Skip to content

Chicago Chocolate Tour

Ken Fandell, Scott Reeder and Tyson Reeder: Chicago Chocolate Tour”
Ditch Projects @ 937 (Fourteen30 Contemporary)

by Patrick Collier

I broke one of my soft rules for art writing while viewing Chicago Chocolate Tour: I spoke to exhibiting artist, Ken Fandell. (Why such a rule? If the press materials and the artwork don’ t do it for me as your ‘average viewer,’ then what’s the point?) Truth be told, I had intended to introduce myself, for we had a connection of which, I suspected, he was not aware. I remembered him, and even attended a final critique or two while he was still in graduate school at my alma mater, the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Chicago: The City of Big Shoulders is characterized by an historically blue-collar ethos colored by very distinct neighborhoods and attending attitudes that have been hard to shake. The Second City is a moniker no longer appropriate for Chicago (especially with regard to the U.S. art scene/market) but is to a large extent perpetuated by a dysfunction not unique to, but certainly ubiquitous in that city’s self-assessment and actions. Known as an affordable place to live for artists, yet with a culture haunted by the Hairy Who, Chicago is a city where factions have been formed.

Correspondingly, there are artists who succeed via bravado that accompanies a talent, while other artists manage to achieve success by endearingly and quietly giving a fuck. In a city with its fair share of angry-inchers, they are gleeful oddballs, and herein lays the formula for bodies of work so dark and so sweet, and funny while sad. For as any
comedian will tell you, self-effacement is a hair’s breadth from pathetic, and is therefore the most dangerous schtick.

Chicago Chocolate Tour is comprised of three artists that would otherwise represent a triumvirate of Chicago artists were it not for the number of others working in a similar vein. Known variously as Chicago Silly or Chicago Doodlers, the artist Mike Lash may be the father of this school. The sculptor Ben Stone is also be of a similar ilk. Yet, there are artists outside of Chicago who have found a home there: Sean Landers exhibited his confessional story paintings at Robin Leach Gallery in the late 1980s; Chris Johanssen found favor at Kavi Gupta Gallery in the late 1990s; Fandell and the Reeder brothers continue the tradition.

One might begin the walk-around with Scott Reeder. His pen drawings are simple, quick, perhaps even cursory, and busy with absurdist constructions occasioned by wizards, robots, office workers and little demons. One can see them as an artist’s exercise to exorcise. The unconscious makes associations that begin to loosen the juices of
imagination and invention. So freed, Reeder can then proceed onto little word games, wittily bringing the symbolic back around to what might be uttered.

In comparison, Tyson Reeder would seem somewhat more traditional, limiting the exhibited work to small paintings (some collaged), except they also seem as spontaneous as brother Scott’s drawings. Elements of figuration exist within the murkiness of the surfaces like a disturbing dream.

The Reeders’ two dimensional works compliment each other, and to further demonstrate how these two minds blend, they have included a video, “Jail City.” Reminiscent of Paul McCarthy in costuming and construction, it seems to explore a realm where one’s oppressors are somewhat benign, and expressive freedom is eventually forestalled
(symbolized by death or sleep). Still, the story is told more by symbolic actions than by narrative.

Had I not spoken to Fandell, I would not have known that he was the artist Ditch Projects’ Donald Morgan contacted to arrange the exhibition. Fandell’s initial response was to show some of his video work, but when he learned that the Reeders planned to include video, he decided on a sculpture, and “ Bananas on Red, Green, and Blue, and
Omega Centauri” serves as a good substitute to fill out the show. While what he gives us is less a sculpture than crudely constructed tables with large, non-archival digital prints, it fits nicely, even serendipitously, with the Reeder videos in particular and the tenor of the exhibit as a whole: paper banana moons amongst (as opposed to ‘in’, which would have been too easy) flattened skies of blurry stars.

One may wonder why bother with viewing art that seems so indulgent, haphazard and visceral. Indeed, I cannot pretend to convince anyone that it is anything more. Yet, this is not bad art that seeks intentionally and primarily to be just that. This quirky art humbly seeks release from conventions, albeit less canonical technique than thought, and may
even generate a smile from the appreciative viewer.

What if Birdie Hamilton did Exist?

On display until May 28th  (this Saturday is the last day to view the show!) at 937 Offsite Gallery, a satellite gallery for Ditch Projects,  is a collection of objects constructed from driftwood, Formica, and acrylic. The pieces seem to transparently reference certain west coast Minimalist forms such as the perfectly finished wooden plank propped easily against the wall that is in direct conversation with John McCracken’s resin coated, vertically oriented plank pieces.

John McCracken

While McCracken’s work has been said to reference the Hot Rod culture or west coast surf culture due to his use of materials and meticulously finish surfaces Hamilton’s work achieves a meditative balance between naturally occurring beach stuff and meticulously and unmistakably man made plastic stuff. The forms compliment each other so well that the dichotomy seems irrelevant. The combination of purple acrylic planes and driftwood feels more like a reconciliation of unnecessarily detached forms than a forced combination of contradictory materials. There are a few instances of combined materials that are so well contstructed it is nearly impossible to see any points of contact or pressure that hold the pieces themselves together.

The show is linked to issues of origin and history in NW art.  John Motley’s review touches on the potential reasons and results of the Birdie myth developed by four Ditch members. Mr. Motley references the way that the story of Birdie’s fictional life, work and death draws the focus onto the implications of the work within a historical context. This narrative is interesting in relation to the minimal qualities of the work because it could be perceived as a backhand to the face of the presumed importance of physical presence to minimal art, or maybe more of a nod to the notion of a constructed presence. Instead of immediate physicality this show points to the ultimate non-presence of myth creation.

Karen Bernard: Ouette

photos: Ella Veres

by Robert Tyree

You know what scares me? The prospect of performing as a hobby – as just another thing you do because you’re you. Nature Theatre of Oklahoma had a fascinating dirty-confession moment in their Romeo and Juliet (TBA:10) where the actors ranted about their craven need to be seen and loved by an audience. Such a need is a fundamental factor in live performance. Obvious perhaps, but often too obvious to flash and stick to our ideas surrounding a particular performance. Commanding an audience’s attention is terrifyingly seductive. If I perform just to make you think I’m cool, or because I would be a less interesting person if I did not perform – if I don’t have anything else at stake but my sense of self grandeur in your consenting eyes – then I deserve to be called out and dismissed as a lifestyle performer, a terrible misallocation of our contemporary resources.

When I perform, I want it to be singular. I want to be invested. I don’t want to maintain my ironic distance or cool nonchalance.

But Portland has avowedly low-key tendencies. One unsavory consequence being that too often we let slide habits that ought to have a hard kick before they’re left to the mercy of dangerously slippery slope. This past Thursday, new-in-town Boom Arts, PICA and tEEth presented Made Here NYC/PORTLAND, “a documentary screening and panel discussion on the daily lives and challenges of performing artists in New York City and Portland, OR.” I was struck by the prominence of a by-any-means-necessary attitude in the NYC interviews, and how contrastingly rose-tinted the Portland panel felt after the screening. We certainly have assets in Portland, most notably—in the comparison to New York—ample time and space. But we also battle shortcomings that ought be addressed.

It was a relief, then, when a panel participant voiced discontent with Portland peers’ hesitance to offer frank criticism of work that needs some fine-tuning: If I give you something half baked and ask your opinion, I need you to tear it apart. I’m not putting this out there because I want you to go down on me to make me feel better!

We’ve all been there. After a performance, with your friends…why rock the boat? What need to get all strenuous at whittling away a performance?

I fall from a bridge when a certain thought pops in my mind: I could half-ass this, and the repercussions would be trivial. Why try so hard? Why get yourself all stressed out? Some people are going to see you, and then they’ll tell you you did a great job.

Issues at stake: integrity, devotion, vision.

If that’s too abstract for you, get down to Performance Works NorthWest (4625 SE 67th, 503.777.1907) for tonight’s final performance of Alembic #14 with Karen Bernard, a choreographer and multi-discipline solo performance artist based in New York City.

Friday night, Karen gave a masterful performance of Ouette, an exquisitely crafted solo piece, visually gorgeous and thoroughly intriguing, emotionally captivating, a shot in the arm of audience imagination. The world she created by employing technical kit that anyone reading this could easily manage was astonishingly complete. I was all in. As were the three other audience members.

Now, if I was performing for four people here in Portland, I might be tempted to give it a nickel’s effort. How can I generate the charged artifice of a performative state when I can track each audience member’s seated posture? In this regard, Karen inspired: achieving a performance that mysteriously beckons and carries our attention, at times wildly unresolved, genuinely erotic and neatly composed, with all the affect of narrative’s peaks, troughs and pathos but lacking any imposition of a master interpretation. She inhabits her body and fills her movement with a calibre of vision and artistry that’s a joy to behold.

I kept thinking: Why isn’t the sound pumping through the system really loudly? What’s up with these tiny speakers? For all that underwhelmed in volume, the soundscape was highly accessible in effect, dotted with pop references (Soft Cell, Nouvelle Vague) and fit within a sensory economy that allows each media to have an aesthetic presence in the piece. The slanted throw of a moving projector transforms the set, as a cart of gear and a chair roll across the floor and the content being projected takes on various properties: now concrete props, now tongue-in-cheek self references, now color tones. These are not part of the furniture, but objects whose materiality sits in and emits throughout the piece.

Ouette has been three years in the making. For one more night, we have it here in Portland.

Also on the Alembic #14 bill, Tim DuRoche and Michael Stirling perform a work for voice/tambura and 40″ wind gong. Alembic continues tonight, Saturday, May 21 at 8 PM. $12-15.

ARTISTS LEAD Panel & Community Discussion

Sunday, 2pm, PWNW, (free)

Performance Works celebrates the occasion of Karen Bernard’s visit to Portland with an invitation to a panel discussion and community roundtable moderated by Tim DuRoche probing the role of small, artist-run organizations as fundamental, essential enzymatic forces in a larger creative ecosystem. Bernard, the founder and director of New Dance Alliance in NYC, just celebrating its 25th anniversary, will be joined by Linda Austin of Performance Works NW, Brian Weaver of Portland Playhouse, Marc Moscato of The Dill Pickle Club and Jeremy Rossen of Cinema Project. The Sunday afternoon conversation will look at artist-space and artist-led initiatives as conveners, catalysts, incubators; the challenges they face; models of survival and sustainability; and how these spaces exist to serve artistic ‘biodiversity’, provide voice for community, or provide platforms for the working artists. Bagels and coffee will accompany the discussion.


Blair Saxon-Hill, Tonal Sequence at Fourteen30

Blair Saxon-Hill
Tonal Sequence
Fourteen30 @ 937

The yawning, unfinished space of Fourteen30′s temporary home in the 937 condominium building is the perfect setting for Blair Saxon-Hill’s Tonal Sequence, an exhibition of digital prints of collage works and sculptures comprised of cast concrete objects. The latter, in fact, seem to have been made as a material response to the site.

Saxon-Hill’s sculptures are concrete casts of upturned baskets that appear provisionally placed on step ladder or an element in an assemblage of cast objects hugging the floor. Because they are concrete, these small-scale cast objects flip the space/object relationship inside out and the whole space—its concrete floor and columns, the thick slabs framing the windows—become recognizable as the casts of temporary framing sculptures as if we were standing inside a giant Rachel Whiteread. There is also an interesting relationship between the domestic, represented by casts of woven baskets, and the industrial, the cast concrete. But mostly, because of the ashen color of the concrete, I was reminded of Pompeii and then its artifacts which reminded me of the old bottles my dad would find in attics or crawlspaces on remodeling projects.

I am trying to tell you that this exhibition feels as though one had time traveled to a future archeological dig in the ruins of this place where all but a choice few objects had been cleared away.

Fortunately, Saxon-Hill’s elegant prints survived into the FUTURE.

As cast is a physical record of an object, the prints are records too, in this case records of records of records. These are digital prints of collages Saxon-Hill has constructed of fragments of photos of sculptures, photos that had been offset printed and so recorded as halftones.

The texture of the halftone dots, the distressed markings of age, the porous quality of some of the sculptural surfaces, the tiny page number in the upper corner of each work that tips us off to the fact that the ground for each collage is the page of a book, these subtleties add up to give each of these a seductive, virtually tactile, richness. (If we’re folding past into now into future, Saxon-Hill’s also folding the 3D nature of the sculptures originally photographed into the 2D of the collage and almost back into three dimensions again.) In fact, the visible edges of the collaged forms paradoxically give these 2D works dimension and act on the plane as lines in a drawing. As with her recent gestural drawings in ink, Saxon-Hill employs economy of movement in pursuit of striking form. The texture of the gritty ink in the earlier works and here in the found images is a reward for the viewer’s careful attention, an afterglow in the wake of the visual impact of the form.

In this brand new space (so new it’s barely even a space yet, it’s a pre-space), the time-worn, yellowing feel of the collages is magically echoed in the camel-colored, unfinished drywall dotted regularly with white spackle to obscure the nail holes. Exhibiting these works in this place, as much as the qualities of the works themselves, cuts against any kind of nostalgia.

You can see more images here, but go to the gallery…it will be open Saturday.

Walking the Walk: Linda K. Johnson at Dance: before, after, during

by Linda Wysong

“ Like walking, dancing is its own kind of passage through the world and thus the two activities are naturally linked for me. Dancing is just fancy walking.” —Linda K. Johnson

Linda K. Johnson,  drawing, natural charcoal, 2005

Linda K. Johnson walks to know. Walking connects the body and the mind and is at the core of her creative process. In the exhibition, Dance: before, after, during, she is represented by work from her 2005 residency at Caldera and Satellite, a dance commissioned for the Marylhurst show. Both are anchored in the act of walking and the passage of time.

The charred landscape left by the Booth and Bear Butte Complex Fire (2003) is the focus of her large charcoal drawings entitled, what remains…. Requiem. Connecting with place, they are made from the actual physical remnants of the burnt forest and are charged with her personal movement. The drawings are expressive abstractions that correlate to Johnson’s emotional response to walking the damaged landscape. Building on the vocabulary of artists such as Franz Kline, the drawings have a universal quality that starts with the personal and moves toward the archetypal.

Walking can be a solitary activity but it is also an opportunity to connect with the larger world. The urban flaneur and the hiker are each involved in a mix of solitary observation and community engagement. The performative character of walking frequently transforms a private activity into public expression. Linda K. Johnson has pursued walking both as a personal practice and as public art since 1991.  We collaborated on Intersection a performance/sculpture in the middle of SW Broadway that included a pedestrian “walk through” every three hours.

In the same year Linda K. created Finding the Forest, a participatory performance piece along a 3½ mile loop in Portland’s Forest Park. During a beautiful fall weekend in October, viewers became participants by walking the Holman and Wildwood trails. Each walker composed their own experience as they encountered members of the Pedestrian Choir and the other invited dancers, musicians and visual artists who made installations and performed along the loop. Linda K. recruited and trained the Pedestrian Movement Choir, a group of individuals who honed their walking awareness into art. They performed with focus and intentionality responding to the trees, the sunlight, the visual installations and the echoing music. Finding the Forest opened many eyes to walking and stopping as a way to appreciate our own physicality and to interpret place.

Satellite is a dance performance that grew out of the “Walking Score for 75 friends or 150 feet”. Linda K. Johnson mailed solicitations in the form of typed instructions asking each participant to take a walk of “a duration, distance and environment that is pleasing to you”.  The instructions continue with directions to gather “bits of the natural world, detritus, oddities, etc … as they magnetize your attention.” Participants were asked to deposit their finds in an envelope and place them in the mail. The contents of these small wax bags are the source and inspiration for the dance.

Satellite is a composition that takes many contributions and transforms them into a series of discrete episodes. It is intriguing to see how Linda K. Johnson absorbs and reconfigures the material. Her expressive movement vocabulary filters the disjunctive sources to create a unified yet quixotic and humorous collage. The cascading elements produce a joyful sense of discovery within the ordinary.

Composed by Gretchen Jude, the music for Satellite is sourced from Jude’s own series of walks. The sound and movement follow the principle of independence frequently employed by Merce Cunningham and John Cage. The score of the dance is developed without knowledge of or regard for the music composition and vice versa. They are created independently and are then performed simultaneously, encouraging happy accidents and interesting juxtapositions. Ms Jude’s rigorously adhered to the concept of the “Walking Score for Satellite” and took 75 walks to collect the material for the sound composition. Her ambulations must have been near the beach because seagull calls occur frequently, creating a contrast with the gallery setting. The fact that the walks by Johnson, Jude, and each of the participants were taken at different times and locations is key to the final piece. The diverse sources result in an overall performance that evokes a slightly fractured internal dialog. The setting of the performance, in the Art Gym, also encourages a shift from geography to experience.

Satellite the dance, like the object hurtling through space has a central orbit rooted in Linda K. Johnson’s own movement language. It is a vocabulary that includes snippets of modern dance with a controlled pedestrian awkwardness and a unique rhythm. The unexpected objects: flowers, stones, and large plastic bag, all shift the focus from the abstract to the concrete. The observer recalls the collection sacks and wonders about their origin and adds his/her own memories.

Walking without a goal is a rare and wonderful experience that opens the senses and ties us to each other. The act of walking is a way of connecting public space with private experience, it poses questions about how the physical shapes our consciousness and influences the interpretation of images. It is a valuable practice that should not be under rated in our fast paced postindustrial world.

Dance: before, after, during is presented by the Marylhurst’s Art Gym. Curated by Terri Hopkins, the show also includes the work of Linda Austin and Tahni Holt, as well as archival footage of Portland dance performances in the 1970’s and the 1980’s. There are additional performances by Susan Banyas on April 30th and May 14th. Open April 4 – May 15, 2011.

Note: This article is a continuation of Linda Wysong’s investigation of walking that began with the essay on Maria T.D. Inocencio, “It is like this Every Day”.  All comments on walking as an artistic practice and as a way to think about public space and art in public are welcome.