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Alfred Harris Plots and Plans at Froelick

The kindest cut. If collage suggests excavation of a sort, locating and recombining existing materials to suggest new images, new meanings, Alfred Harris’ elegant works in his Froelick Gallery show entitled Plots and Plans are a kind of reverse excavation, a layering on of sedimentary layers akin to those one might find on beachside sandstone cliffs or on an untidy desk.

In these large abstract blocked collages there are elements of calligraphy, of mined archive, of cartography generously cushioned with blocks of neutral colors—blank papers sometimes in ivories and sometimes crisscrossed with registration blue grids— that function as wide open space. These are interspersed with blocks of vivid colors such as pumpkin, mustard, vibrant red, and mint green, and even blocks of transparent fabric. The papers are layered, and occasionally, there is a rectangular fragment of a city map lettered in Italian buried beneath another tissued layer. It’s not so simple as all this though; in “Dust bowl Dance” there is the deliberate stroke of the brush in a neutral white buried beneath transparent layers as well as areas where the pale paint’s been allowed to run down in a fence of drips. The final elements in each composition are fragments of a calligraphic gesture by a broad brush on paper, mostly in a coal black or bright red. Harris chops these up so that a curved stroke might trace a fragment of a circumference through its rectangular block.

Only rarely does the abstract brushstroke suggest anything but itself. When it does, it can be letterform or fragment (in “Dust Bowl Dance,” there is a distinct uppercase E) or pathways across a patchwork landscape: sometimes (as in “Trouble at the Cup”) Harris knits together fragments of brushstroke to create a Frankenstein line that meanders across the composition. In “Louise Brooks,” the black L-shaped gesture in the bottom right of the piece clearly suggested the title, mirroring the black sweep of the silent film star’s bob. Suggestive or no, these strokes put the artist (via the swoop of his wrist) in the work, humanizing these hard edged compositions locked behind a thick, glossy layer of resin.

As a body, these “Plans and Plots” are friends (but “it’s complicated”) with Richard Diebenkorn’s “Ocean Park” paintings as abstract aerial landscapes. But the gestural line fragments complicate these landscapes…just as the black lines we draw on maps are superimposed on actual features of the landscape. And I’m as into that complication as I am into the fact that the choice to fragment these strokes is what makes them interesting: the artist creating his own “found” materials. From a distance, I’m as apt to see these as cobbled together wreckage of roadside commercial signage as anything else. But up close, where you can see the bubbles between the layers of sheer paper ghostly echoing the bleeding black drops of paint, these become more about time and the kind of accumulation of these regular, rectangular fragments that in its complex, shifting, and entangled way is metaphor for the ways meaning is made. That the layers are for the most part not full but empty makes space for possibility. “Give me land lots of land under starry skies above/don’t fence me in.”

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

They are completely serious. Or pretty much. But if you know these guys, you might wonder too whether the Conceptual Oregon Performance School or C.O.P.S. (a name that obviously started with its acronym and worked backward into its current awkwardness…”conceptual oregon”??) might be a performance art piece in itself, which, coming from these guys might include, well pretty much anything. Patrick Rock (ROCKSBOXCONTEMPORARYFINEART, PISS), Sean Carney (Social Malpractice Publishing), Michael Reinsch, and Matt Green (Fast Weapons) make performance that is, if not transgressive, at least punk and often drunk with abject overtones. See: PISSMASS last year at Hay Batch at Appendix Space. Aaand, there’s Rock’s manifesto-masquerading-as-course-description beginning, “No rules, no bullshit.” And continuing to pronounce, “We are an artistic movement, the new art form, exploring, essentially, new media and art experiences.

“This new gesture functions with the purpose of pushing the viewer to the edge, utilizing any medium necessary beyond the traditional, in order to create a reaction in its audience.”

But if you know these guys, you also know that at least some of them are way smarter than you, and that Rock and Carney are already teaching. Carney acknowledges that I’m probably not the only one who wondered whether C.O.P.S. was on the level (see how fun that acronym is?), but assures me these are courses filling a real need. Yes, the educational turn in contemporary art has an eminently practical side in Portland, Oregon. While artist-run projects like Bruce High Quality Foundation’s BHQFU San Francisco’s Pickpocket Almanack are generalist in nature, C.O.P.S., is filling in a gap the four founders perceive in fine arts education in Portland. As co-founder Sean Carney says, “You can go to art school for four years at PNCA and have just one course in performance.”

So the mission statement: The Conceptual Oregon Performance School (C.O.P.S.) is a free, artist-run, experimental summer school, with a focus on contemporary performance strategies. Its mandate is to engage participants in the methodologies, critical theory, and dialogue surrounding the discipline, while investigating its social and cultural role. Participants will experiment with a myriad of contemporary performance strategies, based upon formal and informal lectures, seminar-based dialogue, and structured group critique.

There’s a registration party this Saturday at 8 PM at Rocksbox Fine Art (6540 N Interstate) where the syllabi will be free but the beer and hot dogs will cost you. A song.

TRESPASSING: A Quest to Find Stone Alignments/Solstice Cairns

by Lisa Radon

Let’s get this out of the way up front. I am not a habitual trespasser. I’m a nice girl who was raised to call first, never to drop in unannounced, and to ask permission from the neighbors with the smiley face mailbox when I wanted to detour through their property to save four minutes on my elementary school walk home. But let’s be fair, there was no one to call. All we had was a 30-year-old, hand-drawn map of the bluffs above I-84 near Mosier, Ore., with typewritten directions noting such landmarks as the “red fire truck” near “the barn.”

We were on a quest for Michelle Stuart’s “Stone Alignments/Solstice Cairns,” the 1979 earthwork Stuart had created on Rowena Plateau overlooking the Columbia River, commissioned by the Portland Center for the Visual Arts, the now-defunct Portland contemporary art center. We knew Rowena Plateau was private property, but belonging to whom? Letters in the PCVA Archive at the Portland Art Museum’s Crumpacker Library described the sale of the property by the original owners who’d permitted the construction of Stone Alignments in the first place.

It is a time piece in which cairns and viewing circles form a 100′ diameter wheel and line up with the sunrise, sunset, and true north on the summer solstice. Nearby a smaller circular natural crater was lined with river stones and became a “moon circle.” It turned out that the islands in the river directly below were sacrosanct Indian burial grounds.
— Mary Beebe, Executive Director, PCVA (Twenty-Seven Installations: Portland Center for the Visual Arts)

Hope Svenson and I each had our own reasons for searching it out. After a couple of years of on-again/off-again research for a book on PCVA, this was my chance to time travel, to be present with a PCVA-commissioned work in real life. Maybe. Ever since I’d seen the photos of the work (and Mary’s description) in Twenty Seven Installations: Portland Center for the Visual Arts, I’d wanted to stand there on Rowena Plateau. Reading Paul Sutinen’s account of its construction in a yellowed Willamette Week only whet my appetite further, as did an essay on the work by Stuart herself in Prologue, the art magazine that Sutinen edited (three issues-worth) in the ‘70s. Stuart’s writings on the piece had been featured in Artforum, and art critic Lucy Lippard writes about the work in her book Overlay.

Hope had been neck-deep in the PCVA archive as well, helping to pull together materials for Selections from the PCVA Archive at YU Contemporary, the new East Side Portland art center with MASS MoCA-like ambition. I’d mentioned a field trip to Stone Alignments to YU Executive Director, Sandra Percival, and she was enthusiastic. Before I knew it, a summer solstice trip to Stone Alignments was on the schedule of public programs for the Selections exhibition, meaning that someone had to get out there and find out whether it had survived the past 32 years. Hope was assigned to the recon mission, and I tagged along.

After the longest winter in history, it was finally spring; we put on sunscreen, hopped in Hope’s loaner Jetta and headed east on I-84. When we stopped at a rest area, big yellow signs warned us to watch out for rattlesnakes. I was wearing hiking boots, but envied Hope’s heavy, mid-calf leather boots as greater protection against fangs. Actually, I was more worried about dogs. We knew Stone Alignments was on private property and quite near a home. And I knew, from growing up in a rural area, that guard dogs came with the territory. Twice bitten, twice shy.

Private Property

The sketchy directions told us to drive down into Rowena Dell, then take a left. Rowena Dell is now a subdivision with posted “Private Drive” signs. We spotted a barn up on the hill to the left, so we parked and walked up a drive paved in crushed grey stone that wound up out of the dell toward the barn. A hollow-eyed clay mask with its tongue sticking out was tacked to an oak tree. On the other side of the tree were three signs, “Private Property,” “Private Drive 5 MPH,” and a torn, rain-damaged sign that read:

This trail belongs to the 1135 Canyon Way property and is private. It was designated s a Bridle Path in 1975 to [ ] the [ ] above. Rowena Dell Homeowners and their guests are [ ]come to use this trial. Rowena Dell Homeowners are those houses built along Canyon Way and include Oakbrook Lane.

If you are trying to access the Mathesin Property, it is located one mile to the right at the road at the top of this hill, above Rowena Dell Subdivision. If you are in a vehicle and wish to respect our property and our privacy you may use that road to return to Hwy [ ]. Unlike this trail, it is straight and flat.

John Maher and Pat Bozanich

And haphazardly in white paint below: ROWENA DELL FOOT TRAFFIC ONLY

We puzzled over why the signs seemed to be facing the wrong direction as we knew we had to get up out of the dell to find our plateau. But we thought that if someone had to post a sign to direct visitors to the Mathesin property, we were probably in the right place…more or less.

Where the road flattened out, we saw the barn we’d been promised in the instructions, then decided to try to drive around and access the property via the route the sign suggested. Hope drove back to the “highway” and took a double-rutted drive (on which the loaner Jetta bottomed out — don’t tell) into a field. We stopped at a closed gate and climbed over the downed barbed wire fence. Turned out we were well above the barn now, and we couldn’t just slide down the rocky cliff. We decided to see if we could see Stone Alignments from above and began walking along the edge of this plateau through knee-high grass and lupine (Hope: “I do not like snakes.”) broken by stony ground and carpets of cushiony white moss riddled with gopher holes. It was strange, this terrace of plateau over plateau, the grassy, crumbled edges of which you can’t see until you’re on them. “Don’t walk too close to the edge, Hope. I won’t leave you, but don’t make me have to climb down after you.” There was a breeze, but the sun was warm and a couple of white puffy clouds dotted the sky.

Fake Solstice Cairns

As we looked down, we could see the that crushed rock drive that passed the barn continued to head out north toward the Columbia and likely toward our plateau. We continued to move along the eastern edge of the plateau when suddenly we saw below and a ways off, a handful of jagged stacks of rocks. Even from far off we could tell they were sharp-edged rocks, not the rounded ones we had seen in the photos of Stuart’s artwork. They were stacked just two or three high and haphazardly arranged, certainly not in a circle. We took it as an homage to Stone Alignments/Solistice Cairns and also as a sign that we were close. We continued out to the northern end of the plateau, but could see nothing more than a young deer on an opposite bluff and grass and a trail of yellow wildflowers below. I took off my coat and kicked myself for forgetting to bring water.

The House

Hope backed out of the rutted drive, and we headed back to the Dell, thinking we’d park where we were before and hike up past the barn. Suddenly on the left, we both saw a crushed stone drive we’d missed before heading off into the oaks. Seconds later, we drove past the fork in the road, one branch we knew headed down into the dell, the other past our barn. Just after, we reached gateposts and a sign: Kliewer & Mathisen. Private Drive.

“Private drive.”
“I know, but we have to get out there.”
“Yeah.”
“Should we drive or walk?”
“You saw how far it is out there, let’s just drive.”

We drove past the first “horse gate” (our typewritten directions asked us to close the gate behind us, but now just gateposts remain) and the second. And here was the weathered house on the plateau, a house with a little vineyard, a lovely garden, and outbuildings. Hope parked in the drive, and I, quite bravely I thought (“Please don’t let them have dogs”), rang the doorbell. No answer. But also, no barking.

Who saw the cairn first? I think it was Hope. “Look, over there.” She pointed to the right, past the mini-vineyard, at a mound of rounded stones in the tall grass. Hope moved the car out of the driveway and down the drive a bit. “What if they come home while we’re here?” she said. On foot, we headed out toward the cairn, past the grapevines and into the grass. Having forgotten to look down for snakes now, we almost stepped right into a bog. There must just be a thin layer of dirt over rock here for the ground to hold so much water, I thought.

Hope forgot her camera in the car and had to go back. So I reached the cairn first and looked down…under the top stone was a paper with the letter L printed on it. Welcome, L-is-for-Lisa.

The Thunder

The stones were all wrong for this plateau. The rest of the small igneous rocks we’d been negotiating as we walked were dark, jagged, porous, and to me, exotic. These stacked stones were rounded, tumbled, the kind I was used to from growing up near beach and river. I remembered that they’d been hauled here in trucks, unloaded by the many hands of the volunteers who camped for days on this plateau and shaped the work. And I thought of the out-of-place slabs of stone that make up Stonehenge, also on a grassy expanse, or those of the Great Pyramid, surrounded by sand. Markers want to be out of the ordinary.

I looked down and saw, embedded in the grass, lines of stones coming out of the cairn. I remembered the 1979 photos, how they showed the stones sitting high on the ground, on grass that looked as though it had been grazed. Now the stones melded with the ground, just half exposed. I followed the straight line east as Hope approached from the south. “This is the center circle,” she said as we met.

Thunder crashed and rumbled above our heads. We looked at each other and then looked north. Although our plateau was bathed in sun, dark clouds trailing grey curtains of rain gathered over the opposite bank of the Columbia out past the northern cairn. Lightning streaked down, and thunder rumbled again. Call me a lightning rod, I was the tallest thing on that plateau. But the wind was blowing from the west. I thought maybe the cloud would move off while staying on the Washington side of the river. Quickly we took some photos. The cairn opposite of the one I first found had a piece of paper under the top stone with an R printed on it. Oh my god, my initials!, I thought, This place has been waiting for me. “It’s left and right, Lisa,” Hope said, and looked at me pointedly.

“But the thunder…” I said.

Indians called Rowena…the place where the sun meets the rain…each day clouds hung low over the mountains during the sun’s passage…
–Michelle Stuart

More lightning and a shift in the wind sent us back to the car, and I’ll admit I moved more quickly than Hope. Back in the car, I regretted our rush, regretted experiencing Stone Alignments through the lens of the camera. I hadn’t followed each stone line through the grass, hadn’t visited each cairn. I didn’t find the moon circle. Hope meanwhile was relieved that the homeowner hadn’t returned while we were trespassing.

We headed further down Highway 30. The Doll Museum, which, according to our instructions, offered a fine view of Stone Alignments from above, had disappeared, of course, though we did see more stacked rocks near where it should have been. Shortly, we were in Mosier looking for City Hall when we found Glenna, a volunteer in the one-room library. Amid shelves of worn, cloth-bound books, and with her 72-years-worth of Mosier memory, she tried to help us puzzle out who the Mathisens might be and how we might get in touch. I wandered across the street to the volunteer fire department to ask around. Jim Appleton, the fire chief, not only knew about Stone Alignments, which he said had been all the buzz when he’d moved to Portland for college (“I just missed the dedication,” he said) but also had Mathisen’s cell phone number.

We got back in the Jetta and headed west under blue skies.

“I don’t know if I want to go back with a bunch of people, Hope. It won’t be the same. That was for us.”

“I know.”

“The thunder.”

“I know.”

“It was magic.”

NOTE: YU Contemporary’s Solstice Alignment Quest: Trip to Michelle Stuart’s Stone Alignments/Solstice Cairns happens tonight, June 21, 2011. See yucontemporary.org for more information.

Alembic: JAZZ

Trading fours, doing the dozens, two-by-two. The most recent night of performance in PWNW’s Alembic series, JAZZ, duos, in between and overlapping curated by Seth Nehil moved from the choreographed (beginning with pre-recorded sound and video) to the furthest reaches of the improvisational. And further.

I’ll just type out the name of the first piece by Rebecca Steele and Posie Currin, and then you can forget it, because for the audience it had nothing to do with what happened in the performance: “Mr Suckit.” Okay. Jin Camou and Rebecca Steele, costumed alike and with exploding hair danced before a video projection that begins as a horizontal paint pour, color over color, like a kind of static but lovely. The two operated independently for most of the piece. Just as each appeared individually at moments moving in the video, on stage Steele moved jerkily if softly so, bringing to mind movement malfunction while Camou moved almost not at all at first then slowly entered a sculpturally tendrilled and tiny tent that she inhabited, animated, elevated, moving slowly and swingingly. The most arresting visual moment of the evening was when Camou as this kind of shamanic creature moved into the light of the video projection and suddenly was shot through with lines of vivid red paint. In this opposition between the centered movement (Camou) that approached the ritualistic as it literally entered the alternative space created for the body by and in this hole-y prop and the decentered, meandering movement (Steele), there was something interesting going on that came into focus a bit simply by being enacted in front of a video work that felt at times frantic…it’s if the two dancers represened alternative responses to this preexisting condition: one intentional, one reflexive. Currin’s great score (for solo violin and prerecorded soundscape) began with static and glitch overlayed with exploratory sound generated by her electrified violin and moved through moments of both abrasiveness and later, longing. Late in the work, Camou and Steele faced off, kneeling on the floor, connecting for the first time as hands mirror lovely hands. If a before, during, after was implied by the video and the jacket hanging stage left that appeared on one of the dancers in the video, it’s not entirely clear why, and whatever the title wanted to convey or make cohere remains an inside joke.

Can I say that two of my favorite moments of the night came at the transitions between performances, as Steele’s violin is met with John Niekrasz creating an insistent pulse, rolling ball bearings (and then more of them) round and round in a steel drum, or when Luke Wyland calls forth Johnson and Keogh at the end of Sporting’s set with handfuls of colorful bells sounding with heartbreaking clarity?

Sporting (Niekrasz and Wyland) came out swinging with a drum and keyboard assault that started outside and came in, cohering in a propulsive tsunami. Wyland and John are all in, with a kind of fierce, physical commitment that makes their set the cathartic, ground-clearing, ground zero of the night. The connection between Niekrasz and Wyland (and the sound that results) is more Fight Club than mindmeld–there is gauntlet throwing and knockingdowndoors&takingnames back and forth between them–and it is Good.

And finally, Oh ladies. Appearing to make it up as they went along, Kathleen Keogh and Sarah Johnson endearingly improvised a funny piece notable for its naked honesty about its construction. They talked between themselves, asked the audience what they should do next, explained why Johnson was on crutches (“I was runing with a cat and slipped in my socks on the stage” during the performance the night before), asked us to look at Facebook when we went home to see the rest of what went on backstage (“You’re all my friends on Facebook, right?”). We got to see the two fat guys on Johnson’s Mac desktop and help her choose music to play (AKON). She showed us a slide show of she and Keogh mugging for the camera. At one point the two were face-to-face and Johnson, who can’t help herself but quasi-narrate says, “Kathleen is teaching me about holding space.” If I was waiting for a moment that this would all cohere…that was probably it. And it dawns on the audience that whatever one’s waiting for is already happening. Pretty profound shit for an allovertheplace performance like this one. Regardless of how haphazard the performance was, there’s something interesting about drawing the audience in to be party to its making, inviting us into the studio as it were. Then the strength of the performance rests on the question of whether these two (and their ideas) are worth being in the studio with. I’m going to say yes, and not just because they made a cake.

Risk/Reward Preview

by Robert Tyree

photos: Tim Summers

Up on a ferry – in the sun – crossing the Puget Sound, but that’s not where terms like elated and exhilarated come from. Those terms are here presented as cold, hard reporting on language that I myself used in a bar, while drinking champagne, discussing the strongest performances from Seattle’s NW New Works Festival at On the Boards.

Portland audiences will have a chance to see the following performances from Seattle-based artists during Hand2Mouth‘s upcoming Risk/Reward Festival.

allie_small.jpgOf Part & Parcel‘s By Guess & By God, what I remember most was swooning. You know how a dancer hooks you, and you’re made to carry yourself a bit in your seat, leaning in concert with the performance? I found myself doing a lot of that while Allie Hankins hit some fiercely punctuated choreography. With each arrival, she seemed to nail a figure into space, leaving a wake of light bouncing from one held posture to another. The cumulative effect was of a solemn and weighty temporal structure cast of precisely engineering elements. The dance creating a marvelous knot through time while sound from Jherek Bischoff saturated every part of everything with bass.

JJ_01.jpg

Jessica Jobaris & general magic offer you’re the stuff that sets me free, a piece mad with scope that writhes and snaps with all the powers of live performance. If the previous work had me swooning in my seat, this project had me starting, marveling, welling-up. A large cast of deeply-invested performers gave of themselves so wholly that I felt embarrassed to have paid so little for my ticket. Brave, crazy, talented. Ideas ricocheted from moment to moment with a rambling drunk brilliance until some inevitably lodged themselves in the gut. Meaning swung both around props rife with political symbolism -my favorite being the kind of patriotic fleece blanket that you imagine people wrap around themselves while watching a NASA launch- and whip-smart utterances shot through until they failed to carry their familiar coherence. I had a sense of over-proximity throughout the work. Like I was inside the concept being worked to a froth, like this performance was inescapable and would still be going on outside the building if I tried to leave the theatre. Without being too didactic, you’re the stuff that sets me free packed a feast for the eyes, ears, mind and heart.

KyleMoonWeb.jpg

Kyle Loven played the suspension of our disbelief in a fun piece of understated composition. A minimal puppetry set up sings through a series of vignettes often syncopated to a crisp and satisfying sound design by Kevin Heard. Because it’s a solo performance with no small amount of creative vision, I had assumed that Mr. Loven designed his own movement. The program lists Gabrielle Schutz as the choreographer, which speaks to the amount of craft that went into the piece. It pays off.

The humor of When You Point at the Moon is dark and anxious, but since a puppet is the object of torment, empathy is somehow safe to admit and approach. BECAUSE CLEARLY I  – AS A NON-PUPPET HUMAN-BEING — AM IMPERVIOUS TO ANXIETY OF ANY KIND.

Apparently, a similar appeal drove the popular spectacle of dance marathons during the Great Depression: assuming the role of audience offers momentary relief of one’s own overwhelming experience of exhaustion, anxiety, etc. and allows people to relate to the more repressible dimensions of everyday life via an object of spectacle. Not to say that I know what that puppet is going through or anything…

The NW New Works Festival at Seattle’s On the Boards “has been nurturing the creative forces in regional contemporary performance in the Pacific Northwest” for 28 years. Hand2Mouth’s Risk/Reward Festival is in it’s 4th year here in Portland. That’s no small accomplishment. And if support from PICA and OtB are any indication, H2M seem to be doing things right.

I saw 8 performances this past Sunday at OtB, many imbued with that refreshing-if-not-quite-ripe tartness of a work-in-progress. The NW New Works festival has an entirely new line-up this coming weekend. That’s a lot of opportunities to present new performance. A toast from an ebullient Sean Ryan, regional programming head at OtB, went something like this: Bravo to the makers. We’re so proud to see these works coming out of the Northwest and so excited to see where you take them! His words were better chosen than that  -and he seemed to have been standing on a table of champagne glasses- but the sentiment warrants repeating, and a healthy audience turn out.

Hand2Mouth’s Risk/Reward Festival will take place June 25th & 26th, 7:30 PM.

On the Boards’ NW New Works Festival continues June 17th-19th.

 

 

NOTE:

My experience of Jessica Jobaris’ work benefited from having recently read this essay: The Geopolitics of Pimping by Suely Rolnik. (Thanks, Tahni!)

Highly recommended. Great to carry ideas like the following into you’re the stuff that sets me free:

“From within this new scenario emerge the questions that are asked of all those who think/create – and especially artists – in the attempt to delineate a cartography of the present, so as to identify the points of asphyxiation of the vital process and to bring about, at exactly those points, the irruption of the power to create other worlds.”