Processions: an Elaborative Cartography
For the past few months a group of artists consisting of; Maggie Casey, Zachary Davis, Joshua Pavlacky and Benjamin
has demanded increasing attention in the Portland art scene by opening an unlikely space in a garage. It is called Appendix
and it's just off Alberta Street. Though always experimental, their earlier site specific exhibitions at Appendix Gallery and Tractor have ranged from promising to some of the best of the year. But the thing that really got my attention was the fact that these four artists were engaged in deep wide ranging conversations about
various vectors of art; topographies, neurology, textiles, urban planning, Greek
philosophy and design. If the work wasn't entirely actualized already I sensed
these four very bright, energetic and curious artists were on a journey that would
lead them there. These close knit groups of artists are what I studied in grad
school (der Blue Reiter, die Brucke and the Bauhaus), so I'm always on the lookout
for the telltale signs of relentless intellect, energy, a challenging group dynamic,
rigor and inventive problem solving. These artists have those markers.
(Standing L to R) Maggie Casey, Ben Young, Zach Davis and Josh Pavlacky as they discuss the work to a packed house
Now this unnamed "working group" of artist's first collaborative
effort Processions: an Elaborative Cartography
at PSU may be the moment
when as a group and individually each artist grew exponentially.
At the schools' invitation for 9 weeks at PSU's Recess Gallery (dept. of architecture)
the four artists underwent an elaborate process of setting up procedures for
sharing of ideas. Then via that self directing process distilled and actualized
that methodology into a finished piece that is both elegant and ephemeral while
possessing elements from each artist. As the artists described in their excellent
hour long lecture the entire process put a premium on not pre-determining the
project's details, instead they took a page from the Robert Irwin playbook and
spent time in the space, letting its fundamental elements suggest a final form.
Once a few basic ideas and rules were agreed upon after a lot of intense experiments
and negotiations then did the procession take form. Davis describes it as "a
topography" of the experience and decision making process.
The result is a gossamer series of catenary lines (like the cables of a suspension bridge) that were chosen for the
way they responded to the site's "cupping" aspect. On top of Shattuck
hall the often underutilized rooftop courtyard provides constant glimpses of
the tops of trees, the toney homes in the west hills and skyscrapers making
the space one large rectangular bowl open to the sky. The lines compellingly
respond by vectoring our attention simultaneously within the bowl and the borrowed
views outside it. It isn't so much an object as a map of trajectories to gaze
at, including the fugally composed lines which are accented by thicker white
The overall effect is like; a net for wind, topography of architectural features
and an engineer's exercise in gravity all harmonized. It's quite nice, and art
historically refers to the string works of Fred Sandbeck and Robert Irwin while
the use of the sky's perimeter suggests James Turrell. To go further Jasper
Johns has been doing catenary's lines for decades now while this piece evokes
recent topographical work by Richard Serra's Te
, Andrew Goldsworthy and Duchamp's classic Mile
installation. Yet unlike Duchamp and Serra this is no barrier,
more like a suggested view corridor or a dance in the courtyard. It even resembles
What is most interesting though is how the backgrounds of each artist are so
apparent in the work but are nothing like any of them do individually.
In Processions you can see; Ben Young's kinesthetic sensibilities and grasp
of platonic logic, Zach Davis' interest in topographies, material and neurology
Josh Pavlacky's interest in urban design, site and drawing vectors
Maggie Casey's background in textiles and installation that use string to suggest
form are all readily apparent. Though it's more refined than I've seen any of
them do individually.
I suspect the group gave them each a kind of new way to discover how a piece
can be made because it was an experiential process that created an experiential
piece. It's remarkable because group dynamic usually create something either
lifeless or cacophonous. In this case it's very clear and of our time, literally
blowing in the changing winds.
Inside the building I liked Pavlacky's Known Space
sculpture but it wasn't
displayed very effectively and Pavlacky and Casey's collaborative Constellation
(silt from peak to protein)
just isn't all that original reminding me simultaneously
of Julie Mehretu and Sarah
. I think Processions: an Elaborative Cartography
is strong enough
by itself and hardly needs work indoors to complete it.
Overall, I'm very excited to see how these four proceed from here both individually
and as a group.