Jamie Hilder
Shelfed Gallery

Abbas Akhavan
Elizabeth Zvonar
Colleen Brown
Steven Brekelmans
Gabi Dao
Marina Roy
Eleanor Morgan
Reyhaneh Yazdani


I can only remember hanging three things on the walls of my apartment over the last decade or so, resulting in a sparsity that several people have made fun of me for (one person muttered something about Patrick Bateman). There is a painting by a friend, which is a sort of monochrome, with a bleached square on unbleached canvas. It’s a kinetic painting. Since the bleach was never stopped with vinegar, it continues to slowly eat away at the canvas, and will one day destroy it. There is a series of postage stamps that functioned as the official currency of the Republic of Rose Island (Respubliko de la Insulo de la Rozoj) that are framed alongside a pennant. Rose Island was an experimental micronation built in international waters off the coast of Rimini, Italy, in 1967, and then exploded by Italy’s government in the summer of 1969. There are two sets of stamps: the first celebrates the independence of the nation, and the second marks its destruction. My collaborator and I purchased the stamps for an exhibition, but one of the conditions of the purchase was that we agree never to sell them. I like how value-less they have become.

The third thing I have hung on my wall–it used to be in my kitchen, but now it leans against the wall on a shelf above my desk–is a 5”x7” aluminum-mounted photograph of a half-scale Norwegian Viking ship that up until a few years ago would regularly sail around Vancouver’s English Bay. The photo was a gift from my good friend Eleanor, who one day asked me about “that Viking ship that sails around English Bay,” a question to which I think I responded with some combination of dismissal and amused disbelief. So the next time she saw the ship from her West End apartment’s view, sneaking in between two larger buildings with better views, she scrambled for her camera and captured evidence, then gifted that evidence to me as proof that a) she’s not crazy, and b) I don’t know as much about things as I might think. I have lived with that photograph for years and been pleased every time I look at it.

Viking Ship

I don’t know when Eleanor left Vancouver, but it was a while ago. We met in grad school, in a seminar on art in France under Du Gaulle? I’m not sure. There were limited options. I remember her being smart and quick and funny, and that her presentation on an artist who performatively attacked a car with an axe was among my favorites. When the seminar ended, we kept talking and hanging out, and when her degree and teaching and professional opportunities in Vancouver ended, she returned to England to do a PhD. Since then, we have intermittently emailed and texted, or met for dinner when she visits. She hosted me in London at some point. When she visited last summer, with her partner, Ed, we had dinner and then drinks and talked for hours, laughing hard or asking serious and interested questions for most of it. I like everybody in her life that she has introduced me to.

It’s difficult to adequately describe a friendship.  

Here’s something I associate with Eleanor: at some point in my life I began to use the adjective “lovely” without irony. I still use it sometimes sarcastically, but I feel like, for the most part, I use it genuinely. I’m not sure if Eleanor used or uses it in the same way, or if maybe it is just something I associate with Britishness, but when I surprise myself by sincerely describing someone or something as “lovely,” I feel Eleanor is somehow proximate. Or it may be that it was my need to describe her that kicked off my whole “lovely” phase.

It’s a complex word. It is an adjective that looks like an adverb, except “love” is a verb or a noun, not an adjective, which can usually be adverbalized by adding “ly” (weirdly, coolly, intensely). The OED says “lovely” can also be an adverb (you dance lovely, you laugh lovely, you live lovely), though I think that is probably rare. And then the whole slipperiness of love–a feeling (is it a feeling? Or a belief? Or something else between and of the two?) that can be both casual and/or intense, specific and/or general, giving and/or greedy, liberating and/or smothering–adds to the word’s power.  


The arrangement I have with the people I invite to exhibit on my shelf is one that I designed to be balanced: I will make the artist dinner, host and care for their object over the course of the exhibition, write about the work to their satisfaction, and then return the work to them. I’m comfortable with the arrangement. I probably undervalue my contributions, and I imagine the artists often undervalue theirs, since they are only lending the work, and the people I like speaking to enough to exhibit are generally humble. I feel the pressure of their lending when I host them and their work, and when I write about it. Eleanor knew these conditions but decided to circumvent them by making a work for me to keep, as a gift. Now the dynamic feels off, like she out generoused me.

The work she sent me is a rubbing of a mug taped to a piece of wood matching the dimensions of my shelf. I know the mug she rubbed: it has a picture of me on it, wearing only a pair of red satin shorts. It’s an image a friend of mine made for me (the same friend whose bleach painting hangs on my wall) with images from an artwork I made, as a way to make fun of me and the artwork I made. So I put it on a mug and gave it to Eleanor, then eventually forgot I had given it to her, and now have a rubbing of it in my living room.

<i>Miracle Mug</i>

She had to wrap the mug like a gift to make the rubbing, making sure not to puncture the paper with the handle. It’s difficult to wrap a mug, which is only one of the reasons they generally make poor gifts. But the rubbing as method means a lot in this case. It is usually a technique for recording textures of things that cannot easily be transported: stones, trees, pavement, buildings, etc. In this case it’s a mug. But it is a mug in England. So the rubbing is of a distance, one that is temporal as well as physical, since the mug is a material connection between Eleanor and me, one that creates an affection present in the same way the photo of the Viking ship does. The rubbing is of a contour of admiration that textures absence. She could have sent me the mug, of course, packaging it carefully and forcing me to look at a silly image of myself and then write about it before sending it back. I feel like that is something I might have done, but that is because I’m less lovely and not as good an artist as she is.

I don’t know who I will borrow work from next to place on the shelf (I'm running out of people who make shelf-size objects I want to make dinner for), but I’m not worried about it. I have a work on the shelf that I like currently, and I don’t have to give it back. If I do borrow another work, I know that I won’t rewrap Eleanor’s rubbing and put it in the closet where I keep other prints and posters that have been gifted to me. It will go on the shelf above my desk, neither obscuring nor obscured by the Viking ship photo, and it will please me every time I look at it, its wrinkles, creases, and ordered and odd geometries reminding me.