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A Smoke, a Drink and a Shit: We All Need Psychoanalysis.

Madonna, Keith Boadwee, Erin Allen, Isaac Gray.

No Painting Left Behind at Rocksbox Gallery

by Michelle Weidman

There are all sorts of reasons to paint poorly, lack of skill, iconoclastic tendencies, Romantic leanings, rejection of traditional formal values and hierarchies (although “bad” painting is a whole tradition in itself), valuation of expressivity over careful craft etc. etc. Another way to examine the show this month at Rocksbox is to ask, why look at “bad” paintings?

In the downstairs gallery at Rocksbox are collaborative paintings by Keith Boadwee, Erin Allen and Isaac Gray. The paintings are crude in form and content. They combine ugly forms with (mostly) ugly colors and ugly imagery to create…ugly figurative paintings. For example, in one of these paintings a nude figure stands over a woman with all limbs splayed and lifted (an image that is repeated in A Smoke, a Drink, and a Shit). The woman is smoking a cigarette while the nude figure dangles either a very tan penis, compared to the rest of the figures skin tone, or a normally colored piece of shit over the woman’s stomach. The colors are mostly low chroma blues and browns as though the artists mixed too many colors together. The woman’s breasts defy gravity, as do all of the breasts in this show that I remember. Perverted? Most definitely, and proudly.

In the statement the artists explain:

“Our work is about The Cult, The Brotherhood, and The Secret Society of Painters. It’s about exchanging information, sharing knowledge and how that information is then assimilated, altered and tweaked by each of us. The paintings are about sex and drugs and rock and roll and life and death and nature. They are about having fun with friends. They are
metaphors for The Primal Scream.”

Somehow this doesn’t quite seem to explain these images sufficiently. In fact, I am not at all sure what “nature” has to do with any of them or which particular “nature” they are referring to. Additionally, the statements about sharing and assimilating information seem to be completely useless to an audience that is excluded in the previous sentence by the reference to The Cult, The Brotherhood, and The Secret Society of Painters, unless of course you happen to be in this particular group of privileged (in the sense that they are included in the categories listed by the artists) male painters, which is probably why these paintings are at Rocksbox, right? This may seem like too literal of an interpretation of their statement. Certainly this work is not trying to be inclusive or appeal to mass taste, although it isn’t an intellectual exclusivity that these artists seem to be aiming for. Again referring to the artist statement they seem to be painting for each other. This leads back to my initial question, why look at these paintings that are so blatantly not made for your aesthetic contemplation but rather to glorify or enact the infantile urges of these artists?

My reason for viewing and enjoying these images is that neither the paintings nor the venue deny the necessary and inevitable influence of affect and derision in the production and consumption of contemporary culture. We know that rock and roll is all about desire: expression of desire, sublimation of desire, acknowledgment of desire and perhaps most problematic or at least most complex, the creation of desire. The politics of rock and roll are based on affect and so are these paintings.

I have been reading a lot more rock criticism than art criticism these days. Here is a quote that I rediscovered recently that seems relevant:

“In a classic 1977 essay,  [Ellen Willis] explained that she preferred the Sex Pistols to ‘women’s music’ because “…music that boldly and aggressively laid out what the singer wanted, loved, hated—as good rock ‘n’ roll did—challenged me to do the same, and so, even when the content was antiwoman, antisexual, in a sense antihuman, the form encouraged my struggle for liberation. Similarly, timid music made me feel timid, whatever its ostensible politics.”

-Evelyn McDonnell on Ellen Willis

Admitting the problematic gendering of this statement that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up when taken out of context (it was seen as problematic when it was written and explained by Willis as well), I think that Willis’s explanation of a form transgressing its content is relevant to why these paintings somehow seem refreshing in a climate where kindlier, gentler art, (i.e. the occasionally misguided social practice work) has been institutionally supported and valorized or at least dispassionately tolerated.

To me there seem to be wider issues at hand that, perhaps tenuously, relate to this show. In the final chapter of Art Power titled “Europe and Its Others” Boris Groys discusses the nature and consequences of European cultural identity based on humanistic values of respect of human rights, democracy, tolerance of the foreign, and openness to other cultures. He points out, “Because the dominant discourse on European identity asserts both things—that humanistic values are universal and that they are particular to Europe—the European psyche is incurably torn between moral superiority and paranoid fear of the other. “ It is, in part, this lack of a position of moral superiority that makes a show like No Painting Left Behind seem more relevant in a time when these values  that are based in certain European Enlightenment ideals ring incredibly hollow and paradoxical. These values also to contribute to massive inconsistencies between American political dialogue and action once again brutally exhibited by the recent emergence of information about Afghan civilian murders.

I am not saying that all art should aspire toward the antithesis of humanistic ideals. I would also not contend that the No Painting Left Behind show represents a more sound ideological or ethical system, which is kind of the point. Rather, like Ellen Willis’ articulation of her affinity for punk over folk music, that certain aggressive expressions of affect may validly comment on the dominant ethos.

Not Quiet on the Western FRONT

Tonight is a pre-launch party for FRONT, a new Portland journal for contemporary dance driven by dancemakers themselves: Tahni Holt, Danielle Ross, Alyssa Reed-Stuewe, Noelle Stiles and Robert Tyree.

Join them for a happy hour from 6-8 PM followed by two hours of dance karaoke at PLACE GALLERY, Pioneer Place (700 SW 5th, 3rd floor, Atrium Building).
The organizers say, “We need to invent exactly how dance karaoke might work, but with you to help us out we have no doubts.”

A few of the contributors to the first edition include:
Linda Austin
Woolly Mammoth
Sarah Slipper
Carla Mann
Tere Mathern
Noel Plemmons
Karen Nelson
Seth Nehil
Barry Johnson
Erin Doughton-Boberg

Michael Reinsch: I Have Nothing To Say To You

“I have nothing to say / and I am saying it / and that is poetry / as I needed it” — John Cage

I Have Nothing To Say To You
Michael Reinsch

For I Have Nothing To Say To You at FalseFront, Michael Reinsch borrows the marketing tactic of the hopeful small-biz enterprise—the sidewalk sandwich-board decorated with a clutch of helium balloons—and strips it of content, presenting it as a silent gesture. A handful of these readymade sculptures in a spectrum of decidedly non-celebratory, non-commercial colors ranging from tarnished gold to brown and black are placed randomly around the room. I like how the shiny balloons perform their look-at-me job while the blank signs offer up no reward for that attention. I have nothing to say to you but please pay attention to me anyway. It’s like the test pattern (the poster image for the show) that offers up some minimal visual reward for looking so you won’t just turn off the television and get on with things.

This may be an aside, but doesn’t that hollow promise, that minimal reward for our attention to the shiny, feel awfully familiar? I Have Nothing To Say To You could be speaking not only for the shallow rewards of the acquisition of material goods found within the shops just beyond signs like these but for those of mass cultural offerings in general.

It’s more likely though that that emptiness behind the shiny is of a more individual nature. I had wondered about the placement of the signs, about why they’re essentially scattered around the room, further distancing them from their natural environment on the linear “sidewalk.” As the opening of the exhibition became more crowded, these signs stood in for any individuals in a social setting, advertising something, but holding back on the details.

It’s also tempting to read this as a self-reflexive questioning of the content (or perhaps the reach and relevance of that content) of this (or any) work. Am I getting through? Or are you just here for the balloons?

Any way you slice it, although the things in themselves are so banal as to make one’s eyes glaze over, there’s a whole lot of something in the nothing they’re saying that rings out loud and clear. And it’s some kind of alchemy that makes these commonplace commercial props look almost elegant.

I have nothing to say to you but please pay attention to me anyway. This brings to mind another recent exhibition of Reinsch’s at Worksound. For Maybe Not, Reinsch installed small oddly-framed, ill-lit photos of the interiors of ordinary homes. It dawns on the viewer that she’s looking at screengrabs from idle webcams, and indeed these are grabs from dormant video chat sessions. The cameras are on, but nobody’s home. Reinsch, like no other artist in Portland, has a bead on contemporary melancholy, on human connection and disconnection, and addresses it in a way that exposes vulnerability without, thankfully, drifting into the maudlin.

Witness his performance piece, “Present Tense,” at gallery HOMELAND this past Friday for The World Is Not Ending…Your World Is Ending. Reinsch set himself the task of opening more than a hundred what looked like gifts of all sizes wrapped in black shiny paper with black ribbon but were actually empty boxes. Bent to the task of opening, he delivered a sometimes-hard-to-hear monologue: “not much of a husband, not much of a father…” while a tape player blasted chaotic kid sounds, laughing and yelling and completely distorted for having the volume maxed out. The monologue ended before Reinsch finished his task…he ended up sitting wearily on the floor, facing away from us, opening the remaining boxes—empty as the signs in I Have Nothing…—in silence.

First Friday: March 4

I Have Nothing to Say to You
Michael Reinsch
False Front
4518 NE 32

Where as a merchantʼs public display of commodity is made prominent and to the point, alternatively Reinschʼs installation offers a cleverly nondescript, attentive response to the viewerʼs aesthetic sense…His signage, as well as their communication, exists simply for the sake of existing. A monochromatic rendering of a hyper-garish, anxiety laced marketing environment.

Upsur Nova
Nim Wunnan
Golden Rule

Upsur Nova is a series of Nim Wunnan’s semi-abstracted, monochrome, self-interruptive drawings influenced by Obscured, his ongoing series of deliberately-difficult-to-view ink and graphite drawings.

The Endless Intermission
Ilyas Ahmed
811 E Burnside, Ste. 112

Conceived in the half-light of memory and in flickered dreams, these new collages are a revision of the extremes. They are part protest, part joy, part lament, part comedy, part pathos.

First Thursday: March 3

Adds Donna
625 NW Everett #111

Through the use of images, small objects, sound, and display methods, Adds Donna attempts to delineate an otherwise indistinguishable space – a cognitive place. Their collective dynamic works as a gauntlet filtration system, allowing individual works to infect each other.

Dan Attoe
MK Guth
Jessica Jackson Hutchins
Johanna Jackson
Chris Johanson
Arnold J. Kemp
Michael Lazarus
Elizabeth Leach Gallery
417 NW 9th

Group show of artists, most by not all more recent transplants, who have shown widely nationally and internationally.

Matt McCormick, Glacier, 2011

The Great Northwest
Matt McCormick
Elizabeth Leach Gallery
417 NW 9th

The seed of The Great Northwest, Matt McCormick’s…is a scrapbook, created in 1958 by four friends, and found by McCormick in a thrift shop. This scrapbook details a 3400 mile road trip undertaken by Sissie, Berta, Klarus, and Bev, a group of thirty-something-year-old single women from Ballard, WA. McCormick himself recreated their trip, attempting to pinpoint and visit all the locations documented in their meticulous travel journal.

soft edge
Josh Smith
PNCA, Manuel Izquierdo Sculpture Gallery
825 NW 13th Ave

soft edge is the manifestation of Smith’s continued interest in modernism, particularly in how its early philosophies regarding hive and colony structures effect and parallel our current social condition. Through a studio process that mimics Rauschenberg’s “combines”, trusted materials and processes are employed to create unstable structures and images. These objects call into question material and formal hierarchies while maintaining a staunch dedication to the language of making.

It’s Like This Every Day
Maria T.D. Inocencio
Nine Gallery
inside Blue Sky Gallery
122 NW 8th Ave

Vanessa Calvert
Nisus Gallery
328 NW Broadway #117

This installation explores the ways in which spatial design informs our patterns of behavior in live/work spaces. The organic growth of upholstery integrates and disrupts the everyday traversing of a gallery.

Weiden + Kennedy Gallery
224 NW 13th

Choreographer Rachel Tess creates a three hour work, a malleable mobile choreography with improvised score by Thomas Thorson in a a meandering, sensory environment by artists Damien Gilley and Jordan Tull that reacts to the building’s architecture through a graphic, sculptural approach with raw building materials.

pot & snowflake
Jeffry Mitchell
Pulliam Gallery
929 NW Flanders