Portland art blog + news + exhibition reviews + galleries + contemporary northwest art

recent entries

Resist: Inauguration at Una Gallery
Early February links
First Thursday Picks February 2017
Dead tree media & dead horse flogging news
Post Snowpocalypse Weekend Picks
More Disjecta'd
New Year opportunities
Monday Integrity Links
First Thursday Picks January 2017
Jason Berlin + Alanna Risse at Rainmaker
Saying goodby to 2016
Mid December Links

recent comments

categories

 

Book Review
Calls for Artists
Design Review
Essays
Interviews
News
Openings & Events
Photoblogs
Reviews
Video
Links
About PORT

regular contributors

 

Tori Abernathy
Amy Bernstein
Katherine Bovee
Emily Cappa
Patrick Collier
Arcy Douglass
Megan Driscoll
Jesse Hayward
Sarah Henderson
Jeff Jahn
Kelly Kutchko
Drew Lenihan
Victor Maldonado
Christopher Moon
Jascha Owens
Alex Rauch
Gary Wiseman

archives

 

Guest Contributors
Past Contributors
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005

contact us

 

Contact us

search

 


syndicate

 

Atom
RSS

powered by

 

Movable Type 3.16

This site is licensed under a

 

Creative Commons License

Wednesday 11.17.10

« Museums: Object Focus + Celentano | Main | Artemisia Gentileschi | Swamp Light »

Vanessa Renwick at PDX Across the Hall

Off_A_Log.jpg
as easy as falling off a log (installation view) photo: Jeff Jahn

In 1957 the State of Oregon outlawed the use of splash dams on Oregon waterways. Splash dams were built on rivers and creeks as a way to back up water in a sufficient volume to propel logged trees downstream. The flood caused by the sudden gush of water, plus the massive number of logs, scoured the waterways down to the bedrock, thereby making those streams inhospitable to the spawning salmon that required gravel beds (redds) to lay and fertilize eggs. Only after a series of lawsuits by anglers and environmentalists was the practice terminated nationwide.

Often the rush of logs downstream would cause logjams. When this happened, log drivers (men in the employ of the lumber company) would have to climb out onto the jam and free it up. This was very dangerous work and required care and skill. One false step could find one trapped, crushed or drowned underneath tons of wood. The drivers were the highest paid and most dead. And from this came birling, or log rolling, an innocent enough competition that is still played at logger games.

It does not take a great leap to fix a partial etymology of the title for Vanessa Renwick's current installation at PDX Across the Hall. However, instead of connoting a dangerous failure, nowadays the phrase has nearly the opposite meaning, suggesting that an endeavor is considered foolproof. Once a catharsis and testament, the conceit of innocence brings unexpected consequences. And still the rivers, and therefore the fish, have not yet recovered.

This is not to say that Renwick's installation has much, if anything to do with the state of rivers, and if there is an environmental advocacy underlying the work, it is more concerned with the state of the forests as a whole. Even then, this is not the central thrust of the work. Instead, Renwick provides a perception of nature that is more personal, and to go along for the ride takes commitment.


VR-install.2.jpg
installation view

Any given month in Portland, one can find several exhibitions that work around relationships with nature. For instance, Charles A. Hartman Fine Art has Ansel Adams, Elizabeth Leach is showing Shane McAdams' Micro Chasm, and NAAU has an exhibition by the Appendix collaborative (specifically Maggie Casey's discreet piece, Virus). Think of it this way: Adams and Appendix had a baby and it looks something like McAdams. Adams goes for the vista, Appendix brings us in for a close look at the flora and geology, and McAdams combines the two. All-in-all, very artsy, and it may be that we need to examine our relationship with work like Adams’ to move away from idealizing, even fetishizing the landscape to the point of exhaustion where the results become mundane.

VR-WOODSWOMAN.cropped.jpg
WOODSWOMAN (detail)

Vanessa Renwick's installation at PDX Across the Hall is no different in those respects. Where it does differ, however, is demanding attention to an aspect of nature from which many have distanced themselves or lost altogether: the concept of natural time, or, if you will, a slower pace. And if one breezes in and out of the gallery, that aspect of the work, particularly the video components, will be missed. Renwick seems to have anticipated this and has provided a couch in front of WOODSWOMAN, and some large throw pillows to lay on while watching the video segments on the ceiling that are part of the installation FULL ON LOG JAM.

VR-install.1.jpg
install view WOOSWOMAN (right) FULL ON LOG JAM (left)

The couch was comfortable enough to watch a book burn in a gas heater. The book, Woodswoman, by Anne LaBastille was the author’s first about her life in the relative isolation of the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York. At intervals in the video, Renwick adds text to tell the story of her own relationship with the book. It seems she tried to sell it to Powell's Books twice, to no avail, lent it to person, and was given it back along with a scathing review, eventually deciding to burn it, a proper burial, so to speak, after mentioning that arsonists burned down Ms. LaBastille's barns and the aged woman now suffers with Alzheimer's. The fireplace entranced the viewer throughout the otherwise uneventful video, yet the fire may have provided the hypnosis required to slow the person who might have had an agenda to be elsewhere, thereby allowing for one to linger just a bit longer and sit through another video in FULL ON LOG JAM.

FULL ON LOG JAM itself is a makeshift installation: camo plastic tarps protect the floor from a cord and a half of firewood, and the wood and two pillows are mounded around a box with a projector pointed at the ceiling. Uncertain of a narrative and therefore a beginning and end, the piece is pulled together not by the forest scenes but by a short documentation of a Native American splitting firewood at a very, very, slow yet methodical pace. Using primarily a wedge and a hand sledge, and occasionally a maul, he never misses the log. He is talking, as are others in the background, yet one somehow isn't listening, again entranced, that is until he asks the videographer, "Do you know Gail?" When the answer is negative, he simply remarks, "She's a neighbor." If she is not known then the outsider need not be informed of anything more. Suddenly, we're no longer welcome to watch him at his work.

VR-GET.OFF.jpg

In the artist's statement for the installation, much is made of having sex in the woods, and while that may be a fantasy for outdoorsy types, the only sexual references in the whole exhibit were two text pieces, a sculpture in a window case and another wall-mounted piece indoors. A bumper sticker has been altered to read "Wilderness: A great place to fuck and fuck," and there is a small red monoprint with the words "Get Off." The sculpture, flat as a board (knot), represented breasts and a pubis. Both text pieces were done in all capital letters (for which Renwick seems to have an affinity), which lent a certain emphasis, but the alteration of the first, plus the double entendre of the monoprint and the sculpture were more playful —perhaps foreplay — than sexual. For that matter, FULL ON LOG JAM can also be seen to have this dual meaning, but again, the sexuality is suggested only in the title.

VR-Wilderness.AP.jpg

There are more directed, albeit non-sexual, associations between other aspects of the installation that suggest more environmental concerns: the FULL ON LOG JAM video has vignettes of a decaying trees, forest canopies, a waterfall and trees reflecting in a calm body of water; the fire that burns the book can relate to a series of photos that show the aftermath of forest fires, and there is a piece of charred lumber (Redeem) that hangs between the video and photos. Yet, the resonance goes no further, unless one considers that the proximity of the burned forest photos and sculpture to WILDERNESS and GET OFF is designed juxtaposition. If anything, the destroyed forest is a lost love, which might bring more bearing on the titles for the photos, The Wise and Seen It All, memorialized, but also romanticized in a manner that is antithetical to sex.

VR-The.Wise.jpg
The Wise (2010)

It is clear from Vanessa Renwick's statement for this exhibit that she has a personal relationship with trees. Her enthusiasm is palpable and she perhaps communes more intensely with trees than the rest of us. What special intimacy may be plain and simple to Renwick has a difficult time coming across to viewers. Still, as easy as falling off a log as an exhibit does contain the foundations of a narrative. What is unclear is whether more of the story needs told, or edited. As a successful filmmaker, Renwick knows that narratives take time to develop, just as it does Nature to restore itself after a disaster.


Posted by Patrick Collier on November 17, 2010 at 9:08 | Comments (0)


Comments

Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)


Remember me?


s p o n s o r s
Site Design: Jennifer Armbrust   •   Site Development: Philippe Blanc & Katherine Bovee