Vicky Lynn Wilson's Cumulus at PCC Sylvania's Northview Gallery (all photos Jeff Jahn)
October 2012 might go down as one of the best months in the history of the Portland art scene with strong solo shows from; Sigmar Polke, Kara Walker, Corey Arnold, Francis Celentano, MK Guth, Marie Watt, Linda Hutchins, Marianne Wex, Wid Chambers, Victor Maldonado, Photographer Hal, Daniel Heffernan, Jordan Tull, Isabelle Cornaro
and Vicky Lynn Wilson that everyone should see if they haven't already (most end in the coming days).
Although PCC Sylvania is somewhat of a special trek, Vicky Lynn Wilson's Cumulus at the Northview Gallery
is arguably the most extensive effort this month as the artist was able to install in the space from July through nearly the end of September.
I liken these massive sorts of installations to anthropological contemplations of human activity. As an immersive accretion of stuff, Cumulus is in the same genre as Thomas Hirschhorn and Sarah Sze's installations but comes off much craftier than Hirschhorn and less lyrical than Sze. In many ways it can resemble Disney rides... thankfully without animatronics and a corny song. Instead, Cumulus is an enveloping walk in natural history museum diorama.
Consisting of thousands of pieces of cardboard fashioned into a kind of distopian hoarders heaven (or hell), the installation evokes everything from human settlement to a flooded disaster scene. There are houses that seem to be half submerged in the concrete, furniture, clothes lines even Birkenstocks, all made from cardboard and the three human figures in the show strain to lift their possessions stacked all the way to the skylights.
The message is a bit simple, humans accumulate vast amounts of resources, which thereby become both our sense of worth and burden. The three human figures in Cumulus seem to be survivors of some sort of onslaught but by being open ended the theme of existentially "carrying" on with one's stuff feels less didactic than a symbolic re-staging of TV newscast disaster highlights. That is good. We watch newscasts because it could be us and we are glad it isn't. Cumulus reverses the situation by implicating the visitor who is drawn in (think estate sale) to all the stuff. Since all of the human figures in the show are burdened, visitors would naturally bring their own physical and metaphorical baggage with them.
The animals living within the stacks held by humans adds a slightly cloying or Disneyfied air where a mother raccoon is separated from her young and a cat takes the high ground defiantly diffident to the scene below. Yes, the animals are also stand ins for human emotions but it is a bit soft and cute for the subject matter, which practically begs for a bit more precarious terror.
Still, Cumulus works for a college gallery as the tension between craft and hoarding begs for something less benign, which was present in Wilson's 2006 show
. Here, everywhere on view is imbued with vague sense of banal human vanity that in the hands of other artists like Hirschhorn, Sze or even locals like Bruce Conkle and Paula Rebsom that isn't sharpened here, substituting extensiveness for incisiveness. Instead, the vanity of excellent craft blunts some of the vain existential terror that could have made this a world-class show. Instead, it is a somewhat softened but still worthwhile college gallery sojourn. With Wilson, Gilley and Douglass no other gallery in Portland has taken the kinds of interesting chances with solo shows by local artists that PCC's Northview Gallery has in 2012.
It is an important role and more people should see these shows but that will take having at least some regular weekend hours.
Cumulus at PCC Sylvania
Through October 26th
Closing Performance October 26th 8 -8:45PM