I've come to understand why I always wait till Vanessa Renwick's more recent
shows are over
or nearly so to review them. They are essentially memorial
services or wakes for those things past and for some reason it seems terribly
redundant to review them while they lay in state.
of Sound Portrait #3
, which ended last
weekend at NAAU
was very different from Renwick's complicated and very polished
architectural snuff flick Trojan
Portrait #2 in the 2006 Oregon Biennial
. In many ways House of Sound is
less concerned with being an art or film piece than a private documentary screening or personalized
Instead, of showing the House of Sound as a kind of iconic demise like Trojan
it's an anthropological wake for a music shop as a community taste-making acculturation
node. Installation-wise, the 70's style couch and orange shag carpeting cued
the viewers, that the dial was definitely set to funky
. While Renwick's
grainy B&W film snippets of the now empty lot where House of Sound stood
presented a wistful sense of nostalgia and loss.
House of Sound sign, Photo Susan Seubert
It was a welcome surprise then that the edited radio show audio didn't play
the music the shop sold; instead it gave a flavor for the way they did business.
To say it had personality is an understatement. For example, the shop staff
sold you the music in life changing ways
for example, one staff member
had an awesome sound system in a VW that after a drive around the block would
leave the customers changed forever. That's an interesting recursive story to
remember as the film literally retraces that history by driving the viewers around
the block in a decidedly more sober and less funky way.
Overall, the discussion trafficked around how central the House of Sound was
to the soul music of its time and linked it to programs like Soul Train. The
impression I took from all this is that N. Williams avenue has now become gentrified,
more white, more yuppie and less cohesive than it was. But that's just my impression,
it's easy to look back at something and just assume it was better. In fact,
I like hanging out on N. Williams these days
it has an interesting bohemian
vibe during the day filled with artists, designers and small business people.
While at night the infrequent but still there threats of gang shootings remind
us that cruising with some tunes can have a more sinister side.
As a documentary installation House of Sound reminded me of Alfredo
Jarr's The Sound Of Silence
. In that piece, Jarr presented the details of
Kevin Carter's life, including decisions surrounding his Pulitzer prize winning
photograph of a young child and a vulture. Carter eventually committed suicide
because of this photograph, and his own strong but unresolved moral thread to
his work as a photojournalist.
The difference from Renwick is how Jarr's piece very heavy handedly implicated
the viewers by flashing photographer's lights at the documentary presentation's
close. Renwick doesn't do that, so in the end I felt like it didn't push back
enough. It was more like theater, where the viewer is more passive.
So was House of Sound art? Sure
but it's documentary nature felt slightly
exhausted after experiencing the show more than one time and that was probably
by design. The thing to remember about Renwick is ultimately she's a filmmaker
who occasionally crosses over into art. Unlike Trojan Portrait #2,
House of Sound didn't seem to develop new angles
it stayed the same, a
kind of time capsule and now that the show is gone all Im left with is the memory
of the show. All of which is just fine, as going the Kevin Carter route would
have overplayed House of Sound's cards. Carter ended his life to end a kind
of moral torment; the House of Sound was simply a victim of inevitable change.
How does the end of Music Millennium on NW 23rd stack up?
Let's just say House of Sound reminded me of all the American Masters shows
I watch on PBS. It's history, I love it and it's extremely important but that's documentary entertainment. Though this was more than entertainment, I suspect House of Sound's installation still was less important as a historical document than the uncut version of the radio interview we were hearing (in cut form)... so in
the end the art show version seemed to fetish it's nostalgia more as an installation tuned specifically
to a Portland audience (more so than any of the other Couture shows).
Perhaps it's because my own love of soul music doesn't stem from the House of Sound but my interest in atomic power was directly related to Trojan which was Renwick's previous portrait project. Still,
House of Sound was an effective show that understood its own limitations and brought them to life quite
expertly. The House of Sound more than delivered, as expected.