that, on the whole, loses its appeal a) after one or two nights in a row and b) once people turn 30. Whistler is actually kind of boring. If it wants to thrive, it needs to cast its net much wider.

A casino is a good place to start because it's not just a casino - it's a restaurant, it's a bar, it's a theatre. With a new venue will come increased programming and, depending on the success of the casino, that programming could be more world-class on a more regular basis than this town currently provides. A casino is, in short, is a people-attracting, entertainment-compounding moneymaker.

In British Columbia, host local governments earn 10 per cent of a casino's revenue. In the 2009/10 year, the provincial government distributed $81.9 million to these communities. Between July 1999 and March 31, 2011, Penticton earned over $21 million. Nanaimo earned over $32 million in that same period. Prince George - $24 million-plus. Richmond - $93 million. Fort St. John - over $2 million, and that's in a very remote location in B.C.'s north.

Now that Canada has approved destination status in China, Whistler has the opportunity to pull in - and profit from - a new type of tourist coming to Canada, but right now the town has very little to keep Chinese tourists in Whistler for more than a day. They get off the bus, they take some pictures, they get on the bus and go back to the city. And the Chinese - they love to gamble. Macau, located on the southern tip of China, is the biggest and most successful gambling destination in the world, pulling in revenues of $24 billion in 2010 - way above Las Vegas. Whistler, and indeed Canada, needs a very good reason for Chinese tourists to spend their coin across the ocean. Vancouver city council, in its rejection last month of a massive casino along False Creek, aborted a potentially massive cash cow.

Whistler's strongest appeal right now is the regional market, but it's completely missing the people who don't care about the great outdoors. Metro Vancouver residents have their own "great outdoors" to appreciate. They need other reasons to come up.

There would be a definite dark side. Casinos can bring out in a community a certain desperation that might not otherwise exist. The underbelly of Whistler may flop over topside. But try as we might, Whistler cannot stave the ugliness off forever. It's the nature of growing up. The hardships, they breed evils. Where there's a yin, there's a yang. How we confront and deal with those evils will determine what sort of presence it has in the community. Whistler is fortunate in that it's still very young in 2011, with over a century of mistakes in urban planning to learn from.

We can't have it both ways. If we want tourists to come, we need to give them every reason to make the hour and a half trek from Vancouver. The mountains are good enough for the people who live here but as we now know, they're not good enough for everyone else.

It's astonishing that, even in a global recession, Whistler has attracted millions of people based on its outdoor offerings alone. But it's not enough. It never has been enough and that's what the Cultural Tourism Development Strategy is about. Building a casino could be a part of that strategy. It's time to start thinking about what the town needs to maximize its financial successes.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

If Jesus were food no one would be fat

There comes a time in many a man's life when he must come to terms with his belly. It comes sooner for some, but save the Herculeses among us, many of us will be spilling over the belt loops eventually. Accepting this can be psychologically crippling for those emerging from the flat-bellied days of youth as we grip the bulge with both hands while standing shirtless before the bathroom mirror asking, "Why, oh Lord, why?"

One could blame the lack of exercise or all the hours sitting on the chesterfield watching My Name is Earl re-runs, but the true terror is a bad diet. Poor nutrition is not just a personal problem but a systemic cultural one where processed food is still widely accepted by a society still gripped by convenience over perfect health. While we are collectively moving away from a fast food nation, the progress is slow and may never be eradicated. Mars Bars will remain readily available in vending machines and not a single child north of the Rio Grande River will ever give a good goddamn about quinoa.

But they should. Already considered the "miracle grain" by several prominent book publishers, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a gluten-free protein and a nutritious substitute for rice, potato and pasta - the culinary cornerstones of many cultures. The problem is that when prepared, quinoa has all the flare of a Gap cardigan sweater and no amount of journalistic pandering will convince the masses to convert once they have actually tasted it.

That is, unless Jesus gets involved. Our Lord and Saviour, presumably ready any day now to launch his return to this godless planet, must consider returning in the form of a vaguely popular chenopodium. Yes, quinoa should be the Second Coming of Christ.

If God can take the human form of His only begotten son and ascend back into heaven three days after dying, He can return as anything he wants. He can return as a steaming pile of cow dung if He so desires, but of course that would make very little sense.

It'd be foolish for Jesus to return to Earth as a human. He tried that once and look what happened. His initial mission was flawed by his attempts to target mankind's intellect. All the parables and subversive philosophies earned Him a crucifixion and a legacy of martyrdom followed by Evangelicalism. Yes, He has earned a reputation as one of humanity's most important people ever, but His message of radical personal and social transformation has been muddled by nearly 2000 years of worship and idolization, negating his central argument that the transformative power of love for all mankind is a real possibility. Popularity was never His intention but once we picked up on His appealing ideas, humanity went all Hollywood on His legacy.

What Jesus now needs to realize, if He hasn't already, is that mankind needs a more subliminal mechanism by which to be reached. Food is the gasoline of our being. It is what fuels us and our dismal relationship with it has caused serious problems worldwide. We don't need Jesus' love transmitted through paradigm-rattling rhetoric, we need it to worm its way through our digestive tracts and carried through our blood streams and right out to our appendages. Like a pill.

Quinoa is possibly the best vehicle for this global distribution. It was considered a sacred grain by the Incas, who as we all know have always been God's chosen people. Quinoa's versatility means that the less health-conscious among us can load it on their cheeseburgers without complaint and its blandness won't offend the Methodists.

So on the anniversary this Sunday of our Lord and Saviour's ascension into heaven, think about the benefits of His return as the miracle grain of quinoa. Consider the benefits that His Holiness, circling through your body, can have on your well-being. From here, we can one day be united as one through a common love of Jesus-cum-quinoa.

Keep an open mind here - radical ideas, as disturbing as they may be, should always be considered before they are dismissed. This newfound compassion for others will save us from war, not to mention diabetes, heart disease, and that ever-expanding flab at the centre of our torso, pushing out every day, inch by inch.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The purpose of death must be to live, or something similarly obvious

I was sucking on a quarter. It caught a ride with my saliva and sailed down my throat. I was nine, or something. Following the panic incited by my choking noises, my sitter's husband came to the rescue, hitting me square between the shoulder blades and ejecting the coin. I picked it up and probably spent it in some jellybeans. Later that week, I was sucking on a loony and the same thing happened.

The fact that I almost died twice within a week meant very little to me then. Death for us as children was an unidentifiable concept because we had a limited understanding of the nature of mortality. Once we grew older and more aware of our role in the universe, then the gravity of such matters began to settle. For a child, choking on quarters is the pinnacle of hilarity.

Mathew certainly found it funny. He'd use it as his go-to potshot for months afterward. We'd been best friends for a couple of years by then and so were taking the piss out of each on the regular. We lived 10 houses apart in those days and would spend most afternoons ignoring our homework and exploring the forests surrounding the neighbourhood instead.

We'd pretend we were a pair of gumshoeing movie stars named Joshua and Michael who wore earrings in our left lobes because in real life our parents wouldn't allow such fashion. No, in real life we were a pair of nine-year-old dweebs toiling in the fleeting heedlessness of pre-adolescence, united by a close proximity and a fondness for spandex bicycle shorts.

Mathew died when we were 12 and I still don't know how. My parents said it was an accident while the kids that knew him said and continue to say that the cause was more deliberate. The facts don't matter to me now and they certainly didn't then. He was gone, is gone, will be gone and that has always been enough for me to deal with.

Naturally, I cried myself to sleep every night for a week or so, maybe a month, while maintaining absolute composure during the day. Everything seemed the same on the surface - I was still ignoring my homework, still cultivating a deep love of music that may have been accelerated by the loss of a friend. It happened at a time when most kids are coming into awareness and the sudden death of someone so close and so young was a rude and sinister eye opener. Traumas like that are like a boulder splashing in a pond. The bigger the stone, the bigger the splash and the longer it takes for the ripples to settle before all is calm and the reflection is what it was.

It took about 15 years for the complexity of that event to be fully understood. I graduated from an almost crippling fear in my teens of other people dying, to a complete indifference toward my own mortality, to an absolute certainty in my early to mid-twenties that death was lurking around every corner.

But as the great sage Roseanne Barr once said, "If you spend all your time worrying about dying, living isn't going to be very much fun," and I spent a lot of effort between shifts and between classes finding ways to settle what had been a lengthy rippling in the pond. Eventually, over a series of trips both geographical and psychotropic, through the comforts of music and literature, through conversations with family and strangers alike, and eventually escaping the city life, I found the perspective I had been fighting for. Finding contentment is difficult work and don't let anyone tell you any different.

The final step, of course, happened while in Whistler, while chewing on a piece of over-cooked steak. The piece was a little too big but I'm careless by nature so I ate it anyway. The meat cube slid on a stream of saliva much like an incident 17 years previous, and into my throat. After pulling the lodged meat from throat with my left hand, I sat panting at the table, wondering what it would have looked like for my roommates to find my corpse on the floor and a steak on the table.

I laughed then - a short, refreshing laugh while contemplating for the first time without fear what it would have felt like if the steak had succeeded in killing me.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Move over Helvetica...

This is a poo font. It is a font made from poo.

The X, the R, the S - nothing was manipulated. Arne Gutmann simply sat on the can as you or I do when we go about our business and voila! A perfectly formed "A."

"Dude, everybody's got magic," Gutmann said. "I have pretty good digestive system. Everybody's got magic, man."

One day, about 20 years ago, he was about to flush at his home in Toronto when he took a peek - as so many of us do - and discovered a letter floating in the water.

"I was impressed," he said. "I grabbed my camera and took a picture. And then, I don't know, a couple of weeks or a couple of months later, I got another one. I was like, 'Dude, this is wild.'"

He doesn't recall what that first letter was but it stirred something within him. An idea was fermenting. A photographer by trade (he's active in the Whistler scene, curating local arts exhibits and sitting on the board for the Point) his passion has always laid in the obscure. So whenever a new letter would drop, he'd keep a record of it. It has had nothing to do with a fecal fascination - he claims he has never had one - but he just "keeps stuff." Over time, he decided to make something of all the letters and by using Photoshop to grayscale the images of his excrement he created an entire alphabet. It's now available for purchase at

"I have so many (letters), man - like the alphabet five times over but in different variations. They're not all the same," he said.

He's clearly amused when showing the raw images of his turds. While they are all quite horrific, they're also uncanny. That the human body can produce waste in the alphabet form is a perverted wonder and unless you see the original images - of which there is no rush, trust - you'll never see the true magic behind the letter "R" or the number "4."

Nothing like this has ever been created before. There are plenty of poo-based fonts, characters and images but most of them are hand drawn. An alphabet plopped out letter by letter over the years...well Gutmann's on the leading edge. No one has paid to use the font yet, and aside from the above headline and a few X's (a trademark, of sorts) given to a few friends it has yet to be used in the public.

People have been talking about it though to gauge their reactions is to gauge the vitality of the font as a work of art. Reactions lie somewhere between revulsion and fascination, often at both extremes and often at the same time.

"It's a natural thing. It's a natural bodily function," he said. "We're all aware of it... but it's also a repulsive thing too."

Gutmann is hardly the first artist to use bodily fluids as a vehicle for artistic expression. Among others, Italian artist Piero Manconi once sold one-ounce tin cans of his feces, complete with a label, in a collection known as "Merda d'artista" ("Artist's shit"). They didn't sell well at first but in 2007 a single can fetch 124,000 euros.

Like Manconi, Gutmann had an idea, and like every artist is compelled to do, he took the idea and executed it. As many artists will testify, the art is not always a biographical assessment of the artist as a whole.

"People are like, 'You're obsessed! You're obsessed!'" Gutmann said." I'm not obsessed, man, it's just a thing, you know? It's my magic and I've realized it and I have tried to capitalize on it," he said.

Gutmann plans to self-publish publish a book featuring all the letters, which include outtakes for letters that didn't make it, as well as original images to compare to the finished product.


We thought so.