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Thursday 11.17.05

« GO TO PORTLAND! NEW YORK IS DEAD | Main | The End Of The Buchanan's At Portland Art Museum »

TJ Norris' Nucleo at Chambers Gallery


Limitations can be beautiful and ideally concepts are a type of limitation that focuses or distills a work of art's elements into more than the sum of its parts or intentions. A good example of this is TJ Norris' latest show at Chambers gallery. Although tiny (in the back room) it packs the punch of a Shaolin Monk. It does so precisely because the concepts, space and execution are so tight & disciplined… it all works.

Nucleo refers to the very interesting circular shapes of these photographs and the focused centrality each image seems to exude because of this feature. Each image seems to be a focused study of a particular bit of a decaying urban environment. Each image is own world, but it's a recycled, very processed version of decay that seems newly minted by the camera's mechanical eye. It seems to be a parable of how the artists's focused attention (through camera, editing and circular forms) creates a mimetic effect upon the viewer. The works don't seem less gritty because of their slick photographic surface… instead they seem more intimate and approachable in a charmed way that smelly urban grit might not normally exude. The visual focus brings appreciation.


Plato was obsessed with the circle as a kind of ideal form (his idealized account of Atlantis describes the city state as a series of concentric circles). Norris' use of circles and surface certainly idealizes his subject matter but not in some sugary way. The images remain tough and familiar but difficult to locate (because they are both omnipresent and their own worlds). I like this aspect of everywhere and nowhere… it forms a focused connection with the viewer that is generous and unyielding. It seems to say, accept the decay for what it because the end of something must necessarily be the beginning of something else. Very Zen.

The images stand on their own but it is interesting how they are neither enhanced nor damaged by the three musical compositions that are on hand in the gallery. It's a testament to the work's strength that its "centered" vision of decay in western cities can coexist with these soundtrack's tinkling, sometimes shard like sound compositions. I like the fact that one can test the visual against the aural experience and both succeed. That said, I used to be a music critic and (after some inner conflict) the art critic in me tells me that Norris' work is better than the soundscapes.

It's like the photographs are the palace and the soundscapes are visiting courtiers. Still, with all this idealization does this show go beyond court life? Well yes, because it is inherently ascetic. Nucleo succeeds because the daily grind of the real world doesn't allow for the monastic-urban visual experience of being everywhere and nowhere at once that I experienced upon viewing this show.


Nucleo is a meditation, a small urban Taoist temple to materials and the photographic process. Many of Norris's earlier works were all about cleanliness. Now it seems like Norris has made peace with this clean fetish and figured out a way to have it both ways, immaculate and down and dirty.

This show is a breakthrough for Norris, whose work I've always liked but found a tad sterile. Norris has reincarnated the dirt and grime and brought it back to us in transcended form through his process… and now its all smiling, humble and luminous like some kind of photographic Buddha. This work still has room to develop though, the space could be even more meditative and focused with less and larger work. Instead of 9 works think 3. Also, find a way to have the soundscape be less of a visitor and more of a resident of the temple.

Through Nov 26th at Chambers Gallery 207 SW Pine #102

Posted by Jeff Jahn on November 17, 2005 at 22:44 | Comments (1)


And don't forget that you can view more of TJ's Nucleo series in the latest issue of Portland Modern. Yes, that's right, 6 beautiful, full-color reproductions of TJ's work along with a concise statement to enhance your appreciation of the work can be yours for ... well, free!

Not enough? Well, we'll throw in the work of five other brilliant local artists including Holly Andres, Marc Manning, Andrew Myers, Craig Payne, and Mariana Tres. Want more still? Okay, how about an eloquent curator's statement by none other than Pat Boas! Still not persuaded? Well, stay tuned because we'll be exhibiting these artists' work (yes, including TJ's) in early 2006 at a venue near you (details to be announced).

Just look for the little horizontal book with the volcano on the cover at arts-friendly businesses throughout the city - our next round of distribution will be the first week of December. If you're itchin' to see it now and can't find a copy, download a PDF version from our website, it's easy (and free): http://www.portlandmodern.org

Portland Modern - "the little arts magazine that is making quite the scene" or "the handy gallery that you can roll up and put in your back pocket" or "the best zero dollars you'll spend on an arts catalog - guaranteed!"

Posted by: MB [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 18, 2005 12:10 PM

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