2014 Whitney Biennial

7″ record cover by Jean Smith in 2014 Whitney Biennial

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The painting on the 7″ record cover is called Discovering Utopia by Jean Smith.

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Back cover by Jean Smith.

Four artifacts – the 7″ record covers, David Lester’s Malachi poster, and a live Mecca Normal set recorded by Malachi Ritscher – are part of Public Collectors: Malachi Ritscher, an exhibit curated by Chicago’s Marc Fischer about American activist and music documentarian Malachi Ritscher (1954 – 2006) who self-immolated on a freeway median outside of Chicago to protest the war in Iraq. Ritscher made a video of this action that was not widely seen.

Jean Smith’s written introduction to the exhibit will be published in the official 2014 Whitney Biennial catalog.

“It was Malachi’s intention for the video of his protest, his death, to reach people through mainstream media, to jar them from complacency, to have them raise their voices to end the war. But that wasn’t what happened. The video was not released in that way. When we added our song – and the poster – to our performances and classroom events, we regarded them as extensions of Malachi’s intention. We had created documents about the documentarian whose final statement on war was not heard. We created art and music because Malachi’s voice was not heard.” – Jean Smith, from the 2014 Whitney Biennial catalog

Public Collectors: Malachi Ritscher will include artifacts from Ritscher’s work as a documentarian focused on recording the Chicago music scene, including a Mecca Normal performance at the Empty Bottle. The live set was recorded by Malachi Ritscher on November 11, 2002 while Mecca Normal was on tour with their album “The Family Swan” (Kill Rock Stars, 2002). On this occasion, a touring version of How Art and Music Can Change the World was being exhibited upstairs at the Bottle Cap. Malachi visited the art exhibition, which included many of David Lester’s “Inspired Agitators” posters and Jean Smith’s paintings depicting politically-charged events.

During July and August of 2014, Public Collectors: Malachi Ritscher will be exhibited at the Experimental Sound Studio in Chicago.

Malachi – the Mecca Normal song about Malachi Ritsher’s intentions and his death – was released as a 7″ record in 2010 by Olympia, Washington’s K Records. An acoustic version of the song and a video by Jean Smith were released on November 3, 2013, the seventh anniversary of Malachi Ritscher’s death.

Jean Smith vocals, David Lester acoustic guitar, KRAMER on bass and keys. Produced and mixed by KRAMER.

Mecca Normal Newsletter

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Jean Smith at the opening of The Black Dot Museum of Political Art exhibition at Northern Gallery in Olympia, Washington, 2010.

2010, Jean Smith at the opening of The Black Dot Museum of Political Art exhibition at Northern Gallery in Olympia, Washington.

Jean Smith is a painter, a novelist and the singer in the underground rock band Mecca Normal. Born in Vancouver, Canada in 1959.

7" vinyl on K Records, cover art by Jean Smith, 2011

7″ vinyl on K Records, cover art by Jean Smith, 2011.

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ARTFORUM Magazine, Best of 2011 by Tobi Vail
1. Mecca Normal, Malachi Seven Inch (K Records)
Vancouver’s punk-protest duo have been changing the world with art and music since 1984. “Malachi” the A side of their latest single tells the story of Malachi Ritscher, a Chicago man who in 2006 immolated himself on the freeway during morning rush hour to protest the war in Iraq. By recording this song and performing it to audiences across the globe, Mecca Normal participates in the longstanding folk tradition of spreading political dissent through music. Photo of Mecca Normal by Jack DeGuiseppi

Jean grew up in North Vancouver in a house designed by architect Fred Hollingsworth, whose work is included in a recent book by photographer Selwyn Pullan (Douglas & McIntyre, 2012).

Fred Hollingsworth house in North Vancouver. Photo by Selwyn Pullan.

1963, Fred Hollingsworth house in North Vancouver. Photo by Selwyn Pullan.

MacKillop family at home (1963). Photo by Selwyn Pullan.

1963, the  family at home. Photo by Selwyn Pullan.

MacKillop family on the cover of Canadian Homes Magazine, a weekend supplement to The Vancouver Province newspaper, 1963. Photo by Selwyn Pullan.

1963, the family on the cover of Canadian Homes Magazine, a weekend supplement to The Vancouver Province newspaper. Photo by Selwyn Pullan.

Growing up with artists for parents contributed to Jean’s interest in how and why various personality types interact. Her mother’s right-side-of-the-tracks background, tempered by the great depression, prevailed in terms of table manners and etiquette, but her father’s more colourful upbringing provided many stories about poverty, injustice and the meteoric rise of a true East End underdog who had lived all over hell’s half acre before his family of three settled in a rented apartment above a drug store where Commercial Drive meets Commercial Street in Vancouver. His father – known to all as Mac – sold knick-knacks and punch-cards out of the back of his pick-up truck on family excursions around the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

Having spent his elementary school years everywhere from Butte, Montana to Crater Lake, Oregon pledging allegiance to the flag in classrooms where he was perpetually unable to find his way academically, Jean’s father didn’t even know he wasn’t an American citizen until Mac’s photo appeared on the front page of a newspaper being arrested by the FBI as an illegal alien selling pinball machines to corner stores in Agate Beach, Oregon (or so the story goes).

Not knowing what else to do with a student who was at sea with the curriculum, teachers opted to send John to the art room where he poured over American Artist Magazine, until one day he read about a profession called commercial artist and he knew this was for him.

1965, Super Valu ad in the Vancouver Sun. Art director John MacKillop of Lovick's; daughter Jean on the side of the shopping cart.

1965, Vancouver Sun. Jean on the side of the shopping cart.

In her early teens, Jean began an ongoing series of self-portraits that have since been exhibited at three Ladyfest art shows (Olympia, WA in 2000, Los Angeles in 2003 and Seattle in 2004) and included in “How Art and Music Can Change the World” a classroom and art gallery event that Jean has been presenting (mainly on tour in the USA) since 2002.

1974, self-portrait (11 x 17″ watercolour on paper)

1974, self-portrait age 14 (11 x 17″ watercolour on paper)

1979, clear cut behind Don Jarvis' house in West Vancouver (11 x 17" watercolour on paper).

1979, Clear Cut — behind Don Jarvis’ house in West Vancouver (11 x 17″ watercolour on paper) by Jean Smith.

Intending to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a commercial artist, Jean attended the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art & Design), but left before completing her studies to work as a graphic artist in the production departments of the North Shore News, the Vancouver Courier and the WestEnder – where she met guitar player David Lester in 1981. Lester, who had been the art director at Vancouver’s Georgia Straight, introduced Jean to feminism and punk rock, encouraging her to funnel self-expression into song lyrics – which she did. The resulting guitar and voice duo of Mecca Normal has received critical acclaim since its first album release in 1986 on Smarten UP! Records, the label Jean named as an extension of her early 80s fanzine – a photocopied compendium of poems, book and record reviews, and political commentary that the Globe and Mail called “as schoolmarmish as its name” (much to Jean’s delight, having been a member of the Future Teacher’s Club in elementary school).

Nearly thirty years later, Smith and Lester maintain the creative partnership they forged in the early 1980s. The 14th Mecca Normal album was recorded in November, 2012. Its release (on a US label) will be supported by tours, art exhibits, lectures and a comprehensive promotional campaign featuring the music, the art and the novels.

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Jean Smith at the San Francisco Public Library, 2012.

2012, Jean Smith reading an excerpt from her novel “The Black Dot Museum of Political Art” at San Francisco’s LitQuake — the west coast’s largest literary festival. The event included PowerPoint images of from the story (below).

Video of Jean Smith’s LitQuake presentation.

Images from the PowerPoint:

Odele's paintings being removed from the farmhouse. Illustration for an excerpt from The Black Dot Museum of Political Art, a novel by Jean Smith. Part of  a PowerPoint presentation at LitQuake, 2012.

Odele’s paintings being removed from the farmhouse. Illustration for an excerpt from The Black Dot Museum of Political Art, a novel by Jean Smith.

Martin Lewis' opening at The Black Dot Museum of Political Art. Illustration for an excerpt in Oystercatcher Magazine. Part of  a PowerPoint presentation at LitQuake, 2012.

Martin Lewis’ art opening in the novel The Black Dot Museum of Political Art. Illustration for an excerpt in Oystercatcher Magazine.

From the Raven Coal Mine series in The Black Dot Museum of Political Art, a novel by Jean Smith. In the story, narcissist Martin Lewis alters his traditional landscapes to attract the attention of a young political activist. Part of  a PowerPoint presentation at LitQuake, 2012.

“Raven Coal Mine” – Dissolving traditional landscape by interjecting an abstraction that refers to the environmental devastation of a coal mine in one of her novels, Smith makes the work about color, composition and a cultural activism that intends to protect an environmentally sensitive region on British Columbia’s west coast.

Contact Jean Smith

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