It's rare when there is a theme amongst some of the better shows in Portland but
that is just what is happening this July.
Maybe it is a sign of our turbulent times or the simple fact that a few galleries
want to put the screws to viewers during the normally happy go lucky Summer
but July brings a trio of shows with destructive tendencies by Jim Neidhardt,
Matthew Picton and Marieke Verbiesen.
Jim Neidhardt's Tsunami #1
Neidhardt's small Tsunami
show at Augen Gallery
is a darkly hilarious, cementing him as one of Portland's
more interesting tricksters. He's taken nostalgic photos of rural Americana
and added cartoonish blue waves which loom, threaten and inundate the otherwise
peaceful amber waves of grain and Purple Mountain's majesty of the scene.
In Tsunami #1 a small square family farm complex is inundated on all sides with
a most improbable wave about to pounce and finish them off. It's obvious this
isn't about tsunami's at all (like Japan's)... it's a psychological assault
on the core units of American life; family, small business and the home. It
has nothing to do with real tsunamis... and instead it asks if all the paranoia
is real or debilitating?
For example, after 9/11 there was the Bush era of constant alert level changes,
then a financial collapse. One could wonder in Neidhardt's scene... is this family about to lose their business and home? Also, is all the talk of America in decline an inundation of self fulfilling prophecies? Neidhardt channels it all very well.
The farm in #1 is also surrounded by a very protectionist looking square of
trees, which are clearly no match for the cartoon wave. Whereas in Tsunami #6
the children seem blissfully unaware of the certain doom Neidhardt has added.
In #10 the grazing sheep don't seem to be doing much better than the children
Since we are entering yet another big presidential political season it seems
as if the way we respond to potential threats will be the way America will be
defined and I appreciate the rather amoral, probably insensitive nature of this
show. Is America about ideals or fear? Didn't we just have an election like that
recently? America home of the brave?
well yeah, actually.
Matthew Picton's Lower Manhattan
Picton's latest show
at Pulliam Gallery isn't all destruction art but his
Lower Manhattan and Portland pieces certainly are attempts to deal with threat
and psychology in a way his previous map based works dealt with only in a structural
way. Essentially, Picton is treating language as part of the built environment and it's brilliant way of turning sensationalist language into psychic edifice.
In this new body of works typified by Lower Manhattan the city is still a map
structurally defined by streets and borders but the built environment is comprised
of press clippings from 9/11. The area where the World Trade Center is singed
as well, as if to give the clippings a refresher in the pain that has mellowed
some as the ink has dried. I appreciate the restraint here... it's very stoic
and still very structural as if to mimic the way human synapses grow when memories
Similarly the map of Portland is made up of copies of book covers and video
covers from "The Lathe of Heaven" by Urusla Le Guin and from the films,
"Dante's Peak" and "Volcano". The Lathe of Heaven
is set in Portland and the fictional Dante's Peak is based on several volcanoes in Oregon
(Mt. Jefferson and Hood mostly). All this of course is a reminder that Portland
is the only major US city with volcanoes within its limits but the way they
are presented it is no big deal, just the way Portlanders generally view their geological
In both cases, there is a psychic and totemic power of both the city and the media
ephemera. Perhaps it isn't so much about destruction as about the way threat as a
constant presence is digested by these cities to form their character.
Marieke Verbiesen's Plan 10 at PNCA's Feldman Gallery
Last but not least in this list of destruction art is Marieke Verbiesen (Netherlands
and Norway) at the Feldman Gallery's Intermation
show (for PNCA's Boundary Crossings). Her piece, Plan 10, is based on the book
City of the Gods
and carries some of the same anarchic energy of his work.
Comprised of an array of classic video arcade game button controls, some sculptural/furniture elements and a back projected screen the piece invites viewer interaction it is presented as a game.
While pressing the buttons any number of cities are besieged by aliens, monsters
and what look like explosions.
The Donald gets some screentime
The tempo of the graphic's change is dictated by the tempo of the viewers button
pressing and at one point a crude video game version of Donald Trump shooting
lasers from his eyes lays waste to civilization. Thus, the controls implicate
the viewer in the mayhem but the graphics low resolution firmly separates this installation
from reality and serious repercussions. Instead, it's a kind of wish fulfillment not unlike a three year old pretending to be Godzilla. There is a great deal of
fun is to be had here (though it isnt anywhere near as poetic as Corey Archangel
's work) and like Neidhardt and Picton there is a certain historic and nostalgic element at play.
Overall, this is akin to the way Greek tragedies operated, allowing
the viewer to experience both the amoral release and just enough separation
from reality to create an ambivalence (as defined by Aristotle
in his much hated Poetics
, his definition of ambivalence is useful). Overall, Plan 10 is
a nice piece that holds my attention in an entertaining way, though I wish some of the furnishings were finished to tighter
Between the sarcastic amoral glee and Americana of Neidhardt's Tsnumanis, Picton's
stoic psychic tracing of threat and Verbiesen's open ended wish fulfillment...
these shows destroy an otherwise often dull month in the galleries.