Martha Daghlian

 

Bruce Conkle is a visual artist based in Portland, Oregon. His work in drawing, sculpture, and other media often engages with current events and the ecological effects of human enterprise. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Hallie Ford Foundation and the Oregon Arts Commission, as well as many other grants and awards, and his work has been shown at galleries locally and internationally and is held in the collection of the Portland Art Museum. He is currently an instructor at Portland Community College.

a colored-pencil drawing of a figure wearing a hazmat suit and spraying neon green liquid on the ground, the suit's legs are rolled up to reveal a skeleton's legs; in the background the prices of gold and silver on the stock market are written above crudely rendered outlines of service trucks
untitled, 2020/Image courtesy Bruce Conkle

This is the third in a series of short(ish) interviews with Portland artists and arts professionals about their experiences and insights into the effects of the pandemic on our arts community. I hope these conversations will provide a bit of connection, critical perspective, and hope during this difficult time. 

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Grace Kook-Anderson is a curator based in Portland, Oregon. She has served as the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Northwest Art at the Portland Art Museum since 2016. Recent exhibitions she has curated include APEX: Laura Fritz and the group exhibition, the map is not the territory. Prior to her appointment at PAM, she was Curator of Contemporary Art at the Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach, CA, and has also worked on various projects as an independent curator. I spoke with her via phone recently while each of us worked at our respective home offices during the Covid-19 stay-home mandate. In the time since our conversation, PAM has announced it will furlough 80% of its staff in an effort to manage the financial impacts stemming from the pandemic. 

A woman with long black hair in a low ponytail, dressed in a navy blue plaid coat with a draped collar and simple black dress, poses in an art gallery featuring contemporary sculptures, to the right of a man wearing a gray business suit and black tie, with square-framed glasses
Grace Kook-Anderson (photographed here with museum director Brian Ferriso) in the Northwest Art Gallery at the Portland Art Museum. Background art (left to right) Karl Burkheimer, Heather Watkins, and Avantika Bawa. Image courtesy Portland Art Museum

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Artist Ka’ila Farrell-Smith: Re-thinking the post-pandemic world

Ka'ila Farrell-Smith, Klamath-Modoc, sees the pandemic as a chance to break with the inequities of the pre-pandemic world

This is the first in a series of short(ish) interviews with Portland artists and arts professionals about their experiences and insights into the effects of the pandemic on our arts community. I hope these conversations will provide a bit of connection, critical perspective, and hope during this difficult time. 

Ka'ila Farrell Smith leans against a rock face bearing a circular petroglyph, she wears a pale blue t-shirt, white patterned bandana around her neck, brown tinted sunglasses and a multicolored baseball cap.
Ka’ila Farrell-Smith

Ka’ila Farrell-Smith (Klamath-Modoc) is an artist and organizer based in Modoc Point, Oregon. Her work “explores the space in between Indigenous and Western paradigms.” She is a Co-Director and Guide with Signal Fire Arts, a Portland organization that offers wilderness trips and residencies to artists and writers. Her work has been exhibited at the Tacoma Art Museum (WA) and the Missoula Art Museum (MT) and is held in the collections of the Portland Art Museum and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. She holds a BFA from Pacific Northwest College of Art and an MFA from Portland State University.

How are you doing? Do you have any strategies for managing the various anxieties, fears, and inconveniences the pandemic is causing?

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VizArts Monthly: Streaming at home

Venue closures may be the new normal but some local arts organization forge ahead

Putting together arts listings for April 2020 was… challenging. First, it was a challenge to sit down and focus as the awful, endless headlines kept breaking. Then it was a challenge to figure out what to list as events were cancelled and galleries shuttered in observance of social distancing guidelines. How can you see art when you can’t leave the house? When the galleries and museums are closed? Do people who are juggling remote work with childcare, or applying for unemployment, or risking their health as essential workers have the energy or desire to engage with art? 

Personally, I think we all still need art in our lives, maybe even more than usual. It’s okay if what you need right now is to binge on goofy television shows or stay in the bath until the water gets cold, then fill ‘er up again. But when you’ve had enough of that, Portland’s artists, galleries, and museums are ready for you. Our local arts community has shown incredible motivation and creativity in finding ways to make art happen despite the scary, surreal situation we are all in. Take a minute to check out what they’re up to — it might give you a little extra inspiration to face the challenges of the days ahead. 

Gallery hallway hung with many framed pictures including watercolor paintings in a large grid formation, and black and white collage works hung side by side
What Needs to be Said, installation view, image courtesy Disject

Disjecta
Disjecta’s exhibition of work by the thirteen Hallie Ford Fellows, titled What Needs to be Said, has been up since February, and was scheduled to run until April 5. If you were like me and put off visiting the gallery figuring there’d be plenty of time to see the show in March, you’ll be relieved to know that a fantastic video walkthrough of the exhibition is now online, and is accompanied by extensive information and documentation of each artist in the show. The video is just under ten minutes long, and includes close up shots revealing the details and textures of the show’s many paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Disjecta has put in a lot of effort to translate What Needs to be Said for digital viewing, and the results are surprisingly engaging and even beautiful.

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The Unknown Exhibition

A show exploring anonymity, craft, and art takes on new meaning amidst social distancing

The Unknown Artist, a group exhibition curated by Lucy Cotter at PNCA’s Center for Contemporary Art and Culture, is an investigation of the value of art and its intricate relationship to authorship and visibility. Cotter brings together ceramics and textiles from the collection of the CCAC (formerly held by the now shuttered Museum of Contemporary Craft) along with work by contemporary artists from Portland and around the globe. The show reveals new patterns of meaning and deep connections between seemingly disparate practices. 

The Unknown Artist at the Center for Contemporary Art and Craft, installation view, image courtesy CCAC and Mario Gallucci

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The symphony animated and illuminated

A collaboration between artist Rose Bond and the Oregon Symphony in a SoundSights performance of Luciano Berio's 1968 work "Sinfonia"

Tucked away in a Northwest Portland apartment is a tiny doppelgänger of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Made of foam core and photographic prints, the model faithfully captures every facet of the theater’s rococo stage. The owner of this mini-Schnitz is Portland artist Rose Bond, who had the model built in order to rehearse her new work, a live-projected, multi-channel animation created to be shown with the Oregon Symphony’s performance of Luciano Berio’s 1968 composition for orchestra and eight amplified voices, titled Sinfonia. The performances will be March 14, 15, and 16.

Artist Rose Bond seated in front of a scale model of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Bond wears black athletic gear, black-rimmed glasses, and close cropped light gray hair, the model concert hall sits on a folding table in the gray room
Rose Bond in her studio, image courtesy the artist

The event is part of the SoundSights series, which pairs visual artists with orchestral performances. Past performances in the series have featured artists like Michael Curry and Dale Chihuly, as well as Bond herself, who returns to the series four years after creating visuals for Olivier Messiaen’s romantic Turangalîla. For Sinfonia, Bond has worked for over a year to produce a series of hand-drawn passages that mine the visual history of the 1960s in a dreamlike interpretation of Berio’s avant garde masterpiece. The performance will also feature the renowned vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw performing the vocal portion of the composition. The collaboration promises to be intensely immersive, and Bond hopes that it will allow both new and returning audiences to connect with the music at a visceral level. I visited her studio to discuss her work on Sinfonia and how the now fifty year-old composition fits with her decidedly contemporary visual art practice.

Bond has been developing her distinctive visual language since the early 1980s when she began using a technique called direct animation, in which individual frames are hand-drawn onto film strips. The result is organic-looking motion that trembles and pulsates as the reel unspools. “I think I fall somewhere between art and film,” she explained, neither fully narrative like a movie nor as abstract as some video art. Some of Bond’s early works explored various folk traditions viewed through a feminist lens. Bond’s The Celtic Trilogy reimagined traditional Irish mythology from the perspective of the witches and goddesses. This interest in the overlaps between collective culture and political consciousness has expanded as her work has evolved. 

A mock up of projected animations at the Arlene Schnitzer concert hall, depicting stylized representations of 1960s era protests in France, the orchestra performs below.
A still from Rose Bond’s Sinfonia, image courtesy the artist

In 2002, Bond produced her first site-specific animation installation, Illumination #1, which highlighted the historical inhabitants of Portland’s Old Town neighborhood with a series of silhouetted figures projected in the second-floor windows of the historic Seamen’s Bethel Building. The project was received with glowing reviews (and was even re-installed in 2014 as part of the Old Town History Project), and since then, Bond has made large-scale and site-specific works across the globe that bring local histories to life and shine a light on stories not often told. Although she now uses contemporary video and animation technologies and works with a professional studio assistant, her works are still grounded in her hand-drawn animation methods which lends an intimate quality even at a monumental scale. 

Image of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall during performance, symphony plays onstage while colorful animations are projected on theater facade surrounding musicians
Still from Bond’s Turangalïla, performed with the Oregon Symphony in 2016, image courtesy Oregon Symphony

Monumental is an apt descriptor for both the symphony and the location of this multimedia event — the three-part orchestral composition will be performed by the Oregon Symphony in one of Portland’s most elegant venues, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. The warmth and directness of Bond’s simple line drawings of people and architecture provide a satisfying counterpoint to any potential grandiosity. Her open-minded curiosity is especially evident in conversation: “I didn’t know anything about symphonies but I’ve learned a whole lot (through this process).” Bond explained her research process in detail: she has taken a year-long sabbatical from teaching at PNCA and now has an entire filing cabinet stuffed with notes on the composition, historical references, and vast quantities of storyboard drafts and sketches. 

Hand drawn animation still depicting young man about to throw a rock or other object during protest in gritty urban environment
Still from Bond’s Sinfonia, image courtesy the artist

In 1968, the year Berio composed Sinfonia, social upheaval and civil unrest were erupting all over the world. The assasination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4 of that year inspired the second movement of the symphony, titled O King. Berio built the first and third movements around this a deeply moving centerpiece. Excerpts of writing by Claude Levi-Strauss, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and others, along with phrases from graffiti and slogans used during the contemporaneous protests in France, are scattered throughout the piece, each syllable dragged out into abstraction by the eight singers in Roomful of Teeth. The third movement appropriates portions of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, and also includes snippets from works by well known composers like Debussy, Ravel, and Stravinsky. 


Berio referred to his compositional strategy as “quotations,” and Bond sees them as analogous to sampling in contemporary music. It was a radical creative approach at the time of Sinfonia’s creation, but was entirely in keeping with Berio’s experimental tastes, which later led him to work in the newly emerging category of electronic music. Bond calls Berio “one of the first pre-post-modernists,” in reference to this blending of text and music quotations.

Bond’s animations share this patchwork approach, as she collages together images derived from archival sources like newspaper photographs and television footage. “I chose to respect the quotation form… by sampling well known pictures,” she explained. The title Sinfonia alludes to the literal meaning of the word symphony, “sounding together,” both in the sense of the many instruments and voices playing in harmony, and in the sense of bringing together disparate fragments to form a unified picture. Bond’s visuals act as another set of fragments contributing to the whole experience.

View of artist's studio, with computers on a desk, many projectors, stands, and wires, and a scale model of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in the far corner
A view of Bond’s studio, image courtesy the artist

Bond’s suite of three movements will be projected onto the multi-planar proscenium arch of the Schnitzer live during each performance. The cueing of her piece will occur simultaneously with that of the musicians and vocalists, hence the scale model of the theater — Bond and her technicians will need to have their timing just right in order to match the music. But this is not a literal illustration of the words being sung or the notes being played. Instead, Bond says, “the visuals are sort of like a dancer who sometimes takes the lead and sometimes backs off,” in other words, a collaborative performance. “The music has an unpredictability, and likewise, the visuals hold the potential for surprise.”

Bond let me sit at her studio monitor to preview a digital mockup of the work as it will look in the theater. The animations are projected onto darkened walls as opposed to the typical bright white screen. This has the effect of collapsing visual depth, while creating unexpected illusions of ambiguous three-dimensional space that contradict Bond’s assertively two-dimensional drawing style in a transfixing manner. Certain passages commandeer the theater’s architecture for their own purposes. During the second movement, the arched space above the stage transforms into the trusses of the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama, the site of the infamous Bloody Sunday attack by police against Civil Rights protesters. At other times, the entire space becomes an endless void, brightened by ethereal apparitions dancing on either side of the orchestra pit. 

Black and white hand drawn animation still featuring two silhouetted figures standing at night under an umbrella, a Parisian "Metro" sign is illuminated by a streetlamp in the foreground
Still from Bond’s Sinfonia, image courtesy the artist

Although the visuals unfolding before me were on a screen a fraction of the size of their destined venue, they somehow managed to feel immersive, sometimes almost overwhelming, in their emotional intensity. Even the most ubiquitous images of the era felt new as they moved through Bond’s dream-like world of delicate lines and muted colors, in time with the haunting sounds of Berio’s composition. I understood what Bond meant when she said that at times during the piece “it feels like the whole room is spinning.”

Bond hopes that her work with the Oregon Symphony will entice new audiences to take an interest in such performances. She acknowledges that, like the opera and the ballet, the symphony is an older institution that is in some ways defined by tradition, and whose challenge now is to make itself relevant to younger people who are constantly immersed in the present moment through streaming platforms and social networks. 

Sinfonia may have been on the cutting edge of culture when it debuted in 1968, but to some, Berio’s work might seem as old as orchestral music itself. Through her ingenious use of popular imagery and her deft fusion of digital and analog media, Bond’s visuals revivify the qualities that made Sinfonia famous and offer both an entry point for newcomers and a fresh take for connoisseurs. Furthermore, she has made the work’s political nature more accessible to concert-goers through her rigorous research and smart visual references. The resulting experience of intermingling pictures, words, and music promises to be a powerful tribute to the ability and the responsibility that art has to reflect upon the culture of its time — both in Berio’s time and in our own. 

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There will be three performances of this multimedia concert event at the Arlene Schnitzer Concern Hall: 7:30 PM on Saturday, March 14th; 2:00 PM on Sunday, March 15th; and 7:30 PM on Monday, March 16th. Tickets start at $24 and are available here.

*** Due to the restriction of all public gatherings over 250 people as part of COVID-19 containment efforts, these performances have been cancelled.

First Thursday: Solitude and connection

The galleries and art fans braved coronavirus, coughed in their elbows and sought shelter

As I biked downtown to visit a few galleries for First Thursday, I wondered if the news of pandemic would keep local audiences at home. I was happy to see that I wasn’t the only one willing to throw caution to the wind in order to support Portland’s art community — the Pearl District was full of small groups of all ages bouncing between shows.

Much of the artwork on view was hushed and intimate, though the crowds were chatty and restless as usual. It felt almost as though artists and curators were unwittingly building virtual shelters, providing protection, if not comfort, from the increasingly chaotic world outside. 

Abstract black-and-white drawing featuring organic-looking shapes overlayed with sharp angular forms and calligraphic designs, evoking a dark room layered with sheer curtains and wrought metal decor
Graphite and ink drawing by Erin Murray/Courtesy Holding Contemporary

My first stop was Holding Contemporary, where a show-scheduling snafu had serendipitously resulted in the last-minute pairing of Philadelphia-based Erin Murray and Portland’s own Leslie Hickey in a show titled What We See and What We Know. The gallery was mostly dark as I approached, and I wasn’t even sure it was open since I couldn’t see anybody inside. But the door wasn’t locked, so I went in and realized the sleepy lighting scheme was intentional, and lovely.

The other visitors were in the back, hovering near an alcove that contained a sort of side exhibition by André Filipek Magaña. There, the small pencil drawings of children’s cartoon character Dora the Explorer in various surreal situations and seemingly uncomfortable positions were funny in their way, but were a bit of a non sequitur in the context of the feature show.

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