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Wednesday 12.09.09

« Forth Estate | Main | Tharp and Hutchins in the Whitney »

OPS at PSU's Autzen Gallery

Radiant Dream Face, installation view

It may be the last month of 2009 but make no mistake Oregon Painting Society's latest show Radiant Dream Face at PSU's Autzen Gallery is one of the year's best.

A year ago OPS burst onto the scene with a hodge-podge trippy aesthetic that was more Victorian natural history museum full of heraldry (ala group member Jason Traeger) and an exciting amalgam of the various members who each kinda did their own thing. It was an exciting opener but after a year of wood shedding they have come out with a strong unified group aesthetic, something they call, "a starship fashioned from the dreams and detritus of late-20th century West Coast America." And yes, despite their name they are more of an installation art/performance group than painters.


What results approximates a single retro-futuristic civilization, not a series of inferences to several related aesthetic memes… In other words they have successfully gelled into a cohesive and experimental group and the more sci-fi direction allows them to look at both the past and aspirations for the future.

Think of an Ikea home and garden show as envisioned by the people who made sets for the original Dr. Who series and maybe a few Shaker furniture makers (quixotically from the future). Overall, the whole thing has the nostalgic vibe of watching a world's fair movie footage or an HG Welles story adapted to the screen… it's the future as envisioned through a pre-microchip era… something Frank Herbert envisaged in his Dune Books (a sci-fi universe where computers were outlawed). Here things are decidedly domestic where Herbert's Dune was about authority and war.


This is a peaceful affair and many of the sculptural pavilions are interactive and kinesthetic sound devices that fizz, glissando and warble like the mating calls of space whales or maybe it is just the sounds of Bob Moog hangover from the 60-70's? I certainly like this kind of occult activity better than Madame Blavatski style spiritualism. Instead, this show conjures interaction not spirits, though it has a similarly arcane bent.


If it sounds like a hell of a lot of fun, you'd be right. Producing theremin-style tones that interact with your body's own electromagnetic field is rewarding… especially if you aren't a dancer or musician who is used to understanding the body as an instrument. There is no correct technique as the sounds are atonal and the controls respond to how one moves. The kinesthetic vibe produced by this well planned out series of pavilions is a kind of Atomic Ranch art-petting zoo but there is more going on here than just some science expo.


What's clear is the newly refined visual language of the group all works together, one where 70's style wood paneling, generic office plants, shelving units teeming with tiny balsa wood maquettes and shadows cast from furniture, lamps and Japanese screens. What is gained is a sense of sustained interpolation of design as art and platform for performance.

In particular the tiny balsa wood maquettes evoke futuristic painters easels/stretchers, mandalas and screens through which to frame our gaze. The plethora of Smithsonesque mirrors, David Thorpian constructions and cheeky duck sculptures along with a penchant for using furniture support legs for everything... all initiate the viewer into this purposefully arcane world; one where supports are questioned and repurposed. It would all seem utopian if it weren't all so familiar.


Unlike a furniture expo the viewer is continually invited to interact and experience how their own presence effects the electromagnetic fields of the room, giving everything a sense of revealing the unseen. Thus, this is a show full of mystery machines and like other furniture-intensive artists in Portland (Laura Fritz, Dandridge Geiger, Vanessa Renwick, Jordan Tull and Jesse Durost) there is a sense of theatrical staging that plays with understanding and ergonomics here. Other artists like Franz West and Andrea Zittel are also relevant to the discussion.

In the mid 20th century BF Skinner studied how environment shaped behavior, conversely for Radiant Dream Face OPS created an arena for creatively repurposed design and gave it a sense of responsiveness that allows visitors to experience their own effect on the environment. The 21st century is a two way street of constant cause and effect between individual and environment. For Radiant Dream Face OPS has employed a vernacular of sci-fi nostalgia and presented a compelling, inviting and empowering laboratory for this new era of interactivity.

Through Jan 1 2010
Autzen Gallery, Portland State University (Neuberger Hall room 205)
gallery is closed from the 18-28th so email OPS about other hours: oregonpaintingsociety@gmail.com

Posted by Jeff Jahn on December 09, 2009 at 15:54 | Comments (0)


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