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Saturday 09.23.06

« Huyghe Opens at Portland Art Museum | Main | Using Global Media-Workshop Run By Matthew Stadler »

Vanessa Renwick's Portrait #2: Trojan at 2006 Oregon Biennial


The strongest work of art at the 2006 Oregon Biennial, Vanessa Renwick's short film, Portrait #2: Trojan, deserves some attention. It is special because unlike a lot of the works here it seems whole and fully realized in its self-contained encapsulation of a nuclear power plant's last day. Yes, it is an architectural snuff flick, but its implications go way beyond a 7 second news clip or the fact that it is in this regional show.

The Oregon Biennial has a few weeks left and though an elegantly framed effort its major weakness is a sense of abbreviated politeness that will guarantee it will be remembered less as an influential show than as an influenced one. Not so with Renwick's video which chronicles the complex love/hate relationship people had to the structure in such a sublime way. Any curator tackling the issue of energy right now has to consider this work (disclosure: I am on the board of PAM's Contemporary Art Council).

For me, Trojan (what a pregnant name?) was the only thing I could remember about Portland when I visited here in 1979. It was right after the 3 Mile Island disaster and though I had seen many nuclear plants none of them looked like 3 mile Island. This one did and it scared the hell out of me. But I also loved the form; the cooling tower looked like a man made volcano with an hourglass form reminiscent of that on a black widow spider and of course a woman in a great dress. It also screamed 70's brutalist architecture and I suppose it is etched in my mind somewhere near Eero Saarinen, Louis Kahn and Richard Serra's works. As an hourglass it seemed to be mortality incarnate. I loved it in the way I loved and dreaded the awareness of my own heartbeat.

Trojan had been decommissioned by the time I moved here and many think it was an inspiration for the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant in The Simpsons, though I doubt it was meant as a direct commentary. Still it must have some tangential relationship to the cartoon, Matt Groening is from Portland after all. I even remember a group called "The Irradiated Poets"who used to do readings there during the dot.com days.

Renwick's piece is a more direct commentary, Ozymandian in its implications. The film starts by showing the structure as imposing, threatening and beautiful. It seems to have fit into the landscape, an aging decommissioned ruin. A symbol of romantic dread and a great picnic spot.

The colors and angles are vivid. Will the future of energy in the US mandate that more plants be made? Will they be as awesomely sublime as this monster? Soon the sun comes up and like a dead man walking, the tower and soundtrack reach a feverish state of sublime inevitability. The land and trees around the site all seem to accept this ruin, one asks why destroy it? …and why keep it? Then in a series of small explosions the structure crumbles to the left and then down, just like a ship slipping beneath the waves. The remainder of the film chronicles the dust cloud that will no doubt elicit some resemblance to September 11 for some. But this is different, there is a mixed sense of accomplishment; a foe vanquished and a reminder forgotten.

Overall, its very powerful but would be better if it were much longer and the soundtrack ended in silence after the structure imploded. As it stands it is already one of the most powerful things Ive seen all year.

The film will next travel to Austria's Viennale (October 13th-16th) curators, take note.
Tomorrow September 24th, 2:00 PM Renwick along with Michael Brophy and David Rosenak will speak about their work at the Museum.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on September 23, 2006 at 13:51 | Comments (3)


...any comments on "Renwick,Brophy,Rosenak" talks? I guess, in general, I'd like to see more blog entries on reporting (even rough impressions) after various events and talks from the PORT bloggers. I would hate to see PORT just devolve into just announcing things that we all see from other sources.

Posted by: bradc [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 25, 2006 05:06 PM

I didnt go to the talk and though PORT would love to cover every artist talk in town time contraints make that kind of coverage prohibitive. Anyone want to share? For me recapping and telegraphing most artist talks is less of a prioraty for us than critical reviews, (our coverage of people like Ann Hamilton excepted).

Also, this is a review that you wont find anywhere else, so I doubt there is any devolution going on here except this devo lyric :

When a problem comes along
You must whip it
Before the cream sits out too long
You must whip it
When something's goin' wrong
You must whip it

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 09:49 AM

I appreciate the more in-depth critial reviews that PORT does. Maybe what I'm really asking for is more people to step up to the plate to comment on other art events that get announced here.

Actually my poor use of "devolve" (though I did mean it in the Devo way and not the proper definition "delegation to lower authority".) Although had I been more clever...

Go forward
Move ahead
Try to detect it
Its not too late
To whip it
Into shape
Whip it good

Posted by: bradc [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 26, 2006 11:09 PM

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