The inner quest for Utopia

Hand2Mouth's "Psychic Utopia," about Oregon utopian movements, brings the search for a "beautiful and bold life" to the audience

A Hand2Mouth ensemble member is kneeling onstage a few feet away from me and makes eye contact. “What have you done to live a more beautiful and bold life?” she asks. I knew this question was coming but I still feel a sense of panic when the fourth wall breaks down. I tell her, and the audience around me, “I allowed myself to be vulnerable.” I don’t elaborate on what that means. She smiles beatifically, repeats my answer, and turns to someone else and asks the same question. This question is at the heart of Hand2Mouth’s new devised show Psychic Utopia.

At first, it’s a little hard to tell what kind of show Psychic Utopia, which is created by the company with collaborating writer Andrea Stolowitz, is going to be. You’re offered warm hand towels on entry and invited to take your shoes off. During the preshow the actors mingle with audience members. I imagine it’s like going to a spiritual retreat.

In search of Utopia, in search of self. Photo: Chelsea Petrakis

The beginning of the performance is signaled by the ensemble gathering around a glowing cube and exhaling one long harmonic note together. The actual significance of the preshow and this ritual isn’t as important as what they are doing: Setting the tone for the show. Inviting the audience to engage actively with what they are about to experience.

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‘Spin’ review: women on wheels

Boom Arts hosts Evalyn Parry's musical theater piece chronicling connections between the women's movement and bicycling

Want to control women? Limit their freedom to get around. There are many places in the world  — even in our country — where women are virtual prisoners in their own homes, forbidden freedom by law, religion, custom, or just plain male domination.

When America’s late 19th century suffragists challenged this stultifying situation and started a social revolution, they were aided by a concurrent technological revolution. “I believe the bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything else in history,” said someone who should know.

Evalyn Parry performed “Spin” in Portland. Photo: Frederike Heuer.

That connection between two revolutions is the subject of Spin, Toronto singer/songwriter/spoken word artist Evalyn Parry’s entertaining theatrical song cycle that Boom Arts wheeled into northeast Portland’s The Sanctuary earlier this month. It was a fun if wobbly ride that didn’t quite find the right balance between between two important stories: a quick history of the historical connection between women’s equality and bicycling, and a fascinating, too-little known story of one of the early female pioneers of both.

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Wordstock 2: The new comics, the unwanted book, donuts & dystopias

After Lit Crawl, the main event: Literary Arts' annual festival of writers and writing packs the Park Blocks with ideas and words

Despite a late night (for me) at Lit Crawl the night before, I managed to arrive at the Portland Art Museum last Saturday right as this year’s Wordstock literary festival opened. I had spent hours crafting my schedule for the day, weighing various panels and readings against each other, and realized the morning would be the only time I’d have to check out the Book Fair.

Yes, you can buy books there, but you can also: Get information on MFA programs, learn how to self-publish a book, buy literary-themed gifts, discover literary magazines, find writing retreats, join literary organizations, and sign up to volunteer in the community. It’s an amazing reminder of how vibrant the literary scene is in Portland and the Northwest. There’s also a lot of free pens there.

Sometimes you listen. Sometimes you look. And Wordstock offers plenty to browse through. Photo courtesy Literary Arts

A note on Lit Crawl: If you haven’t been to this pre-Wordstock event it’s a great way to get to know local writers. I went to readings organized by Incite, Perfect Day Publishing, and Pie & Whiskey.

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Wordstock 1: stuffed grandmothers, E.B. White, and collective desires

This year, Portland's literary extravaganza has the fervor of an evangelical revival. In fractious times, maybe that's a good thing.

In a Paris Review interview in 1969, when asked about the role of the writer, E.B. White famously answered: “A writer must reflect and interpret his society, his world; he must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge.” Despite his use of the male-centric pronoun, Mr. White’s sentiment seems to hit on something vital and true, and might also explain the 10,000 or so people lined up at various venues around the Park Blocks last Saturday for Portland’s annual book festival, Wordstock. This turnout, larger than in years past, felt hopeful somehow. Our collective desire to enter into those conversations between reader and writer, particularly on Veterans Day, to examine the role of narrative and history and words— that our curiosity is so intact— went a little way toward fortifying against what recently feels like a never-ending assault of troubling news.

E.B. White, with his dog Minnie: a spirit, hovering over Wordstock. Photo: Tilbury House Publishers

And, really, there’s no denying that times are troubling. This came up repeatedly in discussions throughout the day. What also came up is that times have always been troubling for somebody, depending on the happenstance of your birth. Given the peril of our planet, the unearthing in recent days of the uglier sides of human nature, and the anxiety that still lingers after last year’s election, maybe we can just agree that times are even more troubling for more people. Perhaps this can account for the size of the crowd and the quite-audible fervor that emanated from it as people stood in line for one of the headlining events, Ta-Nehisi Coates in conversation with Jenna Worthman of the New York Times Magazine at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

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White Bird Dance: Love, L-E-V-style

The Israeli dance company returns to Portland with a tense dance about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

By HEATHER WISNER

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder—heartrendingly described in Neil Hilborn’s OCD: A Love Poem—provides the framework for Israeli dance company L-E-V’s hourlong piece OCD Love, which opened last night as part of the White Bird Uncaged series. The dance looks and sounds like Hilborn’s poem, which inspired co-artistic director Sharon Eyal, reads: a series of repeated phrases suggesting a longing for connection and normalcy, and the agony of watching both slowly elude your grasp, despite your best efforts.

L-E-V co-artistic directors Eyal and Gai Behar have built their choreography around movement tics: jittery legs, shuddery torsos, ritualistic gestures. There’s a tick-tick-ticking sound as the curtain rises on a lone dancer, her musculature accented by a stark contrast between light and shadow. (The piece is shrouded in what’s described as “water-based haze,” similar to a smoke-machine effect.) She moves in slow motion, contorting her limbs in ways that look impressive but probably aren’t comfortable. Eventually a second dancer her joins her, sort of: they dance near each other, but not with each other. These sorts of close-but-not-quite encounters recur within the various configurations of the company’s six dancers, who bring sharpness and clarity to choreography that could have gotten muddy quickly.

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Interview: A conversation with Lucinda Parker

The Portland painter talks about her career as a primarily abstract painter and her latest, Cubist-inspired work

Lucinda Parker has been a painter in Portland for almost 50 years. She studied painting in the heyday of Abstract Expressionism at the Museum Art School (now Pacific Northwest College of Art). After becoming known for paintings with big bold gestures, in recent years she has allowed figurative imagery into her work.

She has a selection of what she thinks of as cubistic paintings of Mt. Hood scenes at Russo Lee Gallery through December 2.

When did you decide that you wanted to be an artist?

A long, long time ago.

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Perry Johnson’s shining light

A Eugene artist's "outsider" work goes to the Portland Art Museum in a new series designed to expand the museum's reach into the region

By RACHAEL CARNES

EDITOR’S NOTE: We.Construct.Marvels.Between.Monuments opens Friday, Nov. 17, in the Portland Art Museum’s Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art. A series of five exhibitions developed with artists and art collectives, it’s designed to explore how the museum can engage with a broader and more inclusive array of artists in the region. The series, which will continue through December 2018, begins with an installation through Feb. 25, 2018, that includes artists who make prolific work, yet often face barriers to inclusion in galleries and museums. Co-curated by Libby Werbel and Public Annex, it will show work from Perry Johnson, Ricky Bearghost, Kurt Fisk, Elmeator Morton, Lawrence Oliver, and Dawn Westover.

Johnson, who makes his art at the OSLP (Oregon Supported Living Program) Arts & Culture Program in Eugene, will have six works in the series’ first show. Rachael Carnes’ essay ran originally in Eugene Weekly on Oct. 1, 2015, under the title “Shining Like the Sun: A photographic memory infuses the brilliant art of Perry Johnson.”

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Artist Perry Johnson at OSLP in Eugene.

Eugene artist Perry Johnson has a gift. His work is inquisitive and multidimensional, at once rooted in a folk art tradition while branching out towards something more visceral and visionary.

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