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It’s On: PICA’s TBA:10

If it’s September 9th, it must be opening day of PICA‘s Time-Based Art Festival. Ten days of contemporary visual art and performance.

You’ll remember this drill from last year, but ON SITE, the visual art exhibition, and The WORKS, the late-night venue (well, 10:30 PM) are both at Washington High (SE Stark and 12th), that rad brick Eastside behemoth. ON SITE opens tonight at 8 PM followed by Japanther vs. Night Shade (shadow puppets) at the WORKS which is FREE tonight. !

What has piqued my interest among the ON SITE works? I’m particularly keen to see Storm Tharp’s “High House,” which developed out of a summer residency with PICA. At one point, it was to be a consideration of Tharp’s studio, the objects in it…we’ll see. I do think that however it shapes up it will make for interesting perspective on the scope of Tharp’s work.

Top of my list are two works by NY collaborative Yemenwed. “Episode 3″ is an animation/live Second Life-y quasi-narrative and “Bedroom w TV and Woman Lays w Aide” which I think is more like their live dance/performance/installation hybrid work.

And I’m very much looking forward to seeing Dan Gilsdorf’s piece (see below) “Diabolus in Musica.”

There are a couple of visual art exhibitions that aren’t at WHS. Nina Katchadourian’s “Sorted Books” project is at PNCA’s Feldman Gallery and Project Space and Anissa Mack’s “My Heart Wants More” is at the Lumber Room (419 NW 9th), the result of her summer residency there. Even though the TBA sched seems to say that there’s an opening for Mack’s show tonight at the Lumber Room, she assures me that’s not the case. Gallery hours for the Lumber Room start tomorrow from 12-6:30 every day through the 19th.

And there are two works that will be performances. Dan Gilsdorf’s “Diabolus in Musica,” a “single uninterrupted chord…rumored to have been banned by the Catholic Church in the 18th century,” is to be performed the next two Sundays from 12-4 PM. And Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger will be digging “Untitled (Grave),” two graves connected by a tunnel allowing them to hold hands while lying in the graves, Saturday and Sunday, September 11-12 all day.

See you in school.

First Friday Openings: September 3

It was never about the audience
Mike Bray
Fourteen30 (1430 SE 3rd)

Fourteen30 presents new video, sculpture and photography by Mike Bray, a Eugene based artist who, “recontextualizes time, frame by frame, collapsing and expanding the spectacle through the idiom of cinema.” For this project Bray uses footage from the 1970 Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter.

Terminal Examination

Liam Drain, Carmen Denison
Car Hole Gallery
114 SE 12th Ave

Drain and Denison address pedagogy in a critique of education’s visual and political structures. Denison “plays on the semiotics of education to create a non-linear lesson plan of theory, politics and authority—all the while, deconstructing the manner by which this information is commonly distributed and the audience for whom it is intended.”

The Newspace Center for Photography is opening The Curve: Choice Award Winners showcase this Friday. The photographs exhibited are winners of the 2010 CENTER (Santa Fe) choice awards. According to the website:

“Our selection is unified by a subtle elegance, a delicate humanity, and a sense of mystery, as well as a remarkable clarity of perspective and a high level of craft. As a whole, the images chosen speak to our primary interest in showcasing challenging contemporary fine-art and fine-art documentary work. We are pleased to offer our gallery as an exhibition venue for the winners and look forward to a gorgeous show at Newspace in September.”

– Laura Valenti and Chris Bennett, Director, Newspace Center for Photography

Artists included are:
Steven Beckly, Toronto, Canada
J Carrier, Brooklyn, NY
Joyce P. Lopez, Chicago, IL
Alinka Echeverria, Mexico City, Mexico
Martine Fougeron, The Bronx, NY
Gloria Baker Feinstein, Kansas City, MO
Aaron Huey, Seattle, WA
Andrea Land, Springfield, MO
Margaret LeJeune, Batesville, AK
Brad Moore, Laguna Beach, CA
Matt Slaby, Denver, CO
Jamey Stillings, Santa Fe, NM
Tabitha Soren, Berkeley, CA

Untitled Coffee Painting, Delphine Bedient, 2009. Coffee grounds on paper, 11×17 inches

Making Sense
Delphine Bedient
Golden Rule (811 E Burnside, Suite 122)

First Thursday Openings: September 2

2982 – Jamos – Milwaukee, Carl Corey, Archival pigment print, 35″ X 35″

Them #15, Danny Treacy, 2005, 215cm X 180cm

Just when some of us (me) were about to forget why we moved to this soggy city, Blue Sky Gallery (122 NW 8th) is opening a show with Wisconsin based artist Carl Corey and London based artist Danny Treacy that touches on, what some of us (me, again), believe are two of Portland’s redeeming themes, dive bars and second hand clothes. Of course, there’s more to it than that. According to the gallery:

“Wisconsin Tavern League” is Corey’s effort to document such sites as culturally important communal gathering places. His images are not just portraits of the people who own and frequent these establishments, but also of the taverns themselves, each one personalized with taxidermy specimens, hand-painted scenic murals, and the requisite pool tables and neon beer signs.


London-based artist Danny Treacy searches his surroundings for discarded clothing to create suggestive, haunting costumes. Treacy then dresses himself in what he fabricates and, by making striking life-sized self-portraits, he becomes “Them.”

Sorted Books
Nina Katchadourian
Feldman Gallery (PNCA 1241 NW Johnson)

In conjunction with this year’s TBA festival the PNCA Feldman Gallery will be exhibiting an installment of Nina Katchadourian’s Sorted Books project, one aspect of which features our very own Lisa Radon and family.

Damien Gilley
Feldman Gallery (PNCA 1241 NW Johnson)
Manuel Izquierdo Sculpture Gallery (PNCA, 825 NW 13th)

Gilley’s new installation and sculpture investigate the built environment “as an experience of duplicity. Referencing construction planning and execution, the works present an approach to building that incorporates both the use of restrictive grids and the element of play. ?

Laura Di Trapani, Susan Harlan, Rachel Hibbard, Jeff Schnabel
Autzen Gallery (724 SW Harrison)
2nd Floor PSU Neuberger Hall Room 205

“A collaborative experiential installation of light by four Portland based artist and PSU professor’s.”

Into the Brilliance
Lisa Kowalski
Half/Dozen (625 NW Everett #111)

“The large and small scale wet-on-wet oil paintings signal back to the Abstract Expressionism of the 40s-50s with gestural abstractions and uncalculated marks.”

Meanwhile in Half/Dozen’s Front Porch space, find work by Benjamin Young.

Wild Beauty – Revisited
Stephen Hayes
Elizabeth Leach Gallery (417 NW 9th)

“Employing a technique he has frequently applied to many different types of landscape, Hayes meditates on the rhythms and repetitions found in the Gorge, ultimately presenting a nearly abstract version of this icon of the Northwest.”

New Westerns
Adam Sorensen
PDX Contemporary

Visit the pdx contemporary show website for a brief and intriguing synopsis by Portland based writer and PSU professor Sue Taylor.

Review: Harming The Art: Ai Weiwei’s Wicked Sense of Humor

By Victor Maldonado

Patterns of habit, culture and tradition, are difficult to break. When a habit becomes an addiction it seems impossible to imagine another way of being. The addiction becomes so strong that the addict imagines only catastrophic alternatives to the status quo.

Depending on how long those habits have been kept, breaking them can border on the absurd and Sisyphean. But, thankfully, there are multiple strategies and tactics for changing your behavior. For instance, if you are trying to quit smoking there are a variety of secession products in the form of gums, pills and patches to simulate the highs and alleviate the lows.

But change must first be psychological before there can true evolution.

What if your habits and addictions were purely aesthetic and philosophic, like politics, for example? How do you cure cultural addictions to long-standing traditions around objects of habit?

What is the remedy for the “sinthome”, as Lacan put it, of modern industrialization and its destruction, fetishization and repurposing of the past? How do you, if one can imagine, break the dehumanizing habits of a Communist totalitarian regime? How do you help a nation addicted to its own image of Nationalist grandness? What cure for the underlying maladies of an industrial oligarchy? What kind of pill or patch, fix or dialogical therapy would be available in the market place? Can we imagine, can any of the arts imagine, a twelve-step program or support group for dictatorships? The scenario is preposterous, “Hi, I’m China, I’m a human rights violator and my industries are a catastrophe to the global environment.”

Mr. Ai himself sums up his intentions in Tweeting brevity, “Duchamp had the bicycle wheel, Warhol had the image of Mao, I have a totalitarian regime. It is my readymade.”

I don’t think that Ai Weiwei believes, even in his parenthetical use of “Chinese” and “China,” crimes against humanity and the environment are anything to joke about. By the looks of Ai Weiwei: Dropping the Urn 5000 BCE-2010 CE, organized by Arcadia University Art Gallery and curated by Richard Torchia and Gregg Moore at the Museum of Contemporary Craft up through October 30th, Ai has been serious, and since 1998 increasingly critical, ironically deploying a wicked sense of humor against the strata that comprise the deep and engrained hold that self-polices a people via cultural artifacts, symbolic national treasures and the party line.

Ai’s sense of humor, or senses as is the case in this small but genre crossing exhibition including ceramic, painting, found objects, photography and video, is well developed and builds its strength and punch from the social inequities and human rights violations that have come to shape and characterize, or caricature, an “open” Communist China where all the wealth of Western-Style Capitalism, in vogue with the ruling class, starves out and subsumes dissenting voices. But, ironically and most telling is Ai’s self-designation as an avant-garde provocateur that the work enables to exist that plays so well into popular ideas of China from a distant “free” West. Ai crafts a position as an artist between parenthesis, concept a tradition, what Guillermo Gomez-Peña declares as our collective meaninglessness between the quotes in his prescient essay from the year 2000 “The New Global Culture: Somewhere between Corporate Multiculturalism and the Mainstream Bizarre (a border perspective).”

On the other hand, if the subject at hand weren’t so deadly serious it wouldn’t be so funny. In each of Ai’s ceramic interventions we witness the physical evidence of China’s comedy of errors: ancient artifacts from China’s hallowed artistic grandeur made mute through replicas in the style of Qing dynasty in “Blue-and-White Porcelain” (1996), produced in a delegated manner like most of the works on display by his studio FAKE/REAL; or his careful “miss-handling,” for which the exhibit is titled, in the photographic triptych “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn” (1995). In both seeming vulgarities we see modeled a masterful political cartoon considering how China razes the past and displaces thousand of residents in the name of progress.

At the Museum of Contemporary Craft it is well known, as the ubiquitous labels around the galleries announce, “Touching Harms The Art.” When Ai Weiwei drops or pulverizes intentionally compromised and unverifiable dynastic urns, imbued with a collective power to depict the past in a studied but unquestioned symbolic manner, he means to hurt the art by breaking, and by breaking to break a mindset on the past and the use of collective nostalgia to drive the self-designed soul of societies and their culture to pathological, inhumane ends.

Ai is literally dropping the past, or so the picturesque black and white three-still documentation of his “Dropping the Urn” eludes. In the photographs we are confronted as much by another conceptually driven evil-child, as Ai seems to cast himself, stemming from his avant-garde stay in New York from the early 80’s to early 90’s; he, gazing out of the picture’s advertised focus, past his own “release” of the object, onto our act of looking at him, ultimately participating in his transgression safely, five years later in the land of the free. This sleight-of-hand motion-picture delivery for “Dropping the Urn” is it’s punch line (slow motion in the information age) riddled with self-mocking. But, as any true descendants of W.E. Fields know, you don’t have to explain funny jokes.

Though it would be easy to deem Ai as just another witty nihilist juggling his cultural inheritance, I believe it would minimize Ai’s care and ability as a designer of exquisite craft objects of discourse and political resistance—his craft as the art of engagement. It’s not clear at all to me that Warhol actually enjoyed making art as much as making things that looked like art for legitimacy in the market and for the sake of appearances. Warhol was a shifty character especially in his time, and continues to shift even now, because of his prolific production for the market. Over the years Ai has shifted away from at least a working rapport with the Chinese government symbolized by his walking away from the work he had done as a creative adviser for Beijing’s Olympic stadium, by Herzog and DeMeuron, romantically referred to and sold to a global audience as “The Bird’s Nest.” The 2008 Sichuan earthquake has directly shaped much of Ai’s more recent melancholic work.

Though Ai may be appropriating both Neolithic artifacts and global marketing’s brand recognition his “Coca Cola Vase” (1997) is no homage to Warhol but a deep and eloquent critique of China’s attitude about its true “ancient” and “modern” pasts. Warhol was everything but critical, let alone openly political in his art. Ai’s Coca-Cola vessel isn’t part of a larger fantastical series celebrating freedom of choice but a singularity moving our notion of the readymade toward what critic David Coggins calls “humane conceptualism.”

Next to it an empty whiskey bottle, “Untitled” (1993), is morning-after evidence of drunkenness, nights of fast conversations, romance and the violence of comparisons and contrasts. It’s uncertain which of the artifacts plays the straight man and which the fall guy. Inside the bottle, is a small Song dynasty figurine and the trinket is reminiscent of kitschy ships-in-a-bottle that are produced for hung-over tourists who aren’t expecting much but need some kind of souvenir as proof of their exotic travel.

Trusting all the senses, not just sight, amongst so many counterfeits, is a theme throughout Dropping the Urn that connects very different pieces, housed together or in close proximity.

It is with his most audacious series “Colored Vases” (2006) consisting of Neolithic age vases hand-dipped by Ai himself that he truly draws out, like great comedian and comedy, the irony and inhumanity of contemporary life. The digital documentation, visible but unverifiable, as visitors witness the transformation and decoration of historic object as old as 5000 BCE and as brand new at 2010 CE.

Maybe that’s why gazing at the three black and white photographs of the portly Ai (if that’s even him holding what appears to be an ancient urn – who knows these days with Photoshop on every desktop?)– it is extremely difficult to verify anything in the picture plane. Carbon dating may help in placing the photographic paper, but behind glass, truth is unrepresentable.

Ai’s lesson seems to be that the spectator’s vision alone is the most manic and easily deceived of the senses. Confronted by Ai’s two-thousand pound pile of sun flower seeds there is no hope of consumption and replenishment as in pre-industrialized agriculture or more symbolically in the stacked candies of Felix Gonzalez-Torres.

It’s as if with Dropping The Urn, Ai Weiwei, is modeling the existential breakdown of the past and the identities and borders that enclose us. Ai Weiwei is a radical practitioner of ceramics and cultural critique with a persistent vision as an artist that makes Dropping The Urn as important an exhibition one will have an opportunity to see in the Pacific Northwest anytime soon.

Review: Laura Hughes The Span of an Instant at Appendix Project Space

I have thought and felt many things in the course of experiencing a work of art, but Thursday night was a first. My experience, a momentary epiphany, really, was so startling that when I left I fell down a rabbit hole considering the relationship between perception and existence. Hello, Mr. Husserl.

What happened is this: I became invisible, a ghost. I could see me alright, my hand in front of me in the darkened space of Appendix Project Space. But in the pale patterns of light cast on the three walls of the space apparently through its open roll-up door, I cast no shadow. I passed my hand across a dim shaft of light to no effect; no shadow, no me. And I felt for a second, that feeling I sometimes get when I stand at the edge of something very high, that all of me, blood, muscle, and bone, from the very top of my head rushes down through my body, and I fall through my own feet.

I can’t show you Laura Hughes installation at Appendix. I can’t imagine photographing the faint vertical bands of light, leaf-dappled expanses, little idiosyncratic lines and trapezoids Hughes painted in fluorescent paint on the walls and floor, corners and beams of the garage space, so subtle were the glowing forms. But I can tell you that the longer we stood in the dark, the more heightened our sense of light and shadow, even if it was all illusion…a sliver of light spilling onto the concrete floor from a crack between door and frame, a brighter line at the edge of the garage door where hot afternoon sun must have slipped in. And the more we looked, the more we saw, as the artist had spent weeks in the space painting echoes of natural light that reached into the space at various times of the day, playing across the three sheetrocked walls. That sense of heightened awareness in the viewer felt very much to me like something Robert Irwin would hold to be one of the most pure aims of artmaking.

Further invoking Irwin, periodically the space would be lit by a single window shape of opaque plexi in the south wall, back-lit with a warm evening-like light. Coming in during a lit period, one might have assumed that that, as it were, was that…with its question of is it a real window, a light box, or light cast on the wall in the shape of the window? Primarily the window was a device to recharge the fluorescent paint while reminding us with a capital L that we’re talking about light here, even in the darkness that follows.

One could dismiss this as decorative sleight of hand, but then, one would have to dismiss a whole lot of art for its use of technical cleverness. Alternatively we can say this is about light and shadow and how it shapes our perception of a space and our presence (or lack thereof) in it.