The exhibition i gently place my brain in cold rice is homeschool founders manuel arturo abreu and Victoria Anne Reis’ first installation of their year-long curatorial residency at Oregon Contemporary. In operation since 2015, homeschool aims to generate creative nourishment for unfettered contemplation around contemporary art. This takes various forms including an art school, a distance learning platform, a pop-up space, crafts curriculum and other opportunities. In all iterations, the emphasis is on slow-learning, individual relationships, and diversity of thought.
Reis and abreu describe their professional synergy, non-deterministic approach to curation, and homeschool’s existence as a “space of sacred duty.” I understand that phrase to be a necessary cultivation of an educational culture that exists beyond the traditional tired, non-inclusionary, and for-profit learning environments. i gently place my brain in cold rice features work by eight national and local artists in a range of disciplines. As a whole, it reads as the visual embodiment of homeschool’s pedagogy, emphasizing the transmission of communal care and healing, through the lens of contemporary art.
Inside every possibility for action, contemplation, or relation lies embodied an eternal witness, who without voyeurism follows you through all your changes: not quite the last angel of history, not quite the first / original daemon of the future. Water is memory, and when the air seethes wetly, breath itself discloses its archive. When the water walks, she gently places her brain in cold rice.
Upon a first reading of this excerpt from the exhibition text, I registered “eternal” as “internal” thus briefly interpreting the statement not as a temporal alignment but as a more intrinsic action for viewer and artist alike. That is, my interpretation of the line designated within each decision, each possibility of movement or connection, an internal signifier that glides with the unpredictable current of creative output.
The eternal and the internal conflate in the multimedia assemblage Reclaiming Beatrice by Intisar Abioto and Studio Abioto. Photos, newspaper clippings, inspirations, and a live installation of plants constitute the historically and emotionally poignant work named for the Portland civil rights activist Beatrice Morrow Cannady. The images collaged on the south wall of the gallery are a blend of portraiture by Abioto, as well as archival imagery by early Black Oregon/Portland photographer James S. Bell (drawn from early editions of The Advocate, running 1903-1938 and published by Cannady herself). Abioto’s figures appear with force and determination behind the lens – shown posing with bodies moving, reaching, or simply at rest – captured stoically and commandingly. The juxtaposition of contemporary photography with historical records of Black Oregon residents provides a connective thread for an ambitious and successful cross-generational narrative. Abioto honors the deep-rooted Black radical traditions and dreams exercised by Cannady and continues this work with the related project of purchasing and rematriating Cannady’s home in NE Portland. In the gallery, the foliage planted and resting at the base of the wall serves as a living focal point for this work.
Another photographic offering is the work of Kigali-based artist collective Ibisazi Designers Nyabyo (IDN). Hung at regular intervals throughout the gallery, Shadows of ideas (2022) is a series of works commissioned specifically for this exhibit of Kigali residents wearing or posing with functional art: swaths of cloths, repurposed foliage, living and found material. The exhibition materials describe the images as illustrating “the hidden and unshared thoughts of each living being.” Shadows of ideas are solitary, immobile stills of lively, improvisational, and grand performances created in and with the Rwandan community in which they were recorded. This intentional quieting of movement, transferring lively human activity into a digital realm, keeps the improvisatory spirit of the collective opaque. Gallery-goers observe an individual in a makeshift raft garment, half-submerged in water, holding a television on their head, or another individual holding themselves upside down, head dunked in a barrel-like vessel with legs widely extended above their torso, two sculptural elements nonchalantly attached to each foot. When approached with an understanding that the presented visuals mean to unveil as much as to make curious, Shadows of ideas begin to exist in a liminality of their own creation.
Guts, a yarn sculpture by textile artist Jasmine Nyende, hangs from the ceiling in the back gallery and falls to a soft coil on the ground. Its pink and purple layers appear to undulate and pulse; layers drape deliberately over one another, making an allusion to the traditional weaving of internal organ systems. Though the yarn appears thick and sturdy, my emotional response to this work instead calls to fragility, speaking to the spirit of one’s “insides” and feelings with the tendency to unravel, drip and transform.
Equally evocative of a move towards the transformative is artist Olivia McKayla Ross’s Lake of Stars, a physical print publication and installation by the same name. Several copies of the blue, spiral bound book reside lodged between two pieces of obsidian (cherished for its grounding and protective qualities) on a shelf within the gallery. Lake of Stars invites viewers to delve deeply into its poetic imagery and locate a compositional juncture for healing. The tangible book is a succinct example of a personal yearning, a desire for freeform sentiment to naturally find its proper vessel of expression. While visitors flip through the pages, a video recording of the artist scrolling through their social media feed is projected on the underbelly of the book shelf as a mirrored, digital translation of the experience. Ross solidifies the resonant frequencies of the exhibition that weigh the boundaries between a private and a shared self.
The poetic throughline linking each of the works on display at Oregon Contemporary is the inclination to experience them beyond their static limitations. i gently place my brain in cold rice is an evocation of imaginative possibilities and the potential of the present. Like a drowned phone, to be submerged in rice when on the fritz, the same can be said of an overheated and overstimulated brain. In the presence of constant content saturation these works offer the opposite. The gallery is activated with respect to the consideration and inquiry lodged by each artist in their practice, imbuing the exhibition with a sensory immediacy. i gently place my brain in cold rice pulls from a conscientious and generative contemplation that stoutly aligns external craft with personal care.
i gently place my brain in cold rice is on view at Oregon Contemporary through January 8th. Oregon Contemporary is located at 8371 N Interstate Ave and is open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from noon-5 pm. The gallery is open November 25, 26, and 27.