VISUAL ART

Carving her own path

Two pieces by woodcarver Monica Setziol-Phillips will be installed at Salishan, within steps of work by her famous father, Leroy Setziol

It’s been a struggle for artist Monica Setziol-Phillips to escape the shadow of her famous father, Leroy Setziol, often referred to as the father of woodcarving in the Northwest.

“It’s challenging,” Setziol-Phillips said. “Because people look at me, especially people who knew him, and think of my father. It’s a bit of a fight.”

But with the installation of the latest works of art at Salishan Resort in Gleneden Beach, Setziol-Phillips will literally take her place next to her father, on the grounds of the resort where 15 of his teak carvings are showcased.

The pair of wood carvings, 7- and 8-feet tall, will be celebrated Oct. 4 at the Salishan lodge with an opening talk at 5 p.m. by Setziol-Phillips, followed by a reception. The freestanding columns are carved on four sides from yellow cedar. They will be outside the lodge, visible from the reception area.

Monica Setziol-Phillips carves at the same bench her father, Leroy Setziol, used. A resident of Sheridan, she is former president of the Yamhill County Cultural Coalition. Photo by: Stuart Eagon
Monica Setziol-Phillips carves at the same bench her father, Leroy Setziol, used. Photo by: Stuart Eagon

Setziol-Phillips described the pieces as mostly abstract, but with a recognizable cloud form and sun form. “They come from the energy of the ocean, the abstract patterns that form in the sand, the weather,” she said. “To me, it is a very coastal piece. It has to do with referencing the attitude of the ocean, because it’s always amazed me that the ocean can be so fearsome and yet so soothing. And something to be grateful for. It’s somehow puts you at one.”

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The view from Portland2019

The fifth Biennial at Disjecta embraces politically and socially engaged art

Jess Perlitz’s Onward totters at the center of the Portland2019 Biennial at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center. The artist describes it as a “drunk tower…a fire tower that has survived, a surveillance tower that is skeletal, and a monument that is flaccid.” The object that crowns the structure she calls a  “ghost and shell of a weather vane,” but this seems a rhetorical overreach for the hollow sack with it lazily listing arrow. A weather vane confidently indicates a direction. This limp arrow points to confusion and indicates disarray.

Jess Perlitz, Onward (2019) Burnt wood, abaca pulp.
Photo credit: Mario Gallucci – Courtesy of Disjecta

Cultural disorientation runs rampant in 2019. Whether one attributes it to the protracted death throes of white patriarchal hegemony, (late) late capitalism, global warming or some unruly amalgamation—the world is a mess and certitude is in short supply. Artists and intellectuals everywhere feel an urgency to make art about pressing social and political issues. Ignorance is a bliss to which art is no longer entitled. The Portland2019 artists turn their attentions on Portland and Oregon and adroitly examine, disassemble, and remake our shared home through their art. The art offers viewers a multifaceted understanding of our microcosm. 

When Disjecta took over the Oregon Biennial from the Portland Art Museum in 2010 it made it clear that each incarnation of the Biennial would be determined by the selected curator. So each Biennial has been its own thing: 2010 curated by Cris Moss, 2012 curated by Prudence Roberts, 2014 curated by Amanda Hunt, 2016 curated by Michelle Grabner and now 2019 curated by a trio of young curators: Yaelle S. Amir, Elisheba Johnson, and Ashley Stull Meyers. The 2019 curators describe their focus as “work by Oregon based artists whose practices are rooted in a rigorous approach to socio-political commentary, presenting diverse perspectives on historical and contemporary narratives unique to the Pacific Northwest.” 

The Biennial concept often garners angst. Lisa Radon’s post for ArtsWatch from 2012 “A few questions concerning Portland2012 Biennial” rings relevant. What is a Biennial other than something that happens every two years? The 2016 Biennial was an expansive affair with the work of 34 artists at 25 venues across the state. The 2019 Biennial features the work of 17 artists plus the Harriet Tubman Center for Expanded Curatorial Practice all in the Disjecta Building on North Interstate Avenue. Half the number of artists, one twenty-fifth of the venues and three years after the last Biennial instead of two? Can it still be a Biennial if it is three years after the last installment? 

Amir, Johnson, and Stull Meyers appear to be unfazed by such handwringing. Portland2019, if you dispense with all the Biennial hoopla, is a show of work by Oregon artists grappling with pressing issues, most prominently racism, community identity, and change. 

Jovencio de la Paz, Options for a Racist (2019) Handwoven natural and synthetic fibers, Historic Textile attributed to the collection of Peter Hardeman Burnett, color laser prints on foamcore.
Photo credit: Mario Gallucci – Courtesy of Disjecta

Jovencio de la Paz uses a colonial-era weaving once owned by the writer of the Oregon black exclusion laws of 1844 (Peter Hardeman Burnett) as a point of departure for his work Options for a Racist. De la Paz offers various “weave drafts” of this textile and recombines them to make new schematics that highlight the letters “A Racist.” The new schematics are extractions, recombinations of the warp and weft pattern of the historic textile—present but not evident unless one strips away other layers of design. 

Sara Siestreem’s project deals with a contemporary variant of racism against Oregon’s Indigenous community as it unfolds in Coos Bay with the Jordan Cove LNG controversy (a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal and pipeline). There are multiple environmental issues with the project and The Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians filed a petition to protect the Jordan Cove estuary by making it Tribal Culture Property. In Siestreem’s installation, a photograph of a lawn sign against this petition reading “Stop TCP (Traditional Cultural Property) Historic District” is captioned “Overt Racism.” Siestreem’s accompanying work includes two figures, Matriarch and Tycen, composed of dance caps, skirts, and dance shoes balanced atop large wooden desks. The materials list for the composite figures is long and includes beads, leather, hide, found beadwork, and fibers executed by Siestreem and collaborators. Traditional crafts and desks as indices of bureaucracy bump together in symbiotic unease. It was the imposition of colonial bureaucracy that resulted in Indigenous expulsion, and yet now it is also bureaucracy (in the filing of the TCP petition or, on a more abstract level, the “approval” of Indigenous identity) that provides a means of protection.

Sara Siestreem, Installation at Portland2019 (2019)
Photo credit: Mario Gallucci – Courtesy of Disjecta

Also linked to issues of Indigenous cultural patrimony is Garrick Imatani’s film Drift, part of his larger project centered on Tamanowas (also known as the Willamette Meteorite). Tamanowas, a 15.5 ton sacred object for the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, was removed and sold ultimately to end up at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Efforts to return Tamanowas to Oregon have been in vain, but in 2001, an agreement was reached so that the Grand Ronde tribal members have private access once a year.

In a previous iteration of the project, Imatani accompanied the tribe on this visit and created a 3-D model of Tamanowas. The film at Disjecta was made with virtual reality software that shows Tamanowas taking leave of its pedestal in the National History Museum and returning home to Oregon and the Grand Ronde. On its journey, Tamanowas enters other institutions with items belonging to the Grand Ronde to create a record of dispersion. The film’s screen is encased in a large, foam iceberg. This helps to monumentalize the smaller screen but it is equally thematic. It is hypothesized that Tamanowas was brought to Oregon on a glacier; its return is facilitated by a theme-park-ready facsimile.

Garrick Imatani, The Drift (2019)
Photo credit: Mario Gallucci – Courtesy of Disjecta

Imatani’s work tempers outrage with poignant whimsy, but Demian DinéYazhí’s work provides no such balance and instead uses stark text to raise awareness and shake viewers out of long-cultivated complacency. There are two seemingly separate components to DinéYazhí’s A Nation is a Massacre at Portland2019: a series of prints with yellow text against blue-toned photographic images and then a series of statements in red on a glass door. While the prints are effective and affecting, DinéYazhí’s work reaches its full and devastating potential with the installation on the glass door. The door establishes the title (“A Nation is a massacre”)  and then continues with smaller font statements, including “Oregon was founded through incalculable attempts by settlers to exterminate Indigenous peoples” or “You are a product of indigenous genocide & environmental racism.” The all-caps font and use of aphorisms recall Barbara Kruger or Jenny Holzer, but DinéYazhí’s work favors even more pointed confrontation. The discomfort is the point, the forced awareness of facts that, if presented at all, have been cast more palatably so as not to offend. 

While artists exploring issues related to Oregon’s Indigenous groups have dominated the discussion here, many other Biennial artists consider the Oregon experience of other communities. Sharita Towne’s contributions include a book, mixed-process print, and video exploring what she describes as “Black geographies and imaginaries.” Lynn Yarne made a shrine that celebrates the community memory of Portland’s Chinese and Japanese inhabitants. Sabina Haque’s video installation focuses on communities of color east of Portland’s 82nd Avenue in neighborhoods known as The Numbers. rubén garcía marrufo’s work focuses on border crossings and the Latinx community (in the United States). Anthony Hudson (also known as the drag clown, Carla Rossi) considers the gentrification of Portland’s “Vaseline Alley” and the erasure of LGBTQ history that the sanitized “Harvey Milk Street” represents.

Dru Donovan, Untitled (2019)
Photo credit: Mario Gallucci – Courtesy of Disjecta

Amir, Johnson, and Stull Meyers selected some artists whose work approaches related issues in a more abstract fashion. Dru Donovan’s untitled photographs center on roofing shingles to consider construction, labor, and shelter. Ka’ila Farrell-Smith’s collage painting No Man Camps: Missing Her uses stencils and wildfire charcoal to draw attention to the issues of “man camps” erected adjacent to Indigenous lands to house laborers for LNG (liquefied natural gas) pipelines. The pipelines threaten Indigenous lands; the “man camps” further threaten the safety and health of Indigenous communities. Farrell-Smith’s gestural, looped pipeline is topped with an x-ed out LNG.

While Farrell-Smith’s paintings approach a similar subject to other works in the show from a more oblique angle, the other painter in the show is a more curious inclusion. Adam Bateman’s Field Study #12 and Field Study #14, both from 2016, are large, light-toned abstract works. They are pleasing to look at but out of sync with the rest of the more insistently messaged works in the show. Bateman’s artist statement references farming and the wall tag invokes Manifest Destiny, but the connection is tangential to the more formal paintings. They seem out of place and leagues away from “A nation is a massacre,” “The children are in cages” (from Vanessa Renwick’s you remember, you forget), or “SW Dead Faggot Street” (Anthony Hudson). It seems telling that Bateman’s paintings are from 2016, the same year as the last Portland Biennial and, for 10 months of the year at least, prior to the election of Donald Trump. Michelle Grabner, herself an abstract painter, curated the 2016 Biennial at Disjecta. Bateman’s paintings would have fit more comfortably in that show than this one.

I would be remiss not to mention outstanding contributions of the Harriet Tubman Center for Expanded Curatorial Practice. The project, shepherded by Lisa Jarrett and Harrell Fletcher of Portland State University, facilitates contributions by students from Harriet Tubman Middle School to the arts community. For the Biennial, a group of six seventh graders (Bea, Elliot, Esperanza, Joyce, Nora, and Syncier) interviewed artists, wrote wall tags, and will conduct a panel discussion about their experiences. The students’ wall tags aren’t always directly related to the works they accompany and the students clearly found some artists’ work more compelling than others, but the insight they offer demonstrates engagement and enthusiasm. 

Perlitz’s weather vane doesn’t inspire confidence that the Portland art scene has a good sense of where it is going and that trepidation seems only justified. This is the first Biennial since Blake Shell took over at Disjecta after Bryan Suereth’s ousting on New Year’s Eve, 2016. Two of the three curators are most recently from shuttered institutions and there have been a rash of venue closings in recent years. But the young(ish) set of artists assembled by Amir, Johnson, and Stull Meyers showcases a visual arts community willing to grapple with a fraught past and complicated present. The art can’t be described as pretty nor escapist nor timeless. Perhaps timeful is a better characterization—a snapshot of where we are in 2019 in all its messiness—and that does seem appropriate for a Biennial. Throw in engagement and enthusiasm from some seventh graders, and while the Portland art scene may not know exactly where it’s headed, it seems we’ll be alright. 

Portland2019
Open through November 3
Disjecta Contemporary Art Center
8371 N Interstate Avenue
Open Friday through Sunday 12-5
Free Admission

Art review: Through the pinhole, vastly

Julia Bradshaw’s "Survey" at Truckenbrod Pop-Up Gallery imagines new planets from a long way up

In 1920 Marcel Duchamp invited his friend Man Ray over to his studio to practice documenting artwork with his large format camera. Instead, Man Ray photographed dust that had accumulated on the glass backside of Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) (1915-23). To look at the image, one doesn’t immediately think of a dusty surface but of a barren landscape photographed from miles above. In fact, Man Ray said as much after he published the image two years later, describing it as a “view from an aeroplane.” Eventually given the title, Dust Breeding (1), the photograph has been a residual inspiration for generations of artists thereafter.

Not that Dust Breeding is a starting point for Julia Bradshaw’s exhibition, Survey, at Truckenbrod Pop-Up Gallery in Corvallis through September 29. It is merely my unavoidable point of reference. Instead, Bradshaw credits an oversight—not unlike Duchamp’s neglect in keeping a clean studio—for this series of photographs. Discovering an underused darkroom at a residency she was attending, Bradshaw regretted not bringing an analog 35mm camera along. Fortuitously, she had brought along her pinhole camera. She started a project by taking her own advice to students when teaching the use of a pinhole camera: take an image of a concrete sidewalk.

Still, one can readily see a direct link to Man Ray’s photograph. The grittiness of the concrete taken out of its original context suggests a larger landscape, and perhaps one that is otherworldly. For Bradshaw, she found herself thinking about the long history that photography has with astronomy, particularly James Nasmyth’s 19th century photographs of the moon’s topography. At the time, photographs of the night skies did not work well with telescopes because of an inability to track the movement of planets. Instead, Nasmyth built and photographed models of the moon’s surface. It was this fiction that brought Bradshaw to create her own silver-gelatin prints of interstellar and planetary surface fictions.(2)

Julia Bradshaw, Sinuous Rille from 2671 Altitude Kilometers

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Dualing & dueling at the easel

Landscape painters Michael Orwick and Anton Pavlkenko have a friendly showdown at Cannon Beach's Earth & Ocean Arts Festival

It all started five or so years ago with one of those “what if” conversations — the kind no one really expects to go anywhere. But in this case, it did. They call it “dualing easels,” or, if you’re painter Michael Orwick, “dueling easels”: “It is a little bit antagonistic in a way,” he notes, adding, “Playfully.”

 The showdown is part of this year’s Earth & Ocean Arts Festival, a new event in Cannon Beach aimed at blending art with environmental awareness. Fifty percent of the proceeds go to five ecology-focused nonprofits.

 It’s the best of the Plein Air & More Arts Festival, which ended in 2018 after a 10-year run, with some added twists, Orwick says. Along with Anton Pavlenko, he’ll lead the “Painting Coastal Color and Light 2019” plein air workshop leading up to the festival.

Orwick and Pavlenko, at work …

“I was part of the Plein Air Festival every single year,” says Orwick. “I think there is no better way to appreciate the Oregon Coast — the wind, the sun, the smells. To be out there and letting that affect you and your image. People can tell; there is a freshness and vitality that comes through. I love painting in my studio, but there is nothing like painting on location.” You can learn more about that here.

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TBA report: aggressive whimsey, meditative chaos, kinetic violin

Martha Daghlian reviews performances by Laura Ortman, Takashi Makino, and Asher Hartman and Gawdafful National Theater

PICA’s Time Based Art Festival (TBA) was held at locations around Portland from September 5th through 15th. The festival brings together a diverse roster of artists and performances. Martha Daghlian reviews three notable offerings.

by MARTHA DAGHLIAN

Laura Ortman (with Marcus Fischer and Raven Chacon)
Lincoln Hall
1620 SW Park Ave
September 6 & 7

Brooklyn-based violinist Laura Ortman (White Mountain Apache) brought her intense experimental style to Lincoln Hall in two performances for the 2019 TBA festival. Ortman was accompanied by Portland artist Marcus Fischer and by her frequent collaborator Raven Chacon (Diné) of New Mexico. A prominent figure in experimental and Native music scenes, Ortman has been developing her unique sound for decades but has recently garnered international acclaim for her video “My Soul Remainer” which was included in this year’s Whitney Biennial (In fact, all three performers were featured artists in the Biennial; Ortman and Fischer as solo artists and Chacon as part of the arts collective Postcommodity.)

Laura Ortman. Courtesy of PICA.

Saturday night’s set began with the dim stage backlit by blazing red light and the slowly building buzz and rumble of looped and distorted guitar and synthesizer. Ortman commenced the evening by uttering a few garbled proclamations into a loudspeaker that sounded like the muffled, staticky voices of a radio station just out of range. 

From then on, Ortman danced around the stage tirelessly, accenting her playing with dramatic lunges and sidesteps. She moved almost frantically at times but maintained a sense of deep focus even in her freneticism. She scribbled away at her instrument as though trying to set it on fire by friction and at one point carried this sentiment to an extreme when she scraped an alternate violin against a mic’d-up panel of wood covered in sandpaper. The sound was nearly unbearable. Then, finally, she picked up the board and knocked it on the stage to release a small pile of sawdust. She tapped and thumped her instrument like a bizarre drum and used a wooden whistle to evoke the tones of a train, a bird, or an idle human. Her playing veered from screeching to cinematic to sweetly melodic, driven by her insistent kinetic energy. 

Accompanying Ortman’s forceful performance were Fischer and Chacon’s heavy (and heavily distorted) guitar/synth/tape loop combo, which, though compelling in their own right, at times threatened to completely obscure the headlining artist’s efforts. In contrast to much of Ortman’s recorded music, which allows the listener to hear every affecting nuance and note she plays, the show at Lincoln Hall was dominated by the monolithic dronescape that continued almost unbroken for the full 90 minutes. Ortman’s violin was like a small bird flying through a hurricane, variously engulfed by clouds and shoved to and fro by the wind. Whether this was a conscious decision within the three performers’ collaborative process or the result of the way the venue’s sound was mixed, it was hard to dismiss the possibility that listeners might be missing out on a certain level of sonic detail. The wall-of-noise effect became slightly monotonous after a certain point, making the moments when Ortman took over feel all the more exquisite.


Memento Stella, Takashi Makino
OMSI
1945 SE Water Ave
September 14 & 15

Memento Stella, according to Japanese filmmaker Takashi Makino, means “remember we are stars.” It is also the title of his most recent work which TBA screened at OMSI’s Empirical Theater over the weekend. Makino’s work is decidedly abstract and has evolved from Stan Brakhage-style direct film manipulation in his early career to his current mode of intricately layered digital footage and lens effects that create wildly flickering hypnotic textures on the screen. Memento Stella is his longest film to date with a run time of 60 minutes. For the Sunday evening showing I attended, the artist was present to perform a live soundtrack on synthesizer. The piece was composed by Reinier van Houdt, who also performed at Saturday’s screening. 

Takashi Makino
Takashi Makino. Courtesy of PICA.

The audience was warned at the outset that although we might recognize specific images, the idea was to relax into the visual chaos and let our minds drift free from representation or narrative. The film began with tiny twinkling shards of light on a black background that resembled a more lively version of television static or perhaps stars moving at warp speed or a cloud of agitated dust particles viewed in raking light. We weren’t supposed to worry about making visual associations but I couldn’t help myself. It took some time to fully settle in and stop trying to make sense of what we were seeing (was that water? It had to be water!) but eventually the vast field of vibrating, swirling forms and particles began to feel absorbing and meditative. Tiny patterns and broad motions clashed and harmonized in turn. The experience was akin to the start of a psychedelic trip or the moment you fall asleep, only to be suddenly startled awake. Makino’s live performance of van Houdt’s soundtrack was also ambient, but its composition contained subtle peaks and valleys that prevented the sonic fatigue that can accompany noise music. 

At certain moments the total immersion became nearly overwhelming and a sort of existential dread crept in to the point that I actually felt afraid for a moment. After the show, other audience members reported having similar feelings of anxiety or foreboding and we all agreed that we felt a bit altered. It was as though we had all had a strange dream together. Maybe the experience wasn’t always relaxing, but it was powerful and unique, and isn’t that what art is supposed to be?


The Dope Elf (Asher Hartman and the Gawdafful National Theater)
Yale Union
800 SE 10th Ave
Additional Performances: September 20, 21 & 22; October 11, 12 & 13; October 18, 19 & 20
Doors open 7:30 PM / Showtime 8:00 PM

The Dope Elf, the latest production of Los Angeles artist Asher Hartman’s excellent Gawdafful National Theater Company, kicked off its month-long run at Yale Union during TBA’s second weekend. It stands out as one of the weirder and more exciting works featured in this year’s festival. Hartman and his crew have transformed Yale Union into a fey sort of “trailer park” in which handmade, treehouse-like structures and repurposed garbage/sculpture hybrids are scattered throughout the cavernous gallery. The company are artists-in-residence in the literal sense – they have been living on set since the production began and will continue to do so through the final performance on October 20. The Dope Elf is a three-part show that unfolds over three consecutive evenings each weekend of the run; I saw what was described as a modified version of Play 1 in a media preview performance. (A 24-hour live stream can be found on the gallery’s website.) Before the show started, Hartman addressed the audience. He explained that the players would be moving around the gallery throughout the evening, and that he would lead us to the next location after each scene. This roving action resulted in a rather fluid barrier between performer and viewer that was fun and kept everyone alert as we tried to avoid inadvertently stumbling into the spotlight.

The Dope Elf publicity image
The Dope Elf publicity image. Courtesy of PICA.

The show began when Michael Bonnabel jumped onto a platform surrounded by faux arcade game consoles made from cardboard boxes (including “Street Frighter” and “Donkey Dong”) and tore into an acidic monologue about a pretentious fellow referred to as “the actor.” Slowly it became apparent that the actor in question was Bonnabel himself – or the character he was playing – which was our first indication of the multiple layers of meaning and identity contained within this rowdy performance. 

The next scene found Bonnabel sitting in one half of a two-bedroom shanty, engaged in a petty domestic squabble with John (played by Philip Littell). From there, the energetic cast transformed themselves into trolls, wolves, aunties, actors, depressed trailer-park residents, concerned family members, and death itself. Zut Lors gave a brief but standout performance as Gingy, a trailer-park troll. Lors is a gifted physical comedian whose facial expressions and excellent timing were genuinely funny, which can be hard to come by in contemporary performance art. She reappeared later as one half of a couple (or siblings? roommates?) opposite Joe Seely and was compelling even in that more subdued role, relaxed in her lines and her movements. 

Although there was a superficial gloss of wacky humor throughout (particularly in the instance of Gingy’s deranged stand-up routine), the underlying tone was one of deep metaphysical disturbances. The wretchedness reached a nadir in a scene in which Bonnabel (perhaps playing Michael, the actor) holds another man (played by Paul Outlaw) hostage in his bedroom, commanding him to remove and replace articles of clothing, psychotically singing love songs to him while mimicking sexual acts, and threatening to tape his mouth shut before the scene fades out. From my vantage point, I was able to see Bonnabel discreetly remove a length of rope and a set of kitchen knives from a duffle bag at the start of the scene (not everyone would have seen this, I just happened to be standing directly behind the actor), and as a result I spent the entire scene worried that we were about to witness a gruesome fictional murder. To my relief, the action never devolved into that sort of spectacle, but that doesn’t mean the audience was spared any discomfort. 

And then there was the titular Dope Elf, played with aggressive whimsy by Jacqueline Wright. The Elf described itself as “a system” whose DNA test results read zero and who seemed to veer from victim to monster to average-joe within the space of a few wild run-on sentences. Within Hartman’s creation, the Dope Elf’s particular brand of “magic” represents the systems and disguises of white supremacy that delude and torture the rest of the characters in the play. The Elf’s confounding lack of identity evokes the supposedly neutral status of whiteness both in racial terms and in the rarefied space of contemporary art, where the white cube of the gallery bestows institutional legitimacy upon its contents. 

Jacqueline Wright as the Dope Elf. Courtesy of PICA.

The Elf made several bizarre appearances throughout the performance, but her final monologue was truly memorable. In a tirade of convoluted and vulgar poetic logic, the Dope Elf managed to communicate the theoretical gist of the work – that living within systems of violence and power leaves people with what Yale Union curator Dena Beard describes as “strangled desire, residual fear, and rage.” The split personalities of the show’s actors were suddenly revealed as reflections of unstable identities locked in a struggle for power, whether magical or political. With that, the spell was lifted and the members of the Gawdafful National Theater Company stepped onto the stage and took a bow. 

Martha Daghlian is a Portland-based visual artist and arts writer. She is the creator of the Grapefruit Juice Artist Resource Guide, a Portland arts directory. More information and work can be found at marthadaghlian.com

Falling for wine country arts

Yamhill County kicks into fall with a bevy of gallery shows, a four-night festival of ancient Greek drama, an unsolved mystery, and more

It’s time to roll out the phrase we’ve all been waiting for: Fall Arts Season. In Yamhill County, it’s clearly arrived, it’s busy, and there’s a lot to get through. New visual art exhibitions, live theater, a lecture, live music and an author reading. And that’s all before we even get to the Art Harvest Studio Tour the first week of October. For a preview of that 2-weekend art celebration, be sure to drop by the free show at the Chehalem Cultural Center, where the work of all this year’s artists is on display.

Here’s the balance of September for you, taking it in chronological order, starting with exhibits that opened earlier this month.

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One of 50 woven fabric drawings by Deb Perry-Guetti in a new exhibit at
the Marilyn Affolter Fine Art Gallery in McMinnville.

MARILYN AFFOLTER GALLERY: For the last two years, Deb Perry-Guetti has worked on a series of 50 woven fabric drawings that explore “our interconnectedness and the beauty in our flaws.” The pen and ink drawings are rendered on Kitakata rice paper and suspended in custom frames by clothespins, allowing the light to embrace the organic fragility of the paper.

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Reports from TBA 2019: Ligia Lewis

Obfuscation and illegibility in artist and choreographer Ligia Lewis's "Water Will (In Melody)"

by ELLA RAY

As the culminating part of the BLUE RED WHITE trilogy by artist and choreographer Ligia Lewis, Water Will (In Melody) distorts canonical configurations of body and language by taking up the project of illegibility. Presented by PICA’s 17th annual Time Based Arts festival (TBA), Water Will (In Melody) opposes neoliberal progress and dominant categorization, rejecting the physical and conceptual articulations of representation that are projected onto the Black subject in exchange for something dark, something defined outside of whiteness. Lewis, accompanied by Titilayo Adebayo, Dani Brown, and Susanne Sachsse, presents a two-part performance that uses the four figures to investigate individual and collective ability to escape expectation, both of the theater and of themselves. 

While the puppet-like characters contort and twist their plastic and silk dressed bodies against the black stage, swampy sounds of crickets and trickling water fill the spaces between us and them. The scene is set in a way that references the outdoors and exposes the logistical aspects of theatrical production: off-stage is visible, the curtains are slightly too short, and the lighting equipment encroaches on the stage frame.  The mood is still marshy and gothic as if the theater is amidst a southern swamp. 

“Water Will (In Melody)” Photo courtesy of Sarah Marguier and PICA.

As the performance progresses, the women share the stage through choreographed moments that rely heavily on a combination of mime and bodily movements to reference physical anguish and personal pleasure. The dancers fold over themselves and writhe across the stage bumping against one another against  a loop of layered sounds and parts of speech. The corporeal aspects of Water Will are interjected with monologue spanning from excerpts of Grimm’s Fairy Tales during the opening sequence to a lengthy German speech by Sachsse. In the moments where language is foregrounded it is then disrupted, muffled, cut off, or drown out. This interruption is most obvious in a moment when Lewis spoke while she shoved her hand down her mouth, gagging herself in both a sexual and violent manner that made it nearly impossible to understand her. 

The disruption of intelligibility via the hand is a thread continued throughout the performance. The hands, central to mime gesticulation, are used in Water Will to unveil the interiority of the subjects. The palms and fingers of the performers are used to scratch, please, and undo almost as if their insides are begging to escape their predetermined forms. In exposing the exterior (including the audience, the theater, and each other) to their interiors, we could ask who they are performing for and what are we bearing witness to? 

Between the first and second act, there is a brief breakdown in the proceedings. A spotlight floods the four dancers and they begin what feels like pop-princess choreography set to the sound of an uptempo remix of an Enya song. While forming a straight line, the dancers thrust their pelvises, cross their arms with cheerleader energy, and evoke a familiar feeling of  “positivity.” The sterility of the breakdown deeply contrasts the stickiness of Water Will as a whole. On the Saturday iteration of the performance, the audience responded by laughing and clapping in approval of the breach in plot. In this abrupt and concise interlude it is  apparent that the spectators are complicit in the unfolding of the performance. While the material preceding and following this interruption concentrates on the subtle horrors of desire and possibility, this section antagonistically points at the audience and acknowledges them as part of the larger system that wills some to act on those feelings while denying others. 

The crowd is addressed multiple times throughout the performance. During the second act an intense strobe light turns on the audience. The flashing of various patterns of neon white jolt you into position and disrupt the theater experience. This happens again later with a searchlight that roams the theater, stopping briefly on audience members and then continuing on its path. Although this section of the work lasted a mere 2 minutes, the usages of this kind of lighting amplifies the role of the omnipresent voyeur — possibly referencing militarized and colonial surveillance mechanisms that the gender and racialized body is incessantly subjected to. 

“Water Will (In Melody)” Photo courtesy of Sarah Marguier and PICA.

Throughout Water Will, Lewis is central both in place and attention. This disrupts a multitude of established hierarchies of contemporary performance that attempt to flatten Black femmes, uncomplicating their relationship to the theater and to being watched. As Brown, Adebayo, and Sachsse periodically appear and reappear onstage, they emphasize that the theater is an actual theater, there is an unbridgeable gap between the performer and the audience. Lewis, however, challenges the gap by, getting close to the audience and entangling us again and again in her obsessive pattern. As water begins to rain down from behind the curtains, washing over the jerky yet sensual choreography, the performers appear like towels being wrung out — holding form but seeping from the inside as they glide across the stage and ground themselves in pooling puddles. In this section, Lewis’s distorted face and masturbatory gestures have a pulse of their own. On many occasions Lewis’s movements felt like a mashup of Velvet Rope-tour-era Janet Jackson and Kayako from The Grudge

The 60 minute production ends with Adebayo singing a church hymn while the Lewis, Brown, and Sachsse melt into the darkness of the stage. As the wrestling comes to a halt and water puddles on the stage, Adebayo’s voice sounded as if someone passed her the mic by surprise. Lewis revealed in a recent TBA and PICA sponsored conversation with scholar and curator bart fitzgerald that the song is titled “I Won’t” — playing again with the concept of will and concluding their guttural meditations of escape with rejection of everything that came before. The show closes with language the clearest its been through the entirety of the performance. With no movement or distortion, Water Will (In Melody) asks the audience to listen to what happens after the storm. Eventually the performer turns her back on us, simultaneously acknowledging the audience’s gaze and rendering visible the facade of the theater. In negating the physical gaze and audience expectation, Lewis solidifies Water Will (In Melody) as a mission in obfuscation. 

Ella Ray an art historian, facilitator, and arts-worker whose practice focuses on the Black contemporary art and process. Ella earned a BA in Art History/Critical Theory from Portland State University in 2018 and currently works for the Portland Art Museum and the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art doing work around public engagement and decentralizing dominant culture.